January 2016

Bessie Smith – A Good Man Is Hard to Find

My heart is sad and I’m all alone
My man treats me mean
I regret the day that I was born
And that man I ever seen

My happiness is less today
My heart is broke that’s why I say
Lord, a good man is hard to find
You always get another kind

Just when you think that he’s your pal
You look and find him foolin’ ‘round some old gal
Then you rave, you all crave
You wanna see him in his grave

So if your man is nice, take my advice
Hug him in the morning, kiss him ev’ry night
Give him plenty lovin’, treat your good man right
‘Cause a good man nowadays sure is hard to find

Oh, a good man is so hard to find
We always get that roughed old kind
Just when you think that he’s your pal
You look and find him hangin’ ’round some old gal

Then you rave, shall you crave
You wanna see him dead layin’ in his grave
So if your man is nice, take my advice
Hug him in the morning, kiss him ev’ry night
Give him plenty mash madam, treat your man right
‘Cause a good man nowadays sure is hard to find

– C.J. Cioc

On the bridge out of one city

into another city, in a sundress and sandals,

she holds her head screaming

into the line of stopped cars. I don’t remember her name.

She was running up and down the bridge, warning

each approaching car—


     theres a fucking car

     on fucking fire—

     get off the damn bridge!

     these police is retarded!

     these people

     are retarded!

the police set up sawhorses

around the Saab’s flaming carcass. Nobody was inside, though.

We all smell the burning plastic, so we emerge

from our cars, confident to step

on to the highway bridge and walk

towards the wreck—

The girl

whose name I don’t remember

ran back up and is

chatting up the taxi driver.

     I cant be stuck on this bridge, son

          I gotta go home

          get three hours sleep

     Well, I’m a escort, so— my clients in Jersey

     I’m fucking late

          Yoo, you said you’re a escort,

          if you ever need a cab—

     If you ever got clients,

     you let me know, kay?


The cab driver, smokes a cigarette with some

tired looking tow truck guys.

     Yo you said your name was Muhammad, right?

     I’m calling you that’s my number, there

     these people are seriously stupid, like they

     think we don’t know they cant

     get their shit together— 

          mhmm, you know it, baby

There’s this big blue junk van and this big black guy

is sitting in the driver’s seat murmuring

something to his friend next to him—

they sigh heavy sighs.

Suddenly, the white headlights of hundreds of cars and trucks

rolled over red like the scales of a venomous snake,

they make k-turns, all aim their cars to traffic.

On the drive back down, all four refineries

can be seen churning out cloud, with some stars

or medivacs or planes, coursing

through their short bursts. All down the banks

and across the bridge, skinny flare stacks gasflared

and broke brown night around the wrsh


wrsh traffic—

stiffly gaining speed.

C.J. Cioc is a recent graduate of Rosemont College’s MFA program in Creative Writing. His works have been featured in Rathalla Review, Philadelphia Stories, and Calliope among others. He lives in the Pocono Mountains with his family and his dog, with whom he enjoys section hiking the Appalachian Trail.

A Nice Old Man Was Biting My Toe

Rich Ives

It escapes me, this cautionary landscape, moving under as I pace its surface, but I’m counting miles instead of taking in its distinct aberrations. I’m failing to register its transitory existence, liberated with each release of my padded step. I’m slapping my expensive footwear in its open face, again and again, getting only to where I planned on going as it gets itself newly positioned where it already is.

I must have missed it before, I think, missing it in a new way. I’m intent upon a kind of progress that takes me out of myself, into a better body to separate the quick from the quickly dead, a body that could, however, more quickly miss more. I could be entering myself now, even as I carry my “self” away to discover who I am.

On the road last night there were too many frogs for any purpose I could imagine, but then maybe I wasn’t small enough, or I was in too many parts to do things alone.

The old man inside me asks, Which smile is this, which puddle of moonlight?

I found too many aspirations nesting like voyaging seabirds as I arrived at the shore, huffy little summaries of oceanic caravans. I looked up to see myself floating back down, there where a moment before stalked a creature cloaked in fierce intentions and transparent hope.

