summer 2010

This small studio apartment is filled
with the smell of a million pennies.
My pennies.
The ones that course in small amounts
through my collapsing veins.
Gray like elephant’s skin
these arms don’t even look like mine.
The dull tracks left by adhesive tape
where the hair’s ripped off
are roadmaps for the hands of a nervous nurse.
The tygon tubing’s been dangling for so long
from arm to IV stand that I feel alone
on the weekends when the Health Services Crew take it away.

Even the darkness doesn’t enter these broken
shade drawn windows. No one ever visits. Not anymore.
Not since the money’s gone spent entirely on myself:
the Kool Aid sized packets of DDI, the antifungal drugs
and three cases of Ensure–Vanilla, Chocolate and Strawberry,
flavors I once loved as a boy.
Only a pair of cupboard mice I call Hun and Deary
share my silence.
Sometimes they nibble on the blood filled tubing
that loops around my feet like an elbow joint
off of some s-trap gone mad.
I don’t know if they can get sick so I always shoo them away.
I love these mice–them being my only live-in companions.

I’m getting ready for my AIDS buddy to arrive.
I check my face in the mirror and see the skin drip
from my cheekbones like wax forming down a candle.
She’s a mouthy dike from South Philly,
who, the first time she came to visit
told me to “get off your ass and and let’s take a walk.
You’re not dead yet.” And she offered a hand
to lift me up from my vinyl chair.
I guess I didn’t know how to take
her to-the-point-no-fucking-around manner.

I was really hoping for a male buddy.
A 25 year old boy with dark hair and a swimmer’s body
but instead I got a pushy long-haired Fish
who insisted on reading me poetry.
I told her that it was best that she left,
the Task Force made a mistake–should’ve sent a man.
She looked at me, gave me a hug and left her number.
“You’ll call,” and then she walked out.

The Task Force sent me a young swimmer-type who wouldn’t touch me
without his blue surgical nitrile gloves on.
His name was Bobby.
He did Whippets and Acid,
smoked too much dope
and talked of nothing else but the Glory Holes
and Tea Trade Rooms.
Two weeks later I called her.
Told her I reconsidered
that I was an ass and hoped she wasn’t too mad.
We laughed.

Now she reads Cocteau, Yukio Mishima,
Marcel Proust and Frank O’Hara
while I knit gloves for her pale weathered hands–
something to keep the skin from shaving off
in the slicing winter air.

When she first started visiting we’d go for long rides
in her blue convertible but now with my ass gone
and just nine layers of skin stretched across my tailbone
like saran wrap I just can’t do it anymore.
Besides, she drives like Richard Petty.

She makes me 8-scoop ice cream mikshakes with Brewer’s
yeast, weight-lifter’s protein powder, B-12, sugar, vanilla extract and three raw eggs.
‘Says it helped her father battle cancer, so I drink it.

I guess I could sit here and bitch
about the lovers I’ll never have,
vacations I’ll never take to Fiji,
Big Sur, New Mexico–never again see Redondo Beach
or the seals that float like lillypads
by the docks of Tony’s Restaurant.
But when I think of her,
her long blonde hair rising and falling with the bounce
of her trampoline steps
her taut hug as she says goodbye
her black leather boots tapping in rhythm as she reads Lorca
her unyielding will filtering through those dry cracked
fingertips into me, I wouldn’t trade her
for any well-hung swimmer boy,
because I look forward to our Sunday’s
so I can hear just a little more love, just a little more poetry.

Wynne Guglielmo

Oil fouls the sea.  Afghanistan, Afghanistan.
A child’s cancer death, a lemonade stand.
I saw a toad in my garden.

Jack murders Jill, Jews attack Turks.
Terrorists wear dynamite in underpants.
I saw a toad in my garden.

Natural gas fracturing poisons the well.
The money’s so good, who wouldn’t sell?
Here is the very best news I can tell.
I saw a toad in my garden.

Margaret Robinson

Drops pound the skylight glass.
Clouds hide the trees, mist blankets the grass.
Lightning zigzags, thunder complains.
What’s lost comes back in the rain.

