Oskar Levanti

red snow dusted barn

Most of the cost had been passed on to others. A few shekels here, a few there. No one had argued otherwise—that it was an atrocity. All the villages and all the people in the villages had been wiped out completely. No one could even buy bread, let alone any grain to make a loaf themselves of it with. The Superpowers at hand had continued their embargoes to no avail anyway as usual but not to any extent that was newsworthy. What becomes that is always what crashes on the tarmac at international airports, not the day-in and day-out of people going about living their lives, as is the general wont of most of the planet’s 10 billion. The unimportant folk who, generally speaking live side by side each other, regardless of religion or race or their weird personal habits, had continued not to matter. Only when these had amounted to groupings that were populations of over 10,000 persons attacked by warplanes at the foothills, like massive bacteria cultures growing in agar in some backroom Petri plate, was there the chance of any possible notice. Neither the local news nor the big thumb of the Internet could until then have taken notice. It couldn’t and didn’t have to. That I had traveled onwards with my shaggy goats was just as well. Mine were as unimportant as any other goatherd’s flock. By the grace of Allah, I had had enough meat and cheese with me in my sack to last me a while.

Samuel Unwin

stick in ice

I had only wanted to fuck, split wood, and talk. I hadn’t been interested or concerned with new restaurants, cake recipes, and donating clothes and broken unwanted watches to the local chapter of Good Will. Adding chromium to iron to have made it withstand becoming rusty, or the southward or northward ice floes on the estuary besides which I had lived—matters at hand such as these, or the pathetic death of Christopher Marlowe; or the adding of the dropping of the letter “e” in Joseph Conrad’s short tale Youth when spelling “Marlow,” and how this alone signified all writing, and signified all speaking, these were the clouds of things that drifted and hung forever in my brow and stayed there. And women whose unclothed bodies were strong, who had over the calenderic years that in the end will take us all down before our brains’ wild magic has given away its own mystery to nothingness, I had been like a tumbling jester reveling in the freedom only he is permitted—so outrageously—in the presence of the Royal Court and all its retinue, ever happy beside theirs clutching my tawny and muscular nakedness. Between each swinging throw of my axe, there had been a thousand thoughts arisen, and when the blade fell against the sawn length of timber, another adventure’s telling had been with the wood’s cracking into pieces gladly destroyed. My mind’s simplification, like a map whose borders can be drawn distinguishing all territories from another with any three chosen colors, had been reaching the frontiers of its own natural limits. It had been nearly as perfect as it could become, the way a single floating seed aloft is carried elsewhere by the present and unseen wind is also perfect in another way.

Holly Evans

branches frozen lake

I had waded in a standstill stream. Below the water’s surface my hand had reached for smooth, curved rocks. Each of these had resembled planet Earth afar, from outer space. And each one I placed inside my apron’s front pocket. I wandered on some time, never thinking to look again at all the stone planets collected in my dress. Some time ago, I stood ashore; the oar I held was pointed downstream, pointing towards where my little boat was next to float again. I had to paddle past the boulders and their violence. If not, the boat was sure to break. If not, what then? Time ago, I woke upon my back in the middle of the night. On waking on my back full of nothing, I watched the moon above my eyes. It had been blurred by clouds. I thought of nothing of where I had wandered. I thought of nothing of where I had once waded. I thought of all the stock-still chances I had forsaken and forgotten by the water where by myself I had been walking long ago.

Gregg Skenton

fall quarry reflection

Half my life had been spent in the plus-que-parfait. Half in the subjunctive. Nor would I have argued that the two must be mutually exclusive. In one I had groused food, pills, and women. Always at loose ends. Somewhere beside the train tracks in Tornio or Haparanda I’d be smoking. Interviewed, interrogated, chased. It was very tough and very fun. The flip side were to have been more awakened. The one who rose long before dawn, who looked out and saw the blackness of night, and greeted each morning with a line of poetry remembered in the eye. At any rate, if what I were to have had had been an iota different, I can’t imagine ever having made my little cottage this my home. Nothing was parallel. Everything seemed to have been at odds, on a crash course with each other. But who will watch the squirrels building high nests in the empty trees with long threads of blue tarpaulin? And the bean seeds by miracle itself in their dirt garden rows first sprouting then growing to plants in the spring, bearing themselves for us to eat by summer? And the littlest of children who just on their own as high as my knees just out of their minds beginning to talk just on their own? That all these things had been normal, it had made me take a seat back the many days I had spent alone when I had wished I were with a wife, a friend, or a lover. Then, toward the end, when I had stepped into my hot air balloon to sail away, I had known at once as I was peeling towards the thin bluish heavens that anybody who looked up could see I was becoming smaller and smaller and smaller.

