The one job you wouldn’t want this year is judge for Literary LEO 2018.
OK, maybe: bathroom specialist on Trump’s housecleaning crew… just ew…
Anyway… this year’s submissions of short fiction, poetry and photos, black and white and color, were exceptionally good, reflecting the klieg light-powered talent in our community.
Paring them down was grueling. But someone has to win. No participation trophies here, bud!
Well, actually, you will find an entry from a loyal reader who bribed us with a charming letter. It gets an extra honorable mention…
Undying thanks are due our stalwart panel of judges: outlaw poet Ron Whitehead, Angela Burton, founder/chief writing motivator of Feet to the Fire Writers’ Workshops, Kristen Miller, director of educational programming at Sarabande Books, and Mary Carothers, photography professor at UofL.
Also, to you, our readers and those who submitted — thank you for helping make this issue a celebration of the best of Louisville, a LEO tradition since 1993.
And it is not too early to begin banking those ideas for next year’s Literary LEO. We expect there to be plenty of emotion-provoking events (Trump) to write about (Bevin), and much to photograph.
Table Of Contents
1st Place: ‘Alaska’ by Eric Ray Walling
2nd Place: ‘Closing The Fish Alive’ by Jinn Bug
3rd Place: ‘You Are Never Going To Get An Apology From This World’ by Robert L. Penick
Honorable Mention: ‘Finial And Shovel’ by Charlie Bennett
Honorable Mention: ‘Crash’ by A. J. Spencer
Extra Honorable Mention: ‘The Tattlers Tale’ by Salome Sidiropoulos
1st Place: ‘Telling War Into The Telephone’ by Caroline Hockenbury
2nd Place: ‘My Red Headed Neurotic Friend’ by Nancy Bruner Wilson
3rd Place: ‘Untitled No. 2’ by Nicollette Wethington
Honorable Mention: ‘Mutants’ by Tanner Harshman
Honorable Mention: ‘A Still Breath’ by Sonja de Vries
1st Place: Naomi Tracy
2nd Place: ‘Many Medicines, Few Cures’ by Jinn Bug
3rd Place: ‘Paris Skyline’ by Zack Miller
Honorable Mention: ‘Moonrise’ by Jinn Bug
Honorable Mention: ‘Abstract’ by Ted Heitzman
1st Place: Tim Moorhead
2nd Place: ‘Ode To Dan Winters’ by Kala Diamond
3rd Place: Bruce Duncan
Honorable Mention: ‘No Man An Island’ by Jinn Bug
Honorable Mention: ‘Layoff Letter’ by Ted Heitzman
‘Alaska’ by Eric Ray Walling
I watched my girls flicker in the spring mist, which was pale, cool, and I thought about Agatha. One of them alighted on my hand, worked across my ring, and settled at a dab of honey that had fallen there on my knuckle. She was sweet and beautiful and sunlight dashed through the mesh architecture of her wing as it laid a shadow pretty on her fur. The warm hum at my ears (middle C) lifted as my girls (now at D) felt the growling of a car coming up our, I mean my, gravel driveway.
She flew, leaving a spot of coolness where her meal had been. I lost her at that slim rectangular entry in the static of comings and goings where they, forgive me, all look the same. I looked over to the fenceline where the knockouts, a queen’s red, lightly dipped their heads. The blackberries were overgrown, too, and clothes snapped from wooden pins on the twine. I inspected a frame, turned it over with care, and looked for her. Each cell was a new start, a new life, a new little world. I knew she was here, I just couldn’t see her.
There was the clunk of a car door and the approaching kissh kissh kissh of hesitant dress shoes through the stillness in the grass.
“Hey, pa,” he said.
I gently returned the frame.
“Thought you’d be ready.”
“Me too,” I said. “But I’ve lingered out here longer than I meant to.”
“No surprise there.”
“The hell’s that supposed to mean?”
He sighed again.
The boy ran up clumsily and hugged my leg.
He looked so handsome in his dark little suit, the shoulders of which I patted as he watched my girls dance.
