Neha Tallapragada: KEEPSAKES

People at work asked how I felt when I found out, and I didn’t know what to tell them because of the ideas they already had about how I reacted. I know how they already saw me in their mind’s eye, a collection of home videos starring yours truly: a soldier’s wife staring out the window waiting for her husband to return from the war, or the tottering child in a domestic drama naively wondering what’s happened to his alcoholic mother. Most of all, they expected me to have cried, tears like diamonds running down my cheeks and settling on my Cupid’s bow, intermingling with rivulets of snot. This is how the arts ruin us. They set unfair expectations for how we’re supposed to behave. That’s why I don’t watch movies. Continue reading “Neha Tallapragada: KEEPSAKES”

Kevin Baggett: Cricket’s Boys

There was a girl at Tuxchanie High School who had a reputation for being easy called Cricket, a nickname given to her supposedly because when she closed her naked legs while making it with a boy, she made a sound like that of the insect. I don’t know how many people even knew her real name. I had English II with her and even the teacher in that class called her Cricket. On the last day of class before the Christmas break, a rumor circulated that Cricket had tested positive for HIV, which caught on super-fast like all rumors in school. A secondary rumor to this main one was that dozens of upper level students, boys and girls alike, were ditching school to go get tested for STD’s at the county clinic. Anyone who had ever had sex with Cricket or had relations with anyone who had could be infected. Continue reading “Kevin Baggett: Cricket’s Boys”

Joshua Bridgwater Hamilton: Bird of Paradise

Six foot explosion of slender leaves
from a forest island of fleshy
swayed columns
prods thick air with lascivious intent
here where Gulf Coast vegetation
grows profligate, an obscene flourish
that devours domestic walls
and subdivided perimeters
beneath heady sun and heavy heat.
 
Dense green sphere draws in,
absorbs air, oxygen, our frivolous
obsession with presence, leaves
a lenticular procession of transparencies
layering vertically until
waxy green smell fills the nose
from 40, then 60, then 80
years ago –
 
my grand-uncle Allen
in Puerto Rico leaves the sugar
company office, brushes by the slow
eager bushes framing the entrance.
Flame-orange origami slices
the accumulation of humid
hours, sharpens evening
to a razor red bleed –
 
I touch the unfolded petals
and feel the cut purse
of mercantile profits
spill through hazy years
when the career bachelor
assuaged worry with balanced figures,
stock prices, careful retirement,
the fleeting seagulls
basking in exorbitant rays
that expire beyond
each day’s seashore.
 
Kate Greenaway’s compendium
lists lilies for humility, innocence,
majesty, and falsehood;
the red rose for bashful shame –
familiar in my own garden
and past –
but nothing on the bird
of paradise, which I can
only define
as calculating sensuality
that offers colonial memory
in the place
where guilt-free presence
spreads its lush fingers
and blooms.

For more on Joshua Bridgwater Hamilton, please see our Authors page.

William Blake Brown: Haying

Under a sky so blue it stops the heart,
low clouds as clean as kids ready for church,
they were haying in the narrow meadow
that stretched along the road that led to town.
In shade beside the road a pickup parked,
and an old man surveyed the scene.
A tall tractor pulled a bulky baler
that spat round bales, plastic wrapped, impervious
to rain; a man could make the crop alone.
In the rearview mirror that is memory
arose another meadow, another summer
An old tractor, older baling machine
chugging, tanned young men to hoist
the hay on the flatbed trailer
and stack it precariously high.
At the barn they packed the hay
into the loft up to the rafters,
and when the last load was done
they sat under the pin oak tree,
sweat painted tracks on dusty skin,
passing a gourd to dip into the keg,
feeling like they had won something,
and knowing how good tired felt.
The old man took a last look and pulled
onto the blacktop wondering whether
the driver cocooned in the tractor’s cab
would remember this as a perfect day.

For more on William Blake Brown, please see our Authors page.

