Saturday, December 26, 2015

Happy New Year 2016

photo by Stephen Poleskie

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Friday, December 11, 2015

Ode To Tommy

Sasha Thurmond

Tommy, my timeless love
You left me up North
A split second to oblivion
Black blanket, a starless night
Rain daggers stabbing my heart
An iron beast dragged your body
Down the highway to no where
A figurehead  on a ship lost at sea
You whispered in my ear
"Go South with our menagerie
Start a new life
I'll be beside you
Trust me, You must be brave."

*   *   *

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.

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photo by Sasha Thurmond


Sunday, November 22, 2015

Violent Outbursts, Thaddeus Rutkowski

READING THADDEUS RUTKOWSKI’S latest book “Violent Outbursts” is addictive. You pick it up planning to read one or two short stories, or are they flash fiction, or poetry, and then you find yourself unable to put the book down until you have finished the whole thing. So what exactly are these compelling short pieces, most only one page long?
           Alan Catlin, writing in MisFit Magazine states that “Rutkowski’s pieces are to prose poems what Russell Edson’s are to fiction. Thad’s work has many of the same elements of Edson’s best work: absurd, outrageous situations and resolutions, deft biting satirical humor, and a mock, generally self-effacing narrator.  So go with flash fictions. It works as well as any other designation does. This is good, highly charged, terrific, distinctive writing no matter what you call it.”
          The book has gotten numerous favorable comments. Author Ed Lin calls Rutkowski; “the original language gangster (who) tips over words and lets them fall on you.” And Max Blagg states that Rutkowski’s collection: “skirts the edge of psychological revelation, with hints of darker meaning coursing below the surface.”
          Emerson has said that a writer, in order to write well, must give oneself wholly to their feelings as one has them, and not to thesauri or dictionaries. In “Violent Outbursts” it appears that Thaddeus Rutkowski has taken this direction to a good end.


*   *   *

Violent Outbursts
Thaddeus Rutkowski
ISBN 978-1-941550-58-8
124 pages 16.00 USD
Spuyten Duyvil
Brooklyn, New York

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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

From the Finger Lakes, A Prose Anthology

From the Finger Lakes: A Prose Anthology contains the work of 44 highly-talented local authors of fiction, memoir, and reportage writing both about the Ithaca area and parts of the world less "centrally isolated."  Cayuga Lake Books launched the book at two readings.  The first took place on Sunday, November 8, to a large crowd in the Borg Warner Room of the Tompkins Country Public Library between 2:00 and 5:00.  The second was held on Sunday, November 15 at Buffalo Street Books.  The following authors participated:


Rhian Ellis, Guest Editor, Mary Gilliland, Ann Gold, Daniel Gold, Stephen Poleskie, Jeanne Mackin, David Guaspari, Amber Donosio, Barbara Adams, Gene Endres, and Nino Lama


Rhian Ellis, Guest Editor, Carol Kammen, Brad Edmondson, Gerard A. Cox, Katharyn Howd Machan, Douglas Green, James McConkey, Lamar Herrin, Fred Wilcox, Ira Rabois, and Alison Lurie

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Monday, October 19, 2015

In Memory of Paul West

Paul West  1930 - 2015
Paul West, noted novelist, essayist, and poet, passed away peacefully on October 18, 2015 at his home in Ithaca, New York after a long illness. Paul was born in Eckington, Derbyshire in England to Alfred and Mildred (Noden) West. He was a graduate of Oxford University and served in the Royal Air Force. He taught at Penn State University for many years, and was a literary critic for the Washington Post. Paul is survived by his wife Diane Ackerman, a writer, poet, and naturalist

In his lifetime Paul was the author of 54 books. The last four of which were published by Onager Editions. He has received awards from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the Lannan Prize for Fiction and the Halperin-Kaminsky Prize. He was named a Literary Lion by the New York Public Library and a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French Government. He has also been a runner-up for the National Book Circle Award and the Nobel Prize for Literature. 

