Jennifer Novotney

Arts and Crafts
 
We go shopping in the arts and crafts store
full of inspirational sayings and rustic signs
like “Be Someone’s Reason to Smile” and 
“Bless This Kitchen” and I am overcome with the 
feeling of childhood, being told how to act, as if 
my adult life has somehow not prepared me 
for what to do in all particular situations and so
I must need to buy these signs to tell me 
how I should behave and what I should think. Of course,
we all must look at these and say, that is so me, or
they wouldn’t sell in the first place. I hold up a picture frame
filled with a collage of different black and white shots, 
a couple holding hands smiling, children laughing, 
a mother and daughter, presumably, baking together 
with smiles, of course. A woman next to me piles the frames
in her cart, one after the next, a primitive, unrefined style
of unfinished wood, another one in shiny gold with slight patina
camouflaging the newness. She glances over at me and smiles
swiftly grabbing a wall hanging with a chicken wearing a pearl
necklace and a faded blue bow with “Be One of a Kind” in bold 
letters across the top. She studies it for a while and puts it in her cart
taking two more, supposedly for gifts, because why not when 
uniqueness is so darn affordable.

Ian Copestick

My Old Self


I don't know
if you know,
but 4 weeks
ago today my
partner of 18
years died.
Of what I don't
know, and never
will. Karen's son
didn't want a
post mortem. I
think she should
have had one.
Somebody's at
fault for a fit,
strong 53 year
old woman dying
after only being ill
for a couple of
months.

But that's not what
I started to write
about, I wanted to
say that after these
4 weeks, I'm beginning
to see that I might be
able to get through
this.

At first I really
didn't think that
I would, but now
I'm feeling stronger,
and more like myself
as every day goes by.

The days are long,
but the weeks go
by so quickly it's
really shocking.

I can hardly believe
that 4 weeks have
passed since she
passed. At times
it feels more like
4 hours, 4 days
maybe, but 4 weeks.
No fucking way.

Anyway, I just
wanted to say
that I still love
Karen as much
as I ever have, but
I'm beginning to
slowly, SLOWLY
get my head what
passes for together.

I know it's what
she would have
wanted. Karen
wouldn't have
wanted me to drink,
or drug myself to
death.
I'm starting to
think that I won't. 

Judge Santiago Burden

Get Forked


"Johnny wake up man. I think you need to take me to the hospital. Come on, wake up!"
" What ? What's going on Bigotes? You have Asthma attack? Where is your bomba?"
He sits up in bed and turns on the lamp on the nightstand.
"No Johnny, that crazy bitch stabbed me in the back. I can't tell if I'm bleeding or how deep the knife is stuck in . Whatever you do don't pull it out, I'll bleed to death before we get to the hospital.
" Okay okay tranquilo carnal let me take a look."
 " Johnny I'm serious don't fuck around."
I turn my back to him so he can get a closer look. 
"Santiago I don't think it is a knife in your back. I think maybe it is a fork she stab you with. What did you do to make her to stab you with a fork?"
"A fork are you sure? Take another look. Look closer. Johnny turn on the other light."
He finds the switch for the ceiling light to get a better idea of the wound's severity.
"Yes Bigotes it is a fork not a knife. You should have me pull it out. I don't know if it is in very deep."
"Wait, let me think about it for a minute."
"Santi, tell me why she stab you?"
"She wanted more cocaine and more cocaine and more cocaine. She was acting all strange and sketchy. I told her there wasn't  anymore, she got pissed off, started screaming at me, calling me a liar. I got up out of the bed, started putting on my clothes to get away from her, then I felt her stab me.  She picked up her shit and ran out the door. Where'd you find that Psycho-bitch man?"
"She is my cousin from Medellin."
"What the hell. Of course another crazy person from your family. I should've figured as much. Are all your relatives mentally ill? I thought you were calling her prima(cousin) as a nickname. Like I joke and  call  prostitutes  prima."
"I know I am sorry. Everyone in my family is crazy with mental problems. I'm so lucky I have nothing wrong with me."
"Are you serious? You've gotta be joking.You're the craziest, Psycho-colombiano, Mentally unstable individual I've ever been associated with."
"Bigotes why you say such mean things to me? I sometimes get crazy in a party way or when I get drunk and stuff but that's all. Maybe you can get somebody else to take the fork out. You don't want some  crazy person doing it."
"Sorry Rico, I don't mean anything by it. You know I love you despite  your qwerks. I try to apologize. Okay let's get the fucking fork out of my back and see what kind of damage we're dealing with here."
"There is not a lot of blood, Bigotes. But she sure pushed it deep. I didn't know a fork could be a dangerous weapon. Okay you are ready?"
"No, I'm not ready. But go ahead and do it anyway." 
"Wait, I think maybe I should have a towel in case maybe you start  bleeding a lot. Then we need to have the cut circlesized with alcohol for no infection. Oh no, I hope you will not need switches the hospital is very far away Bigotes."
I begin laughing from Johnny mispronouncing words and giving the incident an entirely different aspect. He's acting so dramatically I can't help but find it amusing. I don't remember when I've seen him so serious as though he is a Doctor giving me a prognosis. 
"Why you laughing Bigotes? Because you don't want to cry?"
"No Johnny, I was laughing at the words you used in English. I'm very proud of you J.R. you have come a long way with learning English, but sometimes you say a word incorrectly or mispronounce a word and it ends up being humorous. I'm not making fun of you my friend, it's just funny.
"So what you think I'm funny? Funny like what, like a clown? I what, I make you laugh? How am I funny?"
"Now that's hilarious Johnny! You remembered that from "Good Fellas." You do it better than Joe Pesci, very good."
I'm laughing hysterically,and I start applauding his performance but it causes the fork to move around and I instantly become uncomfortable .
"I always want to do that. I'm happy you laugh. Tell me what words I say wrong when I get back with a towel and some alcohol. I think we can use Tequila. Is there still some Patron left?"
"Yes it's in the freezer. Good thinking Johnny."
He returns drinking from the bottle of Tequila. 
"Now we are ready, you think? Yes?"
"Let's do it!"

