twisted figures function like toothpicks ponder subjugation circles in village colour self the pants principle to grammatical tense through wacky intrusive logic shocked centers propulsive reflections fascinate like attraction limit quirk to linguistic subterfuge thick unshakeable compelled repeated picking margins flattening refuge arbitrarily insecure familiar narrative a flapping elusive still closer removing modular chances drawn fueled debunked concluded as a presence
Affected Collagen Dissolving
The meandering centipede invokes Hollywood Squares as a scare tactic.
Paranoia pleases chess masters leaving moldy clock on the train, better to save a parenthesis than shout at a letterbox perforation.
Performed a molecular transfer without a stable anchor to hook the syncopated suffix to a mattress.
Intuitive clown car, superstitions recline, struggle to keep profits, though mostly that’s just the bubble to the soap.
Transient Substation Oxygen
Weak atom cannot function in symbolic sleepwalking a — Part , space that bears currency daydream.
Interior of a protein, clever funhouse weigh station preserving charmless war machine.
For the sake of a dimple, awaken before midnight & bemuse prophylactic enzymes.
Uptight boogie burglar staking claim to road diets, starting tomorrow, awash in verbal gymnastics, downward facing nylon.
String pulling organic CPR through senior living facilities before releasing scarecrow into unsuspecting public lavatory crusaders.
Meaning of a phosphorous alpine ski lift?
Tertiary bromide emitting necrophilia at sunset?
Packed tightly in hyperbolic acid constant as an equilibrium milkshake, seizing conjugated saddle, high-pressure horse running washing machine aftershave without brain embolism song.
crux influx your typewriter carrier pigeon reverberates goop
famished TIDES pulled AsundeR laughter called NameD X in parabolic etch
sink yet who sink rotting fathomed barnacle speech
multi -use -faceted -modal -hyphenate -step -factor -level
ruled recycled printS curved wall PLASTER end of NaMe blame GaMe tick BiTe
Joshua Martin is a Philadelphia based writer and filmmaker, who currently works in a library. He is the author of the books automatic message (Free Lines Press), combustible panoramic twists (Trainwreck Press), Pointillistic Venetian Blinds (Alien Buddha Press) and Vagabond fragments of a hole (Schism Neuronics). He has had numerous pieces published in various journals including Otoliths, M58, The Sparrow’s Trombone, Coven, Scud, Ygdrasil, RASPUTIN, Ink Pantry, and Synchronized Chaos.
Don’t like going into stores prefer sitting outside on a bench waiting for her to come out.
Sometimes you don’t feel like talking about anything answering questions, hearing excuses, explaining yourself you don’t want discussions or lectures don’t need the sharing of ideas or opinions, anecdotes, or dreams.
Sometimes you simply want to sit alone in your rocking chair in your quiet little room stare out the window into the street at nothing in particular for hours like grandpa used to do.
Rotator Cuff Repair Blues
I should sound stronger, confident when instead it’s still the same old blah, blah, blah.
Thanks for checking in the shoulder thing has been a long grind I do now recommend breaking your shoulder any time for any reason Monday I check-in with the surgeon see if I can do away with the sling and stop sleeping in the recliner trouble is it’s hard to tell if the damn thing is healing as it should I’m hoping the fancy-pants hotshot surgeon can determine that been doing the best I can on the poetry front everything takes twice as long because I can only use my left hand but I do what I can juggling trying to move forward on 7 projects my head a wellspring of projects hopefully one of them will jump out and take charge of the confusion but really I shouldn’t be such a complainer remind myself it can always be worse my beautiful wife hasn’t yet run off with that hunky UPS guy!!!
. . . a nightmare trying to organize all this damn writing . . .
Of course I keep a writer’s notebook one of those old-fashioned black and white covered college ruled notebooks. I do my “creative writing” in there: poems and bits of prose and prose poems and hybrids of poems and prose. I write in there at night before sleeping and while sitting in the car waiting at the airport or the school or while sitting in the doctor’s waiting room or in hotel lobbies or at the grandson’s basketball practice . . . you’d be surprised how much writing you can get done in between everything else. I don’t draw pictures or symbols, hieroglyphics, or images of any kind I don’t doodle, it’s all just words simple old words.
. . . mathematics is postulating that we might be able to travel backwards in time through wormholes . . .
Dad, if you returned to life after being gone 58 years I wonder what you’d find most surprising. Because you were a car mechanic and loved cars particularly your Buicks I suspect seeing how far car technology and style has come would make your head spin. Don’t know where to begin explaining it to you: power steering, airbags, automatic windows pushbutton ignition, CD players, GPS . . . I’m not even getting into car diagnostics by hooking it up to a computer when you could tell what was wrong with any old engine simply by cocking your head back and listening.
. . . they dreamed of being together never apart until the end of time . . .
