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?

***

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.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Vanishing Invader (or, Bug From Krypton)

A Short Story by Terry Mooney

I'm up at 6:30am to get ready for my morning 5-mile jog.  I shuffle into
the kitchen and hit the light switch.  My rambling morning thoughts are
interrupted by a quick movement on the floor.  A large palmetto bug,
probably about two feet long (so it seemed at the moment), was doing the 5K
run down the hallway.  Like most people, I despise these invaders! They're
gross!

I wasn't about to let this critter escape, knowing that he/she would go
home and then return with an army of brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews,
and long-lost uncles. But, I hate smashing them, or stepping on them
because then I would have to use a jack-hammer and backhoe to remove
his/her entrails from my shoe.

I grabbed the windex bottle and sprayed the beast. He/she immediately
flipped over on his/her back and started break-dancing (I know it wasn't
yoga because the legs were moving too fast).  I then walked away for a few
minutes to let the invader die in peace (or agony).  After about fifteen
minutes, I returned and was surprised to find the critter still doing the
back stroke across the floor!  I decided a stronger approach was needed to
deal with this behemoth.  I then sprayed him/her with a 50-50 solution of
bleach water.

Wow, now his/her legs were traveling at least 78.7 mph ( roach speed ).  I
know this to be true because I just happened to have a roachometer mounted
on the wall.  Also, I could now hear him (male voice) screaming something
in a dialect I wasn't familiar with.  He was probably either using dirty,
filthy, curse words, or pleading for me to dial 911.  I ignored him and
left for my morning jog.

When I returned, he was gone! WTF? Was this a BOS? (bug of steel)...from
the planet Krypton? I'm thinking that his relatives tracked him down and
claimed his body for a proper burial.  Next time, I may have to bite the
bullet (not the bug) and pound the alien with a sledge hammer!

And how was your day?

*   *   *

Terry Mooney is a retired NASA computer expert who lives in West Virginia where he writes stories and works on his artworks. You can find him on Facebook. //www.facebook.com/terrygmooney


*   *   *

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

A Short Story by Sreemanti Sengupta

Paranoia

Somebody had told everybody I was a lesbian. I should have seen it coming on the day I nudged the girl next to me to ask what ‘fuck’ meant. She turned to me and kept chewing on an over-chewed gum, her face ruptured and taut with knowledge. Somebody threw a chair with a loud clamouring noise whenever somebody tried to talk. They changed those secret glances like fake currency notes. I must dance I thought, as I watched her thin white bare shoulders jiggling in front of me, in front of the boys. I looked at the vague disco lights and I felt hungry. I looked around for a place to sit, I felt hungry. “Where can I get a bite?” My escort looked at me with jiggling shoulders, a ruptured face taut with knowledge. It was 1 am in the night when I looked outside my window. There was bad music playing and I had been asked what would I do if I was asked to give a blowjob? Someone told me I looked like Sharon Stone. I thought of Tagore and Keats when someone accidentally stabbed me with a burning fag. I opened the window. It was immersion day for Lord Ganesha. Naked Uncle peered from the opposite window. He was of course, very naked. I was hungry. “Where can I have a bite?” I asked them. They gave me a steel tumbler of vodka and cold drinks. She was dancing. They all laughed, their faces were taut with knowledge. I saw the naked ladies coming up from the sea. When I walked into the water, it was clear, I could see through to the crabs and the snails. He pushed me over in fun. Someone called out the marks in the vernacular paper. They read out my essay. For weeks afterwards, whenever I said something out of the ordinary, they labelled me as the exotic. They did it with their fat faces, their rimless frames and their thigh length skirts. I came home and banged the door shut because I didn’t know why I didn’t have my periods yet. My father looked away when I came running out to greet him in summer wearing a torn white chemise. My left breast slipped out. “I would tell him to suck my breast” I had said. They had all sneered at me and they went on jiggling their bare white shoulders under the lights and in the river of very bad music. I understood this was a place where people could come home and wash dirty laundry at 1 O’ clock at night, this was not a place to be hungry. She told me it was bad blood that I was flushing out of my system. I looked at her face for signs of a white lie. It was calm and taut with knowledge. I needed someone weird enough not to feel weird. I do not know what he needed. I had slapped him the first time. It was just like a Bollywood film. “Is she alright?” my boss had asked. They had made me dance like a courtesan. They had cut me a cake on my birthday out of pity. They all thought it was sufficiently brave to cuss a drunk and powerful man over the phone, that too after downing a couple of beers. I had walked right past those men to get those two cans, right past the guy at the telephone shop who sent me heartbroken SMSes at night. They all told me I had beautiful eyes. “You looked liberating” he said the night I foolishly danced to the bad music, the night he said, “the trees look like peacocks at night” I could have thrown up, right there on the quality of his ideas. He smelt bad. One night when I was sexting him to bed, I asked him about love. I remember his face. I remember the shack, the sea, the women shaking off the sea water from their bodies. “Isn’t it nice that we can watch these semi-nude ladies together with a beer?” I felt hungry and I said, “Where can I have a bite? He licked his lips and looked at me. His eyes, those eyes, were taut with knowledge.

