This year’s entries to Literary LEO were extraordinary, making the challenge for our judges simultaneously difficult (hard to narrow down the field) and rewarding (fun and inspiring to read and see).
If only we could give out more awards…
Celebrate the winners 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Literary LEO Awards Party at Copper & Kings Distillery, 1121 E. Washington St. The party is free, with readings, photo and cartoon showings and a cash bar.
Short story judges: Amy Miller, executive director of Louisville Literary Arts; Joanna Englert, poet and director of Marketing and Publicity at Sarabande Books; and Keith Stone, managing editor at LEO Weekly.
Poetry judges: Hannah L. Drake, author, poet, spoken word artist and LEO columnist; and Laura Snyder, publisher of LEO Weekly.
Photography judges: Mary Carothers, professor of Photography, UofL; and Rachid Tagoulla, master of fine arts candidate in Photography, UofL.
Cartoon judges: J. Cobb, LEO’s art director; John Nicholson, LEO’s graphic artist; and Aaron Yarmuth, LEO’s executive editor.
By Jinn Bug
When I was young I thought I wanted carefully pruned Celtic knots of herbs, formal borders, trellised roses; I planted sunflowers instead. Now, I see a shabby tapestry knocked cattywampus by sudden storms: strong warp of haired stalks five fingers thick and the tugging weft of bindweed, illuminated by the joy-flicker of goldfinches, the burbling feedsong of cardinals and now — as days grow shorter by soft increments — the hustle of field mice scrapping for fallen seed at the roots.
I didn’t plan to fall in love with a poet. I didn’t plan to rise before sunrise each day; I didn’t expect to neglect chores to make art; it was never my intent to drive vehicles that were more than 20 years old and none of them with air conditioning. I am quietly surprised I cook most meals and wash cloth napkins and hang them on the line outside three seasons of the year. I never expected you’d read this which I couldn’t imagine I’d write. I wanted to be a cartographer. I wanted exact latitudes and the graceful ellipse of longitude. I was certain once that all I needed was the right plan…and to follow it.
Now the wind stirs torn scraps of four-and-a-half decades of abandoned maps and I can’t chart how I ended up Croesus-rich in this August-gilded life, grinning as the great blue heron swoops low over our garden, each feather glowing in the low-angling light that signals autumn’s return. The remnants of my vividly imagined course read Terra Incognita, and those scraps are dusted with sunflower pollen. I drifted here.
I drifted here.
There’s a rambling way and most times you can find it if you don’t want to go there. No compass will steer you there; it does not exist on a trajectory between Point A and Point B. It’s the
each turn you’ve taken time-thus-far has been the wrong way,
the hell-bent-for-certain way,
the I-can’t-believe-I-just-wasted-so-much-of-my-life-going-down-that-road-for-nothing way. Always such gorgeous scenery along the rambling way; just lift your disappointed head and look about you (lift your disappointed head and look about you, now).
Here on the rambling way, you can smell the pools of water where the dry creek bed wants life again. You can hear the barn swallows’ call skimming the corn and the corn’s rustling love-song to the sky. Those pignut hickory aren’t fit to eat, but down in the shade of the ditch, the last of the honeysuckle is dripping sweetness for you. Walking down this road, you see the glint of the old railroad tracks breaking through worn pavement. You weren’t the first to come this way and you’re not alone, even when the rumble and whine of heavy traffic disappears entirely. Even when you’re tired and trudging and every bit of your being is lorn and lonesome. Listen carefully. In every direction, life is singing a praise-song of encouragement as you ramble. Mother Nature — in all her terrible beauty — likes to keep things complex and looping; she’s always favored fractals over linear space. She’s a firm believer in following patterns too vast for any eye to see, any mind to comprehend. Trust her. She knows what she’s doing.
You may find others on the rambling way but you won’t find crowds; you left crowds when you skidded off the high straight road, the road someone tore up everything in their way to build, the road that smothers the earth and razes trees and dislodges rocks and sours streams and lures wild things to their doom while painting the verge with trash each day, sunup to sundown and long past.