Physicists, astrophysicists, geophysicists, astrobiologists astronomers, cosmologists . . . all of them state it like it’s clear, obvious irrefutable – in the beginning of the universe there was nothing, nothing at all no space, no time, no matter, no energy, only emptiness. Then suddenly out of the darkness out of nowhere for no reason like someone flipping a switch an infinitesimally small speck of something-or-other appeared then immediately exploded into the Big Bang BOOM!!! And the universe – everything there is or was or ever shall be – spiral galaxies, dwarf stars, planets, comets, asteroids, black holes, quasars, quarks, dark matter, dark energy, neutrinos gamma rays, leptons, red giants, globular clusters gravitons, photons, electrons, mesons, and the Higgs Boson – was formed just like that, from nothing absolutely nothing. Seriously?
You can find more of Michael’s work here on Ink Pantry.
I didn’t see a single friend for a year and a half during the pandemic. My midtown Manhattan office closed and I began working remotely from my parents’ house in Connecticut. I went into the city to check on my coop and pick up my mail but the most I did was eat outside at neighbourhood restaurants—all alone. I kept up with friends through texts, calls, and social media but I didn’t make any plans. I usually wait for my friends to initiate things and nobody asked to meet up. Everyone was hunkered down. I finally moved back to my Upper East Side coop and an old friend wanted to get together after his trip through Portugal, Spain, and France. We had dated for several years when he moved to New Orleans and it didn’t last. We hadn’t seen each other for several years, but it was like old times when we met for drinks and then dinner at a Korean place. We talked about poetry and writing, teaching, and mutual friends from our urban writers’ colony that had been a second home for years. He wanted to come over for ice cream afterwards but I needed to go home. It was intense to see my first friend after so long and I needed to decompress alone.
I went to my first Covid-era party with friends after I moved back to the city. It was a book party in Brooklyn to celebrate the release of my Columbia Journalism School classmate’s memoir about becoming a celebrity party crasher in Hollywood and other locations. He met party crashers while he was working as a journalist with the Los Angeles Times. When he got laid off, he became a party crasher, too. He gave Clint Eastwood a neck massage mistaking him for an old boss. He ran into Jennifer Anniston who told his party crashing friend, “I know you!” He crashed the Oscars, the Golden Globes, with tricks he learned from other party crashers. He told stories and we laughed. He read excerpts and we laughed some more. Someone passed a joint around the room and I passed it along without joining in. A group of guys went for drinks after the party but I said goodnight and took the subway home.
Watching Golf with My Dad
I started running in the seventh grade with my father. We did a two-mile loop around our neighbourhood with gentle hills. It came easy to me. When we moved to a bigger house in the wooded part of town, we ran a longer route with hills that made me cry. I would sit down on the curb and my father always waited patiently for me to finish the run. I kept running after I left home and finished marathons and Ironman triathlons. My father kept running, too. He was also a golfer who played courses all over the world while he was on business trips. He wanted me to play golf like the rest of my family. I took lessons but it didn’t come naturally like running. I tried to be a good sport until I was hit in the head with a golf ball. It felt like a bullet and I fell to the ground. My new white golf gloves were coated with blood. A young boy came up and apologized for hitting the stray ball. I still have a bald spot just beyond my hairline. I hit balls with my father and nephew a few times, but I never played another game of golf. When my father retired, he began to play golf three times a week. He also watched golf tournaments on TV. After my office went remote at the beginning of the pandemic, I left Manhattan to work from my parents’ house in Connecticut. I stayed for a year and a half, and weekends I watched golf with my father. I got invested in the players like my father. Even though I moved back to the city, I watch golf with my father when I visit. We no longer run but we have golf.
I was so happy before the pandemic. I had a good job writing evaluations for specialty occupation visa applications. I talked about poetry with my colleagues who are poets and writers. I read at the open mic at my monthly poetry reading in the East Village. I went for long walks in Central Park. I visited my parents in Connecticut on weekends. I met friends for meals and movies in the city. Family and friends read my published memoirs and poetry chapbooks. I had never felt so happy. Then the pandemic shut down my office. My father suggested working remotely from my parents’ house in Connecticut and I left the city without any summer clothes. As warm weather came, I found old triathlon and biathlon t-shirts in my parents’ attic. I went to the city every few months to check on my apartment. And soon a year and a half had passed. My office was supposed to reopen after Labor Day and I moved back to the city. The reopening was pushed back by a month and then again and again. I have fleeting moments of happiness—after walking in Central Park, going to neighborhood restaurants, meeting with friends, and even going to a live book party. I hope I will feel the same overflowing happiness I felt before the pandemic sometime soon.
Karol Nielsen is the author of the memoirs Black Elephants (Bison Books, 2011) and Walking A&P (Mascot Books, 2018) and the chapbooks This Woman I Thought I’d Be (Finishing Line Press, 2012) and Vietnam Made Me Who I Am (Finishing Line Press, 2020). Her first memoir was shortlisted for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing in nonfiction in 2012. Excerpts were honored as notable essays in The Best American Essays in 2010 and 2005. Her full poetry collection was longlisted for the Terry J. Cox Poetry Award in 2021 and was a finalist for the Colorado Prize for Poetry in 2007. One of her poems was a finalist for the Ruth Stone Poetry Prize in 2021. Her work has appeared in Epiphany, Guernica, Lumina, North Dakota Quarterly, Permafrost, RiverSedge, and elsewhere.