“How are the bees?”
“They’re fine, thank you for asking.”
“No problem.” He was a sweetheart like only a child could be.
“Yeah, well, it starts at noon,” his father said. “Jacob, let’s go, come on, get back in the car please.”
“Jacob, come on now,” his mother called.
“Go on,” I whispered
In a rebel’s huff he sulked back, little shoes heavy stepping.
“I’m gonna go get dad ready.”
Jacob’s mother nodded.
“Stay out here.” I was half the distance from our, my, garden to the still and blue house, veiled hat swinging at my side. “I’ll be out in a minute.”
I took a cool washcloth to the sweat on my face and neck. I plucked a stinger from my forearm, black barb, faux rose thorn, and set it on the counter. Poor girl. Leaning into the mirror, my ring clinked on the sides of the sink. Inspecting a cheek, it had another dark spot beneath the bristles. The razor waited patiently for a hand that failed to come for it. I combed pomade into my hair, combed in a mercurial sheen.
I paused to faceoff with my twin opposite me through the pane. My gaze had lost the azure flamelet it once had and now shared the empty stares of Greco-Roman busts. My face quivered and I palmed it. I inhaled in a patter. My hands still smelled like liquid smoke, so I washed them.
In the bedroom, one plunged into the darkness at the back of the closet and it returned dusty oakish tweeds. Draping the bed was a quilt patterned in a kaleidoscopic lone star. A signature wove the corner. I opened a drawer and it burred. Next to past years’ Derby pins and bifocals waited a daintily folded handkerchief with
H & A cross-stitched in pink thread. I stole it and planted it into my jacket as a pocket square, letters facing forward.
On the porch, as I threw the deadbolt, I glanced at the black tin box overstuffed with handwritten letters like some unusual bouquet. Creaking down the steps, I leaned out of the way of the spruce planted too close to the house. The chimes tinked and cooed.
“Here, let me get that.”
Clicking open a pocketknife, my son cut a stray thread from my lapel. She would have noticed that. But here he dusted me, he hugged me, and he sighed, lifting me up and then down. Backstepping, his strong hands mantled my shrunken shoulders.
We got in.
We turned out, second in line, and halfway there Jacob played a video on his iPhone. My birthday last year. The saved memory filled the sedan, thickened the air.
There were giggles and the attempted blowing out of candles, then clapping. Then there was the perfect mmmwah! of a kiss being put on my forehead and then
‘I love you, sweety.’
And all over again, like a crescendo an illness swept through my chest and I had to tear my gaze to the window. Her voice knocked around the echo chambers of my heart, my mind, my universe. I inhaled in a patter. I clutched my ring and watched a blanket of starlings tumble along the horizon. We’d sat on the porch and watched them. Night after night after night after… the murmuration rippled, burst and coalesced again — imitating me.
It’s like honey, I thought — such pain as this.
It’s never going to spoil. It’ll always be.
It may crystallize, perhaps, if forgotten, but warm it up, and it’s back to form. I laughed and cried silently at the silly thought.
Filling the net backing of the passenger seat were various maps. Red and black squiggles, aluminum painted numbers, escape routes. Outside the glass the evergreens whisked by, the sunlight twittering through, and I shifted my gaze to my leathery reflection and then back out again. I watched the tiny purple flag with the white crossroads flutter in the wind and I thought about Agatha.
Maybe I’ll go to Alaska. She always wanted to go to Alaska. •
‘Closing The Fish Alive’ by Jinn Bug
There are dirty deaths and clean deaths and to our bones we feel the difference.
They were 10 minutes out of Salvo, 40 miles of the two-lane highway threading the Outer Banks to go, when a deer bolted from the oceanside dunes and smashed into the driver’s side of their Hyundai. She was driving — ready for the vacation house and its shabby comfort, late-November beaches clean and touristless — when the universe shook itself into motion and the deer startled over the dunes.