The rambling way is long and it’s as unsettling as it is beautiful and there are times when the way just vanishes and you have to backtrack and find another branch to follow. And there may be a direct correlation between just-how-convinced-you-are that you will never ever find your way and finally discovering a place where you belong, where you can stop and rest a while. There are no mile markers. The signs are often hard to read. You’ll know it when you come to it. It will smell and sound and look like the dreams you had when you were a child, the perfect cottage tucked away behind a landfill, the preternaturally green glade you can only reach after you let the quicksand suck you under. Until then, ramble on.
Somewhere along the way, you’ll realize you’ve been taking notes. Not notes for a map — you long ago gave up trying to chart a course anyone else could follow. They are notes about what catches your eye, what stirs your heart, what gentles your racing thoughts, what you overheard when you met others who were rambling too. You will write these notes on tree leaves and discarded cigarette packs that tumble down from the highway above as that well-traveled road grows busier and wider without you. You will sing them to yourself wandering dim copses; you will chant them as reassurance when you’re knee-deep and sinking in sloughs. You will stroke them gently into your own skin when the loneliness tells you no one could ever love you; you will breathe them over the feathers of a gull that couldn’t keep up with the hurricane a moment longer. You will trace them idly in the dirt as you rest, footsore and heart light, under the rising fingernail moon. You will hum them into the wind and forget them, and the wind will bring them back around when you need to remember them again.
And these notes — these beautiful scraps in the commonplace book that is life, that is wonder, that is brokenness, that is longing, that is joy, that is grief, that is parting, that is being at home in your own skin wherever you find yourself in this world — these notes will be the song that drifts along the web of infinite fractaled connection to touch another who is wandering too.
Ramble on. •
By Isiah Fish
“Look,” Fernando says, leaning against the beached, tiger-orange kayak, “this could be our last night in Ecuador.” A stray hound licks wedding cake off his ankles as he stares hard towards the horizon.
“Are we dying?” I ask. He looks at me, then at the dog & shoos it away in Spanish.
“I’m done hustling & I want you to quit too,” he says. A football crashes into his glass of horchata. A lithe teenager with blue braces runs over & scoops up the ball, bounds off without so much as a lo siento. I cut my eyes at the little cabron, suck salt from my teeth, huff. Fernando shrugs and tells me how, as a teenager he wanted to be a football star until one of the older kids on the team molested him.
“I could’ve been the next Ronaldinho,” he says. I picture Fernando as a boy, dribbling in a field in cleats, his sweat-stained jersey rippling in a sprint, then pivoting & ready to pass. I pick up the overturned glass, now caked in sand, & set it upright. Fernando heads up to the row of thatched-roof restaurants to piss & comes back with two limonadas & a joint. We blaze & watch caramel-skinned surfers shred wild water into submission. A cumulous cloud shifts above the ocean like a herd of white palominos running away from me.
“You really want to leave?” I ask. Last night’s tourist was rougher than we wanted, but paid us handsomely for every scratch. I can’t tell the bruises from the hickeys.
“Si. I’m done,” he says. Someone shouts his name over the beach reggaeton & it’s Angelina, the Portugee newlywed who—for her reception—had beautiful strangers dance on her wedding cake. She’s posed on horseback, waving, her hair cornrowed on one side, whipping like breeze-blown crimson tassels on the other. Her wedding dress, a white lace bikini cut from a now-discarded gown.
“Where will we go?” I ask. You have a friend who used to hustle & now he lives in Gringolandia with his white husband who works at Gucci.
“Someone will marry us quick if we go there,” you say. “Estoy cansado.”
I picture us in a loft eating parejas in Minneapolis, growing bored but being loved, no longer enjoying sopa de marisco at Tambo Peruanos, no whimsical flowering of tri-colored umbrellas along the beach. Maybe, I too, am a little tired, but comfortable in that same breath.
“A job’s a job & we have one that we’re good at. We’re beautiful.”
Roy, a local in his late-fifties who pays us to humiliate him once a month, brings us two cold cervezas & asks if we’re available tonight. Before I answer, the football returns, kicked straight into the hands of Fernando, who doesn’t return it when the teenager runs back over, but stands & begins juggling it on two feet, finding the soft smack and bounce of balance, the consistent, music-bearing grace of remembering. Take away the ball & he’s dancing a barefooted flamenco. The teenager watches & more boys gather, & I too, am stunned by the way Fernando moves—with & around the ball—as if each move is a cure for something, as if his legs are tricks of light. •
The Day Before The World Ended
By Grace Gaynor
“It was for the best, so Nature had no choice but to do it.”