‘During the interviews, I would often return to fundamental questions that explored the rarefied air these people occupy. How does it feel to be unstoppable on the basketball court, baseball field or tennis arena? And what is it like to be grooving on stage, to a point where you and your audience are travelling together on an unpredictable journey?’ Motez Bishara
As a lifelong devotee of cricket (For American readers who wonder what on Earth cricket is, imagine baseball on Valium), I distinctly recall watching a recent TV programme about the former English batsman, Mark Butcher. Expecting a fascinating hour of listening to Mark enthusing solely about his county and international cricket career, I was amazed as he picked up a guitar and proceeded to both play and sing Dylan’s classic, ‘The Times They Are A-Changin’ with high, professional expertise. I’m not quite sure if I was more shocked or impressed, but it certainly got me thinking about my own youth, where playing sports and creating music were my two most important goals; along with realising (in hindsight) these were the two moments in life when I became most focused and relaxed. I definitely wish that I had practised a heck of a lot more, so I could have hopefully kept up with Mark Butcher’s considerable skills as both an international batsman and more-than-adept guitarist/singer. Therefore, when I became aware of Motez Bishara’s new book, Athletes Who Rock, I was naturally drawn to the author’s creative concept.
Across the two hundred and forty-one pages, Motez reveals his long standing fascination for those talented individuals who can excel both within a sporting environment and also achieve musical prowess.
Motez begins the book with an exploration of the psychological ‘flow state’ that strongly occurs within those who play sports and music to the highest levels. The late, Hungarian-American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1934 – 2021) identified this flow as, ‘(A state of) being involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved and you’re using your skills to the utmost’.
Flicking through each of the chapters, it’s a joy to observe that none of the individuals’ stories lack depth, energy and passion. For example, former professional surfer, Lindsay Perry, had a difficult time growing up; losing her mother and sister in a car accident and an aunt to murder when Lindsay was just eighteen. She says, ‘My therapy was the ocean and surfing…to not think about the things that I had just gone through’. Her career as a surfer went from strength to strength and, for years the sport allowed her to generate a healthy income. However, since the age of fourteen, Lindsay had also immersed herself into learning to play guitar and focusing on creating music. After retiring from surfing and modelling, she focused her considerable energy into music. When asked the inevitable question of ‘which gives the greatest thrill?’ her answer is honest. ‘A high is a high. Your adrenaline is your adrenaline. Now the adrenaline I get is being on stage in front of a full crowd. I can substitute missing out on surfing for that high I get from a crowd’. And what about the determination and drive that it took to be good at both sports and music? Again, her answer is honest. ‘When my mom passed away she was forty and not able to do a lot of things. I want to be the best at anything I can be so that I can create a legacy for her. She didn’t get to see any of those things. I didn’t even know she wanted to be a model. So, it’s pretty cool that I get to fulfil my mom’s dreams and start new ones’.
Returning to where we came in, one chapter is devoted to Mark Butcher, whose national and international cricket career spanned from 1992 to 2009. We learn that, like Pat Nevin, music had always been an important foundation in life for Butcher, who received his first guitar at age thirteen. After buying a Jimi Hendrix cassette tape for £1 at a motorway service station. His mind blown by Hendrix, the ex-cricketer vividly recalls watching Queen and Clapton at Live Aid in 1985. Now intent on emulating the sounds he heard, Butcher saved up for a Telecaster knock-off guitar. Recounting a remarkable, yet bittersweet and uproarious, life, Butcher opens his heart to the author and leaves little to the reader’s imagination. A revealing aspect comes when he is asked about the links between both his sporting and musical worlds and what uniquely joins them.
‘Rhythm. When I was playing (cricket), if I was in a good place, I would have a song in my head – and that would be the only thing in my head. Because thought is the enemy of being able to play – or at least it was for me. Time and rhythm are both things that apply in equal measures in both pursuits’. Mark Butcher
Inside this book lies a ton of information and it would have been easy for the author, Motez Bishara, to create a lot of factual information that didn’t gel together. However, the author has clearly done his research and, luckily for readers, Motez has considerable skill at conveying the various depths of each athlete/musician into a very readable and fascinating form. Every question asked is designed to open up more information to the reader, allowing valuable personal insights into their lives. In return, it’s clear that all of the athletes/musicians respected the author, allowing a sense of relaxing communication, without holding anything back.
The end result is a fascinating glimpse into the world of both those involved with professional sport and the world of musical creation.
Dusk came rapidly, sliding over the rugged terrain in a few minutes, and settled down unobtrusive, like a curled-up cat. A cold wind, dagger-sharp, blew down the ragged hills, far-off, silhouetted against a darkened sky.
The rude camp was lit up by the open fires. Families sat around the open kitchens, awaiting a modest meal. Treetops swayed drunkenly in the wind. The camp was filled with smoke and the confused sounds of dogs and humans. Kids laughter trailed, punctuated by the crackle of the burning wood, the sound of the powerful wind that ruffled up the carpet of fallen-leaves in its wake.
Evenings are pleasantly cold in October. The gloom spreads out, blurring the edges of the hills, trees and the huts in the distance. All around trembles darkness-mellow, translucent and anonymous. Families huddle together and talk in low voices. A sad lonely night. A general depression grips the adults in the camp. The men watch the evenings and the early nights. The tarpaulin-n-sheet tents shiver in a rogue wind and a threatening gloom. They revive memories of a nightmare.