There was no warning. Something brown and warm and gray thumped against her window as the side mirror exploded. She turned her head, saw the elegant body spin away from her and into the northbound lane and she saw, in terrible slow motion, the other car grab the deer in the teeth of its grill and drag it under as a spray of fluids arced the tan sparkling tarmac — blood and oil and coolant — and then all was stillness as the universe curled back to sleep — their Hyundai stopped in its tracks with the front panel pinning the tire and, across the road, the other car — engine destroyed — leaking its last and the deer, the body of the deer, vanished beneath a wave of sand and sea oats as if it had never been there.
They pried crumpled metal away from the tire with a hammer she’d packed at the last minute for no good reason but you never know when you’ll need a hammer, and the car limped down to Hatteras Village past every closed-for-the-season shop, driver’s side headlight dangling black with blood, a busted tooth in the car’s smashed face.
And then came the flu, the racking hacking fever-driven flu, four nights and three days burning out the virus the youngest grandchild brought with Thanksgiving dinner’s snuggles and giggles and kisses (so many kisses! such a sweet boy!). She lay in the downstairs bed sleeping and coughing while her lover brought her ice and water and Tylenol every two hours until the fever reached a pitch and she broke through webs of nightmare — blood and bone and torn hide — and rose from the bed delirious and came upstairs and screamed at him to find someone to fix the car enough for them to get home, and he looked at her mildly and said “This is one hell of a vacation,” and guided her back to bed where she slept and woke from a dream of being alone and paralyzed in a sandy ditch but the fever, the fever — thank God — was gone.
They went down to the beach before sunset and there was Steve — lean and grinning with the pleasure of folks to chat with as the tips of his three surf rods bobbed and bounced against Mother Atlantic’s tug — and they chatted a while before walking on. She was spent, dragging herself along, yet the beach was rich with shells and it was good to bend and pick up half sand-dollars, whelks and seaworm casings, tuck them in the canvas sack, watch the sun sink down and fire the ocean orange, pelicans streaming by, sandpipers dancing the surf’s crashing edge. When it was full dusk, they turned back and Steve was still at it, smiling, patient, lines rippling, waders streaked with oceansalt.
“Wait, you guys! Do you like fish?” and she smiled and coughed and said yes, very much and he said, “This one hooked when we were talking so it must be yours.” She received the fish with both hands and carried it in the garbage bag he’d wrapped around it, stroking white plastic and apologizing to the fish for its odd shroud. She could not wait to set it free.
He’d been merciful. A tiny dot marked where he’d spiked the fish, stabbing neatly through the hindbrain, what she grew up calling pithing and the Japanese named ike jime — “closing the fish alive.” She imagined finflare then instant peace as the spike shut down the brain, blood retracting from muscle back into the gut cavity, muscles alive for hours after the brain was dead. The fish was silver — a whiting. She left both fish and lover at the cleaning table nestled in scrub pine between dunes and the house, and went up the wind-bleached stairs for scaler and knife and came back down again.
It had been 35 years since she’d done this. Standing under the rising moon with her Kentucky farmboy holding a flashlight, she found she’d forgotten nothing from her oceaned childhood — the slick muscular tension of the fish, scales showering away from scaler, long upward flick of knife from anus to jaw and the delicate strange package of heart and gall bladder, stomach and intestine suspended from gilled throat, hard crunch of knife severing spine.
Here was death: deliberate, neat, no thrashing. She felt the crazy chaos motion of the deer lift and leave — a weight spinning away from the back of her skull as she threw the fish’s head into the dunes for the morning’s gulls. She stood, gazing at the cleaned fish shining faintly in the dark. Long breaths, then they went inside. A little salt, a hunk of butter, four minutes in the pan on one side crisped the tail and fins, three minutes on the other turned flesh opaque and when they ate it, it was good, tasty and wild. “You look better,” her lover said, “but I’ll sleep on the couch again so you can rest.”
For hours she lies in the dark, eyes closed, sleepless, feeling fin and tail, patterned skin swimming moonbound through her own body, the fish closed alive deep within her, weaving its flesh to her flesh, its muscles insistently sparking her muscles. What jumps beneath her eyelids is not dream but something tidal, the silver pulse of the whiting yearning for waves slanting away under the retiring moon, the fierce dance of life surging forward, eager and confident and strong.
