Jonathan Mc Gough
Special Events Coordinator:
A smear of rouge, peony,
Berry stains, patterned socks,
The end of day and beginning of night when,
A brush, painting thin careful strokes,
Glows softly feminine color in the pale light,
Coordinated with a lacy, taffeta confection.
Rushing to cheeks, blood makes all
Embarrassment evident, hot as the
Heat of an oppressive August night.
Sugary sweets crack and smack,
Punctuating every other word andg
Expressive of insecurity.
Afterward, friction, smelling like smoke,
Rubs out graphite, now reconsidered,
Though once scrawled openlyg
On a folded construction paper heart,
To be forever baked by shooting And crucified by three tacks on cork.
Eleven Ways to Listen to a Mix Tape
Music does live. For proof there is amplified bass,
giving off its steady, thumping lifeline
somewhere between human and hummingbird.
Her voice hitches up an octave
and it’s charming every time,
like an Alabama girl learning the flute
or like a screen door creaking shut.
If I could taste Annie’s voice,
it would soothe like mint tea,
it would excite like liquid icing,
it would go down like sandpaper.
I think: rich, lonely, a balloon of tears
filling inside a very proud chest.
I love the sound of violins.
I love his voice because it is a violin.
A piano is bipolar and highly unstable,
it wants to say so many things at once.
I love the sound of soft pianos.
I love the thundering of pianos on the edge
They are not junkies in prom dresses.
They do not spit at male fans, or
toss their bras like shredded confetti.
They only sing “I am free, I will be free”
without pretty backup harmonies
without a leering producer pulling them by the hair.
I could kickbox with monsters to this percussion.
I could rescue damsels without breaking a bone.
On every CLAP I could be lightning, anticipating
the noise, striking out in less time than it takes to blink.
My song kisses with tongue and teeth.
Like wolves in tender moments,
it scratches to show how it loves.
The drums shoot quick and clean, rapid-fire.
I am lungs turned inward and heart spilling out.
This image is violent for a song about sunshine.
And maybe you didn’t know until Jimi came along
that a guitar could sound endless and primal,
a child wailing for milk in the dark.
I need to be promised this:
no one will brush the knots from his hair
and teach him not to stammer.
N I C O L E G R I E C O
You can see the end of the world
at the point where sky lounges on sapphire ocean:
the line separating fish from birds.
Loving you meant balancing on that line—
oh the exhilaration!
For hours we watched turquoise, teal and jade waves
somersaulting to shore wearing white tutus.
Swimming in the raw, urgent ocean, we were pulled
by rush and surge, a froth of giggles.
As the tide turned, the waves slunk back,
leaving the sand dark, damp, replete,
We would climb on the white wooden lifeguard stand,
always empty after five o’clock.
I wrapped myself in a towel, tossed a beat-
up sweatshirt over my bikini.
You couldn’t stop my shivers.
When I miss you, I think of that view,
a truer picture of you than your face.
I do not remember the midday beach,
smeared with umbrellas, sandcastles, child-depth holes.
Instead I see the late afternoon beach,
a lone girl chasing a gull who was plodding along.
She’s getting too close, you said.
He lifted hi s w i n g s and g l i d e d
MY MOTHER TELLS ME I’VE DEVELOPED AN UNPLEASANT HABIT OF BEING ATTRACTED TO DAMAGED MEN.
The lean-limbed college dropout I met three years ago. I didn’t care how cock-eyed this prince became as he lapped up his liquor -- I fancied his platinum mop a holy, shining crown.
Words, no matter how slurred, tumbled from his plump lips like great glittering lyrics from some unwritten song. Liquor always was the other woman.
I became to depend on him like he did his nightly Prozac. After a few nights alone, I would begin to feel like one of those birds that bang against
the windows on the side of my house. Now, eight months after it ended, his shape still lingers in my sheets, and I am still that bird,
all the more bloodied.
In the Absence of Rose Petals
The aloof Irish guitarist who kept remnants of his first girl’s burnt photographs in a wooden box in
his closet. He breathed and slept and ate in our world. He lived in his own.
We canoed in Adirondack lakes. We shared a mattress in a broken-down cabin. We lay without clothes in pounding July heat.
I could have stood on his chest, opened my throat, and let rip the shrillest scream, and he still would have eyed me with the same
vacant, bemused face he did when we were in bed.
The tragic bass player I held a brief affair with amid the gray days of an unsettling fall. He drank black coffee and liked pot.
He had punctured his own lip with a safety pin and wore a small gold hoop. I enjoyed the fact he had used no astringent.
I spent the entirety of Sunday afternoons navigating the crevasses of his thin, uneven bed. I twisted and contorted as
he picked on his guitar. My comfort never seemed to particularly concern him.
Often, as he lapsed to and from unconscious sleep, he would betray the awful moments of some piercing dream: while black snakes attacked
him he would raise a hand to his face; when he ran from his ghostly mother’s open arms, single droplets of salt water formed in the insets of
In place of affection he offered me drugs.
After I was left clutching the pulp of my exploded heart, I would carry those soggy pieces thirty miles to the Formica top of my
mother’s kitchen counter. They would lay there for a few weeks, amalgamating into a mass of pathetic red mush, until she would
carefully mop them up, brow furrowing, without a sound.
I’m up on the eleventh floor
in a fleshy room with the doors
locked from the outside.
The walls are all pink but white
where my fingernails have ripped the wallpaper
trying to escape.
The TV constantly blaring “Jeopardy.”
“What is the matrix? I’ll take escape artists for 500.”
All the lights are glaring in the hotel across the street,
the shades are broken, the light withers my soul
like a raisin in the sun.
Tantalus at the Marriott Marquis
Despite artificial daylight I feel
trapped at the bottom of a well
with a broken ankle, trying to climb my way
out of an open grave.
Every inch I climb
I find a handful of crushed grapes.
The water has begun to rise, and it’s getting
higher than my knee, my waist, my neck.
If it’s impossible to drown in the womb
Why can’t I breathe?
Without ever really being born
I long for sleep
If only they’d turn off the lights
across the street.
A blistering fire
With two crossed pieces of
Railroad tie burning, sending
Smoke swimming into the sky,
Spilling over the grass,
Sending embers flittering
In the wind.
Burn the chairs and
Burn the branches, Burn
The delightful nights
With the enchanting chances.
Shining curls collecting glow
Beneath the rain of ashes
And half-lit secrets whisper
Through the dances of
Yellows and orange.
Child: Olivia Jane, Thirteen Months (Staten Island, New York)
Phase 1: Food and Sustenance
Olivia Jane eats a mixture of fruit, vegetables, and sugar, distilled into a thick paste. She might explore it herself with clumsy
hands, or allow herself to be fed by means of a plastic spoon shaped like an airplane. We say, “Here comes the carrot plane for
Olivia Jane!” and it collides with her mouth, a chaos of watery goo, tiny teeth, and saliva. The Olivia Jane is also known to consume
at various times in the day: hot dogs cooled and divided into ten pieces, watermelon slices, the ear of a teddy bear, animal crackers,
soy milk, apple juice, and Play-Doh. She digests as she sleeps, in a dark blue car-seat decorated with cartoon giraffes and sticky with
Phase 2: Play
The standard Olivia Jane at thirteen months has a weak memory but a highly focused attention span. Thus a single word, combined with an
energetic gesture and repeated indefinitely, is likely to entertain the Olivia Jane for over twenty minutes. To test this theory, we need only to engage
the subject with a simple, flattering statement. Years before we take women’s studies courses at a state college, we see no problem informing a young
Olivia Jane that she is “so pretty”. This compliment works most effectively when voiced at a high pitch and combined with physical contact. We say,
“SOOOO PRETTY!” -- our hands gently tapping the Olivia Jane’s chin, raising her face high, and her squeal of pure joy seems to shout, Yes! I am!
It’s too wonderful to express! Her patience outlasts ours by approximately fifteen So Prettys.
Still, with the help of intense behavioral study - by method of several middle-school babysitting hours - researchers have managed to distill her six basic modes into a bi-hourly cycle.
