Lone Wolf Poet: Episode 4

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EPISODE 3: Be Heroic: A Newer Personal Pledge
A Poem

Allow those in your conversation to complete their thoughts before chiming
In with yours. (You have no right to speak for or at; and you must yet earn
The discipline to speak of.) But mostly make a display of discontentment
In any case where anyone does cut off others in their acts of communication,
Do so with the intent to make all present uncomfortable. Love her harder –
The wife: know when she suggests you don’t need to skip out to the tavern
Every weekday evening she is trying to get you to read again, to create time
To better experience the possibilities of your time all over again. That said,
A Saturday morning beer here and there would still never not be worth it—
But only one, work to keep it at one, remember you’ll unendingly have things
To accomplish in making a stable home of your character. (Embrace beefs
With stripped screws and manufacturer instructions; 4:20 makes its way back
Around again soon enough, brother) … Open yourself to the realization of scenes
About showing how haters need a better vocabulary. Go to town on the humor
To be found in differences: thank your liberal media for making a conformist
Of your gay conservatism. Be gayer. You know American musicals, share this
Wealth of ourselves. Beat washed-up punkers and wannabe aldermen in RIPing
Famous folks on Facebook. (Really, I kid.) Really make more of you than you
Can really be, could ever be, like not being afraid of the weather, like not being
Afraid all the time of the coming weather. Along those lines, don’t respond to
Posts by family members who are being supreme jagoffs – be rude rather than
Oblivious. Teach the hard lesson, seek to teach the hard lesson: but you can
Choose your own family just as fucking easily. But again, love the wife harder:
When she doesn’t want Mexican food know it’s not an assault on your taste;
It is her attempt to give you more focus, to make you a better goal setter. Write
Her a love poem, finally, you fruitcake; or try your hand at writing something
For the children. (And I dare you to try to leave your childlessness behind.) …
Bear in mind what’s caged your heroes in that nasty but unignorable claptrap
Your heart knows as being your writerly aspiration: inappropriate laughter;
Not interruptive, but rather slyly interpretive laughter. Inspire your own presence
With heroism: keep the ice tray full; suggest sushi for supper; put the pen down,
Unless you intend to shake the piss out of your faith. … You have a basement: go
Down, Moses: go whisper over revisions that will finally influence this resolution;
But stop getting yourself all properly creepy down there amidst the undulating
Breathiness of the boiler’s pilot light, spare time once in a while for the ghosts
To reveal themselves. Tread slow up stairs, stop bounding up them, eyeing back
Over your shoulder, praying for no face. (When driving, I can’t believe for a sec
A plane’s going to fall on your car—stop it!) It’s hard, has been so far, to revel
In the reality you’ll never be a player in the mix of it all—bygones are never quite
Bygones to a man thanking each new gray hair that comes to light in his muff;
And a poet’s just a piss-poor excuse to reckon poetry’s not ever worth man’s ruin.

This is publisher/poet John Hospodka’s bi-weekly instructional blog.

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Stalking Horse – Micro Essay

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by Ann Clark

There’s a glob of perethrin ointment two inches thick cupped in the fingers of my hand, and it is the most ridiculous day-glow pink and smells like liquorice and pine-trees. The mare is edging away no matter how slowly I ease up on her. The ointment won’t help her heal faster, but it will keep bugs away from the wound. Flies especially have to be kept out because that thing about maggots only eating dead flesh is a myth. You definitely don’t want to see them in a live animal—you just don’t.

This mare is the ugliest horse on our place. She’s physically ugly, with an old-fashioned boxy quarter-horse build and a ridiculous ox-head, and she’s bad-tempered with the other horses, taking sly nips out of them when she gets a chance and bullying mares and geldings lower in the social order. She’s barn-sour and herd-bound, too, so she gets stubborn if she’s ridden out on the trails, adopting a machine-gun trot that leaves even experienced riders sore for days.

We brought the horses into the barn for vaccinations, and a five inch flap of skin was hanging open on the mare’s throat, blood clots dried down her chest. “Any further up or over, and you’d be calling the mink man,” the vet said. She was talking about the guy who farms mink for fur coats and takes slaughtered animals for feed.