The fork was stuck in my left lower shoulder in the ancestis, the spot on your back that you're unable to reach to scratch. I still had my shirt on with the fork having been stuck through it. Slowly I took off the shirt so Johnny had quick access, it just hung there on the shaft.
"Bigotes I don't know if I can do it." 
"For Christ's sake J.R. just pull the God Damn fork out. Do it! It won't hurt. In fact, give me the bottle of Tequila. I need a drink."
"Maybe you should drink more to not feel pain."
Good idea again buddy. You're really showing your smarts. Ooh, you know what, I have some  Vicodin in my  jacket. Can you grab it for me please?"
Johnny returns with my jacket in hand sporting a huge grin. 
"Look what you have in the pocket. Here are the pills, look what else you're hiding, a small vial filled with Cocaine and two puros that we forget to smoke at the beach. Now take your medicine and when you feel no pain, we will take out the fork." 
It was 3:45 in the morning and it's not like I had to go to work or anything. Plus I'd been wounded in action and could lounge around all day. I think it's Saturday anyway and I don't have any appointments on my calendar, so here we go.
I swallowed a couple Vicodin, snorted a cap full of Cocaine, then Johnny passed me the bottle of Tequila. I took a long swig.
". Now let me explain why I was laughing earlier. I think you meant to say sterilize but you said circlesize which sounds similar to the word circumcised which has a totally different meaning.  Circumcise is when a doctor cuts the extra skin off the penis of a baby boy."
"Why they do such a thing?"
"It was started by the ancient Egyptians then practiced by the Jewish people and on and on.
I'm not going to get into the reasons."
"So you have circhimsize? I see your pene is different from mine. I am no circhimsize I still have the skin."
"Ya I know Rico, I don't want to be talking about our Dicks, okay?" I quickly changed the subject. 
"Stitches are what the doctor sews you up with when you have a large cut. I think you said switches. You understand?"
Johnny lights a joint and passes it over to me.
"I have a question. Why you always call Marijuana Trisumman? Why does it have that name?"
Again I start laughing.
"Hey, now I am going to get very angry, you laugh at me more."
"Sorry Rico, I'm saying, "try some man" and you put all three words together. Guess I say it too fast and it sounds like one word."
Johnny now finds the humor in what I'm saying and begins chuckling.
We sat there talking and joking with Johnny doing all sorts of imitations now that I had been amused by the Joe Pesci he did.
They weren't very funny but I laughed anyway I think because I was a little drunk, Vicodin high, coked up and stoned. Then we were startled by banging on the front door. I looked at the clock and it was 5:20 and I still had the fork in my back, although feeling no pain.
" Who the hell do you think that could be?" I whisper. "You think that bitch called the police?"
"I don't know but I will go to the door and see. Okay? Just relax, I will take care of it."
"Thanks Johnny."
He staggers to the front door and I take cover around the corner of the front room within hearing distance.
" Quien es acá?" ( Who's here?) Johnny asks.
I don't understand why he just doesn't look out the window on the side. I hear a woman's voice but not well enough to know what she's saying.
" Esperame uno segundo." ( Wait a second.) I hear him answer.
He walks back in the bedroom shaking his head and chuckling.
"Bigotes it is my cousin again. She has no money for Taxi or bus and wants to say she is sorry to you."
"What do you think? Does she seem normal to you, not all weird?"
"I'm not sure. You make the call."
"Okay let her in but don't let her come near me."
He goes to the door swinging it open but stepping back out the way. She struts in and walks straight toward me.
"Hey Rico, you better get over here."
"Don't worry Santiago, I'm not going to do anything to you. I want to say I'm sorry and to make it up to you. I didn't hurt you real bad, did I?" 
"You stabbed me in the back with a fucking fork! Here, take a look."
I turn my back to her,  so she can see her handy work.
Then I feel her hand grab the fork and with a swift motion she pulls it out.
"I'm so sorry baby let me make it up to you."
She drops her dress on the living room floor, grabs my hand and leads me into my bedroom.
"Make sure she has no scissors in her purse. She might try to circumlize you." Johnny yells.
"Thanks for watching out for me Johnny." 
"So you have some more cocaine?"  She inquires.