William Blake Brown: At a Nursing Home Window During the Coronavirus Pandemic

He calls, and they wheel her to the window.
Drawn deep inside herself she sits, gazing
into a land only she can visit,
until he taps the glass to call her back.
The smile that charms him still lights up her face
and she returns to the present moment.
His nose almost touching the glass, he speaks
above the din of the busy highway.
It is his news report about the kids,
grandkids, and friends. Sometimes her face goes blank
and he sees someone eludes her memory.
It is not important; they let it pass.
Often, they lapse into a long silence
taking comfort in the other’s presence.
When she begins to drift away again,
he does not try to pull her back; instead
he blows a kiss and waves goodbye.
Only after he has turned away
does he allow the tears to streak his face.

For more on William Blake Brown, please see our Authors page.

Barbara Daniels: Venus Rising

for Sandy Parker

A tree by the roadside suddenly
dropped every leaf, shock
of orange twisting, settling.

It was a blessing, Sandy says.
Her radiation starts tomorrow
now that her breast has almost

healed. I slow my walk,
touch wet trees, check
their terminal buds. They rest

now, waiting for spring.
Last night I read that some buds
are naked, some protected

by stiff little scales. A pair
of scales looks like a miniature
hot dog bun or (some people

think) praying hands. I’ve never
noticed their hopeful compactness.
The sun glows through fog

and suddenly brightens—too
dazzling to see. Venus will rise
to the left of the moon tonight.

Clouds will hide it. But it will rise,
a planet like a squashed beach ball
rotating backwards but catching the light.

 

For more on Barbara Daniels, please see our Authors page.

Chuck Taylor: Group Hug

“Loving nothing on this earth.”
                          Nabokov

I am trying to bring to mind
all the things I did not love —
parties with loud smoke
and heavy drinking in the humid
crush of rooms, football games
full of raging shouts cheering
gladiators as in the Roman Coliseum,
shooting clay pigeons out of a
grey Chicago sky, soot speckled
snow piles on a corner blocking
parked cars wishing to join
the morning commute, freeway
traffic on central expressway
heading to do the numbers up
in an Dallas accounting office

yet newness could always lift
the heart learning a new trade. I have
also in mind how alcohol and drugs
were medicines to carry one
through what one did not love,
or to change perceptions
and somehow make the thing
unloved loveable, or at least
numbed pain and made one forget.
Many that I loved were addicts
in a world they could not love
and I will admit I am with them
in understanding if not in practice,

but then I turn and admire
the careful stitching of my winter
gloves in the curve between
the fingers, something that no
machine can do. I walk across
a rusted steel railroad trestle
crossing the Brazos River built
in 1919 and am in I wonder how
it supports the heavy engines
of all these long amazing years.
Last night a frog looked me
in the eye as I got out of my
car, before she darted under
our porch into the deep darkness,
and you, you came as you always do
to the door holding our puppy Coco
and we clutched in a tight group hug.

For more on Chuck Taylor, please see our Authors page.

James Croal Jackson: Dust

a hole is a hole. until a breeze
carries sand back the way I
can barely see, or at all. and there. just
out in the water. a phantom
in my mind, bobbing with the
beat of the wind that blows out into the
aquatic landscape– a
horseboat in the night. the moon is in the
moonlight reflecting the waves,
shimmering in the brown
sky. it has been days, and all
the sea lilies of the waves with their green
trees are floating by me.

 

For more on James Croal Jackson, please see our Authors page.

William Cass: The Best We Can

I taught second grade, which meant that virtually all of the parents wandering around my classroom for Back to School Night were, like me, not much older than thirty.  The exception was the elderly couple who’d just entered the room and hovered uneasily inside the open door; I guessed they were both at least seventy.  The woman held her hands in front of her and stared up at some pictures on the big bulletin board beside her; the man gazed about him with a tiny grimace.  Most of the parents were at their children’s desks where work samples from the first couple weeks of school were displayed.  I greeted several of them as I made my way back to the classroom door.

When I got there, the old man’s eyes met mine.  I smiled and said, “Good evening.” Continue reading “William Cass: The Best We Can”

Christie Cochrell: In Suspension

From the train window Elena watched a bird rising out of an English field.  A perfect, ordinary thing—something she half-remembered underlining in a novel once, in some middle school class, profoundly stirred by a presentiment she hadn’t been able to name.  Her first encounter with a bird and field imbued with metaphorical significance, and now after a lifetime of sightings dulled by familiarity and growing weariness, likely the last she’d ever note.  Rising in late sunlight, then gone. Continue reading “Christie Cochrell: In Suspension”