No creature has mystified and fascinated mankind more than the thirteen-month-old Olivia Jane. Her habits are irregular, her tempers varying.
Phase 3: Cry
The Olivia Jane has moments of restlessness
several times a day, during which she hiccups and whines
incoherently, which her mother terms “throwing a fit.” Prior to a “fit,”
she is typically warm, clean, and fed. Her mother says that she is “tired”, but
this is a lie, the catch-all excuse for a child’s complicated angst. At thirteen years old,
that same mother will say “she’s probably getting her period” when we are warm, clean, fed,
and miserable. We give Olivia Jane concerned looks and imagine we relate.
Phase 4: Babble
The Olivia Jane does not have words to explain what she feels, but rather than retreat into silence, frustration
has made her experimental with language. She knows that she can place an adjective after a noun and be perfectly
understood, like the Europeans, and that superfluous words like “not”, “don’t”, and “won’t” can all be reasonably shortened
to NO. She has invented at least one ingenious phrase - “uppy down” - which means both “pick me up” and “put me down”,
proving all on her own that opposites are very often equal.
Phase 5: Existential Meditation
There are times that the Olivia Jane appears, even to the most casual observer, to be in a state of deep thought and careful analysis, inwardly
suiting the world to her needs. Her brown eyes that were blue at birth will stare into a thing she cannot name, like a heating vent. She’ll examine
it from all angles, try to grasp its purpose in the universe at large, but mostly she wants to know what it will do for her, what it can do right
Phase 6: Play Again
“SO PRETTY!” we say and blow kisses on the Olivia Jane’s hands, stomach, and neck. She spontaneously throws her arms around us and says “Uppy
down!” This means, I am down here at this level. Help me get closer to you.
A Misplaced Life
Millie was a renaissance woman, with a hook of gold and
silver keys that danced at her hip. She was a student of poetry, jazz,
Sartre, and Buddhism. Periods of meditation and introspection
filled much of her later years. The cover on her edition of East of
Eden could no longer support the frequency of her rereading.
She had been the resident manager at the Grant Hotel for almost
four decades. Her vibrancy faded, at a steadier pace, with each passing
season. She was still strong in her old age, but she was a shell
of her former self, the person who first walked through the gold
revolving doors of the Grant Hotel. She carried the name Melissa
in those days.
It was the height of the ‘30s, and Melissa was just eighteen
years old. She supported dreams on her smooth shoulders
and walked with a serene air of confidence. Melissa longed to be a
dancer on the famed stages of Broadway. Chicago was to be but a
pit stop along her journey.
Melissa paused underneath a glowing street lamp. A cool
breeze permeated the ceaseless summer evening. She needed a
place to stay. Her weary body longed to rest in a bed of soft linens.
The Grant Hotel’s brilliant moniker, on the corner of 3 rd Avenue,
appeared to Melissa as though it had descended from heaven. She
hadn’t eaten all day, and her thin lips were beginning to turn blue.
The faint sound of a piano beckoned her approaching steps.
Melissa, a fair-skinned brunette, with features made for a
Degas painting, sauntered through the Grant Hotel’s vaulted lobby.
A waiter nearly dropped a tray of champagne flutes while staring at
Melissa’s ankles. Men, dressed in black suits and top hats, turned
their heads to follow her scent of innocence. She pressed her hand
against the front desk’s marble top.
“How can I help you this evening?” Kevin asked. A bellhop
who read mystery novels in his spare time, he was only a few years
older than Melissa.
“Well, I was hoping to rent a room, but I can’t afford to stay
in a place like this. I’ll be on my way.” Melissa wrapped her scarf
around her neck and moved toward the hotel’s gold-plated doors.
Knowing that there wasn’t another hotel for blocks and
that it was only going to grow colder outside, Kevin
struggled to harness his concern for Melissa. Before
she reached the opposite end of the lobby, he
jumped from behind his desk, proceeded to
kick over a pyramid of luggage, and called out
to her. “Wait!”
Melissa halted in the center of the vast
room. She feared that she had violated
hotel policy in taking a handful
of mints from the reservation desk
without being a guest. She put five
of them in her mouth and dropped
the rest to the floor. The red and
white candies trickled to the feet
of a senator having a rendezvous
with his mistress at a nearby table.
Kevin placed his hand on Melissa’s shoulder. Her body stiffened.
She squeezed her cheeks and lips together, attempting to destroy the
last of the evidence of her crime. She turned to face Kevin after the
overwhelming taste of peppermint had become too much for her to
“I’m sorry but I thought they were free,” Melissa said. She held two
half-sucked mints in her open hand.
Kevin laughed. “Is that why you thought I stopped you? Granted I
thought that it was funny how many you took, but they are complimentary.”
Melissa put the wet mints in her pocket. Her cheeks turned as red
as the circle on her palm.
“It’s just that it’s approaching eleven, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep
tonight knowing that you were wandering the streets of the city by
yourself,” Kevin said.
“I’m sorry, but I really don’t have the money to stay in your hotel.
I’ve used almost all of my savings to get here from North Dakota.
I’ve been looking for a job, but I haven’t had any luck.” Melissa
glowered at the brilliant chandeliers that lined the
Kevin, dressed in his teal uniform, with cardboard
shoulders wrapped in lace, related to Melissa’s
situation. He too came to Chicago with nothing.
“I think I might be able to help you,” he
Melissa peered into his brown
eyes with the anxiousness of a young
girl. She saw something familiar in
his gaze. She had been promised
many things by a number of men
who had met her acquaintance,
but she thought that Kevin spoke
from a place devoid of ulterior
motives. His innocence, etched in his soft cheekbones, captivated a
romantic hope in Melissa’s soul.
“There’s an opening in our dining room wait staff. The wage isn’t
great, but the position comes with a room in the service quarters.”
Melissa’s mouth opened slowly, revealing a beautiful smile.
She knew that she could trust the young man before her. The freckles
under his eyes reminded her of nights spent counting stars with
her father. The soft hairs on his nape couldn’t belong to a dishonest
person, Melissa thought.
Her mother had once told her that the women in her line had been
blessed with luminous insight. She now realized what a precious
gift had been bestowed upon her. “That would be wonderful. I’d be
able to save up enough money for the rest of my journey,” Melissa
Someone was waiting for her in New York City, a talent agent who
had been a childhood neighbor of her high school drama teacher.
Over telephone lines, while clutching Melissa’s eight by ten, he had
promised to make her star. If Melissa had seen his face when he
had said those words, she would have realized that he was lying. He
planned on using her for his own amusement, dangling auditions
just out of her reach, and throwing her away when he grew bored.
Melissa’s drama teacher had warned her not to get too excited after
her first conversation with the agent, but youthful exuberance soon
clouded her thoughts.
After two more phone calls from the agent, both in the middle of
the night, she headed for the train station. She stood on the rail
platform, squeezing her ballet slippers in her right hand, with a
single red bag over her shoulder. She wasn’t going to stop until she
made it to New York, she thought.
Melissa paused for a moment. She could sense that she and Kevin
would become close friends. “But I must tell you that I don’t plan
on staying here too long.”
The hotel’s front desk was littered with composition books.
Coffee cup circles offset an ashtray that served as the home for a
mountain of cigarettes. A rust-covered bell could hardly be seen
underneath a pile of envelopes. Plaster from the hotel’s walls acted
as makeshift paperweights.
Millie’s various hats, for all the odd jobs she performed in
the hotel, rested on the desk’s cracked marble top. They ranged from
a blue bowler, which she occasionally wore greeting incoming guests,
to a torn Yankees cap that protected her hair while she plunged
toilets. She despised cleaning the hotel’s bathrooms.
Her arthritic hands struggled to control the motions of the mop
against the porcelain stalls. Her back and knees ached as she rubbed
graffiti from the mirrors. A steady cough leapt from her lungs while
she soaped the floors. She performed the Grant’s most unglamorous
duties and acted as the keeper of its keys.
