“Summer Poem” by Bob Sykora

That summer, eyes lolling over,
eight lanes packed and you licked yogurt
off my forehead. Ignoring

calls from home. In Philly you tried
to quit smoking and I spilled
my drink all over and we kissed or

we fought or whatever. Stale bar
popcorn for dinner and the phone
just wouldn’t stop weeping. I’d sleep

with my hand on her under
the pillow. She’d glow and whimper
and shout for love. Or she didn’t.

The news was the same. Grandpa’s got
the gout again. Dad’s in a splint.
James or Jimmy or someone  

from high school wants to say hi.
Selling coffee at Ralph’s, he seems
really ok. You reached under 

the seat for your secret pack.
Your hand came back dim and soft
and wanting. I didn’t know

a Jimmy in high school. I thought
that place was gone when I left.
We pulled over at an IHOP,

ate breakfast in silence,
left our phones in the parking lot.

sykora_bob_photoBob Sykora is an MFA candidate at UMass Boston and the poetry editor for Breakwater Review. His recent work can be found in District Lit, Words Dance, and Rust + Moth. He can be found online at bobsykora.tumblr.com.

This entry was posted in Poetry on August 3, 2016

“Wet” by Jen Knox

Rough, dry hands pull at our necks, our expanding skirts.
They tug at the flowerbeds below, sweet and thick, unreleased.

Nourishment, a cloud-blanketed sun. We stay in bed like lettuce.
We soak heat like a sponge, till we’re too heavy to float.

Our loneliness is irony, swollen with greedy buds.
Tasting, crunching the earth like carrots and corn, and reaching toward stars.

Dust. Our carcasses are picked at lovingly by birds. Still, we dine.
And each course demands cheers, a tang, a savoring, extinguished.

KnoxJen_photoJen Knox is the author of After the Gazebo, and her short work can be found in The Adirondack Review, Cleaver Magazine, Cosmonauts Avenue, Crannóg, Room Magazine and The Saturday Evening Post. She lives in San Antonio, where she teaches creative writing and directs a Writers-in-Communities program at Gemini Ink. Find her online at JenKnox.com

This entry was posted in Poetry on July 27, 2016

“Brick” by William Bradley

It took us close to an hour, but I managed to knock the bat to the floor with the broom, causing a slapping sound that made my stomach tighten. Emily covered the animal with an upside-down garbage bin, which I then pushed, slowly, out the door and onto the side porch. We heard the bat fluttering about for a few seconds, then it got quiet. I hoped we hadn’t killed it—Emily and I are both pretty squeamish about such things. This was at around 12:30 in the afternoon on a Sunday. We’d found it—our second bat in less than a week— sleeping in our dining room light fixture.

We let the cats out of the bedroom, where we had isolated them so that they wouldn’t get in our way as we got rid of the invasive creature. I regarded Leroy, who for the last day or so had been acting strangely—hiding under the bed, jumping at the slightest noise or unexpected movement. Not his usual purring, attention-seeking self. He also had a strange bump on his neck that I worried might have been a bite from a bat. He’d had his shots, but we were late getting the annual rabies booster. In fact, we hadn’t seen the need—neither of our cats had walked outside our home since their early kittenhood— until we saw the first bat.

Emily’s period was late, too, and though we knew the odds were against it, we were both afraid she might have been pregnant.

The guy who called me back from the emergency veterinary clinic told me Leroy should be quarantined for ten days, but he added that if I brought the bat in to the clinic, they could test it and get back to us the next day.

“How do I get it to you?” I asked.

“Just kill it with a tennis racket or something and bring it in,” he said with a nonchalance that puzzled me. “Don’t touch it with your bare hands, though.”

I don’t really know anything about rabies, but I thought I knew that you couldn’t just beat a bat to death and then test it. But this guy was the expert, and I was clearly out of my element. So.

“We have to kill the bat,” I said as I walked into the living room after I got off the phone. Emily inhaled sharply and stared at me, mouth and eyes opened wide. I realized she’d misunderstood my pronoun use. “I mean, I’m going to do it.”

We don’t play tennis. I thought we had a badminton racquet, but for the life of me I had no idea where it was. Though we both workout, neither of us is really into sports, to be honest. So with no other weapon at my disposal, I grabbed the broom again and walked towards the door.

I stood beside the overturned trashcan for several minutes, occasionally tapping it with the broom. No sound came from beneath it.