Fiddles play, the couples form squares.
Mother’s skirts swirl, round arms shine bare.
Dad’s eyes flash, he hums the refrain.
What’s lost comes back in the rain.

You and I, on a hillside in France.
A tent, the moon, corn stubble romance.
Not one gray hair, or wrinkle, or pain.
What’s lost comes back in the rain.

Friends who loved and now hate.
Mango slices, a loon on a lake.
Music that offers sharp joy again.
What’s lost comes back in the rain.

Margaret Robinson

“This shed is an eyesore.  Let’s tear it down and buy a readymade one at Home Depot,” Jeff says.

“Are you kidding?  This shed might be 75 years old.  Its wood wears weather scars beautifully.  Why do you always prefer modern?” asks Jerry.

August is butterfly month.  Black butterflies with a blue hem pop in on zinnias.  Yellow butterflies teeter on white culver’s root.  Monarchs tip stained glass wings on butterfly weeds, orange on orange. 

Jeff hated growing up in Keokuk, Iowa.  Dumpy farm houses, at least he remembers them as dumpy, cluttered sun-baked summer streets.  When the other boys were growing Beatles haircuts, dime store moptops, Jeff’s dad insisted he get a crew cut. He wanted to be in but it never worked out. 

Contemporary styles annoy Jerry–none of this moussed hair or extra baggy shirts and pants, underwear showing.  Jeff thinks guys look cute that way.  Jerry’s idea of a sexy guy is FDR.

“Politicians are never sexy, Jerr.”

“Well, those skinny skateboarders are about as sexy as mildewed sheets.”

The deer ate the buds off of their favorite hibiscus, a burgundy-colored flower big as a head.  This isn’t discussed.  It’s too “upset-making,” as Jeff says.

Jerry grew up in Joliet, Illinois.  He thinks of his childhood as a fence covered in pink and white sweet peas, a red wagon in the driveway, winning the school spelling bee in fourth grade (the word that eliminated Becky Crickson was “midgit.”).  Jeff sometimes reminds him that to this day Jerry thinks of his mother as an unholy terror and his father is a few documents stuffed in a bank strong box.

“You always want to remember the bad, Jeff.  I want to remember the good.”

“You copped that line from Baby Jane, when Jane says the same thing to Blanche, who, as I recall, was dying on a beach and looking most unglamorous.”

“You’re right.  It is a Jane reference—when movies were movies!  Who wants to see Batman films?  The cartoons were better.”

“Well, we can’t all curl up in black-and-white celluloid—look at those monarchs, you’d miss them if they were filmed in black and white.”

“Not if the cameraman was Sven Nykvist.”

“Sven who?”

“Sven Nykvist—Ingmar’s cameraman.”

“Oh Jesus, Bergman again.”

Two butterflies meet on the edge of a blue hyssop.  There’s room enough for both.  The hyssop hardly bends as wings tilt and butterflies revel in a good snack.

“You might be right about the shed, Jerry.  It seems wrong to disturb things too much.”

“Maybe so.  But rotting wood doesn’t stop rotting and it draws termites.”

Twenty years.  Butterflies and termites.  They go in the back door and sit on the porch swing.   It has a lonely creak they never oil.
   
Kenneth Pobo   
   

Simon Vouet’s The Toilet of Venus meant little to you.
And you figured that you could survive
without ever seeing The Death of Marat again.

You decided
    standing at the used-book counter
that if you went the rest of your life and never again laid eyes
on Georges de La Tour’s Joseph the Carpenter
or Goya’s The Third of May, 1808,
or even Decorative Figure against an Ornamental Background
    where you found the influence of Cubism come to rest
    against the classical tradition during a Tuesday afternoon lecture late last fall
it would be worth it.

The High Baroque style of The Blinding of Samson
    a clear example of the aesthetic Rembrandt developed after moving to Amsterdam
was something you would just as soon forget
    its theatrical light and violence reminding you
perhaps
    in an Old-Testament sort of way
    of the time you were forced by your parents to play
    the part of Moses in the school’s spring production.
Or you felt uneasy when you drew the easy parallel
between Samson’s infatuation with Delilah
and your own
    and realized the way the old cliché
    about love and blindness becomes too real.

