Sunday, July 29, 2018

My Grandfather's Ferarri

Stephen Poleskie

My maternal grandfather came to America from Poland
At a time when there was no Poland.
Soldiers had come to the family’s farm to take away their horses.
When his father protested an officer replied; “We will be back for your boy.”
So he put his son on a boat and sent him off to America.
There he worked in a coal mine, married and begot three daughters.
When his lungs filled up with black dust and he couldn’t work anymore
His eldest daughter, my mother, dropped out of school to support the family.
Many years later I visited my relations on their farm in Poland.
They talked excitedly about my grandfather and the letters he had sent them.
He was a banker and had three daughters, who had all gone to college.
And have you ridden in your grandfather’s Ferrari? someone asked me.
And how could I tell them that my grandfather only drove an old Ford?
And that those letters he wrote had been just his American Dreaming 

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Stephen Poleskie’s writing has appeared in numerous journals in the USA and in Australia, Czech Republic, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, the Philippines, and the UK; as well as in five anthologies, and been three times nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He has published five novels and two books of short fiction. Poleskie lives in Ithaca, NY. with his wife the novelist, Jeanne Mackin.   website: www.StephenPoleskie.com






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Friday, June 29, 2018

Silhouette

Sasha Thurmond



Silhouette...where are you? Here kitty, kitty, kitty! Damn that druggie former friend and his dealing girlfriend. She let Silhouette outside. I was just there for one night before I'd catch a flight back home to the east coast where I was born.

The condo complex was ticky-tacky endlessly all the same and the repetition and the people staring at me as I drove around and around with my passenger door wide open hoping Silhouette would hear me and leap in the car, making me joyful and myself again. Not a car he'd recognize since it wasn't mine. I just borrowed it...declared I was taking it to find my cat and my ex-friend had no say in the matter at all. Ricky Ticky Tavi, like a mongoose I was gonna find him if it was the last thing I ever did in my spiraling life, I swore to God.

Damn...I got a D.U.I. in that dinky little Mormon town in Idaho where I went to ski for a winter; like what a great idea while my boyfriend was in jail so at least I could lay low and traverse the law and chaos I tried to escape since my life was gone like Silhouette was.

Wow....what a stupid idea, like most of mine were on the merry go round I was living. I took a geographic , for fun or something...returning to the saner parts of my childhood excluding all the drama and combustible parents and dysfunction. Now I was not only estranged from my boyfriend...I lost my key to responsibility and love and care who had always been my touchstone. "Silhouette...where are you? Here kitty, kitty, kitty." Everyone thought I was nuts and out of control and an accident waiting to happen. Waiting to happen? It already had happened time and time and time again. Maybe I should believe it and turn it around myself. Right...not so easy a thing to do, I secretly had discovered but swiftly dismissed as an aberration of my mind.
Holy smokes...the state troopers found me hanging over the Snake River in my car but they saved me! That damn blizzard disoriented me on my way home from the cowboy saloon where my car wouldn't start when the bar was closing. I was a cocktail waitress...my job to earn money and ski the incredible, awe inspiring mountains. What a blast I was going to have. I was an avid skier who learned as a young child when the roses were red and smelled like an overpowering perfume confection.

However, like Thomas Wolfe said in 'You can't go home again. " I have to see a thousand times before I see it Once." Now...I said the state troopers saved me. Then why did they take me to the county jail instead of taking me home? I was being victimized, treated unfairly, what a joke they convoluted my untenable situation.
"Silhouette ! Where are you? "Now people were waking up in the ticky-tacky rows and they are curious who the woman was wending her way with her car door open and screaming something incoherent. My mind was screeching, my heart was pounding I couldn't go home again without him.

Those Mormon neighbors of mine banged on my door every Sunday morning inviting me to walk with them on the Mormon Path and learn what they knew about life and salvation. It was sort of sweet but me, spend seven hours every Sunday doing whatever they did all day long was definitely not for me. I was always nursing a hangover and needed to recoup by sleeping like Goliath. They even gave me a Mormon Bible the entire fifteen person family had signed. Do you think I should have read it? Or the Bible? Or the Koran? Or Anything about a Higher Power ? I sometimes thought I wasn't worth saving...fleetingly before I reminded myself how fun and unfettered my exciting life was. "Don't tie me down." Yeah.