She had keys to rooms that no one had been inside for
decades. Rooms whose paintings of triumphant battle scenes had
faded. Millie said it was because eyes had stopped cherishing the
faces of the paintings’ victorious soldiers. She used to stare at those
canvases for hours, during lunch breaks, and when she told the
hotel’s owner that she was washing the tenth floor bathrooms. She
befriended the wounded men of those forgotten paintings, hoping
to reawaken the pride that she could feel beyond the blue and green
oils of their eyes
Millie made sure never to rent rooms on the tenth floor—a decision
that had been easier for her to hide over the past few years. In that
time, the Grant Hotel had been removed from every map of Chicago.
The hotel’s “No Vacancy” sign had only been used once in the
last two decades, the result of a three-day power outage in the city’s
Millie saved trinkets and keepsakes from guests that had passed
through her lobby. Red noses and plaid clown shoes, from traveling
circuses, rested against charcoal napkin sketches drawn by unknown
artists. Toothbrushes, drill bits, and stain remover samples filled
cardboard boxes at her feet.
She kept lost wedding bands and mismatched pairs of
earrings in a drawer within her desk. Every couple of days, she
would unlock the drawer and stare at the charms for an hour or so.
She felt that by looking at the jewelry, with the reverence that the
ornate pieces deserved, she would guarantee that they would never
tarnish. Millie kept those rings and necklaces safe, polishing them
with a flowered handkerchief given to her by her mother, so that
they would shine with brilliance when their former owners came to
retrieve them. But the drawer never emptied; it only grew larger.
Millie once gave a diamond ring from the drawer to a newlywed
couple. She said that she felt like an angel when she handed
them the gift. She could barely hold back her tears when the young
man, trembling with happiness, put the ring on his wife’s finger.
It was November, in the year of 1985, when the two young
lovers rushed into the Grant Hotel, seeking refuge from a violent
storm. Their clothes were mismatched and ragged, but they didn’t
seem to notice. They wiped the rain from each other’s cheeks with
the gentleness of a newborn child. The couple rubbed their cold
hands together and fell into each other’s arms.
“How can I help you this evening?” Millie asked, standing
across the lobby. She brushed her straw brown hair, mixed with
pieces of gray, into a bun atop her head.
The two lovers hesitated and smiled. “ Oh, we’re sorry. We
were just trying to get out of the rain.”
“Would you like a room? We have a number of vacancies,
and it’s only going to keep getting worse outside.”
“We don’t have money for a room. We spent all we had
left on our wedding in the courthouse,” the young man replied. He
pulled their rain-soaked marriage license from his pocket, showing it
off to Millie.
“We heard that there was a shelter on Eighth Street,” his wife added.
Fearing that his bride’s paisley jacket wasn’t going to shield her from
the elements any longer, the young man took off his overcoat and
placed it atop her shoulders. She was already wearing his sweater,
hat, and scarf. The couple began to walk toward the hotel’s fractured
Millie shuddered to think whether her daughter had ever
been forced to live that type of life. She would have been as much a
stranger to her as the two lovers were. She hoped that her daughter
had also found someone who thought of her comfort over his own.
As she looked up from her ledger, the newlyweds were locked in a
passionate kiss in front of the hotel’s doors.
“Come here, away from the exit,” she called out. I’ll get some warm
blankets for your two.” Millie waved the couple forward. “And
you can stay in a room on the first floor, free of charge.” She knew,
in her heart, that it was her duty to give these two people, shining
examples of the free-spirited nature of love, some semblance of a
“You’re so kind to welcome us into your hotel. I wish there
was something we could do to repay you,” the young female exclaimed.
“You need not worry about an old woman like me. I only
wish that my daughter has met a love like yours,” Millie said. She
pulled a small key from her pocket and began to unlock a drawer
within her desk. “There’s something I want to give you.”
“Please, you’ve already done too much,” the lovers replied.
Millie surveyed the array of forgotten jewelry. She decided
on an antique diamond ring, a keepsake that had been in the drawer
since her first years at the Grant. Millie took the memento in her
wrinkled fingers and presented it to the couple.
“We can’t take this,” they said.
“I’m not asking you to take it,” Millie said. She wanted
them to understand, through the look in her eyes, that they had
blessed her with an equally sacred gift that night. “I’m asking you
to protect it, to watch over it. This ring has sat in this desk for over
forty years. It belongs on a lover’s finger.”
Realizing that they couldn’t refuse an act born from such
genuine kindness, the young man placed the ring on his partner’s
The couple reminded Millie of the first, and only, time she
had been in love.
Melissa had been working at the Grant Hotel for about a
month when she met Dr. Alexander Smith, except that he wasn’t a
doctor at all. His dark eyes caught hers, while she was working an
endless dining shift, in the summer of 1936. His smooth features
made him appear five years her junior. Alexander’s warm gaze made
Melissa’s breath weak. On a quiet July afternoon, she stole his check
from one of her friend’s pockets, and, after gaining the requisite
courage, she walked towards his table.
Melissa pressed the leather bill cover against her beating
chest. “Here’s your check Dr. Smith,” she said lightly. She would
later learn that he was as much a doctor as she was a veterinarian.
“Please call me Alexander,” he responded. He looked
up from his morning newspaper, and almost gasped when seeing
Melissa’s beauty up close for the first time. “And, who might you be?”
“My name’s Melissa. I’m a dancer,” she said nervously. She
was embarrassed by the way that her words leapt from her mouth.
“Well, Melissa, if you’re a dancer, what are you doing here
in front of my table?”
Melissa could barely force a single a word from her trembling
lips. She placed her hands behind her lower back and heightened
her posture, a tip learned from her high school drama teacher,
in order to steady her nerves. “I’m saving up enough money to head
to New York. In the meantime, Chicago isn’t such a bad place to
“That it’s not, especially now that I’ve met you,” Alexander
said. “I’ve been here for almost two weeks on a special consultation,
and I can honestly say that you’re the most beautiful woman in all of
He did think that she was stunning, but he was being far from
honest. He had been a patient during a consultation once—he had
somehow injured his back during a late night sales visit. It was one
of the few times that he had actually attracted a woman as himself—
Alex T. Smithman, traveling salesman
Melissa couldn’t help from blushing. His speech felt like
a cool breeze tickling her neck. “That’s nice of you to say,” she responded,
with modesty in her voice.
“It’s the truth. I would love to take you out some time, for
a cup of coffee, or even dancing.” Alexander’s words were infused
with self-assurance. That’s how he tricked girls like Melissa. He
believed his lies so deeply that they came out reeking of confidence.
“That would be nice,” Melissa replied.
Melissa and Alexander began spending evenings together.
They often strolled through quiet parks where their voices were all
that echoed through the trees. The things that Alexander spoke of
captivated Melissa—the worldly places he had been and the diverse
people he had met—except that it was all complete fiction. He had
barely been across the Mississippi River in his five years of service
with Klein Industries, a manufacturer of plungers and bathroom
products. He appeared to be a gateway to a life that Melissa had so
frequently dreamt of—a world that he fantasized about as well.
“I want you to come live with me in the Pennsylvania
countryside,” Alexander said one night. “There are horses for you to
ride, servants to fulfill your every wish, and a cottage that you could
use as a private dance studio. Samuel would drive you to all of your
Alexander was toying with Melissa’s emotions. He had pulled the
same hustle on a number of small town girls. He feigned attention
when she spoke of her aspirations. He only rattled them back to her,
later in their conversations, to seem as though he were listening the
entire time. He did, however, cherish her purity. He knew that she
loved the idea of him. No one could resist the charm of Dr. Alexander
Smith, he thought.
It was in the autumn of the only year of Melissa’s romance
that everything she held so dearly unraveled. Alexander was beginning
to tire of her. He took her to the opera to distract her as he
planned his escape. He liked to sneak away while his women were
under a haze of euphoria. One of Alexander’s most loyal customers,
a janitor who studied the works of Mozart and Beethoven in his free
time, had given him the tickets.
Alexander hated that Melissa clutched his hand before the opera’s
first notes had journeyed through the amphitheater. He was having
a miserable time, as he predicted he would, until the sight of the
piece’s voluptuous maiden awoke something in his loins. Overcome
with feelings of a primal nature, he dragged Melissa back to the
hotel before the curtain had closed on the first act.