We are reprinting here one of Paul's poems from his book Tea With Osiris, which was previously published in in this journal in August 2006: 

One summer's day in winter
      when the snow was raining fast, 
      a barefooted boy with clogs on
      stood sitting on the grass.
      He went to the movies that night
      and bought two front seats at the back, 
      ate a big plain cake with currents in, 
      and when he'd eaten it he gave it back.

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Tuesday, October 6, 2015

blondes, mike foldes

Oops Blonde, painting, Mike Foldes, 1997
i always liked blonde girls. they smelled different. tasted different, too. for some reason blondes and i never hooked up for long. i’m not sure why. maybe it was me. maybe it was their long term goal to cohabit with aristocrats or jocks. or that i was too eager and too shy at once. today i cannot see myself sitting at a kitchen table with a blonde woman next to or across from me, or at the stove making scrambled eggs, though i can and do see a dark-haired, brown-eyed mediterranean doing the same thing, and it feels natural as the day is long. i can also see her in a lot of other rooms, so it’s not like playing patty-cake, patty-cake on the living room floor in front of the zenith tv. it’s neither norman rockwell nor roman polanski. not dick and jane, but a blend of beardsley and parrish, if you know what i mean.

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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 Christine Devereaux." 
Download at www.Smashwords.Com and www.Amazon.Com

Mike Foldes' 1997 painting "Oops Blonde" is in the collection of Gabriel Navar, Oakland, Ca.

Join Mike on MySpace & Facebook

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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Daphne Sola, Two Poems


Luck is Somebody.
You can hear his bony toes clicking
as he rushes past
and when he decides
to hold still
merging himself into the landscape
he can still be discerned
by a febrile shimmer in the air.

You may think yourself well set
clinging to the sturdiest limb
of the tallest tree
but when Luck suddenly appears
below you
calling out, “Jump!”,
you scramble to your feet
let go of all the familiar branches
and with all the words
of all the books you have ever read
swirling about your head,
Molly Bloom’s are the only ones
you remember,

“Yes, oh yes!” on your lips
swelling your throat
and you leap out
not knowing if Luck is ready
to catch you in his arms
or only hold you for a moment
before he lets you
tumble to the ground,
takes an instant leap away,
his eyes on another,
leaving behind him only an echo of . . .




*   *   *   


Do you feel a pricking,
the point of a knife
under your chin?
Listen, Cock-of-the Walk,
you may take it
for an empty threat
but the hand that holds the knife
relishes fierceness
and will make you howl with pain and love
before sundown.

The hand that holds the knife
can also pluck a string
and oh, bonnie man,
you will dance to her tune
you will stamp the ground
until plumes of dust rise
and though you brim with denial,
welcome the dust
that clouds your eyes.

Grasp hands, then, and
move in blinding circles
glued together from waist to knee,
but, oh, rash and cherished boy . . . ,
no longer boy,
the prick of the knife is in the dance
that fires you
and shivers her,
a spark in an uncaring universe,
for all its brilliance
it is a briefness
that can only flame and die.

*   *   *

Daphne Sola is a poet, an artist, a musician, and a retired gallery owner. She lives in upstate New York

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Monday, September 14, 2015

My Bat Story

Flash Fiction

Terry Mooney

I got home this evening around 8:30 pm after visiting a friend.
Ate a light supper, went online to check the weather, news, and
Facebook, then got ready for bed. That's when I noticed what
appeared to be a small bat on my bed. I observed it for a moment
and noticed no movement, and it appeared to be dead. So,
I donned a pair of latex gloves, and proceeded to remove the
deceased critter. I took hold of a wing, and to my surprise,
flap, flap, flap, flap, flap.....IT'S ALIVE! I didn't let go, but it
scared the heck out of me. After about 15 seconds, it stopped
flapping, and I took it outside, flung it into the air, and it flew
off "like a bat outta Hell" (as the expression goes). It must have
entered through the back door while I was unloading groceries
earlier in the day. Hey, where's Batman when you need him?