To her bones, she can feel the difference. •
‘You Are Never Going To Get An Apology From This World’ by Robert L. Penick
Born into poverty, third generation Arkansas trailer trash, three years of high school and a job stacking lumber in back of E.R Johnson & Sons. Splinters thick as hunger catching the palm, the web between thumb and forefinger, the Wal-Mart gloves too thin to do much more than keep the nails clean. Faulty exhaust on the forklift, giddy after each truck loaded, the ashen stink on you like a cloak. Lunch at Noon if there’s no truck waiting. Dollar McDonald’s value menu small fries four trips to refill the small drink cup so thirsty always so Goddamned thirsty.
Home at five-twenty, three hundred dollars a month for a twelve by fifty-foot slab of cement to hold up the trailer built in 1958 aluminum wiring to spark and kill you in your sleep at night. Plywood on two windows this box inherited from uncle cirrhosis no sense throwing money into it. Refrigerator keeps beer cold it takes nine to solve the day, all twelve to relax. Drink at the kitchen table pulling out splinters fast food napkin compress, radio on playing KYDL out of Hot Springs. Song comes on Live like you’re bleeding to death. Laugh out loud, reach for another napkin. Ten o’clock bedtime; alarm wails at six.
Rinse and repeat five days a week and every other Saturday. There was a girl in grade school with long red hair, you were going to be a policeman, she was going to be a nurse. The two of you would live in a tall building in Little Rock where you could visit the Governor and go to baseball games. Now you load lumber. The best you get is looking up, sometimes a pretty blue section of sky. •
‘Finial And Shovel’ by Charlie Bennett
The floorboards cracked, creaked, popped and snapped with a crisp fierceness like she couldn’t remember, even in the 30s when her maternal hearing was so acute she could hear the faintest cry of a child from the upstairs in the middle of the still night. The house groaned so sufficiently she felt she wasn’t missing any of its nearly century-old complaints, even though she didn’t wear her hearing aids half the time. She knew it was nearly a century old because she was only a few months shy of 100 and she’d lived in the house next door when this house was built in 1922. She was only nine years old. Her schoolteacher daddy had been killed in an accident working in the Louisville & Nashville Railroad yard in Ravenna that summer, earning seasonal money for their poor family. That summer brought a lot of changes.
At 99, nurses came by three days each week to help her with medicine and general health routines. Her children had all moved away from the rural mountain town of Irvine, Kentucky to areas of more opportunity and her grandchildren had stayed put in their parents’ towns or had moved on to other larger cities. She held down the old family fort, now only a holiday retreat for the rest of the family, the house she’d lived in since she was 20 years old, having married the boy next door and simply walked her things through one yard and then the other in 1933.
She often thought of her youngest daughter, Ann, who died from a drug overdose at age 32 in 1978, almost every time she went by the banister at the bottom of the stairs and turned the finial which was something Ann would do as she was talking to her during her later teen years, just before heading upstairs to bed, telling her some half-truth or just plain untruth, attempting to get away with something. She didn’t even know if her daughter registered her noticing it; she would just watch for it as a sign that Ann wasn’t being honest with her, a warning that she had cause for alarm, or at least concern. In the last ten or so years before his death, her husband had mentioned fixing it finally for some reason, but she told him not to, absolutely not to, that she believed it brought her good luck. She hadn’t ever explained the real reason to him. She’d never revealed the finial’s truth-testing abilities to him, the connection to their daughter, afraid he’d think her a little delusional if not half-crazy. Then, there she was, risking even more judgment from him with this false pronouncement in believing it somehow lucky. She figured then he probably thought her not only half-crazy but also in the fog of early dementia. In truth, it had been he who began to slowly slide into dementia during the last six or seven years of his life in the mid to late 1980’s, having conversations with old friends or family who weren’t there, making convincing arguments pertaining to decades-old disputes when she’d enter a room sometimes and he either had his back to her or didn’t see her coming. He’d snap out of it, embarrassed and a little confused still. Time-traveling lag.