Steven Croft

Quotidian


morning –

Dusty house stuccoed by desert sand,
Sadr City thinning north into farmland,
we roll in on a $500 informant’s tip.
A song thrush flits cheerfully through
sunlit branches of the courtyard’s cedar.

Inside, a shadowy place: main room
floor covered with intricately woven carpets,
low red couches along walls, red-brown
curtains pushed aside from casement windows.
Another room visible from a cased opening,

Bright extension cord to the courtyard’s
silent generator leads us like an orange spoor
to this room of four sweat-stained mattresses,
several floor candlesticks. Cups of tea rest on
an octagonal coffee table like someone just left.

Then another, heavy, door opened like a door
of horrific perception, and we pull hooked
flashlights from body armor: shackles hang
down from bolts in the far wall, the big-armed
wooden chair with leather belts for arms,

Legs, a board table with knives, pliers laid
out, power drill, electric lamp hooked
to the extension cord, dark stains color
all: drill bit, floor, knives, the stained fabric
sheet over a body on the floor, which

Pulled back by my rifle’s muzzle, hides
silent screaming shock in unblinking eyes.

afternoon –

The camera's gps signal brings us, searching,
street by street, the Army's obsession with
equipment the hound at our backs, until
a Humvee gunner spots a white wing
tipping in a chamber pot pond banked
by a crumbling mud wall.

Sniper in the area over a week, special forces
called in after our casualty -- he got our Raven,
its big model airplane white clipped from the sky,
spun into this nightmare of sewage.

Our dismounts are cautious, gunners spin
on turret rails, scanning windows over
stretched ropes of laundry.  A teen moves
to us with the cheerful, needy pleading
of Iraqi kids, "For American dollars.”

Pointing to his chest, to the plane's wing,
back to himself.  Told "No" by a sergeant
who motions him away with an arm, the kid
ducks under like a scrappy knife-fighter,
"For American dollars."

We talk of some kind of hook tied to 550 cord,
tossed out.  Decide someone could go back
to camp but by then it would be dark, we'd
hold position too long, expect to take fire.

Dark, in the canyons of sand-colored houses,
just one of our enemies.  "For American dollars."
I think -- as a staff sergeant unsnaps body armor,
fishes a five from a velcroed ID wallet,

Before the kid wades into the waste’s benthic
infections: if we leave he'll go after it anyway,
and anyway, I know he'll look for us tomorrow,
smiling, in a fresh tunic.

Stephen Jarrell Williams

Hard Heads
 
Clouds coming in
for another gathering
over the mute masses
 
raining down
chemical changes
ingesting opposing thoughts
 
their multiple eyes
searing
loose bowels
and weak souls
 
but not us
 
we are the Hard Heads
dashing out of line
 
out of their long fingers
gripping the jelly population
 
we shout in the alleys
for their quick amputation
 
let the bullets ping
off our foreheads
 
let their drills break
on our front teeth
 
let their message melt
from the heat of our breath
 
for they only win if
we bow to the chopping block.
 
 
 
Cleansing
 
Sitting at a park bench
blank paper absorbing drops of rain
 
writing a few words
heavy head
 
city bloated
waiting to split
 
crime
inside everyone
 
bellowing storm
everything starting to fall out
 
wet dirt coiling into little mounds
horns as slick as sin
 
watching our step
leaping into a moment of free air
 
freak dancing
footprints the last line of this poem.
 