*   *   *

Terry Mooney is a retired NASA computer expert who lives in South Carolina, where he writes stories and works on his artworks. You can find him on Facebook. //

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Monday, August 17, 2015

Light and Shadow: Jeanne Mackin

Six Essays


Blue he is, in his sea; so is nature; blue he is, as a sapphire, in his extreme distance; so is nature; blue he is, in the misty shadows and hollows – John Ruskin

THE BLUE WE SEE in the Madonna’s robes, in the wings of Cimabue’s angels, in that ultramarine that speaks of depth in water and the heavens, once all came from the same distant source.  Oltramarino means beyond the seas and once referred to many things: spices, cloth, glassware.  Eventually ultramarine came to refer to the blue color made by finely grinding a semi-precious stone. The finest lapis lazuli came from Afghanistan from a place called Sar-e-sang, the Place of the Stone. When you look at an old painting luminous with that particular blue, you are looking at jewels and history and foreign lands.
            My husband, a handsome middle-aged man who still had the air of a renegade, of someone who might as easily pull away on a Harley as in a Volvo, came home from Switzerland wearing ultramarine suede shoes.  He’d been gone half a year, exhibiting in Germany, in Italy and Switzerland, those countries that still romanced the airplane and artists who use them as paintbrushes, as did my husband, making of the sky a canvas.  He looked tired and harassed, as do those who come through customs carrying large portfolios and small crates.   Half a year. I waited for the sense of stranger to creep into my perception. 
            Those shoes would not allow me the distance with which I wished to experiment. Half a year, an ocean, many borders between us, yet those barriers were thin as the air over our heads. When he saw me and waved, they vanished completely.  He is of blue; his preference, his art, his spirit are made of ground jewels, the color of angel wings, of height and depth.


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 and made to reconsider its own path, its desire for velocity.  When light passes through glass, it slows and makes a 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. A water droplet, perhaps the opposite of diamond’s hardness, is also a prism.
            That thanksgiving it was warm and humid, so after dinner we went outside.   A triple rainbow hung over the forest. A double happens once in a while, but in the sky that day after the storm three nestled inside each other, and we looked, knowing we would never see such a thing again. The rarity of it locked us into silence; we grappled with the event the way medieval people contended with comets or halos around the moon. 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.  When the triple rainbow began to fade, we came to ourselves slowly and with confusion.  We went 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.


Nature is always mysterious and secret in her use of means; and art is always likest her when it is most inexplicable.  – John Ruskin
FRANCIUM HAS 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. At any moment less than thirty grams of francium exist on earth; it is measured not in cupfuls but in atoms trapped in laser beams in a magnetic field, floating like snow flakes in the glow of a street light, casting shadows larger than themselves.  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 Boston pub, listening to revolutionary songs of a different country. He had black hair and white skin, the coloring you often find in people who recite Yeats from memory. We drank brown 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 curled around my waist, under my coat, where no one could see it, but I could feel it.  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 rare metals and all that we cannot see of existence, all that cannot be imitated. It is a story of solitude.
            The door opens.  A cold wind blows snowflakes into the pub, and the codes in the sawdust of the floor are wiped away by the draft. We shiver and leave behind the dream time.  His arm snakes back into its private Eden leaving behind this memory of a boy 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 measure such moments by atoms of the unexpected, not cupfuls of what is known. We exist in a single moment surrounded by before and after.


Under the direct yellow light of a descending sun . . .  pure white and pure blue are both impossible – John Ruskin

WHEN THE SUN DESCENDS, our humanity is optional; our goodness flees to animal history.  Day is not night, and dark is not light. Twilight obscures, while light illuminates, and under cover we change who we are. Sunset begins the masked festival of anonymity, when nature overcomes all the encumbrances of civilization, of education.  Shadows elongate till the children playing on the pebble beach cast darker outlines of alien origin.  White pebbles turn grey and purple; the wild chicory flowers lose their blue and flee to burnt lavender.  As the children play outside, inside wives dance into the shadows with other women’s husbands. Frank Sinatra croons them to the moon.
            The children, enticed by the music, leave the pebbled beach and the fireflies and creep to the clubhouse windows to spy on this secret interior.  The summer-hot world is divided into two camps, that of children and that of grown ups, and both camps on this summer evening are reverting to wildness, to those disremembered spaces formed in early history around campfires, inside caves.  Music and stories make the night bearable.  The grown ups fox trot and whisper.  Outside, the children press sticky faces to mosquito stained windows as lightning flashes in the distance.
             The teenagers who are just learning the ritual of courting dances and hormone bravado splash into the water to play daredevil: the lightning invades the sky, banging and flashing overhead, ambushing the lake.  The last child to leave the water, just before the lightning hits it for the first time, is the hero of the evening.  The younger children, impressed, resort to punching and pinching each other till the very youngest cries.  But no adult comes running.  They are fox trotting and two stepping and whispering on their way to a private moon.