The old man inside takes a breath and then he gives it back. The whole truth was always guilty of only half the story. He wants a picture finished with falling. The way I can see everything clearly confuses me. It’s time now to listen. Time to take us here. Time for there to wait, and a time for stepping quickly to between, where one step and two hold true, and the end of anything is the beginning.

Rich Ives lives on Camano Island in Puget Sound. He has received grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Artist Trust, Seattle Arts Commission and the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines for his work in poetry, fiction, editing, publishing, translation and photography. His writing has appeared in Verse, North American Review, Dublin Quarterly, Massachusetts Review, Northwest Review, Quarterly West, Iowa Review, Poetry Northwest, Virginia Quarterly Review, Fiction Daily and many more. He is a winner of the Francis Locke Memorial Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander and has been nominated twice for the Best of the Web, three times for Best of the Net and six times for The Pushcart Prize. He is the 2012 winner of the Creative Nonfiction Prize from Thin Air magazine. Tunneling to the Moon, a book of days with a work for each day of the year, is available from Silenced Press, Sharpen, a fiction chapbook, is available form Newer York Press, and Light from a Small Brown Bird, a book of poems, is available from Bitter Oleander Press. He is also the winner of the What Books Press Fiction Competition, and his story collection, The Balloon Containing the Water Containing the Narrative Begins Leaking, is now available.

James Esch

“The truth is of course is that there is no journey. We are arriving and departing all at the same time.” – David Bowie

Just another January morning, a week to go before the semester begins, and I’m sitting in the recliner trying out a new text editor for Windows called Writemonkey (which by the way is an amazing distraction-free writing tool with smart Markdown support, thumbs up so far). I’ve been in that pre-semester zone – call it a manic funk – wherein I can spend all day trying out apps, tweaking, copying/pasting and gathering files, touching up the syllabi, suddenly deciding I need to update a wordpress site and forward a domain to it…a buzzing of the mind to the point of burnout and self-shaming fury…you get the picture. I’ve been at odds the last few days. Last Friday I got a haircut in Downingtown, thought about shopping to pass the time, drove aimlessly home instead. On Saturday, our family ate a late lunch at the Mexican restaurant on Gay street. Afterward, I popped into the Mad Platter, gift certificate in my wallet, intending to browse for a new record. I couldn’t focus. I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to hear. I apologized to the clerk and went back to the time-sucking personal computer and its incessant tweaks and fiddles. I’ve been getting to sleep late, like 2 or 3 in the morning, suffering from rat brain, virtually grinding my soul’s teeth in the final days before the 15 week Bataan death march sets off. The syllabi are done but not quite, as I dither and squander. This morning, my stomach is upset from the morning tea, I’m not sure if my body is cold or hot. My wife enters the room and tells me David Bowie died at age 69, from cancer.

Shit. Who knew? He’d been on my radar because of the new album Blackstar, which has gotten positive press and endorsements from friends, and because an actor/singer on the Colbert show a few weeks ago had covered one of Bowie’s numbers from the show Lazarus at the New York Theater Workshop, and the song wasn’t at all bad. Blackstar was prominently displayed in the record store when I couldn’t make up my mind about what to get. To that extent, Bowie was once again occupying a little portion of my mindspace, and once he plants himself there, you always wonder, what’s he up to now, because he rarely stayed in one place or pose for very long. Just the other day his birthday was announced in my Facebook newsfeed. I acknowledged him with satisfaction and envy: at least Bowie still looks good after all these years. Then this. It was a gut punch. I don’t consider myself a die-hard fan of Bowie, but I am a fan, have about 8 or 9 of his albums, and I respect his long career of artistic risk-taking. He was a compelling performer, a theatrical musical chameleon. He’s an artist who for all the persona changes and gender-blending swings of fashion, has remained consistently relevant and edgy. An avant-pop icon. How did he pull that off?