Every few days she’d force her old joints down and back up the wooden steps leading into the stone-and-brick cellar full of cobwebs, old jars of food, bagged Christmas decorations and tools. These were just reconnaissance missions. Just checking to make sure things were as she’d left them. Where they’d always been. See if the furnace was sounding funny. Make sure the shovel was still there. It was the one they had caught her with the night of the funeral, at the cemetery, attempting to dig out her girl.
She spent two weeks in Eastern State Hospital in Lexington afterward and received shock treatments among other modalities. They gave her pills in a paper cup in a medicine line where she took them with juice. She ate bland meals and played ping pong with one of the nurses and wore mostly house dresses her husband had brought from home with the crime paperbacks she enjoyed. Reading and smoking. She hadn’t been able to concentrate enough to get much reading done though. She remembered looking out the window at the grounds, feeling completely dead inside, smoking in a designated area and wishing she could just die in her sleep. Humming to herself. That’s where that had begun.
Nobody ever talked to her about what she’d done — the digging at the cemetery. She might mention it in passing to good friends, in a self-deprecating way, but never discussed it with family. She thought obsessively about being down in that same earth, next to her daughter. She never dreamed she’d ever get so old.
She was sitting in her recliner in the living room, working a crossword puzzle but couldn’t keep her mind on it due to the rattling and clanging she kept hearing coming from the cellar. She thought she’d better check it out, put down her pencil, and willed herself up from the recliner.
Her nurse found her the next day, dead at the bottom of the stairs in the cellar. She had bled from her head, apparently after falling down the stairs.
Her family came in from around the country. Her sons handled the arrangements and placed her between her husband and daughter.
The shovel and other tools remained in the basement to be adopted by the new owners, a young couple with three kids under 8. The finial at the bottom of the banister was glued into place. The mother of the new family has taken up smoking again and sits at the bottom of the stairs when she’s fighting insomnia, lightly humming to herself in the delicate privacy of night. There, where none can see or know, she smokes and worries about things she cannot control. •
‘Crash’ by A. J. Spencer
The cabinets were empty, the fridge and pantry as well. It had not been a dream. Robert really did throw out all the food in his apartment.
“Why did I do something so damned stupid?!” He scolded himself.
He slammed the pantry door hard enough that one of the hinges snapped out of place. His stomach roared, and he doubled over in pain. This symptom wasn’t listed in the side effects. The dizziness, sure, the headaches too. Those two things he could handle. It was a small price to pay for a speed diet that claimed it would help him drop a hundred pounds in just a month!
The little yellow supplements, that he found in an ad while reading Eaters Digest, sounded so promising. Simply take one pill for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Then Presto! No more worrying about what to eat on your diet, because you no longer need actual food.
He had used up the last of his free trial bottle that he got for signing up the previous day. The tracking number for his next bottle said that it should have already been delivered. It never showed and now he was crippled with an insatiable hunger and fantasies of scarfing down an entire pizza. That would be amazing! He thought, considering he didn’t have the energy to drive. He pulled out his phone and began to call it in.
A gentle, nurturing voice from his living room stopped him mid-dial, “Oh, my friend, don’t do that.”
Robert felt a chill run through his entire body. He had been home all day with the door locked. Now, someone was in there with him. Reluctantly, he turned to face his intruder. On his couch sat a creature most unnatural. It was shaped like a large ape with green and purple fur. Its face resembled a horrid caricature of cat that had been run over, and it had hairless, droopy rabbit-like ears.
“What the fuck are you, and how did you get in here?” Robert asked with shock and anger. No matter what it was, he pondered if he had the strength to kill and possibly eat this creature that looked like one of Dr. Seuss’ nightmares.
“Please don’t be angry, I was sent to help you by the company that makes your pills. Do not worry how I got in here.” The creature stood and walked towards Robert. It spread apart the fur on its mid-section, revealing four sets of big dark nipples. Each of them throbbing and making a harrowing pulsating sound, as if they each had their own tiny heartbeat.