. . . . the angels’ wings burn with transparent crimson and purple and amber.  John Ruskin

IN JAPAN, PURPLE IS A SACRED COLOR, the color of victory, the color of the cloth used to wrap sacred objects.  The author of the 8th century The Tale of Genji called herself Lady Murasaki – Lady Purple.  In the west the Victorians chose subdued purple as a color of mourning. Perhaps death and victory are the same thing.
            In my grandmother’s bedroom a black shawl embroidered with purple pansies hung over her ogee mirror.  She loved purple flowers above all other colors, and filled the house with vases of lilacs in the spring. The aroma of lilac still brings me back to that mysterious bedroom I was allowed to visit only once, the bedroom of a woman who had outlived generations and some of her own children. The furniture was heavy and dark wood, their veneers crackled with age.           
           When my grandmother began to die they carried her down from that room and placed her in a hospital bed set up in what had been the dining room. I was eight, and the process of leaving life terrified me. We sat in a row of chairs, watching and waiting, hours and days of watching and waiting, and I thought of that mysterious room upstairs, the room now emptied of its greatest secret.  She seemed willing to go, not at all afraid. Or perhaps after so many years of being mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, she had learned to hide the fear from little ones. 
            After she died and even the hospital bed was emptied of her, the house filled with the scent of lilacs.  This happened in March, before the lilacs bloom.  In the Mass card that commemorates her death, angels kneel over a tomb and their wings are white with purple at the tips.


It is at first better, and finally, more pleasing, for human minds to contemplate things as they are, than as they are not. – John Ruskin

WHAT IS MOST UNKNOWN in our world is the ocean. How do we contemplate the unseeable, that heavy and murky darkness, the weight and depth of those alien environments? The deepest part of the Pacific Ocean, the part never measured, barely imagined, is the Mariana Trench, seven miles below seagulls and boats, six miles below the depth to which submarines dive, four miles deeper than the watery grave of the Titanic.  It is a stratum of ocean completely unknown to us, a womb where life must survive pitch blackness, salt, near-freezing temperature and a pressure of eight tons per square inch.  But there is life there.  Life is.
            In a spring and summer twilight, color, before it mutes and darkens, glows brighter as the defiant sun grasps for more time.  Is this our central metaphor, more time, please? Time and life use the same verb: they pass.  They are wasted or well used, celebrated or mourned.  Grief glows brighter at twilight, when memory invades.  Memory illuminates the shadows and varies the color of all other emotions.  Every day at twilight my elderly father told the same story. Something about the pure white light of a Florida sunset reminded him of a day sixty years before, when he and other boy soldiers clambered over the sides of a boat and stormed a beach in the South Pacific.  There were so many bodies we stepped on them, he said each time. We couldn’t see the sand.
            Otherwise, my father, as mysterious to me as the deepest part of the ocean, never spoke of the three years he spent on Saipan except once when we were watching one of those John Wayne World War II hero movies.  My father said: It wasn’t like that.

*   *   *

JEANNE MACKIN is the author of seven novels and has published short fiction and creative nonfiction in journals and periodicals including American Letters and Commentary and SNReview. She was the recipient of a creative writing fellowship from the American Antiquarian Society and is an award-winning journalist. She has taught English at Ithaca College and creative writing in the MFA Program at Goddard Collage in Vermont and Port Townsend, Washington.