"Silhouette...." My voice was getting hoarser, the hours were passing like a tortoise and the damn car was running out of gas. A gray apparition whizzed by me mentally and clunked down flat on my lap! Holy smokes...it was Silhouette climbing up my chest !! "Silhouette...you're with me again...I won't ever let you get lost again. It wasn't your fault...maybe mine for hanging around with sketchy people. But never again Silhouette. We're going home again." I hoped that Thomas Wolfe could enlighten me.

*   *   *


Story and illustration by Sasha Thurmond who is an artist and writer living on a farm in South Carolina with her horse and other animals and who also finds time to write, paint, and take photographs. She is a graduate of the Master of Fine Arts program at Cornell University, where she studied with Steve Poleskie. 

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Friday, May 25, 2018

Goshen

by Kevin Swanwick


                                                                I

Seated between two hills
   north & south
sleeping at appropriate times –
   mostly free 
   from its wetland past –

capturing dew points along 
North Church Street
   on stubborn crabgrass
urgently marking the jagged joining
of ancient slate slabs
all strangely formed
   in strakes
processing to welcome travelers at 
   its ambiguous center.

We moved with attentiveness
across those wedged stones,
shifting over epochs
   crooked & precarious, 
markers for the habitual
stroller & child handlebar-gripper
whose body memory could marshal 
   phantom steps & pulsed clenches
striding or riding safely to church, 
the meat market or toy store.

But visitors beware.

Peopled early by workmen
cleaning catch basins before newly
car-driving villagers crisscrossed the
madly formed square;
   converging streets
   wrapping buildings closely
across from the sunken park of green
that softens the stark facade of steepled
   limestone history.

Harriman Square,
   a magical singularity
bereft of organizing traffic lights
& marked by its solid white bullseye;
   an unreachable point but
forming the statuary base for our
beloved sentry Chief Walker, 
   erect, white-gloved & spit-shined
   half-smiling, arms & hands
slicing the air
   with mechanical precision
bright eyed; his peppered police whistle
   bringing pitched order to chaos
while his august form draws
   every housewife's gaze.

                                                                   II

Outsized & punching upward,
holding a county seat, posing questions
about appearances & the oddness of
Rio Grande creek channeled & directed
out of sight in subterranean solitude 
   a sluice
quietly moving under our feet 
but peek-a-booing at grade
   near the end of Canal Street
where young boys who made plans 
to build a light raft & pilot through 
   its dark tunnel
were at last repelled by the stench of sewage
from the leaky history of busy pipes; 
hidden, rusting capillaries
   offering quiet witness
to organic hushed humanness
elderly & unattended, discharging slop
while above ground tattooed
   seasonal horsemen chattered 
   on the corner of Main
   & monied gents passed by,
   acting as if no one were there.

Courtesy ruled the dissimilar habitués
flinging curiosity aside with directed attention –
   horse grooms at their bars, 
dairy farmers at the hardware store –
   no time to stop & eat,
lawyers & bankers at Howell’s Luncheonette,
policemen strolling past the Occidental Hotel 
silently keeping order while scheduled train stops
announced themselves & cars halted
for the arm-folding railroad signal;
an opportunity for happenstance & short
   conversation.

The indifferent tracks formed rhythm & geometry
   & stretching along Green Street,
   home to black villagers,
connected two sides of town 
hosting both border & exchange 
   for melanin mixing
   or tentative greetings;
a coupling geography offering 
glimpses forward & from its
   proud purlieu
the mirth of gentleman John Bruen, 
black & brilliant, The Ole Hasher
who knew those tracks –
   man of prose & wisdom, 
dapper, handsome, pen in pocket 
offering chat as he gathered thoughts
   for the next newspaper scribbles,

local & universal, our brass tacks 
   village sage.

                   III

Revenants loiter
at this lowland crossroad 
   pressing immortality
where the French Canadian horse groom
smiled at the gum-snapping waitress
& others, stomach-ulcered & drunken,
stumbled across Greenwich Avenue
   to flophouse quarters,
fugacious & filled with wraiths from
   knife-fight pasts,
   murmuring unknown entreaties.