It was a warm night in the middle of June when the president announced that the world was ending. His face was shiny, his eyes were red, his voice shook.
Two people sat, almost completely intertwined, in the corner of their couch, their tiny dog resting in the space between them, all three watching the display flash on the television.
“That’s the most emotion I’ve ever seen out of that bastard.”
A solemn nod was given as the taller of the two attempted to pull their curly hair from the other’s ear piercing.
The day before the world ended the two people dragged the green canoe out from under their back porch. They took turns pulling out the cobwebs and dead leaves that had been trapped inside, dust sprinkling the curly hair of the taller of the pair as the two worked to dislodge the old green vessel. Together, they kicked mud and rocks out of the way with their clunky boots, their tiny black and white dog jumping and weaving between their ankles as they dragged the boat down the slope that supported their tiny yellow house.
No one was sure exactly how it would happen. The scientists had started to refer to it as hibernation; “like going into the deepest sleep you’ve ever experienced.”
It might be like that if they were lucky.
The day before the world ended they packed two bags, one full of the sweet orange candies that they both loved so much, the bright orange cellophane crinkling in the crush of bottles and granola bars. The other bag, far more practical, full of underwear, two shirts, two pairs of shoes.
“I don’t think we’ll need to change.”
“Scientists can be wrong, you know.”
They could be wrong.
If everything went well, they estimated that they would get the canoe in the water before noon.
If everything went well they would have the tent set up before sundown.
They had planned this months ago. Once the scientists and the higher-ups started to talk about “hibernation.” No one panicked at first, most people treated it as something avoidable, something fun, exciting. “The Today Show” aired a special and hosted a panel to chat about End Of The World Extravaganza parties.
“People love to throw parties”
They both agreed that going camping one last time would be nice.
The small canoe was light enough to balance between the two of them if they both worked at it. The journey was short by most standards and the smooth exterior of the boat was comforting to rest against. Their tiny dog pranced in front of them, looking back every once in a while to make sure the pair and their canoe were still behind him. The two took turns calling him when he strayed too far away. Besides, the whistling for the tiny dog, the walk was overwhelmingly silent, a small parade of two people led by a tiny dog, his collar glinting in the sun, celebrating their impending doom.
As soon as they arrived at the bank of the river, the tiny dog splashed into the water along with the canoe. He bent his head and lapped at the water, searching for fish to torment. His dainty paws kicked up the smooth pebbles resting in the water.
The water was silent. A reflecting pool.
“Maybe the fish are hiding.”
Nervous twirling of curly hair marked the latter response as unsteady.
With the canoe floating in the water, the two took turns steadying the rocking of the vessel before settling, the taller of the pair in front, looking back to make sure the other was safely settled before beginning to paddle. The tiny dog resting in the space between them.
The rhythm of paddling the canoe was so easy to settle into that it was easy to forget about the end of the world. No amount of death, destruction or complete darkness could distract from the careful skim of the paddle on the smooth, clear surface of the water. After a while, the taller of the two paused, running a hand through the mop of curly hair that was growing in the humidity of the day, the silence of the water and the deafening quiet of the woods becoming absolutely grating.
“Where the hell are the birds, I can’t take this anymore.”
They began to dig through their gear, a small radio was dislodged from the bottom of a backpack. Clicking through stations revealed that the only viable option was an 80s throwback channel.
They took turns shouting the lyrics to “Come on Eileen.” The tiny dog running from one end of the boat to the other, almost on beat.
They had decided to paddle until their arms got tired, they had also decided that camping regulations meant nothing.
“I bet all the rangers have gone home.”
They chose to stop beside a small clearing of trees.
The soft give of the river bank made it difficult for the two to drag the canoe out of the water, but the tiny dog lept up the hill, barking at them once he reached the top. The mud seemed to want to drag the smooth-bottomed boat back down into the river. After a fair amount of struggling, it came to rest in a clearing on a bed of pine needles.