Jeanne Mackin's latest book A Lady of Good Family, the story of the early landscape architect Beatrix Farrand and her relationship with her niece Edith Wharton is available online at this link:

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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Tim Keane: Two Poems

after Robert Corless                                                                                                                               
Untitled painting by Robert Corless

are those inky dendrites colluding with tender nettle?
is the daubed, swampy pool-tide opposed with itself,
drained while it fills the space, and cresting while it recedes?
are the besotted strokes and the entangled cords, coupling
in the moment's enclosed whoosh, threading their own back-pedaling motion,
and is it a barnacled trestle, is it a brush-map of future flight patterns?
is it the outlawed, black-patterned encrusted flower
and the trick of ebony, wearing fine, melted red and blue residuum
at this arrested opening, then a thrust, leaping south into the ensuing black reversal?
is it a spring-ploy set in grim winter, circular and whole, then collapsing, angled,
at sin's synchronous cue, to arc, spin, halt, turn, fondle and scrum,
is it a coal-go, and an oil-streaked downdraft and a whirligig blotch that stains
and darkens another turnabout?

*   *   *

Manor Tree, Eddie Johnson 1964
The Manor Tree
after Eddie Johnson

Black thorny spindles spoil the cold grey pitch,
and spindly and taut lines bind one frozen branch to another.

A squall coats a skewed-V and the splayed trunk resembles
the exhausted legs of a shadowed nude, a bark of pale torso,
skin swathed in hoarfrost, sated, prone, in a sheeted
bed of snow, snug, drowsy, under a capacious billow.

Is it a compromised view on a dozing lover? Or the capsized
profile of a startled hare, hunkered, breathing desperate breaths?

Sleep to be sure, a light snore, by the manor tree, as the squall’s
gauze settles down, or settles in, and on, to no-one, no-thing,
and then to what? Then end of gray, the end of black in winter's
gradual, blinding white erasure.

*  *  *  

Tim Keane is the author of the poetry collection Alphabets of Elsewhere (Cinnamon Press). His award-winning writing has appeared in Modern Painters, Shenandoah, Denver Quarterly, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Reader (UK) and numerous other publications. He teaches writing and European literature at BMCC, CUNY, in lower Manhattan.  web site:

The poem Bolero and the Corless painting first appeared in Sleepingfish in 2013 and are reprinted here with the permission of  the author, Tim Keane 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Checking for Measles