Through history-filled senses
listeners might hear,
between the metered jolts of 
   that oversized diaphone
   fire horn, 
youngsters arguing about trotters & pacers
and who is held champ – 
knee-raising Greyhound or 
well-hobbled Dan Patch, imagining 
   a showdown of equine gods.

What if Stanley Dancer
could have driven old Greyhound too?”
Dispassionate doppelgängers at work,
evenly matched & giving open track 
to trotting & pacing kings,
letting the aged, pounded clay decide.

And across town a knowing horseman’s ear
   could discern
the dissonant rhythms of 
left-side hoofs to right-side hoofs
changing forward position & pelting the track
against the syncopated & symmetrical
alternations of an old grey stud.

What if & what about;
so full of remnant recesses
in its ghostly décor, is Goshen. 


                                                              

*   *   *


Kevin Swanwick  works in the software technology industry and resides in the Hudson Valley of New York with his wife Kathy, two daughters and their dog Dante. Kevin has returned to poetry after a long separation. His published short fiction and essays can be found at The Strange Recital podcast and Elephant Journal. 
The poem Goshen arises from the firsthand experience of a 12-year old horse groom’s assistant at the Historic Track of harness racing in Goshen, NY and the interpretive memory of a middle-aged man. Their reunions occur in poetry.


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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Zippy Came Home

a short story

Sasha Thurmond

So.....I decided to do this elaborate set design outside on a glorious china-blue skied day with cream puff clouds sailing along like Samson with no place in particular to be or go and find Delilah. Zippy would be the star riding astride a hand chiseled, salmon colored stone horse head  I have at the head of my cemetery for all of my beloved animals who have lived out their wonderful lives here in South Carolina, where I somehow managed to land like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz who tapped her ruby red slippers wishing to be anywhere but Flanders Road where Tommy had died, and I knew not who I was nor where I was supposed to go and be me with all my horses and cats and guinea hens, and chickens without him. 

I know I said that Zippy is the star of this story......but as always, in my long complicated life.....things always get to be more complicated and contangled confangled and combustible and disputable, distorted, clandestine or dined may be more appropriate since that's where a lot of the filial familial family explosions erupted., suffocating, conflagated a 1957 White and red Chevrolet convertible we grew up in as the all American Pie Family cruising along in a dream life of success and Glory. Who could ask for more??? Much Much more and far less than ever was or needed to be or should have been or could have been if God Bless America things worked out like OUR BESTEST OF DREAMS.  Better than they ever are ?  Better than we really are ? or were or could have been or just don't bother to be bothered about it all at all. Now that would be sanity....but be careful....you just might get what you want ! No Surprise.....I'm my Father's and Mother's third child. God Bless my older sister, brother, and younger sister. Actually, we all were extremely blessed and privileged, and talented. It's just that sometimes things can all just go askew so badly that no sense can be made of it all forever after.


O.K. just had to let that all out. Now.....how exactly did I land in a psychiatric rehabilitation facility for fourteen days? It most certainly isn't like Eagle Hill in Sandy Hook Newtown, CT  (where all the young grade school children were killed), Carrier Clinic in Belle Meade, NJ, Guenster House in Bpt.,CT, Silver Hill in New Canaan,CT (3 times) and all the A.A. meetings and institutions for one thing or another and the ones I forget and can't in script if I don't remember what I DIDN'T FORGET AND THE JAIL PLACE ALL WOMEN SLEEPING ON THE FLOOR AT NIGHT BECAUSE OF THE OVERFLOW OF WOMEN WHILE NEW BUILDINGS WERE BUSY BEING BUILT BUT SO MANY WOMEN WERE COMMITTING MORE AND MORE CRIMES SO QUICKLY AND BRAVELY AND DANGEROUSLY THAN MEN TYPICALLY DID THAT RING AROUND THE ROSY AND ALL THE STUFF DONE IN THE PLAY GROUND WHEN WE ALL WERE KIDS AND JUST KIND OF TRYING TO HAVE A GOOD DAY. WHERE DO ALL THE PEOPLE GO? the STEEPLE IS STEEP, AND SO IS THE HILL, AND THE CAT IN THE HAT IS NICE TO BEHOLD. TICKTOCK TICKTOCK. 