“Do you see these?” It asked. Robert stood still, mouth gaping in horror, and too stunned to speak. “This is the main source of the nutrients in your diet. This is what the pills contain. Since your delivery has fallen behind schedule, I’ve come to offer a special service. I will let you suckle at my teats and get it straight from the source.”
The throbbing nipples held Robert in a hypnotic trance. Part of him wanted to be disgusted by the thought of putting one of the repulsive looking things in his mouth. However, he had been doing good on this diet and didn’t want to relapse. If this was something he only had to do one time, it was a small sacrifice to make.
The creature appeared to notice his mind had been made up. It laid down on the floor and patted the spot closest to it. Robert got on his hands and knees and crawled toward it. He closed his eyes and opened his mouth as he leaned in and felt the warm leathery texture of the nipple enter his mouth. The feeling of shame and dread began to be replaced by warmth and comfort as the substance entered his body. He felt good again, and he let the hallucination continue to sooth him into a deep sleep. The maintenance men discovered his shriveled up malnourished corpse during a routine inspection three days later. •
Extra Honorable Mention
‘The Tattlers Tale’ by Salome Sidiropoulos
Surely you all have heard about my red-neck cousin, Pinky Mae? She calls herself a “double red-neck” because our Grandmother Pearl claimed Cherokee blood.
Pinky was born and bred in the back hills of Kentucky near the slues and hollers. Her brothers claimed if they wanted someone to go missing, they’d never be found in the slues.
Pinky devoted herself to never backing down. During an argument with a Greek man over American rights and the Tea Party she yelled, “ I’m an Injun and, according to me, all of you all that ain’t is a trespasser. Pay up or shut up!”
Now in her 60s, her health has failed from mismanaging her diabetes. She’s a creature of not-so-healthy habits such as reading or face-booking in bed all night while consuming bags of chips and cookies.
When she wakes, she’ll check her blood sugar level then inject glucose serum until she’s satisfied. She once allowed her level to rise above 500, went to work, passed out, and was transported by ambulance to the hospital in an attempt to use the episode to claim a disability with Social Security Administration. Instead, she lost her job sweeping floors and emptying trash at the taco restaurant.
While young, she dropped out of high school, opting for a teen marriage instead. Throughout three marriages and four children, she managed by selling marijuana. She became a trucker, eventually. Following her quadruple by-pass heart surgery, she moved in with her aging mother. Her mom semi-raised eleven of her own off-spring, and was most proud of her one child who actually graduated high school.
Usually, Pinky spends her time in a recliner by a TV, just as Granny Pearl had done. Their natures and looks are a mirror copy. Just don’t tell her that or she will scream “Don’t you ever say I look like that hateful old witch or I’ll flatten you like a pancake!” She will grab and brandish a spatula to emphasize her threat.
Pinky, a talk-aholic, recites her favorite tales of days gone by of her awesome magnificence to anyone nearby. She’ll talk of her experience in trying to convince the psychiatrist appointed to her case by the Social Security Administration that she really is “crazier than horseshit”.
“He wasted three hours asking me questions but paid more attention to his hemorrhoids. He kept squirming on his rear. I told him I’m certifiably crazy. He didn’t believe me when I told him that my last husband, Louie, didn’t press charges on me for blasting a shotgun hole in his gut at close range. Social Security never did give me any disability but Louie got disability after I shot him.”
“We’re still friends. He divorced me after I helped heal him. I cleaned and dressed his wounds to protect his exposed innards and cooked for him every day.”
After wiping away the crocodile tears, Pinky will say that Louie let her ride shotgun while he trucked until she learned to drive their eighteen-wheeler.
“I began practicing with a nine-inch switchblade while Louie drove. I got to where I was fast as lightnin’ flippin’ the blade in and out. When I drove, I’d practice my wrist action with the knife. It kept me awake. You never know what kind of danger is out there on the road. I was prepared.”