Stephen Poleskie

a short story

t was the winter almost everybody in our third grade class got the measles. While this disease was constantly of concern to my young mind, I must admit that at the time I had no idea what measles looked like. Those unfortunate enough to catch it were fortunate to be allowed to stay home from school until it was gone. My mother told me that measles were hot, scratchy red sores that you got from other people. I couldn’t understand how you could catch them if the people who were sick with measles didn’t come to school—yet every day another one or two of my classmates disappeared from our homeroom.
            That was also the winter it snowed and snowed, with thick flakes that froze on my eyelids as I crunched along on my way to school. As this was before school busses were popular, and everyone had to walk, there were no days off for deep snow, even though in some places it came up to my waist.        
As it was Saturday, my best friend Beebus and I had decided to spend the day making an igloo out of the snow. I can’t remember why he was called Beebus when his name was actually Robert, but that was his nickname. It wasn’t going to be a real igloo like I had read about in my geography book. We weren’t going to carve out ice blocks and stack them on top of each other like Eskimos did. Instead, using borrowed coal shovels, we had piled up a small mountain of snow in the corner of our backyard. I call it our yard because Beebus and I lived in the same building. We shared a two story house in a rundown neighborhood, where the space between the aging structures was only wide enough for a walkway. We were on the top floor, while Beebus’ family had the apartment below. The small, fenced-off area behind the house and between the alley and a garage was common to both families. As there was a war going on, our fathers had planted Victory Gardens in a corner of the space last spring, but both of them had been called away before the beans and tomatoes were ready to be picked.
            Our first idea had been to make a snow castle. However, after struggling for most of the morning Beebus and I discovered we lacked the skills necessary to create the towers and turrets we envisioned our castle having. Besides the pile didn’t look like a castle at all, but was a natural igloo. We carved out an entrance, and then began hollowing out the inside. This was when I got into trouble.
            The problem was my mother had a clear view of the backyard from our kitchen, which was why I seldom strayed from my own small corner of the world. I heard her window rattle up, and then her voice rattled down:
            “Johnny! What are you two up to? ”
            “Just playing, Mom. . . .”
            “And what are you going to do with that pile of snow?”
            “We’re making an igloo, Mrs. Starzinski. . . .” Beebus shouted up. Being a year older than me, he was in the habit of always answering for me.
            “You’re not planning to go inside that thing . . . are you Johnny?”
            “It’s gonna be our camp,” was my unwise reply. I imagined the two of us sitting inside in the semi-darkness making up stories, and planning and scheming all sorts of things.
            “Now you listen to me . . . don’t you dare go in there. It might collapse on you, and then you’ll suffocate.”
            “Awh, Mom. . . .”
            “Don’t you awh, Mom me, Johnny. You come back in here just this minute.”
            “Awh, Mom,”I repeated in a more pleading tone.
            “Can Johnny come inside to my place to play instead?” Beebus asked, rushing to intercede on my behalf.
            “Well, okay . . . but just for a little while,” my mother compromised. Then she gave me her usual warning: “But Johnny, you’d better come when I call . . . it’s going to be getting dark soon.”
            This was how I happened to end up downstairs in Beebus’ apartment on this gray, winter late afternoon. His older sister Lilly was home alone as, besides her regular job in a sewing factory, their mother worked on Saturdays at a five and dime store in town. Their father was presently hunkered down in a damp woods in Belgium awaiting a German counterattack. According to a pin stuck in a map hung up in our kitchen, my father was more fortunate. He was at an air base in Mississippi training tail-gunners. 
            Lilly had pulled a kitchen chair up to the enameled coal stove and was warming herself in front of the open oven. The stove was kept constantly lighted, being used as a source of heat as well as for cooking. In those days we all used coal—the mine was just across the street, its dark colliery towering above our house as the slack pile towered above that.
            Lilly was in the fifth grade. I remember her now as being rather comely, although the word was not then in my vocabulary, and the word has since fallen into disuse, at least when speaking about young girls. Not that one might suffer disapprobation for using the word today, which one surely would; however, the teeny rock princesses who nowadays parade their bejeweled navels and tattooed arms up and down Main Street in the summer could hardly be referred to as comely.
            “Mommy said I should check you for measles when you got home,” Lilly announced to her brother as soon as we came inside.
            We had both taken off our boots at the door, and then our heavy coats, which we hung over the backs of chairs. I sat down. But Beebus, who had moved closer to the stove, was continuing to remove the rest of his clothes. He was already down to his long johns, which I didn’t know he wore, when he looked over at me. He gave me a self-conscious grin and then removed that last covering also.
            “Stand still!” Lilly commanded her naked brother.
            She began running her hands over Beebus’ skin, starting at the back of his neck, checking behind his ears, under his chin, working her way down his body.