 Oh....by now I bet you think (misthink) that I Fell Off the Wagon. Nope. I lost my beloved Zippy and Came unglued. My neighbors (adoptive Family) found me on the ground in a fetal position, and the cops and ambulance whizzed me off to the Emergency Room in the hospital. It all began when I set up the scene outside for pix of Zippy. When complete, and I did get a bit carried away, I put Zippy on the top of a horse head stone statue I have and started snapping photos with my cell phone. The sun was bright and it's really hard to see what I'm seeing because of the glare of the sun which I was trying to keep behind me. I just kept clicking, figuring I'd come up with some cool stuff to work with. Then this vase of roses blew over breaking this antique vase of mine and I rushed to pick up the pieces and bring it all inside, seeing as I had bare feet and didn't want Zippy to hop down on it. As I got to the top of the steps, I threw the glass shards and vase on the floor and rushed back for Zippy who was GONE !!!! I ran around like the Mad Hatter, but no luck finding Zippy. I became a whirling Dervish, got frantic, got delusional, got hysterical, didn't answer anyone's phone calls at all cuz I didn't want to be an alarmist or drama Queen, or me, or anything on the X-Files.

Ultimately.....Mom called 911, thus my fortnight at in the Acute Care Unit at the local hospital. It was just fine and helped me sort stuff out. I was very weary, however. My new friend Jim picked me up. We got Tuxedo, my black and white dog, up from my vet's, and home we cruised. It was later that evening when the door was a knocking. My neighbor Sarah was there asking me if I loved her."Of course I love you Sarah. You know that!" "Do you really really love me Sasha? Well let me give you a hug and a kiss and prove it to you; then I'll give you this." She hands me a little blue cat carrier and inside I was afraid was a new baby cat and I swore I wouldn't replace any of my cats YET in my life. Although...without Zippy a kitten wouldn't be such a bad idea. Except pets tie one down, and without much money to pay for their care when one travels......things can become awfully expensive. Why do you think I haven't seen my mom in 9 years ? Anyhow......it wasn't a kitten........................It was ZIPPY !! ZIPPY CAME HOME TO ME!! WHAT A HOME COMING GIFT FOR HIM AND MYSELF !! I THOUGHT I WAS DREAMING !!!! 

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Story and illustration by Sasha Thurmond who is an artist and writer living on a farm in South Carolina with her horse and other animals who also finds time to write, paint, and take photographs. She is a graduate of the Master of Fine Arts program at Cornell University, where she studied with Steve Poleskie. 

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Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Ash Wednesday