“I’m pregnant,” Melissa uttered, wrapped in satin sheets.
Alexander’s once playful expression vanished from his face,
but only for a moment. This had happened to him once before. The
trick was to play it cool, he thought. “That’s wonderful, dear,”
“You’re not mad? I thought that you would be angry
“Of course not, Melissa. I love you deeply. We’ll
just have to get married before you and I return to my
family’s estate.” The entire declaration was a lie. He never
loved her. The closest thing he had to a family estate was
a two-bedroom apartment in Hoboken, New Jersey. He
was angrier with her than he had been with the other girl
that had contended she was carrying his child. How could
she be so stupid, he thought.
He had to keep his true emotions bottled on the inside.
Images of throwing his luggage out of a hotel window and
running down to the train station popped into his mind.
“You want to marry me?”
He certainly didn’t, but she didn’t need to know
that. “”Yes, sweetheart, I do want to marry you. You
should have known that all along.” She should have known that
marrying him was as likely as an earthquake in Idaho. He wanted
to ring her neck for having gotten pregnant. A pretty girl like her
might have actually had a future on Broadway, he thought to himself.
A river of tears started to flow down Melissa’s neck. “I can’t wait to
meet your parents,” she said. “I just hope that they come to care
for me as you do.” She had no idea that Alexander hadn’t spoken to
his parents in over fifteen years. The family he had told her about
was modeled after a black and white picture that he had seen in a
“We’ll talk about all of that tomorrow morning. I think it’s time
that we get some sleep. There’s a lot of planning to do for the
wedding.” He hoped to steal away from her in the shadows of the
“Could we have it in the hotel, Alexander?”
“What ever your heart desires, my dear. I’ll begin making the ar-
rangements in the morning. Just close your pretty eyes, and
I’ll take care of everything.”
“I’m so lucky to have you,” she said, as she kissed his lips.
That’s not what you will be thinking tomorrow, he thought.
Melissa awoke to an empty bedroom. Alexander’s clothes
were gone from around the room and the many gifts that
he had given her had disappeared as well. Dressed in only
a pink negligee, she rushed down to the hotel’s front desk.
“Have you seen my Alexander?” she asked Kevin. Her eyes
were beginning to turn the color of her nightgown.
“Melissa, I’m sorry, but according to the ledger he checked
out early this morning.” She grabbed the suede notebook
from the counter. Her lover’s name was at the bottom of
the page: ‘Dr. Alexander Smith, October 14, 1936, 2:05 a.m.’
He left no address or phone number.
“I’m sure he left me a note. There must be a note. See if
there’s a note,” Melissa said feverishly.
“I already checked. I’m sorry, Melissa, but there’s nothing,”
“I’ve checked seven times. I asked in the restaurant, the bar, and the
lobby if he had given anyone a message for you. No one even saw
him when he left.”
“That can’t be true.”
“It is. For some reason, he paid his bill in full last night. He must
have signed the ledger between Anthony and my shifts at the front
“Why would he have done that?” Melissa asked, slapping her hands
on the desk’s marble top.
“I don’t know. He probably has a car coming for you tonight, or
perhaps he left a letter in your room with some money for a train to
meet him.” Kevin wished that what he said were true.
Melissa searched Alexander’s room for a letter, a message of
some kind, for hours. She found nothing, except for a business
card tucked underneath the bed’s box spring. It read, “Alex T.
Smithman…Bathroom Supplies Specialist—Klein Industries…
‘Guaranteed to flush away your problems’.” There was no phone
number or address on the card.
She began calling hospitals in Philadelphia. She had received a similar
response from four nurses before she put down the telephone.
A number of young women have asked for a Dr. Alexander Smith, a
charming, good-looking fellow by their descriptions, over the past few
years. I’m sorry, dear, but this man doesn’t work in our hospital or any
medical center in Pennsylvania, for that matter. If he has taken anything
from you, perhaps you should call the police, each of them told her.
How could Melissa explain to someone what Alexander had taken
from her—the azure color of her eyes, the grace in her step, the
optimism in her soul? He had ravaged her of that which had made
her such a wonderful dancer—her spirit. No one would ever be able
to give that back to her.
Melissa made sure not tell anyone in the hotel about
her condition. She wore extra large blouses, four sizes beyond
her normal attire, to hide her growing secret. She refused Kevin’s
invitations to go out dancing, or to even, walk the streets of Chicago.
She spent her free hours drawing sketches of Alexander—the
way she wanted to remember him. Wrinkled pages soon encircled
her cramped bedroom. Her friends would question whether all of
the portraits were of the same person, for detailed representations
blurred, over time, into a sense of vagueness.
When Melissa’s manager first became aware of her ailment,
as he called it, he wanted her to leave the hotel.
“Our guests shouldn’t have to put up with your condition.
You were once a beautiful girl, but now that’s all gone,” he said,
tightening the leather belt that supported his pants.
“Please…I need a place to stay,” she cried.
“Why don’t you go home to your family?”
“They won’t take me. I’m pregnant, without a husband.”
Melissa looked toward the ceiling of the manager’s office, hoping
that a divine spirit would come and wrap her in its celestial arms.
“If your family won’t have you, why should I?”
“Because I can still serve a purpose for you, here.”
“That can’t be true. I need you like a blind man needs reading
“I’ll do all the horrible jobs that no one else wants to do.
I’ll clean the bathrooms, scrub the floors, work in the kitchen, wash
the linens…I’ll do it all for free. I just need a place to stay.”
The manager peered down at his desk, appearing to be
summing the profits on an imaginary balance sheet. He peered into
Melissa’s eyes and smiled, perhaps seeing an indentured servant
instead of a scared young girl. “Fine. But once a single guest
complains about your disposition, you’re out of here. Make sure not
to be seen.” He reached into a box of blue striped work shirts that
rested against his desk, and threw one towards Melissa.
She examined the scarred, cotton uniform. The red and
white patch on the left breast read, “Millie.” Close enough, she
This is my curse—
The gypsy incantation
For a decade made of heartbreak—
Somebody must have gathered
the smoke wrong,
Saw the sacred crystal in too dim a light,
And miscalculated the stars—
I never saw this coming.
Remember all my charms and secrets,
Told across the campfire lines
Of smoke and reality, the Romany
Heart that wanders in silk and scarves—
All action, and inaction,
is useless here, now.
Te na khutshos perdal tsho ushalin, 1
An elder told me once,
But I danced beyond all sense,
Only to tremble at the doorstep of Destiny.
A secret is an ally, a well-kept
Protector against a world
That has forgotten too much—
And no one can guess a heart
Without a touch, a soul
That grazes past another
In the dark—knowing,
Without meaning to.
Si khohaimo may patshivalo sar o tshatshimo. 2
Again, I stifle the light
In the hope of understanding
The dark, the grey-morning
That lights the illusions within—
This is my curse, a recitation
Of existence that bends
Or breaks a bow. But can you make
A wheel out of weapons? A heart
Out of clay? No,
And so, I keep my secrets
Buried in my eyes.
Te pabaren mage memelia:
May you burn candles for me.
Wanders In Silk
1 Romany for “Try not to jump over your own shadow.”
2 Romany for, “There are lies more believable than the truth.”
And there she stood
A sheep in wolf ’s clothing
With long black tendrils like snakes
And dark black dress
With a manufactured sneer
That smelled like the bitter
Taste of one too many
Sorrows washed down at
The expense of friends.
Hidden behind the smoke of tattoos
And covered in a loveless
Skin of bitter rants.
As she stumbled into
My lair my mouth watered
At the sight of innocence.
Wild, bleary-eyed, rampaging through the forest of my mind,
Like a madman, mouth frothing,
I came to Iowa, breaking geodes
Over the heads of small furry animals looking for pearls.
Stranded, I fly from nest to nest but all the mama-birds kick me out,
Because I won’t let them puke down my throat!
OK, honestly, no poet tricks.
I’m walking down the highway trying to hitchhike back to Jersey.
No one wants to pick up the long-haired devil man
Scratching his poison-ivy covered nut-sack.
Did I mention frothing at the mouth?