The screen door from the apartment next to ours slammed and a moment later our neighbor appeared in the driveway beside the porch. He was a young guy—just out of school, a fire fighter and sportsman. Country boy, 15 years my junior. I told him about the bat, thinking he might have advice. I needed someone with expertise to tell me I was doing this right. And though I have a PhD in creative writing and probably know more about literary theory and avant garde cinema than he does, I knew in this moment that he was smarter than I.

“How you gonna do it?” he asked.

“I’m going to beat him to death with this broom.”

He nodded. I could tell this plan didn’t impress him. “If he goes flying, you’ll probably miss him,” he said, which seemed obvious once the words were out of his mouth. “Bats are hard targets. Here.” He leaned over, picked up a huge brick left over from one of our landlord’s recent construction projects, and handed it to me. “I’ll lift the bin, you drop this on him.”

“Will that… work?” I knew a brick would kill a bat, of course, but it seemed to me there was a right way to do these sorts of things, and this wasn’t it. I’m not a hunter—I haven’t even caught a fish since I was a kid—so I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about these things. But this seemed wrong. Savage.

He laughed. “Let’s just get this done. You ready?”

Turned out Emily wasn’t pregnant. The cats didn’t contract rabies—in fact, apparently the one-year vaccine is effective for considerably longer than a year, and bat bites don’t tend to leave bumps. But I didn’t know these things then. All I knew was that the cats we had found in our backyard and nursed back to health when they were sickly kittens—holding them in the kitchen, feeding them with eye droppers– were in danger. That my possibly-pregnant wife could be at risk too. I wasn’t thinking about morality or the naturalist writers I read in graduate school or phrases like “hegemonic masculinity” or “what a man’s gotta do.” I wasn’t thinking about the time in the tenth grade that I declared to my parents that I would never fish again, that killing animals was immoral. I just knew that everything I loved was threatened, that the only way I could be sure we were all safe was with that brick.

I certainly didn’t know that the animal’s head needs to be intact to test it for rabies—that what I was about to do was going to make it impossible for me to get the definitive answer I wanted, wasting my time and the life of a bat who hadn’t actually intended us any harm.

My neighbor lifted the bin and I saw the bat, on the ground, unmoving.

“Do it,” he said.

“Wait…” I said weakly. I very much wanted for this to not be happening.

He raised his voice. “You’ve got to do it now.”

And I did. I let the brick go—“Fuck that rodent,” I might have thought— and it landed with a loud thud. The brick was big enough that it covered the entire crushed body. That was a blessing. I was already feeling nauseous.

BradleyWilliam_photoWilliam Bradley is the author of the essay collection Fractals, recently released by Lavender Ink.


This entry was posted in Nonfiction on July 20, 2016

“He Didn’t Shoot” by E.K. Gordon

Why Didn’t He?

The suspect was a black male running from the parking lot of a liquor store. He looked to my police sergeant father like a teenager. Maybe all he was fleeing was the screeching police car, or maybe he had been involved in a crime. Either way, when my father yelled “Halt, police” the teen didn’t halt; he scrambled up a high chain-link fence, spilled over it, and disappeared into his future.

Apparently police policy even back then was that running in a high(ish) crime area is a crime. My father was suspended for two weeks without pay–not nothing since our family of seven lived week to week and my mother didn’t yet work outside the home.

I can’t say I’m proud he didn’t shoot, because I don’t know why he didn’t shoot. Was it hesitation, fear, compassion, the ten commandments? Something else? As I watch the terrible video indictments of police officers, I wonder what stayed my father’s hand.

Maybe because he died at 41 and because he talked so little about himself, I’ve thought a lot about my father’s youth. His own father died when he was a small boy, and his widowed mother moved her large Scottish-American family from Portsmouth, New Hampshire to Queens, New York–a very multicultural place, as it still is. My dad loved sports, was crazy for football. In Queens he played quarterback in a pick-up league and from what I’ve heard (from my albeit not necessarily objective mother) he was a sandlot star. He made friends with some of the African-American boys who also played. He spent time in their homes and they spent time in his. They knew each others’ mothers by name, ate at each others’ tables.

When he was 17 my father enlisted in the navy along with a football buddy, his go-to wide receiver. They boarded the bus together for the trip south to Quantico training base. At the Mason Dixon Line the driver told the blacks to get back and the whites to move up (this is early 1950’s). My father refused to move away from his friend and was put off the bus.