The rough shelters going up in crimson-hued flames, giant flames, hungry hissing leaping. The night sky filled up with the dancing inferno. Columns of smoke, spiraling up, stinging and choking and irritating. Within an hour, everything is burnt down, charred, beyond recognition. Angry ambers sizzling in the blackened earth, some stunted singed slender shoots moving obscenely in the air. The government trucks, 48 hours later, arriving and ferrying the wretched of the earth to a camp 12 km away, on an uneven ground, dumped as human garbage. Press, politicians, police-the same story, covering the quick “rehab” of the poor gypsies on the outskirts of Delhi, the capital of India, in an improvised camp, where these victims of the communal violence were assured of protection and meals by the state. The small tribe did not have any choice and stuck together as frightened children in the compound of the old building, watched by the cops; the outside civilization hostile towards these nomads, always on the move….
The government camp brings its own brand of solidarity among the survivors of the carnage. Folks unite and bond easily. Neighbours discover lost virtues. It becomes a large family, under a threat from an unseen force. As the evening advances stealthily, they discover the absence of Mahua, a de facto leader.
Where is he?
The men, in twos and threes, search the camp, nearly patch of forest, the far-off highway. The kids run across the camp, looking for Mahua, their uncle.
They could not find him anywhere.
Where is he?
Women got concerned. Men were anxious. Children remembered. The 80-year-old, strong as a bull, trim as a bamboo; the man was the best storyteller in the tribe and a respected senior. He would listen to their complaints and settle disputes. Play with the kids. Protect them as a grandpa. He told the ill-clad, barefoot, pot-bellied, swollen faced kids the story of the fish and the giant.
“You want a story, children?” he often asked the children.
“Y-e-e-s-sss!” they would shout happily.
“OK. Here it goes.” And he would begin in a rich voice, “Listen… Once upon a time, a giant lived in a castle. Interested?”
“The castle was near the river. The huge river flowed ceaselessly. The giant fish floated in the river. Two big trees-as big as the castle-took roots near the steep bank of the river. The trees grew and reached the topmost roof of the golden castle. The giant did not like this, he being jealous. One day he cut down the trees and burnt them in his fireplace. The smoke filled up the sky.
The big fish coughed up and said, “Selfish giant, selfish giant”.
The giant heard this and trapped the fish in his golden net.
“What did you say?” asks the one-eyed giant.
“Selfish,” says the fish.
“How?” he asks.
“You killed the trees.”
The giant smiles. “I am going to eat you up now.”
The fish smiles and says, “You kill me and you kill yourself.”
“Oh, foolish fish! Nobody can kill a giant.”
“Oh, foolish giant! You are ignorant. First you kill the innocent trees… then you kill me. You will die. I put a curse upon you!”
The giant laughed and killed the fish and ate up the hapless fish.
Then, you know, what happened, dear children?”
“No, Uncle!” the kids said in chorus, sitting under the banyan tree. “Tell us, please!”
“OK. The giant died soon.” Mahua said with a long sigh.
“The curse wiped away the trees and dried up the river. The sands of the desert were waiting like a hungry wolf. They swallowed up his golden castle and a bald famished one-eyed giant in it.”
The men were moving in groups. Someone said Mahua was sitting sad and lonely throughout the last night and the full day. He remembered his grandchildren often who were the victims of an earlier violence. Above all, he remembered the place where we all had lived as a community. He had stopped speaking and grown sad and very quiet. Then somebody said, Mahua often talked of the huge banyan tree and his rude tent nearby, on the rising ground, where he had spent his last many years as a wandering worker.
His life was tough!
They all agreed. Two sons who drank themselves to death. Grandchildren charred to death. Daughters-in-law dead. Only Mahua lived on. He spent mornings fashioning iron tongs and hammers, afternoons hawking them in the small town divided by invisible borders and hatreds, evenings under the towering banyan tree, home to birds and souls of the dead. Camp life he never liked. The fenced-off area, away from his humble, makeshift hovel, put him off. He roamed the camp like a ghost, chatting up with the kids. Then he had gradually shut up within. He refused food. He did not talk. He just stared at the distant space, oblivious of the crowd near him, thinking of his home.
The poor soul! He just caved in!
How long can you suffer poverty, loneliness and soul-destroying pain?
Where is he?
Some younger women; the tea vendor at the highway; late-returning farmers confirmed seeing Mahua. He was walking like mad, striding down the highway, deaf to their greetings. He walked briskly like a guy possessed. He looked fixedly ahead, mumbling to himself, gesturing. The poor thing! The neighbours had cooked food for him but he had refused. Even kids could not coax a story out of the grey-bearded old man. He sat near the tent, under the yellowing sun and a warm wind, wrapped up in tight knots inside himself. Nobody dared disturb.
Towards afternoon, he saw a kid and said softly, “Where were you, Raj Kumar?”
The kid said, “I am Ramu, son of Itbari Lal.”
“No, you are Raj Kumar. My lost grandson. You always play pranks on me. Where have you been? I missed you awfully. Look, your grandpa has become so old, without you. Now, do not leave me. Come on, my son, come here!”
