summer 2015

Gerard Sarnat

“When I was younger I could remember anything,
whether it had happened or not.” – Mark Twain

1. Made my bones getting jobbed playing ledgeball on the block,
but after Mosul no taxi’d take me back into the Southside snatch-‘n-grab
boarded storefronts below Chicago’s elevated trains. Hertz’d have none of it;

Avis required signing stacks of notarized waivers. Bounding four flights,
I’m scrutinized by a scraggly old gent who cackled, Beg pardon, lookie
we got here in Spookville! – slamming the door before could catch my breath.

Back in the 50s, 71st and Jeffery seemed just booooring Jewish
(no one’d buy Christmas cards I sold door-to-door) except my riverboat
gambler Uncle Sugar whose fortunes handicapping the Daily Racing Form

turned a 3-hole Buick Special into a jalopy into a cherry Impala with rims
– you know that kind of thingamajig. But thanks to auspicious demographics,
later on playing with house money, I faked having survived the Blackstone Rangers.

2. Planning better lives, when they got the chance my parents moved
our quartet through prairie dog towns west to another walk-up
in paradise so Sis and I’d do well at the best available LA public schools.

As it happened, right up the alley of my lifelong partner whom I’d eventually
meet during high school, she spent indifferent time playing in the same alley
– though we didn’t figure it out until four decades had passed.

When Dad’s finances afford it, he relocated us to a ramshackle fixer-upper
a few miles north in the part of town the world thinks of as Beverly Hills;
the miniscule antique swimming pool’s hand-painted tiles were a drainless cesspit.

There no one played on the block or in the alley where only maids went.
Took months to get invited into mansions with stemmed triple-cherries, off-the-books
big rock candy soda fountains, tennis courts – if you can believe it, even elevators.

3. Harvard pre-med home the summer of South Central’s riots, I’d volunteered
to administer vaccines at the Watts Health Center. Maneuvering to avoid pepper spray/ duck snipers in here while outside, establishments burned and Crips pulsated blood,

jostled below window level by ex-gangbanger Community Organizer Julio Bates (nicknamed Master), my high-tops bid to establish bogus street cred
based on résumé more than cajones: “No problemo. I was raised in Chiraq.”

Gerard Sarnat

“Give me a place to stand and a lever
long enough, and I will move the world.”
 – Archimedes

Use or lose it.

I can tell she can tell
things are getting different

from sterling pen and pencil set
retirement booty stockpiled forever
on the shelf now clipped in my pocket

to the Air Jordans, designer jeans ‘n jerseys
hung in the closet or salted away in drawers
just waiting for the right occasion never came
– which for uncertain reason’s happening now.

Though no one knows the exact time or how this
began, it’s been crystal clear since the two-bit watch
on a mind-boggling turquoise leather band from the hip
pawn shop in Gallop NM, circa 1972 – too good to wear
for four decades – found its way from a safety deposit box

onto my wrist from under a plaid Pendleton just recently unboxed.
Both chill below an alpaca vest my son got in La Paz before Bolivia
went leftist. And each night below it all, the Calvin Klein pink thong
that she gave me on our forty-seventh anniversary but then disappeared
from conjugal visits too soon thereafter till this comeback. Yet the very instant
we reclaim one vital part another of mine’s gone missing. Who could’ve foreseen?

G. Michael Davis

I leave the dock behind me, and I glide
My kayak toward the center of the lake
An hour to sunset—not much time to take
The waning sun’s long shadows act my guide.

Across cool glassy water fish don’t break
Past oaks’ and maples’ changing leaves I slide
Past bays where beavers stare at me wide-eyed,
And I the only human, dream awake

All sounds have stopped—it’s grown so deathly still
Serene, irenic, placid, hyaline mask
The air so redolent and soft, no evening chill
The sky a deepening blue, I’m moved to ask,

Is this like life for all the fully dead?
Or what it’s like to fully live instead?

July 30, 2014

Stored in Light

Michael Bernicchi

My grandmother said our past
is stored in light and we’re like
paper lanterns on a string,
and I used to wonder where
the light went, where it faded,
or if it ever did.

Like our summers in Tennessee
how they never seemed
to last;
they must exist
somewhere-now-somewhere I’m
running to the creek past my brother
whose eyebrows are
still coming back after
a bottle-rocket blast, and I’m
just a boy with skinned knees
and smile,
each scar a portal.