What I think hit me so bluntly this morning is the unexpectedness of it. Bowie has always seemed perennially youthful to me, a study in graceful aging. My first response was a sneaking sensation, that at my age, I’m going to be hearing a lot more of this sort of thing; the rock and pop stars of my youth will die off at a faster rate, each obituary adding another mark of age and impending demise, to bolster the many suggestive corporal impairments that have already shipped their bags of stuff into my life: the thumb I injured in a handtruck accident back in November that hasn’t healed, the degrading hearing loss, the 100 % dependance on reading glasses, the reluctance to move out of a lounge chair, the salty thinning hair, and general reluctance to try very hard any more in the hustle bustle parade. I’m more than ever willing to let youthful actors strut their stuff, so long as they leave me alone with a bottle of Scotch and a book to read.

This couldn’t have happened to Bowie. Only 69? An 18 month battle with cancer? Yes, incontrovertibly, yes. He kept it secret, and I guess that’s for the best. But that’s the crux of it. None of us in the hoi polloi had been primed: it comes like a cold stab of winter wind. Death says, you can’t have him in your life any more. A point reached, a period for the deceased, a comma or semi-colon for us. Before, after. What of before? Bowie was a liquid signifier, shapeshifter, and to the extent that we identified with his persona, we could participate in those whispy postmodern promises that graft so neatly on to the scaffold of capitalist belief, in being anything, in the capability of redefining ourelves, of coming at life from oblique angles, disrupting all models and norms. Creative destruction. All that is solid melts into air, as Marx put it. We might not make those changes successfully, and Bowie certainly had his share of flops and head-scratching detours, but we admire him (and when brave enough, ourselves) for the sense of fullness in pressing the effect, the experience quaffed from brim to dregs like that Sinatra song, wearing any costume we might dare to put on. Bowie occupied that liminal territory, where rebellion joins the popular, where cross overs happen. For a certain age group (mine included), this is what he stands for. He crossed boundaries with integrity intact.

Every generation has its touchstone losses that rattle and echo through the inter-tubes of social chatter. Bowie’s death is clearly one of them, judging from the waves of reaction. To me, he’s been like a cryptic big brother into all kinds of cool shit you’re too small to get. He’s part of the soundtrack of those 70’s and 80’s formative years.

I come from a whitebread, square household and my musical coming of age came late. One of my earliest exposures to the world of rock came in the guise of a TV commercial, I think it was a Two Guys spot, for Bowie’s Diamond Dogs album. Frankly, it weirded me out. I couldn’t process. Who were these gender-bending dog people and their sexy/evil glares? I wasn’t sure, but the image seared itself into my memory. Another early exposure (can’t remember which came first) was the Bing Crosby Christmas special and the infamous “Little Drummer Boy” duet. There was something anxious and exciting about that meeting of generations, so fraught with mutual misunderstanding. While Bing looks like he’s not quite sure who he’s singing with and doesn’t trust him a whit, and Bowie looks nervous, insecure, like maybe he’s just committed career suicide, the performance for me (naive as I was), was unforgettable. A boundary crossed, a door opened.

Soon to follow were the comfortable rooms in my memory palace furnished in oft-played FM radio cuts – “Changes” and “Ziggy Stardust” and “Major Tom” and “Fame” and “Golden Years.” I couldn’t even identify those subgenres back then (I was too young, too uncool). Now I know all about Glam and Philly Soul and the thin white duke phase. Later I would discover his fascinating work with Brian Eno from the late 70’s era–Low and Station-to-Station and Heroes. When MTV became a thing in the 80’s, one of my early favorite videos was “Ashes to Ashes” from the Scary Monsters album. I never tired of it, long after I’d soured on Duran Duran, ABC, a Flock of Seagulls, Boy George, and company. Memory of the video serves up images of sad clowns and saturated, bleeding TV colors, non linear edits, something made to be seen and heard, an aesthetic multimedia whatchamacalit that dove into subconscious reservoirs and defied rational descriptions. It was something new, or felt so at the time.