The kid, scared stiff, ran away. A young man, later in the day, saw him talking to air, calling out the names of his dead sons and his stray dog. He was talking to them softly, complaining about his falling health, recalling happy old days when they all lived together. Others said they overheard him talking about his hovel near the banyan tree, the open ground, the wind and the stars. He seemed to be trapped in the narrow, dusty, small and crowded camp. He did not like it at all. His home was beckoning him. That small patch of rough ground and that enormous banyan tree and the open sky.
Where is he now?
Ten-twelve men, young and strong, reached the vast ground where the nomads and other city migrants had lived for last many years. They carried torches and stout sticks. A large moon was shining in the sky. Stars were twinkling like heavenly lamps in the clear sky. The wind, cold and powerful, was moaning in the trees and shrubs that ran along the highway, pulsating like an overfed snake. The ground was deserted. A month or so had passed after the carnage. There was death lingering in the damp stale air coming off the river, a mile away, in the background. Smell of death, decay and burnt hovels! An eerie silence prevailed. The banyan tree stood tall and massive against a milky background. The deep silence was unsettling. The white moon had washed up the desolate wild landscape in silvery smooth light. The rising ground, the puddles formed on account of last night’s sudden heavy downpour, the wild grass and one or two surviving small Neem trees all looked deathly pale or unreal. The solitary ground was now a graveyard of mutilated, bloody memories. They negotiated the puddles, the weeds, the sharp-edge stones and other deadwood, and, reached the foot of the big banyan tree.
“He is dead!” someone said.
“Yes. He was crying before his death.”
“It seems he was praying and crying at the same time. He seems to have died some time back. We should burry him here.”
The old, wizened, bearded face showed peace and tears dried up.
The man finally had found home.
The wind howled, the moon showed a quivering and cold and desolate vast ground over run with weeds and garbage.
And then fluffy clouds suddenly eclipsed the moon, sending the whole bitter landscape into darkness.
Dr. Sunil Sharma is a Toronto-based author-academic-editor who has published 23 creative and critical books— joint and solo. He is, among others, a recipient of the UK-based Destiny Poets’ inaugural Poet of the Year award 2012. His poems were published in the prestigious UN project: Happiness: The Delight-Tree: An Anthology of Contemporary International Poetry, in the year 2015.
You can find more of Sunil’s work here on Ink Pantry.
Amaya can’t suppress a wry smile. An item of gossip has reached her. It seems there are those intent on labelling her a witch. Such an archaic term, unused for centuries, its connotation pejorative. Amaya ponders that maybe it’s because she’s an outlier. During that unenlightened age, it was a convenient term for nonconformist women, especially those who, like Amaya, preferred to live alone.
She’s a curator; a purveyor of aesthetics. Her specialty is The Renaissance. For a modest fee patrons can roam her gallery of Caravaggios, da Vincis, and Raphaels. Bold work from over a millennium ago, the world still searching for an identity. Crossing Amaya’s palm with an elusive gold coin, however, will favour you with an altogether more unique experience in her gallery.
A gentle knock at the after-hours door in the rear. Amaya opens it partway, the orb in her palm chasing away the shadow from her cat’s eyes and long, greying hair. Cassian steps inside. The darkness is heavy, the air cool. Raising the orb, Amaya sees a man younger than her usual patrons, hair and eyes raven, brooding. There is an audacity about him as he presses the gold coin into her hand.
They stand before Cassian’s chosen piece: Botticelli’s iconic Birth of Venus. Amaya places a hand on its centre and it expands to fill the whole wall. She regards Cassian expectantly. Previously bold, there’s a hesitation. He appears about to turn away, but then takes three confident steps and leaps into the painting.
Venus is before him, an alabaster statue, hair to the waist. Zephyrus, clutching his nymph, propels her ashore, the ocean rising with his breath. On the sand the guardian Pomona waits, mantle ready to clothe the goddess. Materials in hand, Cassian sits and begins to sketch.
If Looks Could Kill
Perseus had been spending time in Sicily and the Italian mainland. Pasta, wine, caprese. When your father is Zeus it’s a filial duty to oversee operations in the Mediterranean. Not one to usually procrastinate, Perseus was wrestling with this latest assignment, the hit on Medusa. Since he was a boy he’d had an acute phobia of snakes, so that was going to be something of a problem.
Naturally, Medusa’s reputation preceeded her, so the inhabitants fled Karpathos for the neighbouring islands of Rhodes and Crete once word of her approach had been received. For five years now the small isle in the Southern Aegean had been hers alone. Walks on the beach, exploring coves, collecting shells, and a steady diet of olives, feta, and vegetables from her garden. Despite the seclusion, exile had its benefits.
Blue skies, ocean salt in the air. Medusa finishes threading wire through the holes in the butterflies she’d inadvertently turned to stone that morning. Now it’s a wind chime. In her solitude she’d learned to control her power, but still had lapses. A large shadow passes across Medusa’s face, a bird of prey swooping in and alighting on one of the pine trees in the statue garden. One of Athena’s owls. A trusted companion of Medusa from when she was in service to the goddess. Since the banishment it has come to the island regularly.