*   *   *

Sreemanti Sengupta is an advertising professional based in Kolkata. She writes experimental fiction and poetry and has been widely published in the print and electronic media in places like Mad Swirl, Paragraph Planet, Certain Circuits, Bare Hands Poetry, Onager Editions, Ppigpen and many more. Her published works have been read at the City Lights Book Store in New York and her haikus translated to French by celebrated poet-collagist Bruno Sourdin. Sreemanti has self published ‘First Person’, an experimental novella in collaboration with Brazillian artist/photographer Ana Vivianne Minorelli. The book is now available online. She is also the editor at her self-run ezine ‘The Odd Magazine’ (now in its 14th edition) which features alternative creative art, poetry, photography, interviews and more from across the globe.


*   *   *


Monday, October 23, 2017

Henny is Smart

Two Poems by Sasha Thurmond

One

Soft breeze wafts in summer dog days
Glancing out kitchen window I see 
Henny scratching  outside of her cage
Lance inside watching Henny his tart
Lucky Henny finds chicken buffet
Lance wondering how she escaped.
Scratch scratch... Henny is smart.
Crowing loudly Lance wants out too
Me content to watch through the pane
Scratch scratch... Henny is smart.
Heavy alert, here comes my dog Tux
I race outside yanking truck door ajar.
Tux wanting a ride more than a treat,
He vaults inside and I slam the door shut. 
Lance crowing loudly, still ready for war.
Henny franticlly scrambling about 
Me using bare hands to guide her inside
Lance held his point till she was back at his side. 
Me securing gate to their lovely abode,
Scratch scratch...smart Henny was home.


Two

Henny is smart....scratch scratch...
Lancelot and Henny were as happy a couple
as couples can be....but I like more eggs
which two hens can lay
So I got Solo from my neighbor's huge lot
Solo was sweet, and tan mottled feathers 
set her apart.....but Henny is smart...
scratch scratch
Out of the blue, things popped in my thoughts
even again, past ones that flopped
Bent on success to turn this around, 
I left the gate open, just slightly ajar
Henny and Solo clucked back and forth
finally Solo edged her way out
Henny is smart...scratch scratch...
once things seemed safe, Henny walked out
Lance wouldn't join them, remembering well a previous jaunt
When I had two dogs on leashes I held,
I let all my chickens free to explore out of their digs.
soon I was dragging behind my strong team,
released them both when my face hit the dirt 
Chickens scattered every which way
Lance was mangled and down for the count
grabbing his legs, I placed him back in his cage
where he was dead, but safely away .
Five minutes later, Lance came back from the dead...even I was happy he did.

 This time I kept my distance and watched the hens feast,
after a spell, I herded them back toward their cage.
Henny was smart...scratch scratch. Soon she joined Lance
safely back inside .Solo was scared flapping wildly while running away
Lance got brave flying out to save her from me.
I scooped her up after a chase, me after her, and Lance after me
next he lanced me with both of his spurs
but I managed to grab Solo during our flight
I sprinted away clutching my prize, but suddenly she wet me
right on my shirt, I lay her down gently back in the cage
but something was wrong...she was motionless and gone.
I pivoted and scrambled out of the cage
just in time to elude Lance's rage.
Rebuking myself I locked the door shut

again I had two, and Henny is smart...scratch scratch.

*  *  * 

Sasha Thurmond is a graduate of the Cornell University MFA program where she majored in printmaking. She lives on a farm in South Carolina with her horse and other animals, and sometimes finds time to make art or write poems or stories.

*  *  *





Saturday, September 23, 2017

A Poem by Mike Foldes

Subversive

A swift current flows in my veins.
Salmon swim upstream, clearing
The rapids between heart
And lungs, fingers and toes.
Destitute, inside a box of planks,
I hide out from Main street,
Where fishermen will mistake me
For a runaway, their prime catch.
Spiders tickle my eyes under
Tired lids, their legs play octaves
On yellow ivory of the old piano.
Make no mistake, caterpillars
Caterwaul, grasshoppers drink
Green tea, and mysterious earth
Piles up in a ball floating famously
Through someone else’s inner space.
You are the ice cube in the glass.
We watch each other melt.

*  *  *

Mike Foldes is the founder and managing editor of Ragazine, an online literary magazine. He is also the author of "Sleeping Dogs, A true story of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping," and "Sandy: Chronicles of a Superstorm," with artist Christie Devereaux." 
Download at www.Smashwords.Com and www.Amazon.Com

editor@ ragazine.cc 
http://ragazine.cc
ragazinecc/Twitter

Join Mike on MySpace and Facebook



*  *  *