Bowie on screen, in his videos and film parts, was riveting. Check out his latest video Lazarus and watch how his image physically seizes the camera as if in a chokehold. Talk about stage presence! There was often a spooky vibe to his incarnations. Before you got used to him, he would morph into something unpredictable. Next thing we knew, we were tapping feet along with “Let’s Dance” and “Modern Love”. He defined a new, safer 1980’s normal for a couple years, and then it seemed anybody could like Bowie. His majestic collaboration with Queen on the song “Under Pressure” helped me to survive the crappy 80’s in ways I can’t articulate. It just was. Certain songs you need in your life, right place, right time. As pop music devolved into junky digitized spam, Bowie managed to find a way to jet ahead and make it all seem cool again. You never knew what you were going to get. You could be sure to get something, though. Something to take notice of.

So yes, predictably, these passings of stars force us to pause, rewind, revisit our past selves. But each loss has its distinct flavor and color. This one makes me wince. I think I will go back to the Mad Platter very soon and spend my gift certificate on Blackstar. I can’t think of any other way to celebrate the man’s life. We feel sad for someone we did not know personally. There’s something odd and maybe unwise about that, until I come to see how it’s myself I’m lamenting. The me I was (and wasn’t), and on the other side of that punctuation mark, the me I will (and won’t) become. It’s me and the people I actually know that I’m feeling sad for. We who’ve shared that musical ethos. The golden years, golden days, gone forever.

Bowie in retrospect makes me think (improbably) of the knight played by Max von Sydow in Bergman’s The Seventh Seal. The knight kept evading his ever present nemesis, surviving, making new plays and strategems to stall the Reaper. When Death had him checkmated, Max “accidentally” upset the chessboard. Death just grinned and waited his turn. So it goes. We think we’re on a journey called life, getting somewhere, then realize it’s got a pattern to it, one that’s been told billions of times with subtle variations. Maybe it’s a game. We make an appearance, stick around a while, make a few moves (some memorable, most not) and then get escorted off the lot. The field of play stays put. Bowie sure made some interesting moves. So many entrances, exits. It was one hell of a film.

Lazarus, David Bowie’s latest video. RIP

(via https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-JqH1M4Ya8)


—Alec Solomita

My dear mother, God bless her,
was on the final stretch to forty-five
when she turned to me in the grocer’s
and said, as if she’d solved Fermat’s
Last Theorem, “I’m invisible.
That’s what happens when you get old.
You become invisible.
Four years, thirty pounds ago,
people could see me. Now they don’t.”
I still saw her but I saw her point.
Four years before, I was about ten
when frisky, stubbled cabbies tried
to get a rise out of my shapely dark-haired
mom, “Watch out!” she cried
when our cab nearly clipped
a pedestrian. “Don’t worry, honey,
I don’t want to clean off the grill.”
A grownup joke. She acted shocked.
I was shocked. And once on a crippled
brick sidewalk as I helped her
navigate my baby sister’s carriage,
a man with a tie leaned from his car
to sing, “Whatcha got cookin’?”
And there must have been subtler signs
beyond my ken that told her she was there:
admiring glances from women, men
whispering dark somethings in her ear.

Alec Solomita is an editor and writer living in Somerville, Mass. He’s published fiction in The Adirondack Review, The Mississippi Review, Southwest Review, and elsewhere. Recently, his poetry has appeared in 3Elements Literary Review, Literary Orphans, Silver Birch Press, Turk’s Head Review, and, forthcoming, Fulcrum: An International Anthology of Poetry and Aesthetics.

– Elaine Olund

I was on the ferry, on my way to see Tristan, my uncircumcised English boyfriend. Aside from his accent and his penis, Tristan had few charms; but he used what he had to good effect, shagging me hard in the dark so his spotty skin and undeserved arrogance and roving eyes were not evident. So far I hadn’t spent enough time with him in the light of day for those things to become deal breakers.

I was leaning on the rails, watching the prow cut into choppy surf the color of a cold November sky, thinking of Tristan and pretending in my head that he was a real boyfriend. The sort a woman like me might describe to her girlfriends back in the states as her lover with a capital “L” The sort who might compose well-written letters in which he made allusions to Shakespeare or possibly Pride and Prejudice, the sort of lover you could, in fact, nickname “my Mr. Darcy,” when writing about him on your blog.