“This seems as good a place as any.”
“Seems alright to me.”
The taller of the two scraped the curly hair out from in front of their face, then the pair set to pulling the red tent out of the bottom of the canoe. Treating it with the most reverence a beat-up old tent had probably ever experienced.
That old tent had been with them through a lot of things, had seen a lot of states and countries, and now, the end of the world.
Not many tents get to see the end of the world.
As soon as the tent was up, the flap unzipped, the tiny dog ran in and back out again, his bark ringing into the woods, dividing the silence left by the lack of birds.
The pair stood close, fingers intertwined, cutting off blood flow.
“What the hell do we do now?”
“I think we have an excuse to drink.”
The taller of the pair pulled the cork from a bottle of wine.
The day before the world ended, two people sat across from each other, separated by a dying fire. Every once in a while, an ember floated into the space between them. The tiny dog making it his mission to growl at every spark. Intermittently, one of the two would take a deep sip of blood-red wine, laughing at the distortion cast onto the other’s face as they looked at the world through glass.
The day before the world ended, two people listened to their tiny radio play ‘80s hits. The station played “Come on Eileen” six more times.
“Who the hell keeps requesting that?”
“I think we’re the only ones listening at this point.”
“Us and the DJ”
The DJ took this time to remind “everyone out there” to dance like it was their “last night on earth” before playing “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.” The pair obliged, spinning wildly around the clearing, jumping over the dying embers of the fire, throwing their arms around each other and swaying slowly. Their tiny dog sandwiched between them.
The day before the world ended, two people in the middle of the woods promised not to cry and promptly broke that promise when they looked at one another.
The day before the world ended, two people went to sleep in their beat-up old tent in the middle of the woods. The tent, one they had taken to Yosemite, The Grand Canyon, The Redwood Forest, stood alone, a final resting place.
The day before the world ended, two people in the middle of the woods, alone except for their tiny dog, talked into what would be their last night.
On the morning that the world ended, two people were fast asleep in their beat-up old tent, their tiny dog resting in the space between them. •
By Peter J. Stavros
Those goddamn geese, as I pull into the parking lot and try to find a spot, towards the back, away from everything, as usual, but I can’t because those goddamn geese are everywhere, and they won’t budge, not one budge. They just stand there, so aloof, indifferent to this world, immune to my contempt. And they won’t budge, not one budge. Fuck those geese, fuck those goddamn geese, as I drive around the parking lot like an idiot, trying to find a spot, and at this point any spot will have to do because I’m going to be late as it is and I can’t be late, not for this. I can’t be late for this. I wouldn’t even be here but for you.
I find a spot sandwiched between two gargantuan pickup trucks, and you know how I feel about door dings. But fuck it, what else can I do? Those goddamn geese. I take a deep breath, and try to relax. I keep the radio on because I still listen to the radio because I can’t figure out that streaming shit and my CD player stopped working ten thousand miles or so ago, during the road trip to Colorado when you came down with altitude sickness, Dave Matthews getting stuck and melting, the odor of burnt plastic, the warbling of his voice, more than normal, then silence. “Landslide” is playing, the Smashing Pumpkins version, and I turn it up because this song always makes me cry, no matter who sings it, even Billy Corgan. And I’m trying to make myself cry, but I can’t, because I’m still too pissed at you.
Your mom looks good, as I finally make my way inside. She looks good considering, and I realize that everything today is going to have that caveat. Considering. She tells me she likes my hair “like that” and I don’t know what she means by “like that” because all I did was wash it then brush it back but whatever, and when she says “like that” she motions towards my face, both hands, without touching me, just hovering over my face as if there’s this invisible force field between us and that’s as close as she can get. She smells of lavender. Her eyes are tired. She asks me, nods at the front, if I want to go up and see you, and I sigh, and I lie and say maybe later. Maybe later. I’ve seen you enough. I’ve seen you in better days. And worse, not this worse, though from what I know about these things, with my grandfather, they use a make-up artist to make you look better than you ever did. So that’s something I guess. Considering.