The vet’s best guess was the mare had caught herself on a thorn apple tree and panicked, pulled up hard, and ripped half her throat out; we don’t use barbed wire because it can cause just these kinds of injuries. But, God, as I’m looking at the raw flap that couldn’t be stitched up, it’s as if the horse’s head is going to fall right off even now, two days later, and I think of the horse in the movie guy’s bed in The Godfather. It looks that bad.

 But this isn’t a horse that would make me or my husband scream until the echoes chased around the farm buildings if we woke up at dawn and found her head in the bed. I mean, first, fat chance on sneaking into our house without getting your ass shot off. After that, this is the horse we could probably most spare. She’s the horse whose head we might leave in someone else’s bed, and I know I’m not the only one who is just a little bit admiring of that tactic in the movie.

I’m inching closer to the horse, who’s quivering and flinching at the flies landing on her. I do wonder if she could really have done that kind of damage to herself on a thorn bush because the tear seems very neat and straight, but then, we’re on the end of a dead-end road and nobody much knows about our place, and besides that, if I were the kind of person who wanted to hurt something beautiful, she really wouldn’t make the cut.

Ann Clark teaches English at SUNY Jefferson and is a student in the Ph.D. English (creative writing emphasis) program at Binghamton University. Her work has been published in Blueline, Ragazine, and Poetry Quarterly.

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Lone Wolf Poet: Episode 3

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EPISODE 3: A Private Public Pissing

Pissing in public is a pleasing primitive practice, one which Chalice Sinclearly has been privileged to perpetually and quite pleasurably perform. …

Dig, Chalice’s imagination has always been more active in the morning than it has been in the evening. His mornings are his fellow inmates, convicted deviants who are at one with Chalice’s devotion to the ball and chain of challenge; his evenings are the armed guards, civil servants who by the audibly tinny response of their outer organs to the quick “How’s work going?” betray they seized the occupation solely for the pension. Evenings are an inorganic, jaundiced, time for Chalice. This is the time of day when he is most vulnerable to being watered with booze, for it is in the evening when his imagination most often becomes a cracked and flaking tongue. Under the blackening blue dome of evening, existence becomes a tiny flame that’s bouncing and teasing atop a lighter, bound to last only another second or two, and Chalice’s imagination becomes an arthritic hand that’s fumbling with a pack of smokes, trying desperately to pluck out a cig and place it between the lips before existence dies out. It is then that Chalice Sinclearly recognizes his stroll is required.

Chalice has used the alleyways of Chicago at least once each week of the past two decades. When I say that he’s used them, I do not mean in the predictable sense of them pre-existing for his shortcut from point A to point B. Rather, he’s used the alleyways as passageways – remedies, really, that will inevitably lead his imagination back to the pool of action, and in the process he has come to experience alleyways as being exhilarating lavatories – cumulatively his office, an office without a throne.

The lonesomeness of an alleyway is now an essential ingredient in the continued maturation of his sensibility’s voice. At night, as he paces his way through an alleyway, he is encompassed by the sensation, by the promise, that the city possesses the ears of an old-fashioned American reader. That’s to say, ears that understand listening – true patience – the ability to arrest one’s character to selflessness for a spell within the egotistical surge of our passing time—ears that understand listening – the shrewd and ethos-progressive timeless pause—listening, yo, is the prerequisite to all inspired foretelling. And as he begins to submerge within himself the city begins to hear the content of an excruciatingly honest soliloquy. For it is only when Chalice fully submerges within himself that he begins to experience the communion of comedy and tragedy. This is where solitude comes into play. Solitude accords in man an equal amount of self-existing space for both comedy and tragedy. Solitude allows for comedy and tragedy to be expressed simultaneously, and with equal volume. The communion of comedy and tragedy, which is made available to man by the steadfast workings of solitude, has but one result: the pronouncement of honesty, excruciating honesty.