            I felt out of place just sitting there observing what was going on. Lilly kept glancing over at me to see if I was watching. I looked around the room, at the calendar, the clock, the crucifix hanging on the wall, but my eyes kept returning to the activity going on between the brother and sister.
            As strange as their theater was I must admit that my main curiosity was still about the measles. If Lilly found them on Beebus I would finally see what measles looked like. But then it would be too late for me because I probably would have them too, having surely gotten them from Beebus.
            Lilly shuffled her hand around her brother’s stomach, her index finger probing his belly button. Beebus’ penis seemed to be standing up straight, and was much longer, not like the time I saw it when we peed together in the woods. Lilly took hold of the knobby thing, bending it back, checking the underside, running her other hand around his testicles. Lifting up the whole set, she bent her head down low to give each item a closer inspection, her fingers smoothing the pale skin. The examination of Beebus’ privates was taking much longer than that of his other parts. I was sure she must have discovered something.
            Suddenly I felt very hot in my own crotch. Oh my God, I thought, Lilly’s found the measles, that’s where they are, there between your legs, hot, itchy—I must have them too. But her hand abruptly moved away from her brother’s penis. She gave a perfunctory scan to the rest of his body, which apparently was not that susceptible to measles. His feet were ignored completely.
            “You’re okay,” Lilly announced decisively. “I found no sign of measles.”
            I was relieved. Beebus started to get dressed. Lilly turned to me:
            “What about you, Johnny . . . want me to check you for measles?”
            I didn’t know what to say. I though about the hot spot between my legs, but by now it seemed to have gone away.
            “My mother checked me this morning,” I lied.
            “Okay,” Lilly said. “But I think now you boys had better check me.”
            That said she began unfastening the front of her dress. It was the kind of frock that no young girl would wear these days, and not too popular back then either, brightly printed cotton with a floral pattern, loose, with buttons down the front. It had probably been handed down to Lilly from her mother.
            Now I must admit until Beebus had taken off his clothes in front of me, I had never seen anyone naked but myself. And I had not actually even seen myself as the only mirror in the bathroom, where I got undressed, was high over the sink.
            Lilly finished draping her clothes over the chair by the stove and then turned around to us—completely naked.
            “Come over here, Johnny, and examine me,” she commanded.
            As I approached her bare body, I could feel the heat growing between my legs again. Or was it just the warmth from the coal stove?
            My eyes were immediately drawn to that place where girls were supposed to be different. I blinked in confusion. There was nothing there. Where Lilly’s penis and testicles should be was only a fleshy slot that kind of looked like where you put the money in a soda machine. I just stared.
            “Well don’t just stand there . . . come on, examine me.”
            I heard the cry thrown outside from the kitchen upstairs. It echoed off the garage, and then rattled on Beebus’s window.
            “Johnnnnnyyyy!!!!!” The cry repeated, louder, longer. I knew there would be one more.
            Back then we didn’t have cell phones. We didn’t even have any telephone in our apartment, nor did Beebus. When my mother wanted to call the doctor she had to go to the grocery store on the corner and use the pay phone in the back by the boxes, where the butcher didn’t sprinkle sawdust on the floor.
            All the mother’s shouted out the window for their children. I still remember the different sound of the calls. Grant, was a loud bark; Billy, a shrill note that went down on the end; Leon, a kind of bubbly noise; and the two syllables of Beebus sailed out like insects escaping a hive.
            By some unwritten agreement there were always three calls, no more, no less. If you didn’t respond by the third call you were in big trouble, and usually caught it when you finally did come home. If you were too far away to hear, which you shouldn’t have been, someone often responded for you, or “told on you” as in: “I think I seen him with some of the other boys down by the colliery, Mrs. S. . . .”
            It was my third call.
            “Coming, Ma!!!!!!!” I yelled up at the ceiling. “I gotta go now. . . .” I said to Beebus and Lilly.
            “Hurry on home, momma’s boy,” the naked Lilly mocked as I headed out the door. “Beebus will examine me.”
            As I slowly climbed the steep stairs to our apartment, my young mind pondered the muddled events of the past hour. I suspected Lilly imagined her fun to be perfectly harmless. What did I know then of the pleasures of the flesh and carnal life. The whole business seemed blurred, as cloudy as the gray afternoon. Lilly’s strange and suggestive maneuvering had offered me no meaning. While it was true that a great mystery had been revealed to my eyes, my first vision of the opposite sex, something that I would never forget, I still didn’t know what measles looked like.

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Stephen Poleskie’s writing has appeared in journals in Australia, Czech Republic, Germany, India, Italy, Mexico, the Philippines, and the UK, as well as in the USA, and in the anthologies The Book of Love, (W.W. Norton) and Being Human, and been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.  He has published seven novels. Poleskie has taught at a number of schools, including: The School of Visual Arts, NYC, the University of California/Berkeley and Cornell University, and been a resident at the American Academy in Rome. He currently lives in Ithaca, NY, with his wife the novelist Jeanne Mackin.


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