I take a seat at the back, away from everyone, as usual, in a pew that’s hard and wooden and cold, and has no give to it, none at all, and it releases a flood of memories of when I used to come here every week and sit and squirm and try to get comfortable, and I never could. Get comfortable. The pastor, in a singsong voice that verges on condescending to convey it’s okay that we’re here this day, a Saturday, talks about forgiveness, but I’m not there yet, nowhere near, no way. So my mind wanders, and I drift off. Why didn’t you say something to me? How was I supposed to know? Those goddamn geese have left me in a bad mood, and I was already in a bad mood to begin with. Considering. And you’re up there at the front when there are a million other places you should be. Same with me.
Those goddamn geese, as I walk out when it’s over and avoid having to say too much to anyone, as usual, but especially considering, and try to find my car, and those goddamn geese are everywhere still, with their long green turds blanketing the parking lot like oblong landmines. And I just bought these shoes, and I was planning on returning them later because they will only remind me of this. But of course I step in it, one foot, and the other foot, and it’s disconcertingly slippery, and I slide. Fuck those geese, fuck those goddamn geese, as I can see you laughing because you lived to laugh about this kind of shit. And it makes me laugh too, and I crack up, really lose it, right then and there in the parking lot. Only I’m not laughing. I’m crying – thick and guttural and choking sobs and I double over and I struggle to catch my breath. It doesn’t even seem like it’s coming from me. But it is. And I let it. I couldn’t stop it anyway. And I need it. So I let it. But I’m still pissed at you. Those goddamn geese. •
The Guild of From-Scratch Picket Fence Builders
By Jinn Bug
In the photograph you cannot see, I am holding the hammer and grinning like a madwoman.
My neighbor Jack is one of those fellows I admire who can do anything he sets his mind to and has the skills, tools and experience to back it up; in this case, crafting (and recrafting) a picket fence from raw lumber, picket by picket, rail by rail, post by post. And — like me — he prefers to work alone and has developed all sorts of tricks and templates and rigs and jigs to help him accomplish just about anything solo.
So I was deeply honored when Jack asked if I would like to help him rebuild a few sections of his picket fence. He didn’t want to ask me, but his vertebrae have been most uncooperative recently, breaking and causing him pain, and so I was unexpectedly and happily drafted as an Apprentice in the Guild of From-Scratch Picket Fence Builders.
In the long, hours cutting and painting the rails and then ripping each picket, angling the tops just so, painting and painting again, Jack and I swapped many stories of adventures in the never-ending house projects that come with our old houses, things that had gone right and gone wrong. We touched on books, and people we had known, and neighborhood doings, and the challenges of coping with changes to our bodies with age.
Jack is a good teacher — he worked with the Scouts for many years and in a factory for many more — and despite the fact that he would rather do things himself, he has the gifts of gentle suggestion and clear explanation that make it easy and pleasant to learn from him. He does not snap, or condescend, or poke fun when one is ignorant or clumsy. He reminds me very much, in spirit, of my maternal grandfather, who I adored. One afternoon, the afternoon Jack and I ripped 60 pickets from the raw lumber and I trimmed each and every top of the pickets to the correct angle, I found myself in tears.
You see, I am from a generation and — perhaps — a class where girls were not encouraged to use power tools. My grandfather taught me many things related to gardening, and ocean fishing, and sailing, and writing, and visiting with elders, and pitching tents, and starting fires, and painting, and wallpapering, and cooking, and…..yet hammers and saws and drills and planes were not — I believe — things it ever crossed his mind to show me how to use. That was part of a man’s world. And at school? There were shop classes, sure, but I was a “brain”, doing the advanced classes and — let’s face it, no matter how much I yearned to build a bench and picture frame — those were still the times when only boys took shop classes and girls were forced to endure a round of Home Economics and the mandatory sewing project and interior design tips sandwiched between a few simple recipes for the kitchen and how to remove stains from the apron one had just reluctantly and grudgingly stitched.