Someone is coming for you, it says.
Medusa nods, trailing a hand over the owl’s feathers, damp from spray. A few of the snakes get too curious, the owl pecking at them. Perseus, it adds.
Medusa withdraws her hand. My half-brother Perseus? The owl confirms. His quest is to return with your head. The snakes hiss and snarl. Medusa allows a brief smile. It’ll be good to see him again. The owl hops onto her shoulder and they head out for a stroll along the cliffs.
Clear day, crystals of sunlight on the calm Aegean. Perseus has been rowing since dawn. Now he rests facing the island, the tide pulling him toward the beach. Crags scattered with vegetation rise up from the sand. Above, shielded by pine trees, Medusa watches her assassin. The snakes are restless, quarrelsome, as if they already sense his apprehension.
On the ascent Perseus’ sandals send loose rock and gravel over the edge of the path. Turned to scrub and grass at the clifftop, he steps over a fellow Spartan, entombed by Medusa’s gaze, sword and shield still at the ready. In front of him a small house fronted by a garden of statues, silent companions. A breeze stirs wind chimes. From the roof an owl watches Perseus’ cautious approach.
Perseus! Social visit? At her voice he whirls around slashing at the air with his sword, shield falling to the ground. He recoils, caught in her gaze. Paralyzed by his phobia, Perseus stands rigid, eyes closed. Close enough to smell her half-brother’s fear, Medusa traces a finger over his face. I’ve learned to control my power. She speaks softly. So you are not a permanent addition to the garden. Two of the snakes break free of the mass to menace the intruder. As they slither around his neck Perseus faints.
Medusa’s head looks defiant. Mouth and eyes wide open with rage, the snakes twisted and vengeful. Perseus places it in a sack and secures the opening.
You’re taking a risk. What if it fools nobody? Medusa is working on a plate of olives and cheese, holding up occasional pieces for the snakes to squabble over.
It will, says Perseus. It’s his fourth week on the island. His half-sister has cured him of his phobia. In return he has fashioned a reasonable facsimile of her from mud, clay, and pigments. He cannot return empty handed.
The owl will give me word, Medusa says, standing and pulling him into an embrace. Sinewy, the snakes burrow through his hair. They part and Perseus gathers sword, shield, and the sack. On the beach he places them in the boat and looks back up the cliff. Medusa raises a hand in farewell. He does the same.
Six in the morning, mist rising from the surface, the chatter of tropical birds and primates from the dense rainforest flanking their small boat. It’s long and narrow like a canoe, Elliot perched at the bow clothed in khaki, boasting zippers and Velcro and hidden pockets only an angler would wear. At the stern, hand on tiller, Santiago guides the craft through the still waters, as the old man has done for decades.
Santiago maneuvers them into a horseshoe pool off the main river. It’s sheltered by overhanging branches that shed pods into the water. It’s a feasting ground. Elliot baits his line and stands astride the bench for balance.
The first two times the bait is gone, either slyly taken or slipped off. Elliot packs it tighter around the double hook and casts again. This time the line goes taught, the carbon fibre rod doubling in on itself, threatening to snap. Elliot reels and pulls, reels and pulls. Mantenlo tenso, says Santiago. Keep it taut.
The fish is strong, angry. A fighter. It breaches in a commotion. Breathing hard, Elliot brings it toward the boat. Es piranha, says Santiago reaching for the landing net. But Elliot raises the rod too soon, the frenzied ball of muscle arcing at him. Instinctively he holds out a hand, Santiago’s ten cuidado, be careful, a fraction late. With the violent precision of a steel blade, the piranha removes Elliot’s index finger at the mid joint.
Elliot’s mind can’t process what he’s seeing, stalling the shock and pain. The piranha thrashes in the boat, gasping. The disturbance has caught the attention of an alligator on the far bank. Santiago watches it slide into the water. Mantener la sangre en el bote, he tells Elliot, wrapping his hand in a small towel. Keep the blood in the boat.
It wasn’t unexpected. She’d been waiting. At first it was just small things, like water seeping through a breach. An occasional headache, clear bubbles moving across her cornea, shape shifting like a lava lamp. Later, her skin feeling loose and oily, like it wanted to slide off. Then the insomnia. Restless nights filled with echoes of her history. An accounting. Taking stock. Jigsaw pieces of her life falling like confetti into colorful prisms. That was when she knew. It was time to go to the woodlands.
A maze of primordial secrets, forests hold the keys to the truth. Givers and sustainers of life, their trees gatekeepers of the knowledge. She arrived in the northernmost woodlands, where the sky is a canvas for all things celestial; a glimpse of infinity. On a hilltop she looked out over the forest, the moonlight casting silhouettes in black and white. Silent, save for the occasional call of hunter and prey. She sat in contemplation.
The meadow grass was cool and soft under her bare feet. Movements assured and graceful beneath a long robe of sapphire, in her green eyes the wisdom of the gemstone and a promise of spring. Her black hair fell sleek and straight, the moon’s fingers combing it in satin.
Enclosed, she heard the murmurs of recognition, smelled the fragrance of earth and timber as the forest received her into its midst. She wove her way deeper into the interior, the path marked by a thousand fireflies and an owl swooping from branch to branch. They would lead her to the provenance.
