A Stop at Willoughby

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By Heather Altfeld

for Rod Serling

O, handsome apocalypse,
master of the unexplained,
purveyor of bodies electric!
My mother dressed for you a little

even though you aired
while her feet still hurt after work;
she did not remove the pantyhose
or run to terrycloth her tush
until the entirety of the broadcast had run,

two episodes she could name after a sentence
of the opening, an anonymous competitor
in a more finite version of Name That Tune.
She is old enough to have seen television
as a curtain, or a doorway,
a thin pane of glass between the air

and the waves that brought you to us,
both impossible and very near,
as though she could reach into the distance
of it and pull out a Milky Way bar, or an amulet,
or an elegant husband.

And while we watched, she ate;
Frosted Flakes, her first meal of the day—
eating after noon, she believed, was less fattening.
And when you came on the air, leaning against a wall,
or a streetlight, to smoke a long cigarette
because your knees didn’t work after the war—
your wife, it was said, became inured to the sound of you
falling down the stairs at night

did you ask us to believe in these other worlds
with the surety of your narratives,
or did your presence
merely make them possible?
In the calculus of the design of Heather,
you were mitosis and meiosis;
my very cells bred to learn the universe
as a place where things turned on their heads
were often facing just the right direction.
The earth could move closer to the sun and find us desperate and burning in a sixth-floor walkup.
Or the earth could move closer to Pluto and leave us freezing in a well of darkness.
Or the dead and disappeared could ring you through a powerline downed in the cemetery
or the mannequins in the store really lived on the ninth floor with the thimbles
or even Shatner could lose his mind on a wintery continental flight
and shouted-at children could escape through a hole in their Hollywood pool
and maybe if you could just climb one hundred yards over the rim
you would see one hundred years from now

where nuclear war was an annihilation
we had barely begun to imagine—
Witness Henry Bemis, from the fraternity of dreamers,
a bookish little man
 you began, speaking of the one literate man
at the bank who only wants to read Copperfield in peace,
tricked by the terrible irony of God and greed
to find his glasses broken in the end-vault of the world;
my first exposure to utter fuckery.

Even in the weeds of Dachau,
years after the war, in the episode
I could not watch but watched each time it aired—
(maybe you’ll sleep better at night knowing
that sometimes justice can be served)
, my mother said,
as though in fact you, Mr. Serling, could make it so—

Mr. Schmidt, recently arrived in a small Bavarian village
a picturesque, delightful little spot onetime known for its scenery
but more recently related to other events
having to do with the less positive pursuits of man:
human slaughter, torture, misery and anguish.
Some seventeen years ago, his name was Gunther Lutze,
a black-uniformed strutting animal
whose function in life was to give pain—
and like his colleagues of the time he shared the one affliction
most common amongst that breed known as Nazis:

he walked the Earth without a heart.
And now former S.S. Captain Lutze will revisit his old haunts,
satisfied perhaps that all that is awaiting him
in the ruins on the hill is an element of nostalgia.

What my mother meant, as a lullaby,
in lieu of reading me the Eichmann trials at bedtime
was that I must allow for the possibility
that the bodies of the monsters in men
could live to be tried and tortured
by a room full of ghosts.
From you, the sheer evils of conformity.
From you, that people are alike from Topeka to Mars.
From you, that that hate is not a figmentary departure
from sofa to screen, but a contagion
you find most often in the mirror.

The year before you died, I was four,
and you found my red sweater on the floor at our synagogue
–you slipped it on my small arms and patted me
on the shoulders. This is how I too began to dress
just before you appeared on the screen,

so you could see that I was a cute improbable in training,
an expectation for the unexpected,
a dreamer for whom the magic of the world was still waiting.
For without you, would I need to depart daily
into the strange?  Without you,

isn’t it possible I would love my mother
just a little less?  How else would I have learned
to adore the grace of a smart man
who knew that the impossible was as near to us
as truth? How do we know, after all,

no matter what side of the screen we are on
that death is not just around the corner
waiting for us—as a train stop somewhere
between July 1888 and heaven, a place
where the sweetest bits we imagine of the past
lie just beyond the tracks, waiting?
Or that death may very well be
the tender hand of Robert Redford
knocking at the door just now?
For here he is, in the coldest morning of winter,
handsomely bedecked in an angel’s coat,
gesturing me to come with him,
asking me to gently take his hand—
yes, he says, come—and you beckon with him,
Mr. Serling, convincing me that it is time to leave
the condemned tenement of my all-too-possible life,
to bundle up and walk with him arm in arm
out to the street, off the screen,
and into the dusty, uncertain light.