My society did not expect me to have cause to practice the many home economies of Fix An Ancient House Yourself that I have, over the years, needed to know and have learned solo, or with quick advice from handy men in my life, or with — as I refer to it — The Older Brother I Never Had: YouTube. I suppose my society expected I would find a man to do these things for me–brother or father or uncle or husband–or if I was not related to or could not attract such a man, I would have the means to hire such a man to do these things for me. Having disappointed society in this, I have — over the years — learned a little plumbing, a scrap of framing, a fair amount of trim carpentry, a bit about laying floors, a few things about rudimentary electrical fixes, a quite a lot about handling power tools, and even more about demolition and cursing…but in most of these things, I am a novice, an apprentice with no committed teacher, and much of what I have learned I have learned by attempting and failing, with all the attendant frustrations that brings in its wake.
So the afternoon I cried, I cried in direct reaction to Jack’s telling me how much he appreciated the favor of my help. “You don’t know how much this means to me,” I told him. “You don’t understand what it means to be shown, to be trusted, to be encouraged, to be the one operating the power tools, to be taken in and accepted to the Guild of From-Scratch Picket Fence Builders.”
And I tried to tell him what I’ve just told you. After I dried my tears, I hauled the circular saw and the miter saw back inside, and a few days later Jack showed me how he gets his pickets perfectly lined up and spaced in a most ingenious fashion that I suspect is a Guild Secret and can show you now if you ever want to build your own picket fence, and I swung my hammer over and over and over and over, getting everything just so, and by heaven — those pickets are near-perfect, the cunning little gate swings without a hitch, and I am a now a member of the Guild of From-Scratch Picket Fence Builders, with all the rights and privileges and acceptance as an equal that entails. And in the photograph you cannot see, I am the one holding the hammer and grinning like a madwoman. You don’t know what that means to me…or perhaps, now, you do. •
Because You Said So (for Greg)
By Christine Payne
You always knew how to dress immaculately for any occasion.
(my parents wished we would date.)
And throw the best parties and make the most festive cocktails.
(with you I drank icy gin and vodka in tiny vessels.)
And laughed when I said you intimidated me with your savoir-faire.
(you introduced me to chocolate-dipped strawberries decades ago.)
We met on the Rotunda steps when you offered me my first julep.
Then we danced to Aretha.
And listened to an organ concert.
(how you played all keyboards like you were born to do so.)
Your small town Virginia chief-of-police father.
My small town California cornet-playing diplomat dad.
Your cosmopolitan everything.
My bashfulness in spite of world travels.
(our Francophilia linked us.)
In the times before success stories you were among the prey.
(with fevers and lesions and weight loss.)
I brought you chilled melon soup.
(closed doors with orange biohazard stickers.)
You told me insurance would save your life.
(and kept apologizing when the soup made you queasy.)
ICU was foreign territory for this 26-year-old.
(where I met your parents and sister.)
Listed as family, I was permitted to hold you.
(your long, cracked nails on dry hands and feet.)
Tentative and then firm strokes on your arms and legs.
Feeling rigid muscles ease.
(your sudden tears looping around a ventilator strap.)
That summer (before the one when you left me)
I travelled with a ludicrous French “countess”.
Your laughter and rosy cheeks as you watched my parody.
And told me “write your stories.”
I will read them aloud to you.
Seeing Is Not Believing
By Jinn Bug
I will not watch the video
of the black man face up
on the sidewalk shot dead
by cops nor the brown man
whose raised hands and honesty
meant nothing, meant nothing
to the nervous officer. Seeing
is not believing. I believe already.
I believe many have mistaken
brute force for bravery and
fear-driven backfire for right
action and I do not need to see
death-pornography to believe
the police murdered another
citizen for a broken tail light
for carrying a gun while colored
for the wrong attitude wrong time
wrong record wrong place wrong
accent wrong look wrong dress
wrong intersection wrong ideas
wrong shoes wrong smile wrong
I believe you put guns in the hands
of fearful bullies — be they officers
of the law, armies, brownshirts,
open-carry advocates — and the same
damned thing is gonna happen
time and again and the same damn
folks are going to step forward
and explain how it was somehow
the right thing to do and all this blood,
this bone, this death, it looks just like
the madness it is and I do not need
to watch another man die
to know it for what it is.
By Jermaine Johnson
We move to the city
but this doesn’t come with us
so we write about beauty from a concrete landscape.