There is a name for the swag of Chalice’s soliloquies; it has been known to go by a crude alias out here in the inexorable world where your DIY neighbors secret their arts into nostalgic troves of latter day detoxed sensibilities wherein the only present decadence is a parental yearning to be realized anywhere within any six degrees of separation from a Ramone. But you, friends, you who harbor no intimidation with having your craft’s raised middle finger perceived by cookie-cutter editorial boards as being merely uneducated guesses, you have given this honesty a real name, a name that does not define, does not draw a distinction, but rather affords revelation. And through these years wherein gravity has proven to be a most radical emancipation, you have ever so bravely avoided being pedantic and condensing its moral fiber with a nickname. … “Accountability” is its full name; “Lone Wolf Poet” its crude alias. …

Simply put, the soliloquies Chalice Sinclearly stages before the ears of an old-fashioned American reader are remedies that wet and soothe his imagination after it’s become a parched and painful tongue, after it’s dried out from a morning-in-through-afternoon session of making salt of language. They repair him to the craze of daydreams and to a rogue’s desire to work the real deal into a blank sheet of paper. They lead him out into the alleyways—out into a space in which he does not need to be concerned with the maturity of lifting a seat, nor with the etiquette of making sure a seat is put back down.

This is publisher/poet John Hospodka’s bi-weekly instructional blog.

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Birth and Death in a Microcosm – Micro Essay

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by Colleen Wells

Our screened-in porch is a cavernous space with a large wooden table and chairs. Lights are strung haphazardly around the perimeter. Candle holding fixtures and wind-chimes hang randomly on hooks left by the previous home-owner. In one corner sits a pile of wood for fires we rarely make. In another, a grill we only sometimes use. The bead-board ceiling is a burnt red. My hand painted birdhouses boast more whimsical colors like lime-green, teal, and lavender. Embellished with lost buttons, lids from bottles of Heineken, and beach glass, they sit on the ledge below the screen.

A small tree abuts the middle of the longest wall. Pressing against the screen, it holds an abandoned bird’s nest wedged in its branches. That Mama Cardinal who inhabited it recently, had taken such good care at feeding her three hungry chicks, then teaching them how to fly. My husband and I cheered her on, and yet one of the babies didn’t make it.

Birth and death occurring in a microcosm.

I take a sip of my now stale and cooling coffee, noting stuff piled and strewn on the slatted table in front of me. Mounds of books about writing, magazines, journals, notes from the kids’ schools and file folders filled with submission guidelines and looming deadlines surround my spot. My family is occupied, so I’m feeling both grateful and guilty about this alone time. While I sit, insects chatter.

Even though it’s humid, I can no longer smell the acrid, musky scent of dog urine. We put our incontinent blind and deaf Rat Terrier down last Monday. He had always been without sight, but when he lost his hearing he began circling. He’d circle fast, too, to the point I wondered if he was slowly going insane. The vet could not find a biological cause for his behavior. Rusty had always been a regal beast, holding his head high. But the circling was causing him to lose weight. Not having the ability to hear his unseen world proved too much, and yet he’d seem to go round and round with purpose, sometimes until he stumbled. As he declined and continued to circle, I wondered if it was his way of committing suicide.

A small table I am restoring sits at the opposite end of my workspace. It is only half-way painted. Like everything else, it begs for attention. I hear the sound of claws on glass, then the swooshing as Louie, our young, Rottweiler-Shepherd mix pushes the sliding doors open. He scampers over, nudging his nose into the crook of my arm.

At almost two he is still full of puppy. Because he is a large dog, it is unlikely he will live as long as Rusty did. Louie’s exuberance reminds me that life is fleeting, but full. As I pet him the swell of birds chirping to one another from the Oak and Sycamore trees fills the air.

Colleen Wells writes from Bloomington, IN, where she lives with her husband and three children, three dogs and three cats. Her favorite number is 333. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Spalding University, volunteers at a homeless shelter and state hospital, and loves to craft.