And Oppenheim’s Object, you reasoned,
wasn’t really art at all
    just a cup of tea gone horribly wrong
and the snow shovel hadn’t lived up to its promise
of being In Advance of the Broken Arm
    even when your professor insisted that it was a playful and
    spontaneous challenge to the very nature of art.
You were not moved by
    Madonna and Child Enthroned between Saints and Angels
    At the Moulin Rouge
    or The Blinding of Polyphemos and Gorgons on a Proto-Attic amphora.
You were not moved by
    The Glass of Absinthe
    or The Abduction of the Sabine Woman
    or White and Greens in Blue.
Not even by the image of the sacred visiting the earth with tangible immediacy
    in St. Matthew and the Angel.

But what you couldn’t do without
    what you trimmed so carefully
    from the top-right corner of page 221
was figure 11-6: West facade, Notre-Dame, Paris.
And I am left to imagine
    the Gothic architecture
    the Rose window
    the twin towers
    the doorway
in which, perhaps, you sat
and to wonder why it was
that you couldn’t let it go.

You even left the right margin of the page
    edge of the Parisian sky and a glimpse of roof tops
tucked inside the book
as if to prove that you really had no interest
    in any of it
except for this.

Troy Urquhart

Chizu whimpers about monsters and ghosts
in the August-warmed parking garage.  Under
the fireworks’ rumbling, our wood sandals, red
from lonely EXIT signs, scuttle over white
arrows, always pointing up the black ramps
spiraling into the empty and quiet dark.
   
Fading into the walls, Natsumi in her dark
blue yukata promises “There’re no ghosts
in here.”  She limps through the leg cramps,
refusing to slow—to see, over there, under
the dead floodlight above corpse-white
elevator doors, the man with his skull bared.

Cracks in the metal scar the withered
face with hallowed eyes.  Hands inside dark
sleeves, standing where the temple’s white
steps were before, he watches our robes ghost
up to the next floor—where, to the thunder
of fireworks, the woman crouches on the ramp

with her misty rice stalks.  Barefoot, she tamps
the concrete above where water once blurred  
farmers’ faces.  Humming tunelessly under
the weak floodlight, she shuffles in the dark
oblivious to Chizu’s pink cotton sleeve ghosting 
through her arm as we wind up the white

line—where a wind rustles the whitened
sleeves of an elderly kimono against the ramp,
muffling her unfurling fan and her low ghost
song about love wandering in snow, lured 
by false promises.  Wet cement in her dark
hair and silk, she breathes to the ceiling underneath

Natsumi’s car.  The metal shimmers gray under
the cloudy moon and doesn’t reflect his white
school pin.  Wind-tousled, he looks into the dark
street from atop the wall sloping down like a ramp.
Against the moon a firework explodes into a red
flower.  We, he, she, she, he watch the ghost

sparks wither under the moon.  On the ramping
wall he watches white concrete.  Chizu pulls my red
sleeve.  We slip into the dark—and ghost.

Michelle Danner

While a Tropicana rose drops
her last orange-red petals, cars,
oblivious politicians, dash by.  Up
from down the street Mary Carsling

lugs a brown bag, scowls.  I scurry too,
bump your orange juice glass over. 
I cram English muffin toast
in my mouth and hum

a crummy version of Sinatra’s
(Frank, not Nancy) “I’ve Got You
Under My Skin”—in such frenetic,
kinetic plop, a fuschia

blossom, purple and red,
hangs over the basket’s
edge, still,
utterly still.

Kenneth Pobo

Mrs. Magwood called Keats
the greatest poet—I preferred ice cream,

a date, and a door that closed
in our cramped house.  I remember

Keats said something about a thing of beauty
being a joy forever.  25 years later,

in my apartment a miltonia orchid blooms
while woozy drunks kick cars and

each other.  June.  A chill wind
suggests October.  Chicken bones stink

up my trash.  Yet this flower,
nicknamed the pansy orchid,

face fierce and bright, opens
beside a geranium even I can’t kill—

surely a thing of beauty,
but a joy forever?  I may get

several blossoms before it gets cancelled
like a bad sitcom.  No guarantee

it will bloom again.  Joy and forever
can make a good marriage,

but I see so many divorces, rancorous,
not even a hello on the street.  