Zakiyyah Dzukogi

Peacock

trailing success
In a bin that cater not for talents.
blurry view, I am sustained
with filthy arms searching for victory,
I am a ripped shadow 
with pretty poetry,
looking crippled in the bin 
that has consumed a lot.
cladding in triumph
I have retired all ill lucks, therein.
I think this folded win
should peel its dress-
this heart of mine
gaping to eat it all.
snuggle not my age-long success
say farewell
In February

Daniel S. Irwin

He Figured
 
He figured nobody would probably
Give a sit if he lived or died.
He’d avoid the annoyance of
A funeral by giving his body,
As they say, “to science”.  Which isn’t
What most people think it is.
May not be getting’ sent to some
Med school for student dissection.
Could be getting’ the head removed
To test lip stick or shave cream.
Guts pulled out to see what acids
The stomach and ‘testines could take.
Gonads fed to critters checking
Testosterone transfer.  Maybe,
If lucky, you get sent to that place
To just get laid about to just watch
Natural decomposition in the woods
And feed the squirrels.



Melody Wang

The Day I Learned About the Vampire Ground-Finch

For the first time in years,
I thought of you —
the velvety notes
of your Thierry Mugler
that both nauseated

and captivated me,
the way your 6'4'' heavy build
pinned me to the wall
while your crew praised

you as a golden god.
After three years with you,   
I discovered that your entire
essence could fit into

the palm of my hand.
I wondered how I allowed
you to overtake me for that long.

Did I choose to ignore

your sharp beak as it first broke
       my skin, the insatiable way you engorged
       on my thin lifeblood

the way your shifty dull eyes gauged
       my tolerance to repeated pecks
       that were somehow indiscernible to me?

The day you decided I was of no use
to you anymore, you spread
your bloated, blackened wings
and pelted dust into my eyes.

I didn't grasp the value
of your absence then.
I do now.

Jason Melvin

So, what do you do?





My least favorite

conversation starter

Actual question

How do you make money?

Who gives a flying fuck?

When 85% of working humans

hate their jobs

Alternate answers –

So, what do you do?

Stare

at clouds

and hate gravity

So, what do you do?

Hide

unprovoked erections

in my waistband

So, what do you do?

Buy

more books

then I can read

So, what do you do?

Contemplate

the meaning of it all

while riding my lawn mower

around the yard

So, what do you do?

Wipe

until I bleed

self-conscious that I’m not

clean enough down there

So, what do you do?

Watch

light reflect off

shadows twist and fall

So, what do you do?

Write bad poetry.     

John Tustin

M-M-M-M-N-N-N-N
That’s the sound that would often come from my mouth when
I was seven years old,
My tongue flapping like a fish stranded on shore,
Unable to breathe
As I attempted and failed to stammer out a word.
So I kept my mouth shut most of the time,
Blended into the background,
Eager to please but frightened to speak.
Praying the teacher wouldn’t call on me,
Because the answer was in my head
But couldn’t reach my lips.
 
My brother would taunt me mercilessly,
Sometimes my father would, too.
There was even a song.
But the worst were the faces of those
Trying to comprehend my hum-like blather.
They knew not to interrupt,
Not to finish my sentence
As I m-m-m’d and n-n-n’d before them,
A jester performing embarrassing acts at gunpoint.
They couldn’t look in my eyes,
So they would avert their eyes and find my trembling lips
As I vainly attempted to be understood.
Their eyes would soften in a fascinated reverie,
Staring at my mouth:
My mouth a toy spinning for their bemused well-meaning
exposition.
I despised them for their silent pity,
I envied them their minds that could so easily
Place fully formed words on their tongues.
 
Now my words glide as effortlessly as a gull downwind,
And I take for granted the gift that was bestowed upon me
Too gradually and too late,
As I blend into the background still,
My raspy New York voice a buzzing din,
And me a dull watercolor,
Many years ago
Painted by a desperate child
Without a voice.





NAKED SADNESS

Lying in bed naked,

Listening to James McMurtry

With my eyes in their surety

Of soreness and lack of faith,

Feeling my beard and sadness,

Thinking exclusively in lower

Case.

I stretch my naked

Body under the spinning of

The ceiling fan and that old

Ache feels familiar as always

And the coolness of my body

Makes me smile in spite of sad-

Ness.

Lying in bed naked,

Turning off the light and trying

To get my body in position,

Long past waiting for the call

That never comes, content now

Just to lie in bed and merely

Wait

For the one call

This is inevitable.