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Flowers and Music – Micro Essay

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by John E. Simonds

A woman who cared about flowers and music died in pain near 90 in a place that boasts gentle endings as part of its pitch. Ambulance calls and morphine pumps made close family want to forget. From a distance we rallied a ceremonial time of good-bye. Our plans troubled those by her side at the end, a sibling too shaken by symptoms he saw and a father, 92, still stunned. From Hawai’i we sent flowers. From California people made plans. From New York we organized photos. In Connecticut we phoned the obit to papers in towns where she’d lived. Bereaved local family grumbled: Not a good time for all this…No problem,the Hawai’i side answered. We average a funeral a month. We chose the mortuary, phoned time and place to the widower’s list of her friends. The undertaker knew the drill, maybe too well. You’re planning to have a reception here? As in food and drinks? He shook his head. It’s against the law to serve food at a funeral…We told him we’d shipped flowers but would add some pink blooms from her yard. They aren’t laurels, are they? he asked. That’s the state flower, he said,against the law to pick…An organ’s available if we hire someone to play. We suggested light songs, but the regular player only did standards and wasn’t sure she could be there. The retired minister the old couple liked was a peripheral friend but would serve. I have a good voice, he added. I can lead the hymns without an organ …One box of flowers arrived from Hawai’i. Another was sent to an hour’s drive away. A third was an off-radar missile in twilight, anthuriums missing somewhere… Neighbors had questions on how the old man was doing. Fine, thanks. (if you’d only stop asking.)… Obits appeared. Friends saw them and drove… Morning of the service, the organist said she’d be there but church music only. Worried sibling agreed to escort father outside if the old man found it too much … Here in this urn was a shrewd, careful woman who led garden and music clubs, raised three sons, kept a good home, dabbled in school boards and party campaigns, sang, danced and smiled her way through shows, concerts, hospital drives and rummage sales in a small Hudson town of the ’40s and ’50s… Three grandchildren shared in readings. Minister thundered “A Mighty Fortress.”  Organist played softer hits from the hymnal. In a group of 80, the old man sat with eyes calmly open, not a tear or missed breath… Cousins distant for decades joined in food and drinks later at his place. This was a wonderful day,  he said, in his blazer, blue shirt, tie and gray slacks. Laurels still bloomed in his yard. Altar flowers all came from Hawai’i. Only we islanders noticed. Next day a  truck left the box of anthuriums—an encore bouquet for a player of roles, her curtain down and the audience gone.

John E. Simonds, 78, a retired Honolulu daily newspaper editor. has lived in Hawai’i for 38 years and previously was a reporter for newspapers from Washington, D.C., and other mainland cities. A Bowdoin College graduate, he has been writing verse since the 1970s, is the author of Waves from a Time-Zoned Brain (AuthorHouse 2009) and recently has had poems published in The Ledge, Bamboo Ridge Press, Hawai’i Pacific Review and New Millennium Writings.

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No Thing – Micro Essay

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by Zoe Bossiere

No response: like the electrical impulses of a harvested organ, a heart that was only days ago beating now lying sallow and white on ice like oysters on the half-shell, which are alive when you eat them. Next time you swallow an oyster, know that it has a beating heart with three chambers, which circulates colorless blood through thin vessels. It has two functioning kidneys, a mouth, stomach, anus. It poops. The oyster is a lot like you. Can the oyster sense its own demise as its shell is shucked, scalped like the slain enemies of Scythia? Does the oyster feel the sting of lemon, the mignonette sauce, then the warm throat of its consumer as it slides into dark, gastric hell? The oyster doesn’t have a brain. No, an oyster responds to pain most like, as one animal ethics blogger strangely put it, “a disembodied finger.” That is, an oyster cannot feel and, without a brain, likely doesn’t experience any final thoughts or regrets as it is digested. An oyster cannot think, and therefore is not. Is no-thing. Of course the oyster knows nothing about rage or heartbreak, just as the disembodied heart freshly ripped from its cavity, now on ice, has forgotten its old electricities. Or, more like an oyster, more likely, the heart never knew and was innocently beating, present though not in-the-moment, just as an oyster is only present in body on the table, unaware of you holding a lemon wedge over its naked mantle, poised to squeeze.

Zoe Bossiere lives in Tucson, Arizona where she recently completed her BA in Creative Writing at the University of Arizona. She is currently working on a collection of essays chronicling her parents’ adventures in a Hungarian circus in the 1980′s.