Kenneth Pobo

Rusted iron bars covered the glass pane in the butcher shop door, and little green curtains inside flanked a sign in red letters on white.  A bell jingled as his mother entered pulling him after, and he heard the hum of a refrigeration unit.  It was cool inside.  In the bay to the left of the door, two dressed steer carcasses hung by chains from ceiling hooks.  A chalkboard sign was stuck in one of them with prongs like a fork.  Sunset from the bay’s three windows shone upon the dark red trunks in their suits of fat.  Their legs and heads had been cut off.  Heavy shoulders and thighs ended without limbs.  The necks had been folded over and sewn shut with string.  When the butcher took off his paper cap and stepped forward, a beam lit up the bald spot in his black hair.  He locked the door and turned the sign over.

“My last customers,” he said.  Muscles rolled beneath his white shirt as he removed a pipe and a leather zip pouch from the pocket of his blue apron.  He dipped the pipe into the pouch, and his thumb pressed golden shreds of tobacco into the bowl.  “Hello,” he said to the boy.  The unlit pipe clenched in his teeth, he laid his heavy hand upon the boy’s shoulder.  “Come on, then,” he said to the mother.  “I’ll show you the lamb."  He lifted his hand from the boy’s shoulder and ushered her behind the counter.

"Wait here,” she told the boy, as though otherwise he might run outside.  She and the butcher went into the meat locker and the heavy wood and steel door latched shut behind them.  Above it, the refrigeration unit rattled and fell silent.

The two carcasses looked like fat men in brown raincoats.  Beneath them, the floorboards were brown, also.  The boy looked about the shop.  The large glass-sided display case built into the wall had a shelf for red-and-white sausages, another for steaks marbled with fat, and a third for two string-tied roasts next to a lapped row of pink pork chops with bones like spurs.  Before the meat locker, a cash register sat on the marble counter that allowed a corridor between itself and the wall to the left, with a high stool between.  Knives, a bone saw, and a scarred wooden cutting board with bits of flesh and meat ends lay upon the back counter.  The counter facing the front door held one long case containing trays of cold cuts sliced from slabs or tubes of meat sitting behind them.  The counter to the left held three cases.  One side case contained a raw turkey on a platter with paper frills on its drumsticks, and a glazed ham studded with cloves occupied the other side case.  The larger case between was bedded with shaved ice beneath a layer of straw.  A lamb lay with its legs bent to simulate running and parsley sprigs in its mouth.  The boy tapped on the glass:  the lamb’s eyes were open but dull.  The shop smelled sweet, not like candy.

He knew the lamb was dead, but he wanted to pet it, so he walked behind the counter and slid open the back of the case just enough to stretch his arm inside.  He could feel the cold.  He stroked the lamb’s stiff fleece and thought of the song about Mary.  It seemed sad that the lamb could not get up and run around.  He closed the back of the case.  His mother had been gone a long while, and he was chilled.  He held out his bare arm and looked at the goosebumps.  Then he went over to the locker and pulled at the latch.  From behind the register, he drew up the stool.  He climbed up carefully and kneeled to look through the small double-paned glass window set in the door.

Inside the tiled locker, he saw his mother and the butcher standing close together beneath a light bulb.  On the steel table lay the butcher’s paper cap and a lamb’s skinned leg, its hip bone a white button in a circle of red.  From the table, a drainage board led down to a steel basin by his mother’s foot.  Her black leather loafer with its dirt-caked heel shifted and went up on end, the square toe almost touching the empty basin.  She leaned against the table and closed her eyes as the butcher pulled her to him.  His hands descended to her waist, and he lowered his balding head to kiss her neck.  He half-crouched to put his face to her breasts, crouched further and slipped his hands under her navy wool skirt.  As he raised her skirt, the pleats opened.  She frowned as he drew down her underwear, and she lifted her foot so that he could slip one leg hole over her shoe, though she left the underwear about her other ankle.  Then the butcher kneeled by the basin, put his head under her skirt, and holding her hips he must have kissed her there as she braced herself against the table.