This is the place, veiled by a patchwork of interlocking branches, ageless and sacred. The earth hugging her feet, soft as velvet. Above, wisteria vines in their thousands. Purple, pink, fragrance that can be tasted. Smiling, she reaches out her hands and bestows the gift of herself. A double helix hangs suspended, as if a lantern in the darkness. It starts to rotate, the stairways embraced in a dance of life.
With each rotation comes a spray of vivid, falling petals, each a recognition of a life lived; the entirety of her story. Here Ts’ai Lun who brought paper into the world, there Cornelius, final breath preserved by the ash from Vesuvius. And here Edmund, navigator on Drake’s wooden vessels, and there Natasha, swept up in an October revolution. Spent, the double helix dissolves into the night. All that remains is her robe on the forest floor.
It took fifty of the strongest men to pull the two-story structure through the western gate of Troy. The width had inches to spare but part of the ramparts had to be removed to accommodate the neck and head of the impressive wooden horse. The siege had lasted a decade, but now the Greeks retreated back to the fleet anchored in the Aegean, leaving the horse as an offering to Athena. The return of peace.
Jostling, shoving, Trojans thronged to see the powerful stallion, pride restored. They lit fires, cooked food. Wine flowed. The historical event too late for Homer and his Iliad, but a prize for Virgil’s later tales.
Night. Embers strewn like cat’s eyes, revelry now just echoes in the stone walls. Soft thuds as Odysseus and his men emerge from the low belly of the beast and drop to the ground, weapons drawn. Gates opened for the returned Greeks, deception complete. With awe two children are observing Odysseus, believing him to be an emissary of Athena. He approaches them, holding a finger to his lips, bidding silence. Kneeling now. “Can you keep a secret?”
A landscape of mud. Thick, invasive. Like a disease it spreads and clings, fueled by the autumn rains that have pummeled the endless fields of Flanders. Now, with the onset of winter, comes a hardening as the frigid air coats the mud with a shell, until the next thaw once more releases it.
Unforgiving, this landscape. Nothing to redeem the harsh shades of brown and black. Bruised and brooding, the low December sky rolls over the battlefields, resolute in its indifference. Wood frames and sandbags encased in grime as they give shape and symmetry to the network of trenches. Horses, limbs in a tomb of clay, stand forlorn in deep puddles. Just beyond the horizon the charred and jagged edges of Ypres.
No nature’s song here, the birds long exiled by artillery that has gouged the land into submission. Young men, adversaries in a conflict they don’t understand, dwell a hundred yards apart in deep man-made fissures. Tomorrow arrives a counterpoint to challenge the malevolence, the first since hostilities began. Christmas Eve.
Two privates from one of the Welsh regiments were the first to notice. Through the periscope they spotted dozens of small beacons along the top of the German trench. Candles, the tiny flames reaching out into the twilight. Word spread and soon the British trench is abuzz, soldiers queuing to look through the viewfinder with disbelieving eyes. The barrage ceased, a dissonant sound punctures the air. The Germans are singing carols.
The following morning an impromptu and unauthorized gathering, as ragged and weary men from both trenches converge on the sludge and frozen earth of no man’s land. Many remain concealed though, distrustful, yet with an uneasy gratitude for the lull. Men roll cigarettes, make small talk. A German officer breaks open a bottle of Schnapps. Somebody kicks a ball high into the air and a disorganized game ensues. Laughter and handshakes as these men, thrown together as combatants on Belgian soil, cling resolutely to life.
The day after. No more gatherings, the carol singers now quiet. A steady rain has erased the candles. Officers in both trenches bark orders, using their boots to shake men out of reverie. The screech of ordnance as a shell hits no man’s land, sending shrapnel in search of targets. In both trenches young men press hard into the sandbags, their lives once more in the balance.
David Patten is an educator living in Colorado. He was raised in London, England, but has spent half of his life in the U.S. He loves reading and creating short fiction. He is hoping to increase the audience for his work.
It’s a rainy August in Manchester and music writer Peter Duffy’s life is falling apart. He’s knocking on fifty, his career is flatlining, his marriage is failing, and his teenage son barely speaks to him.
And then a friend from university days invites him to a party at the manor house where he met his first love, the dazzling Sanchia Page. All the old gang are going to be there, and although it’s a long shot, maybe she will, too, which wouldn’t be helpful. Or would it?
In The Former Boy Wonder, I set out to use setting to characterise and to create emotional tone.
In the narrative strand that happens when he’s young, Peter Duffy, the novel’s protagonist, meets and falls for another student, Sanchia Page. The allure of the novel depends greatly on my portrayal of her. I wanted her to have a mystique, to be attractive to the readers, bewitching and magical, and aimed to make her a full-blown romantic heroine. Part of the way I characterised her was through setting. Before I introduce her, the setting includes only positive details. As Peter makes his way to the party where they will meet, I mention the pale, warm sun. Autumn mist hangs over the road. Two lanterns mark the bottom of the drive that leads up to Loston Manor, the mansion where the party will take place, and he arrives in the last of the evening sun. The necklaces of coloured bulbs that hang across Loston’s façade have a warm halo which glows in the evening light. Across the façade of the house, “necklaces of red, green and yellow bulbs hung on cables, and the warm halo of each glows in the early evening light”. On the way to his first sight of Sanchia, he walks by “a miasma of colour – red anemones, purple chrysanthemums, pink asters – passing rose beds to come and stand “beneath a fig tree in its sweet, coconut scent”.