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Lone Wolf Poet: Episode 2

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EPISODE 2: Beer Me Stupid

The genesis of what would prove to become the most of Chalice Sinclearly commenced upon its single-spaced itinerary one evening in a hideaway nestled nicely amidst the lush vegetation encroaching upon, but not quite getting at, the backside of a detached garage. You see, it would be in the safety of this hideaway located on a suburban plot where Chalice Sinclearly and I would split a six pack – our first beers. We stole the cans from a neighbor’s garage-kept fridge. We had for our entire lives till then witnessed this thing of intoxication throughout the neighborhood – we were eager to give it a roll ourselves. Besides, there was a party to be attended that night. Chalice and I had a month earlier entered a public high school from our parochial isolation. We would prove smarter than most in our grade, having the previous decade been taught the hard way how to give unto the cloaked a willing ear. Well, maybe “smarter” isn’t the proper word to use here – perhaps I should say that we proved more “deferential” than most of our publicly educated counterparts when it came to being faced with the disciplining that is knowledge. That being said, however, we did bring with us into the public domain our Catholic penchant for detention: we befriended burnouts with great aplomb.

Sure we were eager to give beer a try, but why were we so eager? Was it because we had watched people in the neighborhood or in our own families drink too much and act goofy and we thought it looked like a fun time? Was it because we were told it was cool to do? I imagine some shrink or a discussion over steaming Styrofoam in some church basement would demand of us to call to courage the philosopher residing deeper inside somewhere who could more gravely address the whys and the what-ifs surrounding that night (and of course any of the over 12,000 nights since), and thusly make the move to commit our conviction to the supposed upstanding course of sobriety. … Well, Chalice and I don’t play that. We lean towards the romantic, and with such a leaning we see our decision to drink that long-ago night (and of course any of the over 12,000 nights since) as being the product of a simple reasoning, one that may have something to do with destiny while also having something to do with being finite at the same time.

The point is that we drank that night and we have never once felt sorry for it; even during our thirties when the hangovers were especially relentless in their renderings of guilt, we have never once looked back in anger. You see, Chalice and I made the party, and one seemingly casual moment in that night of our first ever drunk proved to be epic, and tunes Chalice’s vision even to this very day: there in the middle of that party’s backyard milieu I lied flat on my back: isolated, buzzed, staring up to the stars, holding a can of beer on my belly, and with a cigarette extended and lightly swaying to and fro from my underage lips – the loud chatter and music of the party faded to a elegiac white noise as Chalice’s stare zeroed in on me. … That’s the image right there; that’s Chalice’s first-ever poem right there: the first moment in time when he ever really – and I do mean really – ever looked at “it,” whatever that “it” might be.

Chalice went home that freshman-year night, stripped down to his whitey-tighties and sung a Kenny Rogers song with Kenny Rogers over and over until his mother put a merciful end to the redundant buffoonery of “Through the Years,” unplugging his cassette player and turning off the bedroom light, making sure that for the split second before it went black in his room he fully captured the reprimand emanating from her eyes. Chalice did; he was in trouble, and not just for that next day or next week, but for the rest of our life: Chalice rose from the bed and walked from his bedroom nearly a half-hour ago, leaving his wife and dog to their early AM dreams while he headed for this basement desk. And here, now officially 3 hours and some minutes into his 47th year on this planet, he reaches forward into his mind to finally draft his so long ago first-ever poem all over again:

A puff on the smoke turns the air about
a delinquent countenance into the spectral
nest of an out-of-season firefly – right
here – the first moment to have ever poised
itself in memory’s imagination and awakened
the illuminating bounty of sadness; the first

Moment to have ever dared itself to contain
what is fleeting into a sort of permanence,
to reconcile sadness. This first moment in
life wherein life awakens to the splendorous
dread of what it will mean to leave proof

Of transience behind. Yet, it would be many
imaginations beyond that night before I’d
separate from memory to seat my being be-
fore a real live poem, and absorb worth via
an unwitting commencement upon threat, 
the invigorator of the toil of seeking sake.