They were not coming out yet, so the boy climbed down and pushed the stool back to its place by the register.  He rubbed his knees and walked out from behind the counter toward the bay window.  Careful not to touch them, he slipped between the two heavy carcasses.  The space behind them was secret and free, and he pressed his face against the central pane of glass looking out.  He squinted and with his hands shadowed his eyes against the hard, low sunlight.  On the sidewalk, he saw a woman approach. 

“Tac!  Tac!  Tac!  Tac!” came her staccato footsteps.  Beneath her loose, filmy mid-calf pink dress, her high heels tracked her as a series of stabbings.  Her legs scissored back and forth, and on the sidewalk beneath her alternating blades rayed out beyond the wavering shadow of her hem.  The toes rasped upon the pavement; then the stacked heels hammered down, shuddering beneath her as she walked past.  “Tac!  Tac!  Tac!  Tac!"  The boy liked her red shoes, their foreheads bulging above needle chins.

He tapped her cadence on the glass.  When she stopped and turned, he stepped back into the glare that hid him.  The shop was filled with light, and his face had left a smudge on the glass with two holes for eyes and a crease for a mouth.  His shoulder bumped a carcass, and through his shirtsleeve he felt the rubbery flesh.  The carcass started swinging, its chain gently creaking on the ceiling hook, but he put his hands to it.  He did not want it to touch the other or to move at all.  It settled, and the boy wiped his greasy hands on his pants.

The meat locker opened, and in its doorway his mother looked back.  She came out into the aisle behind the register, and wearing his paper cap the butcher followed with the leg.  With his shoulder, he shrugged shut the meat locker door.  He ripped a sheet of pink paper from a roll on a bar mounted on the wall above the back counter and wrapped the leg in it.  With a sponge from a saucer, he moistened a strip of white paper tape and bound the package.  "Here you are, son."  He handed the boy the leg.

Warily, the boy held the pink oblong by one end angled up.  He imagined himself stirring the sunlight.  The leg was not too heavy, and there was no blood.  Wrapped and bound, it no longer looked like a leg.

"For God’s sake, don’t drop it,” his mother said.

The butcher accepted the bills she gave him and without counting stuffed them in his apron pocket.  He removed a match box and his pipe.  He lit the pipe, puffing blue clouds that curled through the sunlit air as a vine of smoke flowering from his mouth.  He tossed the spent match on the floor.

“I need a roast next Sunday,“ she said.  "We’ll come for it Friday, late.”

“That’s fine,” the butcher said with gritted teeth.  He took the pipe stem from his mouth.  “I should have the roasts Wednesday.”

“Friday,” she repeated, and she raised her chin.

The butcher nodded.  “I’ll save you one,” he said.  “Goodbye,” he called to the child, but the boy was too too shy to respond.  He held up the leg to block one eye and half the man’ face, and he saw the butcher return the pipe to the side of his mouth that the boy could see.

The little bell jingled above as his mother opened the door.  She led him out and shut the door behind them.  Tugged along the sidewalk toward the setting sun, he looked at the lines and puddles of shade that formed and dissolved beneath his mother as she walked and at the shadow of her outstretched arm linked to his.  The shadow of the package he cradled looked like an extra limb.  His sneakers trotted to keep up to her loafers, and he listened to their soles’ soft scuff upon the pavement.  He wished that his mother wore shoes like that lady was wearing.

Jeffrey Boyer

Doves come for love, used things, hoping to allude on a tar-dark night to the topography of your mouth: tongue, holes, eat and blow are words I ink on fraying wings of paper I love to over-fold like hard sharp origami. Your name in my mouth can solute, you know, just as the body of this letter in my teeth, all disassembled, lodging one along another until I sing your love letter and sink; and to think, your molasses-inks letter right there, over coffee, where, in the next dimension, you will storm like an infection.

Molly Gaudry