a short story

Stephen Poleskie


H
e and I watch from the pricey perch of our four-star box seats as the grainy intaglio of the city vanishes before the phosphorescent darkness of evening, a whirring and ring-ding-dinging escalating up from the streets below. Nonstop the motorbikes and scooters circle, their two-stroked voices screaming through mufflers long gone—or perhaps gutted—their vanished baffles aching the way amputated limbs still ache. An undecipherable roar of panic shouts up from the hallucinating square, parti-colored insects gone berserk, invading the soul of the city, any city, it is all the same at night when you want to sleep; which I did, but he did not.
            I don’t remember that there were so many motorbikes in this city. He remembers the sound from Veracruz, where we had gone together, and where he and I had eaten fresh oranges from a stand on the Zocalo. But then he and I had never been in this city before. He cannot recall that this place contained such a tall building as the one we are in now, and I do not remember that it was a hotel. “The tallest buildings, the skyscrapers, are usually stuck up to be office buildings,” I remark.
 “Corporate symbols,” he adds, “usually in some odd post-modern design, perhaps an open checkbook, the pages peeled back, leering down on the rest of the city.”
Please allow me to introduce myself. He is Johnny and I am John. We both were christened John but he chose to become “Johnny” back when world leaders were known by names like Tony and Bill. That was then. Can you imagine Angela Merkel today going by the name “Angie.”
            He and I pass our time observing the whirling traffic, as it is not yet the hour to be doing anything else. The road around the square—actually a circle—is parted with tractor-trailers which seem so tiny from our vantage point, intermingled with a squadron of cars appearing much smaller. Even the biggest of them, those that carry mighty names like “Navigator” and “Explorer,” appear small from up here. The sleepless mopeds are the smallest, even smaller than the people astride them. “A man should not be larger than his mount; it is against the natural order of things,” a famous artist who rode a Triumph motorcycle, but who painted monks on donkeys, once confided to me in all seriousness.
            Why are there so few motorcycle riders circling the square? he and I wonder. Where are the Hondas that we had ridden in our pinch-penny youth? Gone like our youth? The motorcycles passing below us now are mostly Harley-Davidsons, not transportation but modern folklore, an image ridden by wannabe outlaws—in reality bankers and stockbrokers on their way to an endless chain of Hard Rock Cafes.
            Little by little the Mardi Gras curious arrive from far and wide to inhabit the square, a traveling carnival of unfortunates, who no one pays much attention to but each other. In the midst of a disorder that makes the square tremble, everyone performs their own act—and everyone is their own audience. The crowd floats, undulates, teenaged girls with naked bellies, and almost naked breasts, snorting their way through the pathless tract. Leaning over the railing of our hotel balcony, he and I watch as below life ebbs and flows in a great and eccentric spasm of frenzy. On one corner a circuit of applause opens up as a grinning homunculus displays his more than full-sized penis while peeing on a lamppost, someone's dancing daughter daintily dodging the splatter.
            “Show us your tits!”  The call comes up from the street to a group of young ladies disporting on a balcony below us.
            “First show us your cocks!” the girls echo back.
            A deal is struck and on the count of three: One, Two, Three! both sides reveal their attributes to much applauding and cheering from the passersby.
            There is a party going on behind us. A festive gathering has gathered in our room, there are so many people we do not know, yet they keep coming. I don’t have a room but a suite. I am here alone, so why do I have a suite? I do not like parties—he does. He is not alone. He is with me. Is this his suite? His party?
            “Hello! How are you?” a man wearing the frock and collar of a priest asks. The priest, wearing a sash of red, a cardinal perhaps, has been holding up the frivolity in a corner of the room.
            At this moment I don’t know how I am, but he answers for me, “I am fine . . . Your Eminence.” Then he asks what I did not really care to know: “And how are you?”
             “By the grace of God I am fine, and may He bless you too my son,” the red-sashed soul saver says adding, “it is good to see you again. We haven’t been together for such a long time . . . since you were an altar boy. I believe we have some catching up to do.” He smiles, pressing my hand with his ringed finger, and turns away.
            “Bless me Father for I have sinned. . . .” we spout after his fleeing form, not sure why, perhaps out of habit, for we by our beliefs are not sinners.
            “You must feel sorry for your sins, my son, do penance . . . mortification of the flesh, and all that.  But there is no time for it now . . . let’s get together tomorrow,” the priest shouts over his shoulder, his black robe flowing him back to the party.
            A woman with the face of a spider appears; although I admit to never having seen a spider’s face close up. She asks him or me where the drinks are.
            “The drinks are in there.”
            Did I say that? How does he know the drinks are in there? We haven’t been in that room yet; we have only been out here looking down.
            “Where?”
            “There.”
            Did I point, or just nod my head in a general direction?
            “Oh! I’m sorry . . . wrong room. . . .” the spider-faced lady says backing out and turning to me. “There are two men going at it on a bed in that room.”
            “Who is going at it on a bed in where!?”
            “They are on a bed in there . . . be careful not to disturb them.”
            “What are they doing in my bed in my room?”
            “Your room is through there. . . .” Did she point, or just nod her head in a general direction?
            “But that’s where the party is. . . .”
            “What a lovely view . . .  you can see the entire city,” the cardinal says returning with a cup of red wine in his hand. The blood of our Lord Jesus?
            “But my room is in the back of the hotel,” I protest, “I have no view. . . .”
            “Then you are not in your room . . .  you must be down there.”  his eminence says pointing to the busybody street.
            We see a man in a dark blue jacket and pants riding a light blue moped. He is a very tiny man on a very tiny moped. Why is the man weaving in and out of traffic?  “He is so small that he can pass under trucks. Watch him cut in and out as the trucks slow for the traffic light,” I say.
            “Look! The moped rider is there . . . all the way to the front . . . next to the first truck,” he says pointing excitedly.
            “Hello! Are the drinks out here? . . .” a woman with the face of a painted weasel—although I admit I have never seen a weasel with a painted face—asks, popping her head through the door.
            “No. The drinks are in there.” I can’t remember if we pointed or merely nodded in a general direction, but the weasel-faced woman does not go away.
            ‘What are you watching? . . .”
            “Look! See that moped, the light blue one, he can pass under tractor-trailers . . . watch him, there he goes!”
            “I just adore mopeds, but I would never ride on one . . . too dangerous,” the weasel-faced woman says going back inside, trailing a scent of talcum powder and liver pate.
            “The truck is accelerating . . . where is the moped?”  Father Frivolity asks.
            “Watch, he will come out the other side . . . he always does.”
            “I don’t see him!”
            “Keep watching. . . .”
            “The truck is too fast . . . the moped can’t keep up . . .  the rider and the moped will be crushed!”
            “No, he’ll come out the other side. . . .”
            “Are you sure? I don’t see him anymore,” the cardinal says turning away. “Where did you say that the food was?”
            “Back in there Your Eminence.”
            A man, who had been conceived late in his mother’s life and who had therefore lagged in growth, but who had, nevertheless, ridden his moped through the city’s worst flood, and coldest winter, lies motionless on the street. As the senile intemperance of fortune would have it, a tractor-trailer driver swerving to avoid the dumped moped squashes the unseen body of the fallen rider, who is further ground to pulp by two following trucks before anyone notices.
            “Are the drinks out here?” a lady with a face like a ladybug asks.
            “No, they are back in there,” I nod, but the dead rider can neither point nor gesture with his head.
            “Say . . . aren’t you the guy who did that TV show?” the woman says, squinting at me through her ladybug eyes.
            “No, he did the TV show.”
            “That’s funny. . . .”
            “What’s funny? The TV show? . . .”
            “No . . . that you both look so alike.”
            Amidst her senseless conversation time passed unnoticed, swallowing the whole empty period. A diffuse whiteness filters up from the square overtaking me with sleepiness. I turn in to turn in but find that my room is indeed occupied: “Excuse me . . . what are you two doing on my bed in my room?”
            “This is not your room . . . your room is in there,” the man on top grunts, and gestures with his head, not breaking his carnal cadence.
            “But the party is in there. . . .”
            He asks the people in bed if I could use their mirror for only a moment. He looks in the mirror; the reflection I see is not my face. The face he sees is the face of a woman. From that time on his, or her, world will be not worth living in, at least not until this time next year.
            Somewhere a clock strikes midnight. As it is now Ash Wednesday, the music stops, and the square empties of revelers. Hoping for enough miracles to become a saint, the frivolous cardinal comes down to the street and brings the dead moped rider back to life, who upon opening his eyes flies into a murderous rage at having had his blissful state disturbed. He immediately rolls under another passing tractor-trailer in an attempt to end his life once again, but it cleanly misses him, and he lies face down on the street crying in disillusionment.
            “Now don’t get me wrong,” the resurrected moped rider sobs, pounding the pavement with his fists, “I have no disrespect for the church; however, it is precisely along these lines that all this got started.”