I had this just a few years back from a cousin who had it from a letter my father mailed from Quantico. Unfortunately for this story, the letter didn’t give the friend’s name or else my cousin didn’t remember it to tell me. Still, I cherish the image of my dad on the side of the road, duffel bag slumped against his leg, thumb out. I cherish it almost as much as I do the photo, one of a very few from his whole life that he saved, of him and this friend whose name I don’t know standing front to back in their service dress blues. Sailor boys. Crazy thin and goofy happy.

Here’s my theory, or maybe it’s just a hope: when his police training told him Shoot, when the system that fed and housed his family expected, no required, bullets, the fleeing suspect, the running teenager, looked a little to my father like a receiver going long for a pass.

Our experiences and friendships change us; they repair and right us. We can’t retroactively desegregate American history or give police officers memories that would humanize their policing (unless story telling counts, which I think it does), but we can change policies that are racist in intent or practice. One policy my story seems to point to, and which has been much discussed regarding Baltimore, is the requirement, or lack of a requirement, that police officers live and pay taxes in the cities they serve. West Baltimore sure isn’t policed by people who grew up in West Baltimore, or any place like it. When my father became a policeman, we were required to move into the South Florida town (Lauderhill) that had hired him. Although its police force was all white then, the neighborhood and schools were not. I thereby began a valuable multicultural education that left me willing and able to live in North Philadelphia, where the education continued. Too many white police officers in America are just plain illiterate. And the ones who aren’t need to step up big time. Yes it will be hard, but so is stopping blood flow from a punctured artery, or reconnecting a severed spine.

I would like to say my father stepped up big time, that his experiences made him a civil rights activist or at least a force for change at work, but I don’t know that. He may have had some good conversations, may have thrown the wrench into some back stage racism. He may even have served and protected all the citizens of Lauderhill. But I have no evidence. I have only that two-week suspension. It’s my inheritance. I receive it not with pride so much as relief, relief and gratitude that the question troubling me today is why didn’t he shoot, and not why did he?

GordonEK_picE. K. Gordon is an English adjunct at Northampton Community College. She represented New York City’s Urbana Slam Team at the 2014 Women of the World poetry slam and continues to read as a performance poet. Her work has appeared at Moonshot, PANK, Salon, SlamFind and elsewhere. She is the author of Love Cohoes and Walk with Us, Triplet Boys, their Teen Parents and Two White Women who Tagged Along, which won an Indie Book Award. Find her online at ekg3.com.

This entry was posted in Nonfiction on July 13, 2016

“Stalin Resurrected” by James Valvis

First time I see Joseph Stalin
he’s at the pool. He’s wearing
an old-fashioned one-piece swimsuit,
still has his trademark mustache.
He doesn’t stay long, dives in,
plays ball with kids for a time,
climbs out of the water, and leaves.
Next time I see Joseph Stalin
he’s in the grocery store, shopping.
There’s nothing in his cart but fruit.
Now he’s wearing a Seahawks jersey,
pair of jeans, and a big smile.
He bows his head at women
like each of them are royalty.
Right then, he’s a regular guy,
maybe someone’s grandfather.
But on one of my midnight walks,
I see him in his condo striking a woman,
spinning her face toward the window.
It’s a lady I used to see around a lot
before she took up with Joseph Stalin.
Now she almost never leaves her house,
like he’s created for her a tiny Siberia.
I anonymously call the police,
but nothing ever comes of it.
I don’t see Stalin again for a month.
Then he’s standing in my garden,
smiling his best phony smile,
admiring my heirloom tomato plants.
The woman stands two feet behind him.
He wants to know my secret.
After a long pause, long enough
for him to know I resent answering,
I tell him trick is to not hit women
and also to plant the stems deep.
Before he can answer,
the woman steps forward
tells me to shut my big mouth.
Stalin is a great man, she says,
not some nobody like me.

ValvisJames_photoJames Valvis has placed poems or stories in Ploughshares, River Styx, Arts & Letters, Hanging Loose, Natural Bridge, Wormwood Review, The Sun, and many others. His poetry was featured in Verse Daily. His fiction was chosen for Sundress Publication’s 2012 Best of the Net. He’s a recent finalist for the Asimov’s Readers’ Award. A former US Army soldier, he lives near Seattle.

This entry was posted in Poetry on July 6, 2016