Kerouac, sublime visionary of the road,
What happened to the age of the automobile?
The America where no poor man had to walk.
In this information age did we learn better?
Decide it too dangerous?
Traded hearts for brain at half-price?
Dreamless, walking back to Jersey
Like an apostle down on his luck, cold turkey,
No god, no girl, no cash, and worst of all, no shoes!
Yet, feeling every imperfect rock purify my soul on the way.
Orange day-glo sky meets vanilla Monet clouds
Now staring into the sun’s third eye going blind.
City limits in the distance, citadel of fear, tightly packed with people,
Afraid of mad cow,
Afraid of monster trucks,
Afraid of Charles Manson copycats,
You name it!
Hitchhiking From Iowa to Jersey Blues
Memory wafts in the rustle of taffeta
The glittering silver sandal straps
The clinking of ice in cocktail glasses
A tableau of pretty people in pretty rooms
A red Persian rug, a large piano
You standing with my handsome father, laughing and smoking
I running to your skirts, crashing the party in my pajamas
Burying my face in black taffeta folds and velvet cloverleaves
Smelling perfume, tobacco and bourbon, the smells of comfort, of Mommy and
Listening to the echo of the last notes you played on the piano
Stealing the bright red cherries from the empty glasses
Pieces of You
M a r y K a y M e t c a l f
You are the same Mommy who cut bananas so fast that I thought your thumb
would fall off
Told me that I could cut my doll’s hair off but it wouldn’t grow back
Gave me Cheerios and M&Ms
Laughed at the antics of our two manic dogs
Let me play with the new baby with her doll1s blue eyes
Always had a hug and a song and a cigarette at the ready
Tried to explain to me what divorce was
It shouldn’t have ended so soon on a dusty North Carolina road
What does a five-year-old know about soft shoulders and fractured skulls?
I was blinded by the spinning car and the dirt in my eyes
Kind hands pulled me out to see
The crying baby with a cut finger and blood spilling on her red dress
The older sister flung into a field
Ambulances, pickup trucks, good country people
vYou were lying on the ground face down
I ran to you screaming, Mommy, and a grizzled farmer wouldn’t let me touch you
He was right, I could have hurt you but I didn’t know that then
I didn’t know anything about pain then
I see young women dying all the time now in operas
Violetta and Mimi tenderly expiring in Paris
Butterfly committing hari-kiri in Nagasaki
Proudly defiant Carmen murdered in Sevilla
Manon Lescaut, solo, perduto, abandonnato in New Orleans
Brunnhilde walking into the fire at the end of the world
All of them give me pieces of you as I try to feel how you felt
As the car turned over and over
As your head hit the ground
As the white light exploded in your brain
With no time to bid farewell to all those children
No surging strings
No falling golden curtain
I’ve been to Paris and Japan and Sevilla and New Orleans
I haven’t been to the end of the world
But a part of me thinks it is ignominious what you were wearing when you left us
Plaid shorts, sneakers and a baseball cap
You should have been wearing your lavender satin evening gown
Or your shiny black dress with the gold medallions
And your black suede sandals with the cutouts
Showing bright red toenails
A cigarette and a drink in your hand
Smoke drifting toward your gleaming wavy hair
I used to caress those dresses after you were dead
Hidden in the closet of that stifling concrete box we pretended was a home
I so much wanted to be like you
Now I have silks and furs and diamonds
Everything but the drink and cigarettes I loved too much
I wish I had had the chance to love you too much
Someone said you loved opera, maybe it’s genetic
I go to the opening night galas
I rustle in taffeta
And my sandal straps glitter
And I belong there
But I never forget the little Cinderella in the concrete box
Treading across the frayed red Persian rug
Opening the closet door
Stroking the empty black taffeta folds and velvet cloverleaves
Trying to hear the echo of the last notes you played on the piano
Always looking for the bright red cherries
At the bottom of the phantom empty glasses
Break-up of an English Major
Let’s have a conversation in the conditional.
We’ll speak in the imperfect because that’s what we are.
The present is progressive and the past perfect
Because it’s all rosy through distorted lenses,
Subjective, not objective.
You’re the indirect,
Just a lonely pronoun;
I’m the subject, I’m the center.
You’re just the object of my actions,
Another knot on the chain I drag along my way.
Future perfect because we’re hopeful,
Future tense because we’re scared,
Dependent clause because I wasn’t strong,
Independent because now I’m gone.
Can’t join two dependents with just an and,
Conjunctions can’t fix us
Because this is the end.
Little Bessie Ponders the Sanctity of Marriage
At seven years old, Little Bessie remained a very curious child, puzzled by the adult world but
determined to sort it out as reasonably as she could in her young mind. One Sunday after a
spirited church sermon, she approached her mother and said--
“Mama, why can some people be married and other people can’t?”
“Why Bessie, anyone can get married if they choose to, and someone’s
willing to marry them. Marriage is just when two people promise to love each other.”
“Can any two people promise to love each other?”
“Yes, and then they are blessed by a priest.”
“But if a girl promises to love another girl, can they be married?”
“Ah, now I understand what you’re asking. No, Bessie, it has to be a man and a woman. Two
people of the same sex cannot get married, or it’s called homosexuality, which is a sin.”
“Why is it a sin?”
“Well, the Bible says it is, and it’s Christian to follow the Bible. God meant for men to marry
women. That’s why he created Adam and Eve.”
“Were they married, mama?”
“Of course they were.”
“Are Adam and Gloria down the street married, mama?”
“Oh dear. Sometimes people -- well, they behave as if they’re married, when they aren’t.”
“Do homosexshuals do that too?”
“Sometimes they do.”
“Well, if they’re going to behave it anyway, why does it matter if they say they got married or
“Well, it’s the idea, darling! When something is bad, you make it illegal. If just anyone
could get married, then it gives people the idea that being gay is all right and not
This seemed sound enough and made Bessie pause for a moment. Then she asked,
“Are all sins illegal, mama?”
“Oh, you ask so many questions. Sometimes people need guidelines to make the right
“Mr. Hollister says people don’t choose to be homosexshual, but everyone’s born with
a different preference and there’s nothing they can do about it. He feels real sorry
about it, ‘cause if he was a woman he’d prefer to be a lesbian, that’s for certain.”
“Oh hush, child! I don’t want you to say such things.”
“Well I didn’t say it, mama, Mr. Hollister did. He also said lots of people do bad all
the time. Whenever sexshuality is going on, they’re either doing bad or they’re not
having fun. It seems awfully unfair, doesn’t it, if God made everybody that way?”
“Well hold on, let me think what our pastor would say. Ah, now, the fact is everyone
is born into this world a sinner, Bessie, and the point of religion is to teach them to
be good. Normal men and women have attraction to each other too, but they learn to
live without sin until the priest can bless them. So you see, the homosexuals can have
their feelings, but they must learn not to act on them, and they can live without sin
too.” Bessie’s mother thought this was a very clever answer, but her daughter’s expression
suddenly filled with horror.
“But mama, they can’t very well live without sin if the priest doesn’t bless them! Will
they never have any fun?”
“Well Bessie, that’s not our problem. The point is, marriage between a man and
woman is sacred and holy, and calling anything else a marriage is an insult to God.”
“Is it also an insult to God when people get unmarried, or married without a priest, or
married on TV for money?”
“Listen now, it isn’t always perfect, but yes, some marriages are still more holy than
“So mama, when Britney Spears went to the gambling city and married her friend
and then unmarried him, was that more holy or less?”
“(with a sigh) Oh do stop this. There are many problems in the world, Bessie.”
“Yes, it’s very sad. I asked Mr. Hollister if the president would tell them to stop too,
but he only laughed and said it would be a tougher thing to enforce. He said he
wouldn’t let the FBI barge in on his sexshuality unless they were bringing the handcuffs.”
“Now stop this nonsense. That may be all right for Mr. Hollister, but marriage isn’t
only about having fun.”
“What else is marriage for, mama?”
“What a question! Marriage is for raising children, dear.”
“Can homosexshuals have children?”