*   *   *

 Stephen Poleskie’s writing, fiction, non-fiction and poetry has appeared in numerous journals in the USA and in Australia, Czech Republic, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, the Philippines, and the UK; as well as in five anthologies, and been three times nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  He has published five novels and two books of short fiction. Poleskie has taught at The School of Visual Arts, NYC, the University of California/Berkeley, and Cornell University, and been a resident at the American Academy in Rome. Poleskie lives in Ithaca, NY. with his wife the novelist, Jeanne Mackin.   website: www.StephenPoleskie.com
This story initially appeared in Other Writings Merida (Mexico)



Friday, February 23, 2018

An Onager Encore / Chiaroscuro

CHIAROSCURO

an essay by

Jeanne Mackin


Wherever chiaroscuro enters, colour must lose some of its brilliancy. There is no shade in a rainbow, nor in an opal, nor in a piece of mother-of-pearl – John Ruskin

LIGHT CAN BE SLOWED DOWN, can be made to reconsider its own path, its own desire for velocity. When light passes through glass, moving from thin air to that other more substantial material, it slows and makes a slight detour we call refraction. Refraction is matter’s way of saying: “Let’s rethink this.” Shine light through a diamond and it slows its speed by almost half because of the density of the crystal. If you lived inside a diamond, you would be twenty-five when your peers were fifty; you would live twice as long, and twice as slowly.