At 20 we’re ashamed of the simplicity
where silence is a gunshot
and we trade opportunity for home
from oak tree to dandelion
the soil is a comforting cold
the air thick and moist
and at 30
we fight the urge to climb a tree
roll down a hill
claim a patch of earth with a stick
peel it open and smell it anew
the richness of life
open wide like a welcomed yawn
at natures pace
A small stream off the river bank
we lay with turtles and crawfish
a centuries worth of moments
it was never enough
here one can’t smell the rain before it comes
so we write about beauty from a concrete landscape
silenced by a gunshot
we traded opportunity for home.
A Favor for Saint Anthony
By Steve Cambron
He asks if he can share my table
over the baristas banter and Coldplay’s “Clocks.”
And before I say “yes” nods a thank you
while pulling up a chair. A seventy something,
weather-beaten Lebowski, a bulging Power Ranger back pack
with a ripped-out zipper hanging from his hand.
The “Virginia Is For Loers” tee shirt, droops from his shoulders,
frayed Bermuda shorts from a long-gone Land’s End catalogue,
scabbed ankles sticking out of blown out Nikes.
He calls me my friend and smiles a punched-out picket fence
of jagged teeth. When he extends a hand to shake
I catch a whiff of that pile of newspapers
yellowing away in a dark corner of some garage.
I brace myself for the story, a Vietnam Vet
maybe, who never quite made it all the way back home
or the area sales manager whose career was peaking
on the bar graph of success, then bottomed out
after corporate sold off his branch.
Instead, he pulls a grocery bag from his backpack,
empties it on the table and sorts through the jumble:
a dirty white whiffle ball, a homeless Hulk
from a happy meal, faded green, a yellow Big Bird
flat as road kill, and a bald baby doll, one eye poked out,
elbows cinctured with creases to simulate baby fat.
He asks if I can do him a favor
and when I reach into my pocket for change
dismisses my offer with a flick of his hand.
There’s more disappearing in the world today
than Saint Anthony’s ledger of loss can hold.
If everyone would just do their part,
everything lost would find a home.
He lays the baby on the grocery bag and slides it toward me.
A coffee grinder kicks in, his voice, the music, the chatter
of the couple sitting next to us lost now in the static hum
of whirling beans. I am trying not to look
at that eye socket rimmed with dirt, that mouth lip synching
a blissful silent coo, or those little doll arms
reaching out from their blanket of crinkled plastic
so hopelessly naked and dumb, the weight
of what to do with it all already heavy in my hands.
By Tasha Cotter
After the storm, the flowers
Lay weakened, some badly
Broken clean off from the stalk.
I walked through the rose garden
And counted five hundred or so
Miniature heads strewn across
The ground. Their whitened,
Curled petals reminded me
Of an ancient war I once read
About, how the Vikings pillaged
The Irish countryside, throwing
Babies onto swords. What must
It have been like to see the ship
Approaching the shore? To turn
Their strange voices and shouts
Over in one’s head like a stone.
I’ve seen the roots of violence
Burrow and tug in some hearts,
But I’ve not watched my life
Start to slip away as men sing
Their foreign song into the wind
Of my ear. I’ve not seen my young
Butchered. I wanted to write you
Something pretty among the roses,
But these ruddy bouquets want
Me to tell you about how war begins
With a slow anchoring in. We sense
What’s coming before it pierces us
Like thorns. I’m telling you there are
Stories much worse than you or I
Will ever know and this truth leaves
Me cold, searching the rose garden
For some trace of beauty, but the clouds
Are darkening and the roses lie quietly
As if waiting out a raid among
The withered, bloodied, and red.
The Light of Learning
by David Kegel
Chains and Flag
by Bud Dorsey
In Solitude Wonder
by Jinn Bug
By Deborah Brownstein
Make Me Perfect, Please
By Antonio Pantoja
Black & White Photography
Resurrecting a Rebel
by Antonio Pantoja
By David Kegel
By Jinn Bug
First Dream Called Ocean
By Antonio Pantoja
In Black White
By Bud Dorsey
Louisville Also Louisville
By Erin Fitzgerald
Portraits Of American Music
By Rene Blansette
By Eric Roorda
Louisville, Welcome Home
By Sunny Podbelsek
By Eric Roorda
Congratulations, You Got Rid Of Them
By Justin Trevor
Scarred For Life
By Lee Thomason