“Oh, sometimes I forget how innocent you are. It’s just not possible, Bessie. You need
both a mother and a father to create a child. Now don’t ask me why! -- you’ll learn
when you’re older. It’s just the way that God meant for children to be raised. A child
belongs with its two natural parents, not two mommies or daddies.”
“But I bet some people would like having more mommies and daddies. Little Susie
doesn’t live with her nat’ral parents, on account of her mama died when she was a
baby and her daddy went to lock-up. She lives with her grandma and auntie. It
would be nice if her mama had lived and her daddy would come back from the lockup,
but lately the whole gang gets along just fine, and she sure is glad to have two
“Well, I mean, sometimes you can’t help that, but an ideal family--”
“Also, I know a boy named Jeremy who lived with his nat’ral mom and dad, blessed by
the priest and everything, and when he was bad they would lock him in the cellar and beat him until
he walked funny. I don’t understand how he’s any happier than Susie ‘cause that’s how God meant
for them to raise him. Mama, do people ever get married for other reasons?”
“Well, I suppose sometimes-”
“And if they can, could homosexshuals get married for some other reason, if they promise not to
sneak any children into it?”
“No, I’ve told you, it’s the sinful idea of it. So now do you understand? It’s unnatural, and it’s the
idea, and it sets a bad example for children, whether they have them or not.”
“Like when Mr. Stadwick the art teacher got taken away from the school ‘cause of his husband?”
“Oh darling, no one took him away. He was... married, you know, out of state. But the PTA only
talked to him, and he resigned himself. People like him could put the wrong ideas into your heads.”
“What kind of ideas?”
“I think the word is ‘indoctrinate’. Yes, that sounds right. It means -- well, it’s when a teacher tries
to put part of their own self into impressionable children. That’s called the homosexual agenda.”
“But I don’t know if Mr. Stadwick had an agenda, mama, ‘cause mostly all we did was make snowmen
and stuff out of instruction paper. Once he teached us how to spell MISSISSIPPI, but nothing
about sexshuality. Actually mama, we were all surprised when he went and resigned himself,
‘cause we didn’t think any of the teachers were married at all. They usually don’t say nothing about
it. Only old Father McMarris ever said anything, and that was only private in the rectory--”
“I think we’d do well to leave Father McMarris out of this discussion entirely,” Bessie’s mother cut
“It wasn’t just Father McMarris anyway, mama, but also Mr. Johnston who teached the fourth graders.
After class he was telling them all about people practicing their love, and it was very beautiful
the way he made it sound, and it was the good Christian kind between a man and woman. Some
of the girls were getting so big they were almost women, he said, and when they got a little older he
could give them a personal lesson in the way that God meant for it. But then the police came and
took him away from the school too, and now he stands in front of the bus station, and I think it’s a
shame when all he wanted to do was indoctrinate us with the right- mama?”
There is no more to the dialogue after this point, as Bessie’s mother had fainted onto the sofa.
In the mirrored stares of maternal graces
I once again recall Good Morning and Good Night.
I am the brown paper bag of a well-balanced lunch
And the expectancy of all expected of expectant me.
I am tucked into green and cradled by golden sunset bracelets.
I know again the scent of safety
From mystic emerald bottles atop a studded tray.
Time polishes a faded picture of the docked day
And shines in quiet understanding, the shared shift of a sigh.
I know every nuance of myself through her,
Every part of her concealed in some manifestation of me.
I know the majesty in my name, I am adorned with her choice,
Appointed her only female adaptation.
But a third pane of the mirrored window silently sleeps,
We draw the curtain together, my mother and I, and together the red path is spread
But now we stand at either end, tugging corners and spreading salt
When She beckons with a dove-like timber and I leave my mother.
Identity is fluid and my mother is there, in that room, more than I.
A Trinity formed, knit together, no one titled as any one,
And from one look is revealed all that lies within and ahead
All mapped out, not by genes, but by our first meeting
Fixed with inevitability in two crying faces, one mother, one daughter
And one daughter, one mother, four arms, one base and sixteen thousand aspirations.
In the mirrored stares of maternal grace,
I know why I am here.
Dave is Following Reductio Ad Absurdum
Sarah and Dave wear their slippers in the kitchen
but she still complains about the cold tile floor.
She annoys Dave. Of course, there are other reasons.
She doesn’t eat any vegetables. She rushes into large
statements and leaves herself standing in assumptions.
Dave corrects her because he hates when she’s wrong.
He thinks too highly of her. It’s how he justifies her
in his life. When she’s gone, she will be allowed to be
wrong. She will have to be. He will walk barefoot and
his toes, the balls of his feet, they will murmur.
Dave will say, “Quod erat demonstrandum.”
Contemplate the thought that people like us will never get
We’ll hide where we can be safe and
away from the things that can hurt us.
I make sure of it,
you can’t reach me, you can’t hurt me.
Flip it over and you’ll feel the same.
What to expect
when I can’t tell where sky meets ocean,
vast blueness on blue.
Confusion conquers me and sends me into a
black hole with stars shooting at me like a laser
tag galaxy game,
I hide from them, I hide from you
never to know what you want from me.
We’ll just spin around in a never-ending hellish cycle
where we say yes and no
you go up and I’ll run left
stay safe where I am, because you know
Fuckers like us will never get anywhere
wrapped up in this mind boggling
with its exclamatory ding-a-lings and giggling
squeals from the kids
who think it’s the most magnificent thing to pass,
never knowing just what makes round the merry go.
I know it’s just a matter of time before it all comes
crashing back down to Earth
back to where it hurts.
I’ll stay safe where I am and
your crazy soul sprung as if from a matchbox screaming light me!
ablaze in your cellophane glory which allows me to see your heart beating.
(he lightly shifts away from trends and wears his hair too long, his eyes too brown
the crowd parts as for a king when they see the way he moves floating.)
it’s intense and unparalleled, screamed and secret, painful and even with
thumbtacks your face is impossible to immobilize.
i am forever falling, you are forever climbing, and we break the laws of physics
by meeting in the middle.
in the contrast of skin tones and chromosomes we are lit, churning in a december sky
which is a gift and a blessing, for its colors are extremes and in-betweens.
solitary hours lack quivering darkness and concrete light, lack salt and sweat, lack
stimulation of intellect and symphony of emotion. like comparing candles and fingernails. impossible.
ut if you want warmth you’ll wait. telephone is a poor excuse for contact,
we both know, and terribly stationary.
enchanting and ensnaring my insides was only, i’m sure, a brief intention, your hook,
so much sweeter than despair’s, has caught hold.
iciness of feet and warmth of tongues are no longer a question but a conviction,
your crushing laughter and paralyzing glance never again figments of imagination.
lately all my goodnights are silent, love, and they resonate within, beat in my blood,
course my insides to aching trying to reach your ears.
and it is true that what is behind every bite and scratch is what is physical,
morphed into sensation of nerves and cessation of thought, it is the means that is
greater and lovelier than the end.
it’s a cliff, i know, or a canyon, perhaps, two cliffs, with the wind always blowing in
the wrong direction, losing our screams and pleas. but it is beautiful, as cliffs and
canyons always are, all that empty flickering sky. all that space, all that freedom, and
still a gilded cage from which escape is futile, until christmas.
i shall toil the lightening hours of the night in bed with a pen and a journey, i
shall sleep soundly when i reach the end, i shall wake with clarity and slip further
underneath your skin, while you stay so very south.
certain that christmas will be all scorching cold and bloodred-colored ecstasy snowcovered
bodies cutting laughter through shredding winds,
Keep the Flywheel Spinning
Unlock doors, step in,
pull the stop down,
as we take a reverse spin.
Put her in first,
shift from the neutral.
Roll down windows,
retract the sunroof,
and purr softly.
A breeze flirts with our faces,
begging us to stay here.
A moment of hesitation,
pause and breathe.
We inch forward ...
Kick it into second let the RPM’s fly burst out of this scene
brand some tracks that can never be followed blast
music over a hundred decibels loud this is our song so don’t lose it
hear the engine burn this moment look straight ahead yearn
nothing worthy been left behind we continue on say goodbye
farewell to your old reside reach the red line meet third gear
no tire flat no chance to stall make a new map the world’s round
now in fourth break the limits the roles they gave you selling
a false image stuck on the same lap never finishing
take the curves well keep-could this-your eyes be more perfect open
on the road
settle into overdrive as sidescapes smear and trust me
that we will never fall off the edge of the earth.