That Thanksgiving Day it was warm, and humid, so after dinner we went outside, full of a strange energy. In the western sky over the new-growth forest, we saw a triple rainbow. A double happens once in a while, but there were three in the sky that day after the storm, one inside the other, and we looked at them, knowing we would never see such a thing again, no matter how long we lived. The rarity of it locked us into silence; we grappled with the event the way medieval star gazers must have contended with comets or halos around the moon, with wonder and fear as well. Wonder and fear refract our direction, bend it into new paths.The wonder takes hold of us and says “I have caught you. The fear says “I am going to change you whether you wish it or not. From now on, up will be down, and inside will be outside.” But wonder cannot last. Colors fade, especially in a rainbow.

After matter emerged from chaos, the first miracle was the creation of light, and with light came time. With time, came shadows. When the triple rainbow began to fade, we came to ourselves, the way sleepers awake, slowly and with confusion. We went back indoors carrying new desires with us and I wished I had seen the triple rainbow when I was a child, not a grown up. I think somehow things would have been different. I cleared the table of our dirtied dishes and glasses and the vase of yellow garden mums.

*   *  *


JEANNE MACKIN is the author of several novels and has published short fiction and creative nonfiction in journals and periodicals including American Letters and Commentary andSNReview. She was the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society and is an award-winning journalist. She has taught creative writing in the MFA Program at Goddard College in Vermont.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Francium, an essay

Jeanne Mackin



Nature is always mysterious and secret in her use of means; and art is always likest her when it is most inexplicable. That execution which is least comprehensible and which therefore defies imitation, other qualities being supposed alike, is the best.

Ruskin


FRANCIUM IS A METAL SO RARE we can only guess at its color. With a half-life of twenty-two minutes and a melting point so low this metal would be liquid at room temperature, it is an element of dream time. Scientists speculate that at any given moment less than thirty grams of it exist on the entire planet. It is measured in atoms, not cupfuls, and even the atoms are measured in thousands, not billions. They have to be trapped in laser beams in a magnetic field, briefly floating like snow flakes in the glow of a street light and then melting back into a great unknown. Francium is so rare that we don’t even have a use for it. We will live our lives without ever seeing this metal, without experiencing its catastrophically brief existence.

There was a boy once, like that. By accident, though there may be no such thing, we sat next to each other in a pub in Boston, listening to revolutionary songs of a different country. I saw him from the corner of my eye, never looking straight on, his black hair and white skin, the kind of coloring you often find in people who recite from memory lines from Yeats. We drank brown foamy beer and drew codes in the sawdust floor with the toes of our boots. He was with his friends, I with mine. Yet we knew we were together. His arm slowly, inevitably curled around my waist, under my coat, where no one could see it, but I could feel it. We didn’t look at each other. We hadn’t spoken a word to each other, yet we belonged to each other. This is not a true story, you see. It is a story of unstable elements, of unknowable colors, of rare metals and all that we cannot see of existence, all that cannot be imitated. It is a story of solitude and rarity.

The door opens. A cold wind blows into the pub, and the codes in the sawdust of the floor are wiped away by the draft. We shiver and grow aware, leave behind the dream time. His arm snakes away back into its private Eden but it leaves behind this memory of a boy and a cold night and that knowledge of rarity, of immeasurability. The memory lasts longer than the moment and that is how we know we are, and have been.

We exist in a single moment surrounded by before and after, and when the boy who is and always will be a stranger removes his arm from around the waist of the girl who is a stranger, the moment changes, before and after changes. We measure such moments by atoms of the unexpected, not cupfuls of what is known. And sometimes the atoms of the unexpected create larger memories than those cupfuls of what we know. What is the half-life of such a moment, that decades later I am still trying to measure its atoms?

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JEANNE MACKIN is the author of seven novels and numerous stories and essays. She is also the author of three mysteries published under the name Anna Maclean. Her novels have also been published in England and Japan. She has worked as a journalist and as a science writer at Cornell University where she received a number of national awards. She has taught writing at Ithaca College and in the MFA Creative Writing faculty at Goddard College.