Another setting I used to characterise Sanchia was her room in a student house-share. The books on her shelves (The Scarlet Letter, Vanity Fair, Dubliners, Bleak House, black-spined Russian classics, and grey-spined Penguin Modern Classics) and the contents of her desk (more books, sheets of paper filled with writing, notebooks, a pot of pens and pencils) indicate that she is a serious reader and a committed student. Reproductions on postcards of paintings by Toulouse Lautrec, Degas, Bonnard, Magritte and Chagall and photographic portraits of Marilyn Monroe, Doris Lessing and Mahler add to this, developing his impression that she is more cultured than he. Her record collection, which also sits on the floor, leaning against a wall – like her books, not on shelves, not conventional – includes jazz (Dave Brubeck’s Take Five) and classical (Bach’s Goldberg Variations). No pop, no rock, no rock’n’roll. She isn’t just a literary person, she knows about art, she knows about music. To Peter, her taste is unusual, which is exciting, but also eye-opening. Although he’s an Art student and a reader, she is more well-rounded than he, and, he thinks, much more sophisticated. Exotic, serious, well read, cultured, sophisticated – and all conveyed to the reader through the use of setting.
Settings loom large in The Former Boy Wonder and some of the time I used them to create emotional tone. The love affair between Peter and Sanchia ends in Morecambe and to create the emotional tone I included only negative details of the setting. A few hours before they break up, they eat in a cheap Italian restaurant, and the setting is designed to create a particular emotional tone. Their waiter wears a greying white shirt and a greasy black tie, the cook, an Iron Maiden T-shirt, a skull ring, and boots with chrome studs. I mention the sweating cheese of the pizzas the down at heel waiter sets before them. The emotional tone of this Morecambe chapter doesn’t come from me telling the reader that it’s a bleak, melancholy, miserable place. No. The tone, I hope, is made real for the reader because it is suggested by the specific details and the vocabulary I chose.
For me, setting is almost as important as character or plot, and if The Former Boy Wonder affects readers in any way, I believe that that’s achieved by using the houses, streets, and rooms the cast of the novel live in to characterise them and to create emotional tone.
The water enraptures my body, which feels like forest-shrouded silk As I clip and clop my awkward way through the water And then suddenly feel like a dolphin. The underneath of Walden Pond is riven by rivers of currents birthed from mysterious sources. As I swim, the current changes from foot to foot, now alienating cold, now feathery warm The currents caress my body like eels that brush their liquid bodies against my chest, torso, groin, legs,
tingling and tangling all up and down my skin, shagging me, changing me, freeing me. I slow down, feel the water like echoes of the past, Know that Thoreau swam and fished and walked and lived here. I feel the sensuous caress of history, of self-reflection, of rebellion against the ordinary. The electric call of infinite Walden seduces me with its sweet and subterranean melody, Like the trapezer who paints the last act. I swim past the why current, Feel the fins of curious fish brushing me. None knows really how deep Walden is, Or what the source of the pond is. It was born eons ago in the distant primordial past of the past of the earth, Born in the majestic ruptures of the earth, Born in the thousand-yard-deep chaos of water and stars, Lifeless at first, then slowly emerging in the slow movement of unforgiving atoms and aimless instincts And meandering, sensuous being.
Christopher Johnson is a writer based in the Chicago area. He was a merchant seaman, a high school English teacher, a corporate communications writer, a textbook editor, an educational consultant, and a free-lance writer. Published short stories, articles, and essays in The Progressive, Snowy Egret, Earth Island Journal, Chicago Wilderness, American Forests, Chicago Life, Across the Margin, Adelaide Literary Magazine, Blue Lake Review, The Literary Yard, Scarlet Leaf Review, Spillwords Press, Fiction on the Web, Sweet Tree Review, and other journals and magazines. In 2006, the University of New Hampshire Press published my his book, This Grand and Magnificent Place: The Wilderness Heritage of the White Mountains. His second book, which he co-authored with a prominent New Hampshire forester named David Govatski, was Forests for the People: The Story of America’s Eastern National Forests, published by Island Press in 2013.
flags aloft and a thief’s mouth gnashing atop the masthead
glimpsed from orbit bombs mistaken for flowers of love
navigating the anthills of Europe as well
will we ever see the last of us
we hike through Muir amidst sequoia and unsung bluebell. lured by pounding Pacific, beached jellyfish shimmering.
barefoot as clouds or scudding dreams.
as all roads slim to trails, as springs to rivers, to oceans, to saltless precipitate, firmly destabilized, hungering,
as cyclones ravaging the landscape are wont to be.
Jay Passer‘s work has appeared in print and online periodicals and anthologies since 1988. He is the author of 12 collections of poetry and prose, most recently The Cineaste (Alien Buddha Press, 2021). Passer lives in San Francisco, the city of his birth.