What Luck Is
My wife of forty-six years stands in front
of a one-armed bandit, feeding quarters to Atlantic City.
I am sitting on a stool, trying to block out the shriek
of the electronic sirens, the clank of cascading coins.
Once she blows three hundred dollars, we can go home.
The reek of wily cigarette smoke
crawls into my clothes, my hair. I’ll shower
again tonight, getting rid of that familiar smell.
It takes me back to my first cigarette, in 1944.
I was shy of nineteen by a month and ten days.
I rub my bifocals. No, it’s not that shore,
it’s not Normandy. It’s not France. I am not listening
to the whistle of a mortar flying to the next foxhole over,
the next hedgerow. This is the Jersey shore. I am
gambling. Then it was 48 hours straight of firing a .44 howitzer,
watching the truckloads of dead Germans rolling past,
the Battle of the Bulge where my division did not give in.
Infantry got wounded or killed so fast,
the 79th Division lost a man a mile. In artillery, only one
out of every three men died. Better odds.
Now I remember how to appreciate that activity
of lighting a match and puffing. When a man smoked quickly,
in short puffs and jerky movements, he could almost hide
the trembling in his hands. The old men I see in the casino—
surely I am not as old as they, how did I become old?—
must be nursing the same memory of a cigarette in the service.
At least a few of them must be.
I quit, they didn’t. But they didn’t die of emphysema, didn’t die
of lung cancer. Even when they had their best chance, they didn’t die
of bullets, gas, snipers, accidents, shells, bombs, shrapnel, frostbite.
I had forgotten that it’s a crapshoot who lives or dies, wins or loses—
not because I’m young since time has taken care of that,
not because I’m ungrateful since I thank God every day
and extra on Sundays, no,
just because, by having it, I don’t know what luck is.
From Philip Levine’s “What Work Is.”
444 Green Street
One number — three times arranged
for triple the tenacity of the average woman
thrust into American life to mother another’s child
and produce two of her own
— three mouths to feed,
hers to keep silent, with needle-pricked fingers
working overtime on dinner.
The faded pigment of her coat
with a mink collar —
singed in the fire years later—one trace of affection
in a marriage with more moss-colored bruises
than passionate amour, and her rosary beads
worn after nightly caresses and a nine-decade
love affair with faith.
Her ritualistic walk north to the cemetery —
to tend his grave and that of the first wife,
the beloved mother of his first born, whose death
plucked her from Italy — or south
to Our Lady Church
for the funeral of a stranger, either way
her straight road to heaven.
Anon E. Moose
We see Orion’s belt
but not his pants.
He must have lost them
in the intergalactic spin cycle
among Jupiter’s moldy socks
and Venus’s satin panties.
We see Abe Lincoln shot
but not Abe Lincoln shooting.
He was a terrible captain
leading men wayward
through thick thorny brush
and earnest speculation.
We see King David’s slingshot
but not his boomerang.
He had a full toy box
bulging with the latest
in Mosaic fads
and desert technology.
We see the ends of our own lives
but never the beginnings.
She Sure Did
Tatyana woke to the sound of screaming pigs. It was eight o’clock in the morning, and
outside her window a pig was writhing in its death throes, blood spurting out of the
gaping wound near its heart. Its limbs were shaking so violently, that it almost threw
itself off the makeshift wooden platform on which it lay, legs pointing up. Tatyana
threw on some clothes, ran to the bathroom to brush her teeth, and sprinted outside.
“Papa,” she gasped, “Can I please help?” She came to a stop a
few feet from the bloody pig, her breath showing in the winter air.
Her father looked to the young man who was helping him, and, shifting
his soiled knife from one hand to the other, asked, “What do you think, Roman?
Should we let her help?” Meanwhile, the pig wheezed its final breath.
“Pozhaluysta, Romchik. Pretty please?” Tatyana
begged. The gangly youth was trying not to smile.
“Oh no, you don’t,” yelled her mother from the kitchen doorway.
She came outside, her hands on her hips. “Tanya, don’t even think
about it. This is not women’s work. Come help me inside.”
“Mama, please!” She turned to her dad. “She never lets
me do anything. She thinks helping with the pigs will turn me into
a man. Come on. I won’t become a muzhik, I promise!”
“Lena, leave the girl alone. If she wants to help, let her help!”
“Boris, you will ruin her. Mark my words, you will. Letting her do such
things. She should be helping me cook! Why am I talking to you anyway? You’ll
just do whatever you want.” Her mother slammed the door on her way back inside.
Tatyana eagerly began the work ahead of her. First, they singed the hair on the pig’s
hide. Then they scraped the hide clean, rinsed it with cold water, and scrubbed it
with some Brillo pads until it turned a nice pink. Next they sawed off the head,
put it into a bucket of ice and let the blood drain from the body. After that, they
cut open the pig’s belly and emptied its insides into a rusty bucket, which Tanya
emptied into a dirt hole her father had dug earlier in the morning. The hooves
followed the entrails into the gaping hole. Tatyana rinsed the empty cavity, rubbing
it clean of any remaining blood vessels. She worked side by side with the
men until her wet bloody fingers turned immobile and useless from the cold.
“Would you like hot water to warm your hands?” she asked Roman.
Tantyana ran into the kitchen, thinking that tonight she just might
say yes to Roman. He had been asking her to go out with him for months.
Today, in light of the circumstances, she just might change her mind.
Coming back outside, she found herself alone
with Roman. “Where is Papa?” she asked.
“He had to go see someone. He said we should do as much as we can without
him,” Roman held out his hands so that she could pour the hot water on them.
“Do you know how to do the rest?” asked Tatyana, a bit disappointed,
but knowing that dad usually went to the Temple on Saturdays.
They looked at the empty and almost unrecognizable pile
of flesh in front of them, and chopped along the spine and tore out
the best pieces of flesh nestled along the vertebrae. Those Tatyana
took into the kitchen, giving them to her mom for salting and cooking.
Now, all they had to do was chop the rest into manageable pieces. That
done, Tatyana leaned against the wall of the house, beneath her own window, and kicked the wooden platform.
“I’m glad that is done. It is tiring,” she said.
“You are good at it. Not queasy at all. You should become a surgeon,” said Roman. “But you do know we have one more pig to cut, right?”
“Another one? Don’t you want to eat first?” She looked up to see him better. He was tall. He had the complacent good looks of a Russian
simpleton, the kind one reads about in fairy tales. “I’m hungry. We can take on the other fellow afterwards.”
“Sure, let’s do that,” replied Roman, and Tanya got the feeling he would be glad to do anything she asked.
They filed into the kitchen, taking off their muddy and bloody shoes, and washed their hands at the sink. Tatyana motioned for Roman to take off his jacket and
sit down at the table while she herself went to the stove and ladled hot borscht out of a steaming pot. Her mom had been busy. She’d made borscht out of the pig already.
“Your mother is a great cook,” said Roman.
“She may be a great cook, but she’s a spoilsport!” Tatyana said. “She almost didn’t let me help!”
“Come on, Tanya. You know she wants the best for you. I wish my mom were here too. Why are you being so mean to her?”
Tanya was immediately contrite. She placed a bowl of the soup she had been ladling for herself into his hands. He accepted the steaming borscht and
placed it on the table. “I am sorry, I forgot you haven’t seen your parents for a long time.” She was really repentant now. Roman was an international student.
His visa had expired three months ago, but he had still not returned home to Ukraine, and if her guess was correct, he probably never would. Tatyana
sympathized with him for his eagerness to work and respected his decision to remain an illegal in the US rather than return to the mother country. She
could never have the courage to do that, even though she understood that in some ways remaining an illegal and trying to appeal for legal residency in
America was better than acquiring a higher education in Ukraine. His chances were better here. Yes, she definitely would say yes to him today.