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The Master of Loss

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By Wesley McNair

My old Uncle Truman, a career military man
used to being in charge, was the first of us inside
my mother’s house, followed by Bonnie, the high school
sweetheart he’d returned to in the Ozarks
after the sudden death of his second wife,
next his Ozark sister Dot and brother Wallace,

then me. We didn’t visit the greenhouse with its torn
plastic ceiling and desiccated plants on the table
and hoses on the floor tangled in pots and coffee cans.
Yet the house was all my aunt needed to have nightmares
for two weeks afterward, shocked that whenever her older
sister called her long distance from New Hampshire

late at night, telling her stories about the workers
at her nursery and big sales of the forsythia my dead
stepfather once developed, she sat at a desk surrounded
by piles of old bills and newspapers, or worse,
in the bathroom on the toilet seat’s matted, black fur
talking on the portable phone among magazines scattered

all over the floor. “How can she live like this?” Dot asked,
because everyone understood you had to keep things
in their proper places to know where they were.
But here, my stepfather’s overalls and shirts,
which belonged in the closet, were hanging on the bar
of the shower stall, and his shoes were lined up

below them in the tub, and the floor was such a mess
neither she, unsteady on her swollen legs, nor Truman,
on his cane, dared venture beyond the door frame.
Back in the living room, I found Wallace, who wore
a wide bandage across his bald head, searching
through the bookshelf for the family bible my mother

accused him of stealing after my grandmother’s
funeral, having forgotten that she took it herself.
“Ten to one, it burned up in the fire she had,” he said
with a sigh, probably because now he couldn’t
carry it back to the rehab hospital and show it to her
as he smiled the same smile that my grandmother

couldn’t resist in her youngest son, and that my mother
always hated, thinking of all he got away with
when he was a child, and he, remembering all
she used to blame him for. Yet there was plenty here
for him to gloat about. In the kitchen with Bonnie,
Truman tried the faucet over the sink, which chugged,

then blasted black water on the encrusted pans
in the sink. “My God, they’s a big mouse trap in between
the cans on the floor!” Dot exclaimed. Truman shut
the faucet off hard with a scowl, more upset
than she was, for after living his whole life by rules
and order, he must have felt he was now standing

in disorder itself. “She’s lost her grip for sure,” he said,
the faucet still fast in his hand, and we others agreed,
because for each of us, life had to do with holding on,
however you managed it, against surprises and losses,
Truman returning to the past with his high-school
sweetheart, Aunt Dot, disoriented unless she knew

where things belonged, Uncle Wallace, distracted
for now from his growing cancer by a family grudge,
and I myself, who in my grief for a failing mother
had brought these dear, diminished siblings
from their visit at the hospital to see the stacks
and piles and pathways as if the house were a problem

that somehow we could fix. Bent to our purposes,
we missed the message right there around us,
that even as we held on by turning away from loss,
my old, exasperating mother, grown tired
of turning away, had reached out to embrace it, holding
onto everything she had so tightly it could never leave.

I Am

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By Vince Gotera

I am the rice you ate at lunch today and you didn’t even notice.

I am the pork that was sweet and sour in your lunch. I was raised on a factory floor standing in the shit and piss of my sisters and brothers who were shoulder to flank around me. I am the pesticides and antibiotics that kept me not sick but also not sane. I am the confinement building floor. You know this about the meat you eat but you put it out of your mind.

I am the sweet. I am sugar. I am corn syrup. You prefer to forget that I stood in regimented rows in tilled fields. I am the regiment. I am the tilled field you drove by on your way to lunch. You are unaware of the sweet oxygen my regiment pumps into the air for you to breathe. I am the oxygen. I am the air. You just pull me inside your body like a bellows and use me.