“I got scared in El Paso, Texas. I was haulin’ a load from here to California alone. At 3:00 a.m., I pulled into the truck stop for gas, grub, and coffee. There was plenty of trucks idlin’ but no one in sight by the trucks. After eatin’, I headed back to my rig but the hair stood up on the back of my neck like I was bein’ followed. I hurried up and as I was gettin’ into my cab, someone stepped from the shadows and grabbed my leg real hard and began draggin’ me down. I had enough time and a lick of sense to grab my switchblade off the console.”
“When I landed flat-footed on the pavement, a ginormous Mexican man, ever bit of three hundred pounds, had me in a bear grip on my left forearm. He jerked me around to face him. When he did, I flipped my blade out and, in one fluid motion, sliced him deep through his belly. He went down and I went up to my cab as fast as I could scramble. I slammed the door, revved her up, drove my rig around to exit, and rolled right over the top of that man lyin’ there. I know I went over him because my cab rose and fell while goin’ over his body. I kept my eyes on my mirrors and ears on the radio in case someone saw what happened and called the police.”
“An hour alter, in the middle of nowhere, a man’s deep voice came over my CB radio, ‘I saw what happened.’ (Long pause) ‘Are you okay?’ “Yeah, I’m just a bit shook up is all.” “Well, he got what was comin’ to him. Don’t worry. The road is clear. You take care.’ Then the CB was silent.”
“Now, I don’t scare easy, like the time my sisters, Melissa and Linda, and I were changing their flar tie when some scrungy dude bothered us for $20. We said, “no,” so, he shoved my sisters to the pavement. I hit his back with the tire iron. He socked me in the jaw. Oh, hell no! I sent him flyin’ spread-eagled. He was still flat out on the pavement when we drove away.”
Pinky will tire and yarm after a long tale. She might say, “After I wake up, I’ll tell you about the time I woke up in my rig and discovered that me and it had been swollered up whole by a giant sink hole down near Mammoth Caves. Oogety-boogety. Twarn’t that a hoot!” •
‘Telling War Into The Telephone’ by Caroline Hockenbury
you say you only ever saw one man die
they buried him at sea body bursting from the bag
almost wind was a whimpering child you couldn’t cry
so you got used to shrapnel slapping the deck fire screaming across sky
the Pacific’s hysterical quake smoke from a cigarette drag
scrambling like ship guts on shore you say you only ever saw one man die
tide swallowed him whole shadows broke their teeth on the rocks when you’d blink you’d think you saw Mount Sinai
growing out of ocean head pushing past cloudgash you started packing your bag
and Bible before they even sent the letter that day wind was a whimpering child you couldn’t cry
because there was no time don’t squat to tie
your boots don’t make your back a target like that clouds shrivel and sag
when bullets bust through them you say you only ever saw one man die
and he lost his body to water but still you would wade to shore sometimes let your slacks drip-dry
on island sand watch shipmates cock baseball bats use rocks for bases the moon was the only snag
of light at night you fought to forget the wind is a whimpering child you do not cry
though because your voice is thinner than Nana’s fingers probably patting your thigh
as you tell me everything you remember distance is an unfurling flag
between us red and red and red you said you only ever saw one man die
and when they buried him just like everyone else you didn’t cry
My Red Headed Neurotic Friend by Nancy Bruner Wilson
agnes was from sand rock alabama
she was tall with brazen red hair and a 23 inch
waist line that was her greatest source of pride
she was awkward around people and given the
right set of circumstances inappropriate she was
also lazy neurotic and brilliant
agnes was a chemistry major who preferred
playing whist and sleeping instead of studying
until it came time for final exams
a week before the big exam in organic chemistry
agnes developed a terrible headache that nothing
helped not aspirin or cold compresses massages
or bed rest not even healing sympathy two days
before the test she got out of bed with her head
still mysteriously throbbing opened the book
and began reading agnes didn’t just read text
she consumed it in great gulps until her brain was
a packed black hole of atoms elements molecules
formulas equations and reactions while she was
cramming stuffing the complex information nothing
could distract faze her she didn’t hear alarm clocks
or conversations she became uncommunicative with
other dorm students neither did she sleep and ate little