“Ah, anyway, it doesn’t matter,” Roman suddenly said, interrupting her dazed reverie. “I am not looking forward to the next pig. I don’t want to kill it. I don’t suppose
you do either. Cutting into pieces is fine, but actually killing the stupid things...” he shuddered. “Do you know why your parents are cutting them?”
“I know what you mean about the killing part. I wouldn’t do it for the world. But I think Dad wants to put on a big
show for Christmas Dinner. He has invited about thirty guests.” She grimaced, and speaking in English for the first time that day,
said, “I never fit in with those people. They are like the Russian Mafia or something,” she finished sarcastically.
Roman choked, coughed a little, and didn’t say another word until he finished his soup. Tanya smiled to herself as she demolished
the remains of her borscht. This was going to be fun, she thought. And he was so cute. She stood up, motioning for Roman
to do the same. They both got dressed into their bloody, soiled clothes, and without saying another word, went outside.
The pig was waiting inside a truck trailer, and when it saw the humans approaching, it squealed in protest, and soiled the trailer with what must have
been its dinner yesterday. Roman grabbed a looped rope, and taking a big breath, threw and slung it around the pig’s neck. He pulled, dragging the unfortunate
creature out of the trailer. The pig squealed even louder; so loud that all the dogs in the neighborhood began wailing and barking in response. The animal
resisted Roman’s rope, dragging its feet; its hooves digging into the frozen ground and screeching to a halt, refusing to budge any further.
When the pig finally rested on the ground, exhausted from its struggles, Roman, still holding the rope that tethered the pig around the neck, reached for the nearest knife.
Before he could grab it, the animal twisted with such strength that it pulled him away and must have wrenched his arm in the process. Seeing this, Tatyana, without thinking,
ran to the table on which lay the instruments, grabbed the knife, and plunged it into the defenseless neck of the pig, severing an artery. The animal started to gurgle
and choke on its own blood, squealing louder still, a high keening sound that made Tatyana press the knife deeper and deeper, until the animal finally went quiet, its blood
streaming in a dark red current across her arms. As if waking from a dream, she looked at her bloody arms, then at the hands that were almost fully submerged in the gaping
hole that used to be the neck of the animal. She tried to pull out the knife. She could not do it because it was embedded in the bone of the spine. She tugged again.
“Romchik, help me pull this thing out,” she said calmly. When there was no answer, she looked up and saw him staring at her in either
horror or astonishment, she could not tell which. Sighing, she got up, braced her foot on the shoulder of the motionless pig, and pulled
with all her might, jerking out the blade in such a rush that she fell on her butt in the puddle that had formed from the pig’s blood. Cold bloody
mud started seeping in through her pants, shocking her skin with its soggy chill. Tatyana stumbled to her feet and throwing the knife on a dry
patch of soil, slapped her hands across her posterior, coloring her already drying, blood-caked hands with a fresh layer of russet mud.
“What are you staring at?” she yelled at Roman, seeing that he had not moved an inch. “Help me with this thing,” she ordered. “The sooner we are done,
the better. Then we can say good bye to the pigs.” The youth numbly followed her order, and, approaching little by little, grabbed the knife from where she threw
it. He rinsed it, and once it was clean, proceeded to cut off the head of the pig, sawing away at the bone which Tanya had already marked with her killing blow.
“What are you doing?” The girl ran to stop him, but was too late. “We are supposed to clean the hide
first. Now it’s going to be really hard to clean the edges where you cut off the head.”
“Sorry, I forgot,” Roman mumbled, dropping the head into the bucked of ice water where its companion was already collecting an eerily frozen hue. Returning
to Tanya, Roman prepared the propane porch with which they singed the hide of the first pig, and proceeded to do the same to this one. Working
quickly, the girl and the boy scrubbed the hide clean of charred hair. The sun was setting, casting a gloomy dusk over the toiling pair.
By the time they finished pulling out the entrails and chopping the pig into pieces, it became completely dark. Days had become shorter
and shorter as winter matured. Tanya carried the chunks of meat to a tub located on the porch where the pigs could be reunited. She stumbled
twice along the way because she could not see in the murky light coming from the house. She could not believe it was night already.
Returning to the yard, she found herself alone. Roman had left without saying goodbye. Raising her hand automatically to fix her hair and check if it was because
she was so filthy, she stopped herself just in time before smearing her face with dirt. Tanya smiled ruefully at herself and turned away from where the
boy had stood. Sighing, she shrugged and climbed up the stairs to the porch. Turning to look out into the yard once more, she entered the house.
Two days later, at the Christmas party, Tatyana’s best friend asked, her round eyes bulging with curiosity,
“Did you really kill this pig?” They were dining on fried, boiled, roasted, and baked pork.
Tatyana nodded, impaled a piece of pork on her fork, brought it to her mouth, and bit into the meat, chewing with pleasure.
“I sure did,” she said.
It’s been another trying semester for us here at The Siren. Due to
funding difficulties, we’ve been forced to take up residence here on
the Web. Then again, utilizing technology is a good thing, right?
This issue marks our second — and final — issue as editors, as both
of us will be escaping this hellho ... er ... graduating come May.
We’re passing the reigns on to Jess and Lindsay, whom we have the
utmost confidence in. At the very least, we sleep well at night knowing
that we can check back next year and find that The Siren hasn’t
been demolished/outsourced/traded to Rider for a bowling team.
In parting, we would like to thank our staff for their hard work and
our contributors for their stellar efforts. We would also like to commend
the Creative Writing program here at the College and all the
professors who encouraged their students to submit. This final batch
of submissions was among the best we’ve ever had.
Thus ends the odyssey of a pair of journalism majors and their attempts
to manage a literary magazine. Hey...we could have done a
whole lot worse.
The Editorial Board
Andrew Erkkila is a sophomore English major. He is proud to offer the following
message, “ladiez, there be only one thing you gotta know bout me: I can rock a
body suit soo good it blows yo mind. Sho’ ‘nuff. Gimme a call.”
Catharina Evans dedicates this publication to her mother, one of her best
friends, a woman whose keen sensibilities and acute sense of moral character has kept
her from hanging onto relationships that deserve to be kicked to the curb. Catharina
tends to possess an engulfing sensitivity and attraction to poet-types (read: blackwearing,
music-obsessed, long-haired, lanky-limbed philosophers). However, she does
enjoy spending time on much lighter subjects, including music, painting, sculpture, art
history, moderate feminism, politics, meditation, Buddhism, and
Jessica Gill will take over the world one day with old prom dresses and vanilla
ice cream with rainbow sprinkles after she falls off more ottomans. She is currently a
junior English major who wants to do too many things and has not quite figured out
how to do it all. Suggestions are always welcome.
Nicole Grieco is a junior English major, Creative Writing/Women’s and
Gender Studies minor. After college, she plans to drive around in a fuel-efficient van
Anon E. Moose may or may not be one or more of the following: an actual
moose who wrote this poem by dipping his hoof in ink and stomping it against a rock,
a person who wishes to remain “anon-y-mous” or one of the editors of this magazine
messing with your mind.
Courtney Rydel is a slightly over-grown hobbit masquerading as a junior
English major with minors in Creative Writing and Classical Studies. Courtney is
proud to be a very active STD, co-vice president to be precise. She resides in Bliss, her
home base for pestering unlucky students and professors.
Kaitlin Severini is a junior English major and Spanish minor. She enjoys
writing, reading and playing rugby for the College’s club team.
Paul Talbot is a third year English major. He surfs a lot, but writing poetry and
fiction are career goals. “To me, writing opens the eyes of the world.”
Pamela Wrede is an English Secondary Education major with a creative writing
minor. As many of her classmates can attest to, poetry is not her strong point. She
is also a sister and president of Zeta Tau Alpha who loves music, movies, thefacebook
and shopping (when she has money). This poem is for her late great grandma whom
she loves and misses.
Mar y Kay Metcalf is a graduate student in English, expecting to receive her
master’s degree this summer. She is a graduate of the University of South Florida and
studied Journalism at the College. A Cranbury resident, she recently retired from a
public relations career to complete her master’s and pursue writing full-time.
Mike Curr y
Kerr y Mauck
Hope you enjoyed...