I am the sour. I am citric acid. I am created in giant factories, fermented from molds and treated with calcium hydroxide and sulfuric acid. I am the factory, the mold, the calcium, the sulfur. You do not understand the process that produces me. I am invisible. I am unknown. But you could see. You could know.

I am the water you drank at lunch. I am the ice in your glass. I am the ocean. I am the salt you sprinkled on your sweet and sour pork. I am the beach on the edge of the ocean that was melted into the glass that is the container you drank from. I am the sweat of the people who worked in the factory that made the glass. I am the rain and the snow that poured from the sky and became the liquid you take for granted. I am the particulate matter that was strained from the water to make it pure for you. You assume that the water, the glass, the process that made me—clear water, clear glass—will always be there for you.

I am the car that took you to your lunch today. I am the robots that repeatedly bent and stood and reached and welded and spun screws and performed manifold actions to create your vehicle. I am the sheets and masses of plastic and glass and steel and other metals that are stamped and molded and fastened together to create what you do not notice. You do not think of the woman in her thick leather apron and plastic safety visor who spends most of her daylight hours assembling the dashboard that will absorb the force of your body hitting it when your car is stopped suddenly in an accident. I am that woman. I am her leather apron. I am her safety visor. I am her children, two girls in grade school, for whom she assembles ten thousand dashboards so they can eat. You don’t think of these when you put your cell phone on the dash. I am the dashboard. I am the cell phone.

I am the grass you walked by between your car and the restaurant. I am the flowers and plants edging that grass. I am geranium. I am lavender. I am morning glory. I am marigold. I am the woman who mows the grass. I am the clippings of grass discarded and converting into nitrogen. I am the man who plants and tends the flowers. I am the lawnmower the woman guides. I am the trowel he wields. I am the knee pads they both wear so they can walk when they are not gardening. I am the garden. You notice the flowers or at least they are on the edge of your consciousness. The grass that bends under your feet is pliant. It does not scream under your weight. Or I should say I do not scream. You rule my existence.

I am the ground you stand on. I am the bedrock that holds up the building that is the restaurant. I am granite. I can open a million maws, ten million sinkholes, and swallow. I can quake your proud buildings into piles of riprap. I can vomit forth as molten lava and raze your houses. I can shove a thousand tsunamis down your puny throat. I can with my great mass, with gravity, pull in my siblings the asteroids and comets to rain down upon you and your works. I can do all of this and more to destroy you. I sometimes do but only in small doses. I can change those doses into colossal, enormous lessons. I can devour you. I can waste, vaporize, exterminate you.

I am earth. Remember.

I am earth.

 

In Chillicothe, Ohio

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By Dick Allen

In Chillicothe, Ohio
there’s a small wooden house in which a man
is eating a shark’s tooth. He’s also
planning the destruction of room air-conditioners,
koans, sunflower seeds, and the word “beautiful”
applied to any day but Tuesday,
although nothing will ever come of it. In Chillicothe,
a woman leans back against a wall,
just her shoulders touching it, her hips thrust forward,
her clothes half-off. Next door,
an elderly Buddhist sits on a prayer rug,
trying to keep his mind from running in circles
around Ben and Jerry’s Rocky Road ice cream,
and in their upstairs attic rooms
all the eight-year-olds in Chillicothe, Ohio
are reading Spinoza. Can you believe your life?
Does it make sense? “Most people,” wrote Fitzgerald,
“think everybody feels about them more violently
than they actually do—
they think other people’s opinions of them
sway through great arcs of approval or disapproval.”
In Chillicothe,
someone is drawing sketches of trolley cars,
a gray cat smirches on its back. In the hand of a dead man,
text messages appear: Keep Monday Open, 2 p.m.,
Usual Booth. Urgent News: The Invasion
Has Begun With A Shark’s Tooth. . . .