I was out on the deck, even though a miserable misty rain was wrapping around me like a wet angora scarf. Even this short crossing made me seasick. I was trying, unsuccessfully, to find the horizon so I could calm my stomach and weave my fantasy again—the one that kept me from wanting to throw myself into the cold channel, the one in which someone, even the very superior, rabbit-faced Tristan, loved me for me.

But my illusions were falling apart faster than a damp scone.

Tristan loved whoever would stand still long enough for him to poke. Tristan was not, in fact, a poet, as his profile had claimed. Tristan was an advertising copywriter, and not even a good one. He wrote sales circulars and direct mail pitches with cloyingly cute headlines like “Somebunny Loves You!” for a pet-rabbit farm outside Surrey, aimed at parents of allergic children. He was proud of that one. Like I said, he was unaccountably arrogant, a boy who must have been doted on too much by his mother, who attracted women like me who weren’t doted on enough by theirs.

And so, I was on the ferry when my aloneness rose up like an invisible tidal wave and nearly pushed me overboard.  Here I was, almost forty, alone and shaking in the cold wet, realizing for the first time that if I disappeared from this earth, no one’s life would come crashing to a halt. My inability to weave my usual magic spell about Tristan, the spell that kept me safe in a relationship or recovering from my last or in the giggly throes of my next—it was like I’d been floating in a bubble that protected me from seeing just how alone I was. The bubble popped and I woke, the spray stinging my eyes as I felt this knowledge envelope me, strong and gagging as a spritz of Tristan’s cologne. It took my breath. 

The lonely hum of the ship’s engine chugged into a deeper roar as the ferry began to slow a bit. Ahead, the shore came blurrily into view. In this cold gray, I felt a warmth flare somewhere inside me, a strange, fiery glow. The faces of all the men of the last two decades flashed through my mind the way calendar pages flip past in old black and white movies; all those handsome and cute and nerdy and chiseled faces (okay, just one was chiseled, and he did turn out to be gay)—they all flashed by and I had a sudden surge, a knowing, elemental as the tides beneath the ship, that I was on the wrong course, and had been for a long, long time.

I was shivering when I spotted Tristan, waiting for me on the shore, standing in a beam of sunshine the color of weak tea, chatting up a willowy young thing who looked from this distance a little like Keira Knightley—long-legged, laughing, wide mouthed.

He wasn’t watching for me, he would never watch for me.

As fellow passengers piled out on deck, I felt a pushing my on back. I turned, but there was only a young mother, kissing the swaddled head of her sleeping baby. No one was touching me.

But the pushing continued, an invisible strong hand, pushing me to go taste something new—because nothing was stopping me from tasting new things. I could taste things far more sustaining than the likes of Tristan, who was the relationship equivalent of a donut, an unsatisfying lump of dough, fried up—temptingly sweet at first taste, but ultimately leading to diabetes. 

I was swept into the stream of disembarking passengers, striding fast, my bag slung on my shoulders when I began to crave Bangers and Mash and Guinness and finishing my novel without asking what Tristan thought—because, really? And long walks down twisty lanes or across misty moors, stopping when I felt like it, and not before. 

I walked faster, towards the cabs queued up at the head of the hill. I heard Tristan call my name, in that accent that once had made me swoon. His voice rose as I kept going. I didn’t turn to look at the disbelief on his face, but I heard it with 20/20 clarity. 

I was laughing aloud, hiccupping almost, as I slid into a cab. 

I didn’t care if the cabbie thought I was crazy. 

The warmth that had begun as a little glow filled me with the sort of joy I hadn’t felt since I was a baby, lying on my back, laughing the funny faces that I suddenly knew my mother must have made, at least once or twice, just for me.

Elaine Olund is a writer, designer and artist. Her work has been published in Bartleby Snopes, Turk’s Head Review, Black Demin Lit, Story Shack, and others. She’s working on her second novel, and looking for a home for her first. She blogs at elaineolund.com.