although she continued to smoke and kept a mug of black
coffee handy she didn’t mention the headache again on
the day of the exam she showered put on clean clothes
and preoccupied with the cluttered information ricocheting
in her head went to the exam where she concentrated as hard
answering the questions as she had studying for them
methodically correctly releasing the stored contents and relieving
her brain of its heavy burden agnes aced the test set the curve
beating her male german competitor by several points when
agnes graduated she returned to alabama and never lived
anywhere else she married a factory worker named dewey she
wasn’t happily married but it had nothing to do with her
husband who was kind loving and proud of his college educated
wife he cared for her as well as he knew how they had two
children a boy and a girl named after me the boy was well behaved
and graduated from berea the girl had problems and never finished
college agnes died on january 12 2017 an unfulfilled person
she never found herself or what it was she wanted from life
nor did she have the willingness to go after it even had she known
although she made halfhearted attempts to discover her calling
she taught school worked for ems and as a lab technician in later
years she raised purebred dogs to sell she told me she never found
anything she liked to do we exchanged letters periodically but had
seen one another only twice since graduating once in berea because
she wanted me to meet my namesake and once in louisville where she
and dewey came to help move his sister even so her husband told me
she talked of me frequently agnes’s life was a tragedy she had the
intellect to be whatever she wanted but she was consumed with a deep
impenetrable depression that she let possess her and which caused a
lack of desire interest and motivation she never understood that life
requires commitment and you have to make yourself happy
i’m glad i knew agnes i may have been the only friend she had
agnes my neurotic red headed friend
Untitled No. 2 by Nicollette Wethington
white cotton panties
dragged down my thighs
and then I’m exposed…
exposed to the open room,
the cold air,
and your hungry eyes
thrown against the sheets
clothes strewn around the room
wrists trapped above my head
large hands cover my mouth
as screams try to escape my lips,
screams no one hears
fingers trail down my skin,
the miles and miles of skin that cover my body
and my skin is not indestructible,
it is easily scarred
as seen by the many marks flecking my body
you look down at me…
lust in your eyes
a loud, sharp sound ringing through my ears
as your palm connects with my cheek
long fingers wrap around my throat
whispering in my ear
“don’t say a word to anyone,
who would believe you anyways?”
as you lick your lips
and bare your teeth
intruding on my body
eyes pressed tightly shut
I slowly stop fighting
my soul leaving my body
peering down at the lifeless body below me
some girls get pleasure from pain
finding harmonies in the resounding skin on skin contact
their joined bodies reverberating in rhythm with each other
but I am not one of those girls
these are screams no one should hear
and a suffering no one should accept
now, hoping it is possible to swim in the ocean of life without drowning,
hoping it is possible to swim without getting washed away by the waves
but I keep swallowing mouthfuls of water
and there are weights tied around my wrists and ankles dragging me under
and in the end, I realize…
‘A Still Breath’ by Sonja de Vries
Driving to the hospital, you told me
your father hid gems in the creek
so you could find them,
rushed home from his job as a salesman to practice catch
He was older than the other fathers, took pictures of hummingbirds, taught you to love the woods.
Not even meth or prison
kept you from writing him the poem
that he hung on his wall.
When he shuffled through the hallway
he would brush your words with his hands.
It was when I saw you kiss the top of your fathers head that I knew what kind of man you were.
That May, your father was struck silent and you kneeled before him, your thick arms
a circle around him,
your head resting on his chest listening for that still breath.
By Tanner Harshman
we are all mutants
bred in small mid-western towns
meth coast monsters
products of young mothers
distant fathers and
that turns road kill
until the corn stalks
turn into palm trees
and the abandoned
Lions club morphs
into the Taj Mahal
crawls on its belly
we live in basements
of houses with
on streets that have
numbers, colors and trees
in towns where
everyone even knows
we become something
Black and White Photography