“Chili, the best chili is green,” we argued
in a diner beside the Interstate
so late in the American night even the cook
kept glancing out the window. Our opponents
loved the New Evil. “The New Evil,” they said,
“cackles wonderfully. You can go with it.
Evil as funny. Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum.
Mocking the mockers. We’ve reached the crossroads
where special effects blend into what is real
so perfectly we’re more our images
than they are us. . . .” Try to catch nonsense
and you’ll be chasing a rat around a ravine,
yelling “Chillicothe! Chillicothe!”
until the last potato skin falls from the last potato
and people sell scented air in red balloons.
Can you believe your life? Does it make sense?
In 1918,
at Chillicothe’s Camp Sherman,
21,000 standing soldiers formed an image
of President Woodrow Wilson for a photograph,
the photo later autographed by the President himself,
who was highly amused. At least one of the soldiers
knew that standing there in that field
was what he’d be remembered most for, as others
might be remembered for at least a few decades
or even hundreds of years because they wore
red suspenders in peculiar ways
or whispered a memorable few words into the ear
of some famous writer. . . .
Who knows what Evil knows?
What makes you unusual, distinguished, one in a million?

Fame is an oyster,
a monster, a ring around a rooster.
I’m Nobody, who are you?
Are you Nobody, too?
In Chillicothe,
someone walks into the National City Bank
sucking a life-saver. The tellers are chatting,
and one is thinking of her life to come,
the streets lined with gold,
all those perfectly white clouds
that will be like walking across sponge baths,
thunderous choral music in her ears all day
and she perpetually young
with flowers in her hair.
She greets the bank patron, saying,
just as she’s said a thousand times before,
“May I help you?” and the patron nods,
they smile at each other, and for a moment
fame doesn’t matter, or disease, or death,
nor anything that’s floating down the Scinto River,
or onstage in Goldie Gunlock Park,
and in all of Chillicothe, Ohio, just for a moment,
the New Evil doesn’t exist,
there’s not one thing wrong in the world,
not one blessed thing.

Absolute Sin

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By Elisabeth Arlen

He died for a 60″ curved Samsung
Ultra High Def Smart TV,

A drive-thru
Crypt along I-95 with a sliding

Diebolt
Vat 21 Drawer and an IPhone 6s,

Already risen to the top
Of a landfill.  Flesh,

Is obsolete.  Forensics
Has no way to solve this crime.

This sin–
Was paid for by The Victim.

Ode to an Orgasm

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By Nin Andrews

after Neruda’s “Ode to a bar of soap”

When I pick you up at a bar
and lean close . . .
it’s your aroma that amazes me

the fragrance of wherever you come from
the seas you have traveled
the sleepless nights
the oyster dinners with too much marinara,
the lovers so many

I want to ask,
Are you ever alone?
What is your home town?
Do you have sisters? Cousins?
Brothers?

Do you take a bath?
Or do you fly like blind fish
or dive like a cormorant

sinking in the darkness
before rising again
waving your wings at the sky
exposing
your wet, wet heart.

The Poet Enters His Solitude

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By Michael McManus

They were there: chair, paper, pen/the table
torn/from its freefall/hard-core-hand-me-downs/
anorexic ghostlings/the floor/—

oak/planks/wooden/nails
buckled under/ the sound check/
there was/a mindful misogyny
towards the/ taxidermist’s rendition
of medusa/the big screen forever

frozen/CNN in still life/he wonders
if he will die beneath the rubble/
of Lego blocks/he sees/the river/
frozen/pinpricks/of lantern light
carried across it/coal dust

in his coffee/cup/Tourette syndrome
in a Petri dish/Starbucks/Doubleshot/
coffee & protein/the mausoleum
of his hand/that the dead rest in/

Chance encounter/with/a pinprick/
in a barn door/the quantum/entanglement
of a child’s hair/yes, he fears/these/and
many/other/things, including/this room/

the empty sleigh/waiting/for/the child’s
body/which will/never come/ vowels/
their footsteps/giving way/to consonants/
the laws/of thermodynamics/notwithstanding/
freefall/rain or ruin/but these things/

these are/what he loves/the forgotten mill-race/
one field over/all/the/hallucinations/vibrating/through
this open window/something/thrashing/in brambles/
the circadian/rhythms/between/heartbeats/
the narrow/gorge/in spring/filling with
wild flowers/white water/the great Arapaho

beating/in his chest/each year/the snake/
that always/returns/to shed/its skin/
with no sense/of yesterday/or/tomorrow/
the way/it/never stops/singing/
Duende/Duende/Duende.