Scott Pleckinpaw

house in mist

Everything that I had done they said was bunched to the middle. When I played softball, it was bunched to the middle. When I gardened turnips, flowers, and cucumbers, it was bunched to the middle. I was never too much to the left or was too much to the right. If you wanted an opinion, people would go to the middle to see, and I’d give the word on that. In between a carnival and a circus what was the answer? For me it was never so hard. Anybody could see the differences between things, between war and peace, and between love and hate, but where did that get anything? If I’d have had a stopover flight into LAX, I’d go to the beach for an hour just to watch the trick kites diving and swerving down to the sand, close to the water. If there was a better charm, or a better bracelet to be had, it was nothing to mind to me. There were just as many of both worse. Of course I had my own opinions of things, but these got lost along the way like so many acorns by squirrels just get forgotten in the ground where they probably belong. What came out of me wasn’t necessarily that wise, and it just wasn’t so smart, no more so than I was, or could claim to be either. It was just less. I just wasn’t like two radio sportscasters filling up time on the airwaves, which is a sort of genius that they have pitch after pitch, strike after strike, foul after foul, hit after hit, game after game. What got left to say was about the cluster over dry milkweed stalks the butterflies going to Mexico must have missed by the roadside. Or if you had the Indianapolis 500 that that meant going around the track at 250 mph for two hours without accidents. Or only people watching them turn clownfish into something that’s funny. It’s actually the middle 2/3 of the pile of sand that makes the mountain. And all the crazies and tough lucks are like the grains brushed away the farther you go to the ends. I know that some people had considered me an Atlas, and some people just behind my back would have called me a donkey. There might have been a cart, a load of apples, and an apple vendor. He’d cry out all day, “Apples! Apples for sale!” And he’d sell enough to live. Some would get swiped by hooligans. And some would fall away while he rolled it down the cobblestones. And some were just rotten. Most of them that got sold will be good enough, and eaten by all the people who bought them.

Tiss Feda

lobster hut

I had traveled long ago to lose myself. I went from land to land and scattered my days like ashes for the dead. I spent my years in one regime and another. I had wanted to disappear and with texts in Attic Greek, I read myself into the hinterland of near oblivion and ruin. None of my compatriots had meant a thing to me. And I spoke my mother tongue afar as though it were a foreign language. Conversation became a rough draft; I spent years and years revising that. “My bones and everything was expanded,” I had heard her say behind my booth in a diner back in New York. I had come home, and knew that this is where my oar was pitched to stay. Masters in Tibet wake up when they are home there. And some in monasteries, too. The farther flung, the less likely, the more impossible. The deep sleep of voyaging had once been mine. But that is not home. That is why sailors are restless. The seafaring life is a life between solid ground below your feet and the ever-shifting foam of the ocean. It is never quite one and it is never quite the other. After twenty years in one spot, it occurred to me that only when one’s home is no longer foreground and is no longer background, only when I had seen myself in my own passing painting, or my own film unrecorded, of my own so-called life, putting the dark blue bear-torn plastic lid on the light blue garbage can filled with pine cones from the woods to help me start a fire, could I even begin to have the chance to see. Only then does the ordinary become extra-ordinary, and then even that goes away: the difference between ‘ordinary’ and ‘extra-ordinary,’ like a place holder, a visible bookmark in an invisible book; only then, when that had become what it had been while it was, was anything possible. And after a while, for a while, I watched myself doing my most ordinary daily chores between my tool shed and my house, just after the twinkling of dawn, just when the grass had been frozen still with the night’s white iciness on every blade of it beneath my boots, just then for a little while, when I had disappeared entirely while my eyes like two bright sister stars were completely open, as though I had been God’s true monk sitting atop the world’s tallest mountain.

Vasilev Alfonse Grubichek

latch-2

I hadn’t had my hearing left. I didn’t hear a thing. All memory of tomorrow had been like a rag wiped across a window wiped away. Leaf, salmon, ladybug, when the sounds of these were gone, were like something else less known. Some jumping man jumping across the moon. Everything was fixed. Nothing was flawed. Nothing was in error. The universe was perfect. From it nothing else ever was to be made. No grooves in time were to be split. No diamonds to be cut. Syllables of eternity were etched. I had wished to hear a party horn again, the curled up paper unfolding with a child’s outward breath of joy. I had wished to hear the grating of a metal mailbox’s metal latch. In between the vacuity of all that there must have been some dust, some remaining remnant of the afterlife of being lurking there. Some wolf in the stars must be hiding in that thick mass of darkness, its fur bristled, its yellowed eyes prepared again to gleam, its red tongue hungry for prey, slouching in the infinitesimal to strike.

