Alice K. Boatwright: Life Sentences

Jack Hillyer waited on the deck while the Masons made a last tour of the house. He studied the scene below him: Easton, tucked against its curving harbor with a ferry standing at the dock, the pale green landing strip carved between dark woods and golden meadows, and, beyond, other islands floating like green hummocks on the shining water.

The cove where he and Patti lived was down to the left, hidden from this vantage point, but he knew exactly where it was and could picture everything in its place: The woods, the cabin, the patch of garden, and Patti. He set Patti on the porch, reading in the butterfly chair, her legs folded up, long red hair pulled back with a rubber band. Not that she was a big reader, but he had seen her that way one afternoon and liked the image. He carried it in his memory like the faded photograph of his two children that he kept in his wallet. He would call it up and say to himself, “This is Patti, the woman I love.”

He glanced at his watch and took out his cell phone to let her know he’d be home soon, but the muffled sound of a door closing made him put away the phone and turn back to the house instead. Continue reading “Alice K. Boatwright: Life Sentences”

Robert Wexelblatt: Hsi-wei and the Three Threes

Before retiring to his cottage outside Chiangling, the peasant/poet Chen Hsi-wei had always been on the move.  When the news spread that he was able to receive visitors, several came.  Among the most welcome was Liu Qing-sheng, who, before his own retirement, had been a second minister in the last years of the Sui dynasty.  Liu and Hsi-wei had been pupils together under Shen Kuo, an exacting and formidable master.  As the two friends shared recollections, both noted that the pains of their youth were somehow more delightful to recall than the pleasures.  “The alchemy of age,” Hsi-wei mused, “is magical.  It seems to have transmuted resentment of our Master’s sarcasm and fear of his bamboo cane into something almost like affection.”  Continue reading “Robert Wexelblatt: Hsi-wei and the Three Threes”

Bobby Horecka: Lubbock 1974

If the stars had aligned better, the boy could’ve been the son of a teacher, a scientist, or a business tycoon. He might’ve spent his days blowing out birthday candles, playing catch outside with dad, or singing silly songs with mom, full of elaborate gestures.

The itsy-bitsy spider, perhaps. Or He’s got the whole world. That one about that bridge that kept falling down. He’d settle for the alphabet song. Johnny Cash. Sabbath. The Doors. The son of son of a sailor. Anything, really. Was it so much to ask? Continue reading “Bobby Horecka: Lubbock 1974”

William Cass: The View from Here

Our school district’s special education director told me before the annual IEP meeting for John Manor that his parents had been a nightmare to deal with for years.  He said Mr. Manor was an attorney who headed a firm that represented parents of special needs students in lawsuits against districts they felt weren’t supporting their children adequately; they’d already gone to due process twice with our district over what they deemed lack of services for their own son.  The director rarely attended IEP meetings at the district’s sites, but always made a point of presiding over theirs.  Although I’d be there as the administrator of record, he advised me to stay as quiet as possible, especially since I’d just started in my new position as assistant principal at the high school. Continue reading “William Cass: The View from Here”

Jessica Martinović: Mr. Thomas’s Gift

The wide-open field across the road was not dotted with life like most fields around this area of Kentucky. No cattle or horses or even goats or sheep roamed there. Instead, it looked untouched and imperfect with its overgrown patchy grass, green and golden-brown, with sprinkles of purple and yellow weeds that looked maybe like wildflowers but were just plain old weeds. The landscape was tarnished-looking with the yellow patches, scorched from the sun, but it was also incredibly beautiful, wildflower weeds and all.

There was an old abandoned barn that seemed to be ready to collapse at any moment. Lining the road was a bent, flimsy looking fence that at one time was brand new and useful. The land was broken into weaving hills that told a story about the history of this land and how it got its shape, although I didn’t know that story. Continue reading “Jessica Martinović: Mr. Thomas’s Gift”

George Held: Night Falls at Nightingale’s

Dear Paul,

I miss you so much but they won’t let me receive letters here unless they read them first so I guess you might have written but got censored. I’ve asked Jill to play go-between for us since she’s the only one I trust and she puts on her bland nice little girl act when she visits. Otherwise only my brother has visited (once) and Daddy (twice).  But he puts on a cheerfulness that he never had to fake before. I know it’s because that bitch my stepmother Caroline has made him promise not to see me. She’s the one who put me here of course in the sanitarium. Nightingale’s. They don’t call it Nightingale Sanatorium or Nightingale Booby Hatch of course just Nightingale’s. Maybe you can write one of your poems about it, sort of an anti-Keats poem. I know how much you love the ode and one of my best memories is of you reading it to me under the big oak at the high school. Continue reading “George Held: Night Falls at Nightingale’s”

Dennis Vannatta: Adoration

Bobbi woke with a start with him kneeling by the bed, his face inches from hers.

“The toaster isn’t working,” he said.  “I can’t make toast.”

It wasn’t Derrick, her husband, but Aaron, Derrick’s older brother.  Bobbi was relieved because if it’d been Derrick, well, what on earth would he have been doing kneeling beside her?   She wasn’t surprised, though, to find Aaron there or anywhere else around the house—as long as he was in the house.  Aaron rarely went outside. Continue reading “Dennis Vannatta: Adoration”

TJ Neathery: Turing Test

At times, Braff Grieg forgot Cait wasn’t a real woman, especially moments like this as her delicate fingers slipped a garlic cracker into his mouth. He chewed and let the pulpy blend roll over his tongue. The garlic was sprinkled with sea salt, and he could almost taste the ocean. A happy thought—he was back at the old beach house, the place he had once loved so much, leaning over the porch railing and letting the brine-soaked wind wash over him. He allowed himself a smile, and just then, while standing on his balcony in New York City, he felt a sharp breeze blow up from the street below and catch the edge of his shirt collar. It was just as if the breeze had been recalled straight from his memory. He looked out over the city. The leaves of Central Park smoldered orange and red. It was a chilly mid-November evening. The weatherman said it threatened to snow the next day, but it was not snowing yet. Continue reading “TJ Neathery: Turing Test”

Robert Wexelblatt: “Hsi-wei, the Monk, and the Landlord”

The Tang minister Fang Xuan-ling, who visited Master Hsi-wei in his retirement and recorded their conversations in his memoirs, relates the following story about the origin of the Master’s gnomic poem popularly called “Teacher Window.”

While he was making his way through Jizhou, it happened that Hsi-wei was invited to rest for a few days in a hillside monastery.  The monks were of the Ch’an sect, therefore exceptionally neat, disciplined, and, when not silent, economical in their communications.

Continue reading “Robert Wexelblatt: “Hsi-wei, the Monk, and the Landlord””

Tim Millas: “Cleo’s Vision”

Bad enough that Dale went to San Francisco for a three-month picture assignment without taking Sela, or even telling her he was going—he dumped Cleo on her too. And then the dog started to go blind.

At first Cleo gave no hints of anything wrong. Maybe less barky, but Sela figured that was because Dale wasn’t there to give her a cookie every other minute. Cleo never interested her much anyway. By dog standards she was cute: long body, short legs, big eyes, nose like a black strawberry. Otherwise she was awful, totally spoiled, snapping at other dogs and Sela too (or any girl who stole Dale’s attention), barking if they went out without her and then pissing the rug out of spite. She played Dale like a violin, but growing up on a dairy farm had left Sela unsentimental about animals, and unplayable.

Continue reading “Tim Millas: “Cleo’s Vision””