A footpath near the crick carves through
the gap, through the mist,
which hangs like a web until
it settles in the valley
and tucks us in with
grandma’s faded blanket
until we rip the sheets off
and run down the path
exhausted, past the gravesite,
past the beech trees old as god,
and I’m a wet seed just learning
to slay time.

[somewhere
I haven’t happened
yet, and somewhere else
I’m gone
and all at once]

And it’s nighttime,
and we chase fireflies,
store them in glass
and pretend they’re stars,
each jar a universe,
and the fireworks
still dance
as embers on settled
coals,
and my brother flinches
again with every pop,
not knowing his eyebrows
are already gone.

Adolescent Songs from the Sidewalk

Glen Armstrong

They’ve just seen Jaws
         for the very first time.

They provoke in the manner of plastic
        dog doo

        then look away
        tearing up, fearing

        they’ve gone too far.
        Pity them.

They’ve had too many crepes
        and too much Red Bull.

It’s midday and the anarchy they dream
        of can’t take hold.

They can’t get their heads around
        the idea of a full-bodied
        but affordable
        after-dinner wine.

        Their little grey planet
        doles itself out in txt
        and steep monthly payments.

Unlike you and me, they never had to survive
        a nightmare world populated
        by damn, dirty apes.

At Ferlinghetti’s Coney Island

Glen Armstrong

She falls and brushes the dust
from her blue jeans,

preemptively
open at the knee.

Denim blinks; bare skin sees.
She understands the bull’s-eye,

its tissue paper heart.
She is easy

on the third eye,
a whirling astral beauty.

She comes as she pleases
through the forehead’s

collapsible mouse door.

Carl Boon

The boy with blonde eyebrows
moves across the dance floor
to flirt with his math teacher’s niece.
They’re each fourteen, and though
he’d rather be killing terrorists
on a flat-screen TV
in his house among the cherry trees,
he’s here for his brother
who sighed so often for Maria
he nearly went mute. So—

the boy sips beer aside the pavilion
and disregards his mother,
and his father’s conversation
of the seasons and the fishing
and the toddler from Moscow
whose head got smashed
on the rocks and says hi to Sasha,
who’d rather be reading Pushkin
because she hates
her wedding skirt and shoes.

There might be an earthquake
or maybe a thunderstorm
with frequent, dangerous lightning
so that we can all go back
to being strangers once again.
Because in Alupka and Trabzon
and even West LA, when the adults
disappear to the bathroom,
the dark comes terribly quick
and we still can’t hide.

Carl Boon

In a locked room, you wait all summer
for the affirmative, for some boy
to drop his defense and say,
“I’ve been waiting, too.”

You chronicle each day
on blue-lined paper because
it bears the traces of your youth,
what was lost and never recovered

that late June evening when mother
put out a plate of strawberries.
She wore a skirt the color
of strawberries and lingered

in the hallway, making sure
someone pulled the screen door
closed to keep the mosquitoes away.
Such minor things matter on long

summer nights—they matter
as much as the yes you wait for
that will not come. They matter
because you are alive and still

like strawberries at night on light,
blue plates, and stand alone
on the porch thereafter, circling
the stars with your fingers.

Len Krisak

At 6 x  3, it ought to offer more.
Instead, it’s big enough to be a door.
It’s commandeering the décor,
with bowling-shirt-shade blues that span
the spectrum:  turquoise, royal, pilot light,
and something like dull indigo. A night
of: sampans, junks, and dhows at rest;
the glow a cheesy moon above the crest
beyond the bay has laid in like a pizza slice,
to grease a wedge of cheap romance.
No subtlety was bought no matter what the price;
whatever someone spent was far too high.
And yet its oil is chrism—
a peace that few can buy.
These craft are listing in
the waters from their maker’s hand,
which painted them a wind
so gentle it will never die.

Long-Term Memory

Kristin LaFollette

When I sit in my room with
the tableside lamp on:

I feel July approaching—

When I hear the noises of
plants emerging from the ground:

I think of my own floating
ribs and how they withstand
the constant stress of a
breathing body.

When I think about heat:

          I think of the many ways we can die,

          the proliferation of bacteria,

          the way skin feels against skin—

When I turn on the tableside lamp:

A bulb ignites,

a sound like mosquitoes near water,

red, the color of packed cells.