Maria Gustafson

music in snow

I had always been a hot pepper. So when the storekeeper in the village said, “Hey, Hot Pepper, try this tunic on,” I had to tell him that that tunic was twice the size for the Wicked Witch of the West. And when I was filling up my tractor with petrol, the same thing: “Hey, Hot Pepper, don’t you overfill that tank with too much petrol.” Naturally, this was always on account of the terrible, which is usual the precedent to any terms of endearment. My family had perished so long ago flying across Nebraska in a Cessna 172. I was at the time taking my place on the podium for third place in a Science Olympiad project as a winner who could make windmills turn just by the energy given off by four pairs of human eyes staring simultaneously at the sails, front and back, paired up. It was something like a potato alarm clock, but different and fancier. And they were all killed in a field of DuPont wheat out there. And though I got the news straight from my earpiece, I went right on along with my presentation in ninth grade for this, and that is why I earned the epithet Hot Pepper because I am not at all. When you take most human sorrow, most of it gets spun around at the outer edges, just like the tips of a windmill’s blades turning looks like a carnival fantasy of fun and death. But right there at the dot of the center axis, at the hub, the part that holds the entire mechanism in place and together, there is a dot of being. It is so small, it is so infinitesimal that it does not turn at all. I know of winds, and I know of hurricanes; I know of storms and gales. I know of love drowned in the waves of Lake Michigan. I know of motorcycle accidents. At the center of it all there is nothing that holds the universe together. And from that tiny point on the sharp end of pin so small that you cannot imagine it, I think a fairy must have leapt off smiling.

Rachel Sforza Hersch

frozen water rocks

The quiet end of everything just became quiet. The quiet of the snowflake fallen just became quiet. And the quiet crack of the limb cracking in the forest, too, just became quiet. The quiet of the stars elsewhere exploding became quite quiet. The girl who had a single match, she became quiet. And the boy with a single toy was quiet as well. Inside my paper house, it has always been this way. My paper plates and paper bowls, they both have always been so quiet to me. My paper cat and paper robe, washing in paper water, everything is so quiet here! Before even the paper sun had risen and shone its paper light across the valley, I am looking forward with my paper eyes at paper life and death. I cannot imagine what is written there, nor guess what has been perhaps before my time rubbed out. There are some terrible smudges here and there, somewhere far ahead, lost in the horizon of ‘tomorrow.’ Everything had been so very quiet, I was sure that I had begun my end. But I’m afraid right now I can’t replace such paper love with cashmere, poetry, and lace. At last, I am so oppressed by all the paper. The great heaviness of my solitude is like the silence of a gun, or the flexing of a bow, or the latches in an aeroplane cradling a silent bomb. I know the quietness must break up. Quietly, in space there is no papery sound—just space. And the flashes of God’s light spanning the breadth of entire galaxies bursting forth, is no more than a simple campfire ember burning out, after the campers have gone.

Benson Colm Orff

head scarf

No doubt the gun he held had killed Abe Lincoln. And no doubt he had expected to be seen a hero by the world, at least some part of it. And no doubt later on he was under a barn burned. But when I pull up in my 4 X 4 just south of Tucson, it hardly means that I am the legacy of that, when I fill up my truck and walk in to pay Angel with my silver handle shining publicly in my holster. You might think I’m some dumb-ass redneck with a mission to kill, some overcompensating dysfunctional rooster who’s got to wear a hard piece instead below his belt. Or you might think I’m symbolically representing some overreaching constitutional right about not having to house a pack of British soldiers in my own house, against my will. You could go on and think I’m some bigot, or a racist, or an anti-American communist. The dialectic of political and politicized nonsense goes two ways, friends. You can watch almost every day the militarized arms of government gun down poor folk in nearly every major city. And you can howl and yowl all you wish against the NRA. Talk like that is just two more dogs barking across the same river. I’ve open carried all my life. It’s like a moniker. A hat. A pair of boots. A gun. At times maybe even a toothpick in my teeth. These things, these are all part of my custom and my costume, my civilian uniform, if you will. The po po have theirs, and I have mine. Someday, if the boys in blue put down their steel and Lexan visors and wear tall furry black bearskin caps, someday if they dress like bobbies and pace about Detroit, Miami, and New York just dangling a wooden truncheon, then I’ll perhaps change my own set of street clothes, too. For me, until then, ever since I’ve been a man it’s just been the way I have chosen to dress mostly, how to represent my own person as my own sort of character the way I want to see him walking down the sidewalk, headed down main street, or with a twenty dollar bill in hand walking from the pumps into the filling station to give what I owe for gas. I don’t mean and never meant to harm anybody. Heck, if I had wanted to, I could have dressed the part with a flouncy tutu and a baton and gone about as a hirsute majorette, trumped myself up as a brass-buttoned drum major with a whistle on a lanyard, or with a snappy polka-dotted bow tie tightened at the collar have connoted a differently slanted political way of thinking, the way one can be almost anything themselves here in everyday life, here in our wide, wide land of liberty, and is free to do without being harassed or jailed or arrested as aberrant. Me, from that, I’m really no different.