… Chalice should have grown to be a man with an office, not a cubicle – he should have become a man who hands out business cards, who concentrates on things like Business Development, his golf swing … a man who keeps a kept calendar, who collects cuff links not roach clips … a man who talks shop, not shit. But no, he became this: he became this man before you who treats each session with beer not as his last, not as just any another, but as his first, his very first: as if sprung by a petty act of breaking and entering, and shaped in the de-selfed-conscious state of a beer-muscled mind, only to be sacked deep into conscience by a wordless – pure and eloquent – wordless – reprimand. Chalice Sinclearly became this man before you whose ever-slouching shoulders betray the ever-swelling problem child that’s defiantly slung across them.

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Lone Wolf Poet: Episode 1

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EPISODE 1: The Unedited Feelings that Lay in Wait Behind a Bitch Slap

Voice to Voice: An Introduction

Chalice Sinclearly, you is warned: I will make no apologies for making you the butt of my sorry-ass account, for you are quite literally my whole unschooled point: a Lone Wolf lifer long self-removed from the sure strive for completion in honor of the self-effacing struggle for submission. My successors critically acclaimed ahead of my time, the days have come to finally embrace, celebrate, the non-action, the ineffort, really, that you have been rendering upon my ambition to unearth the top of my game ever since I first believed the literary-legend ball was in our court: being that, the days have arrived to choose sake over achievement. I shall weave your lifestyle – our amalgamation – into the woolly fabric of an imagined readership honed out of my well-earned paranoia. That I shall dare to publicly dumb you will prove your ruthless clutch upon a covert genius. Godspeed, jagoff. …

You exist inside my everyday head as the deep potential of high-knowing parentheses, and as I picture my decisions in the crosshairs of your insight, I aspire to pierce irony, and simply be bohemian about things. Along this writerly way you have propped me stonerly against a podium-maligned repercussion that might finally give a rat’s-ass about challenging the mood your objective so long ago, back when its sweat unfortunately, but necessarily, over-assholed its skills, smugly set as my self-reference. As such, you are about me, an aura off in the enclosed wings of my presence, and though I definitely feel you there, my gumption to attempt to distinguish you, to paint my masterpiece, will each and every time tenaciously offend. You do not bound to and fro upon socked tippy-toes like some fairy-taled suppleness, as is readily suggested in this ability of yours to remain mostly nonskeletal. Your lurk, contrarily, with its brash and constant sense of being between criticisms, dupes dexterity into a flightily-handled flat-footedness, and behind my shop-talked displays of having no real life to die by, you promise a societal clumsiness that shall be distinguished for its quality of hush: though my character will never knock elbows with the right crowd, your name will blossom into the trust of wallflowers. This being, credence has never been disproportionate to the idea I’ve gained of you and have myself thus far in your time established as intriguingly plausible by way of giving in to the ideal that there is a vulgarity that might role-model as the fusion of your disambiguation and your lies.

Arrived at the formality of being against overtures to the mock of identity, you do to the schema of convenient ignorance almost exactly what I might do. And in the mid-fabrication of my hard luck when you come to unexpectedly judge the joke’s on yourself, the resultant guffaw proves my only hope of sanctuary rests forever in the tender of full and utter sadness. This reality grows more and more apparent within my comprehension as irrationality proves to mature towards a heartening inescapability: Chalice, you freaking cock-block, you have made of me a perpetual wannabe – publishable only to myself: where I spell out the punch lines you use to sever paperly-based ties, you merely spill over mine.

Dig, I’m gone, lost to the grip of a declassed edification, one wherein I’m scrupulously obsessed with keeping the Lone Wolf character from being blanked within the staging of my craft’s obligatory nervous breakdown. This theater ain’t coming down from the clouds anytime soon. While I’ve almost tamely vacated realization in favor of seeing you down to the doldrums of being taken at face value, let’s not even begin to fool one another for a single moment: who’s saving who, asslick? … Admit it, Sinclearly, you know as much as I do that accountability has an exceptionally powerful motive for keeping my say hidden way up your sleeve.

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Ice – Micro Essay

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by Bill Vernon

John and I were afraid our blades would hit bare spots and throw us so I pounded the ice with a brick and saw it was over half an inch thick. We took off confidently then, right down the middle of the street, uphill to the dead end, halfway back down, around a corner, then around the whole block. I felt like an eagle soaring above my usual life.

“Wow!” John yelled.

“Yeah! Wow!”

Sheer ice covered everything large and small, every blade of grass, the two or three clotheslines in every backyard, every twig of every tree. In the pale light, each bare lilac bush seemed to glow. Everything looked like it was made out of glass. It was like a miracle, really.

We stopped in front of our house the second time around. The sprinkling was over, but the air was colder, way below freezing. The thick gray clouds were black with night, and the ice-encased streetlamps gleamed weakly. No motors revved, no tires churned over pavement. There was silence, a hush only our panting broke.

John said, “Let’s get the other guys out here.”

“Yeah, a skating party.”

We swooped over sidewalks to every front door that had a child behind it. We rang bells, puffed our frozen breath at our friends, and a stream of kids on skates emerged behind us. I didn’t know so many people owned them. We circled the neighborhood again, and every kid we knew was out along with a few adults. There was no silence now. We skaters raced around shouting yahoos and yippees, and that seemed to empty all of the houses. Everybody wore the heavy wraps of winter, but we were no longer cooped up.

At the corner by the Carsons’ house, some mothers set up card tables and piled on food and drink: ham, meat loaf, bread, cookies, pies, cakes, steaming thermoses. Most of the men were absent, trapped at work. My father was downtown, only two miles away but unable to get home. Herbert the drunkard was there, two older retired men and Tony, who’d come home from painting the interior of a house across town before the rain started freezing. He and Herbert were sharing some wine.

My mother appeared, cutting through backyards, carrying something and laughing. I ran to help her. “This is so crazy,” she said. The ground wasn’t frozen underneath so it gave with our weight, but the grass crunched underfoot as if we were walking on crystals. My blades sank into the dirt like knives, then sliced a hole pulling out.

I gulped down two ham sandwiches with mustard and drank some hot chocolate. Then coasted off into the night, locked inside my coat, scarf, ski mask and gloves, warm and happy, moving on top of a world gone hard and smooth and entertaining like the big colored globe on our table at home, doing something I’d probably never do again.

Bill Vernon served in the United States Marine Corps, studied English literature, then taught it. Writing is his therapy, along with exercising outdoors and doing international folkdances. His poems, stories and nonfiction have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies, and Five Star Mysteries published his novel OLD TOWN in 2005.

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Syrup Smokes the Same – Micro Essay

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by Andrew Baker

We smoked pine needle cigarettes and coughed up syrup. Ronnie and I were ten and wanted to be grownups. I’d been sneaking half-smoked butts from the ashtray for a few months, but he couldn’t bring himself to taste nicotine. With kid logic, we figured that pine needles would smoke the same. We emptied out some of the butts and crushed the spines inside. The brown tips that jutted out were burned down so they looked like the real deal.

Lollipop pines lined the clearing where we’d play army. It was tucked away back on top of one of the knobs. Hidden from my parents, we searched for the brownest and crunchiest needles.  We found that the green ones took forever to light. We’d climb one of the hemlocks at the edge and take turns passing the knock-off Marlboros.

Each toke burned my lungs and made me think I was drowning in Pine-Sol. It rolled across my tongue like cough syrup and dripped from my mouth like molasses. Out of everything, pine needles cause the worst cough. It’s terrifying to open your hand and see that you’ve coughed up something resembling half-eaten pancakes. We didn’t know that dried needles still hold sap, or that we’d been filling our lungs with the stuff. It didn’t stop us. I figured it was better than the cigarettes I stole from mom. If she could do it, why couldn’t I?

Andrew R. Baker is a writer, photographer, self proclaimed video game aficionado, and a closet poet from the mountains of southeast Tennessee. He currently resides in Jiangyin, Jiangsu, China and teaches English at a local school..

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