Literary as hell.

Category: Writing (Page 1 of 47)

“Dreams Come True” by P.C. Scheponik

It was an old three-story brick house

in one of America’s dying towns,

but we could afford the apartment

on the second floor.

And though it was a disaster:

the plastic Woolworth’s dish drain

melted onto one of the electric stove’s

burners, the bed’s one foot propped up

on the Bible, the fish tank with its three

inches of green water and window drapery

lying inside, drowned in algae and neglect,

and though we had to scrape and toss the

water-stained wallpaper, refresh and repaint

the entire place, to me it was the best—

with the stained-glass window that turned the

living room gold in the afternoon with its sliding

wooden doors that divided the living space into

two separate rooms.

And though the roaches finally forced us to move,

I still remember those nights, in the living room,

sitting together

on the sofa of the first living room set

we bought as young bride and groom,

so happy to be together, on our own,

living proof that dreams really do come true.

_________

P.C. Scheponik is a lifelong poet who lives by the sea with his wife, Shirley, and their shizon, Bella. His writing celebrates nature, the human condition, and the metaphysical mysteries of life. He has published six collections of poems: Psalms to Padre Pio (National Centre for Padre Pio, INC), A Storm by Any Other Name and Songs the Sea has Sung in Me (PS Books, a division of Philadelphia Stories), and And the Sun Still Dared to Shine (Mazo Publishers), Stained-Glass Faith (Alien Buddha Press) and Seeing, Believing, and Other Things (Adelaide Books). His work has also appeared in numerous literary journals. He is a 2019 Pushcart Prize nominee. 

“Vignette” by Claire Fitzpatrick

The paths wove through the vignettes like veins, around the koi pond, the stone retaining walls, the avenue of white pebbled and sandstone pavers, and down to the creek, where an arched bridge linked to a small island with a treehouse encircled by hundreds of daisies. Rebecca and Stephen had no ambitious landscaping plans when she’d inherited the estate. But after close inspection, they’d discovered the bones of the existing garden, uncovered its harsh lines and soft curves, and, after three long years, had opened their botanical paradise to the public. 

Rebecca believed gardens created themselves. Where trees had grown over time and brought more shade, the plants struggling to prosper beneath were moved. Where seeds were dropped, self-sown, and thrived, they were left. Advertisement brochures referred to their garden as ‘a living work of art’. To her, the garden was a structure to sustain life and was in some ways more important than her own. And while she and Stephen won awards for their landscape designs, and were featured on gardening shows and in magazines, there was one vignette of their garden that visitors were forbidden to enter. 

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“How Are You” by Maria Tolosa

Oh please. Not that question.

No, I am not fine, I twisted my ankle leaving the bus, I have two dentist appointments this week, the ATM swallowed my card and I have a headache. I am not fine at all but I have to put on a brave smile and say that I totally am.  

Or: Yes, I feel great today, I got brand new teeth, a promotion, and I won 10 euros in the lottery. Again, I have to clench those brand new teeth and rave that I am fine and parrot the question back. It reminds me of the ritual dance of the red-crowned cranes. 

You may say that people are asking because they are polite and they care. Not at all!  I mean, yes, they are polite but they obviously want to hear only “I am fine”, so no, they don’t care. 

Actually, they don’t want to hear any details, good or bad. Well, I don’t expect them to care, everyone has problems of their own. But then why ask and spend time on this dance?

You may also say that to argue with the language itself is silly.  “How are you” is used as a friendly greeting. But still, I cannot understand why usual greetings like “hello” or “good morning” are not good enough.  If we want to add something else, why not make it more personal or more specific, for example: “Today is very hot, are you feeling well?” Just to show that we care about each other.

I don’t know why it bothers me now more than before. Probably, because of the pandemic. People revalued a lot of things, including communication. All those formulas, rituals, and clichés bubbled to the surface and became more visible.  

In my opinion, asking a question without any interest in the answer is hypocrisy, plain and simple. Tell me, why it is such an essential criterion for good manners? I help people in need, collect and separate my recycling, and donate to charities. Am I good enough? Or without the proper “I am fine, thank you, and you?” I am not part of this great civilization and should be sent to a remote village where I belong?

I see it as a game. Or a kind of password that helps polite people to recognize each other in a crowd, like spies.  For me, the world is already weird enough, sorry.

Mondays are even worse, like it being Monday is not enough.  On Mondays, another question is added to “How are you?” – “How was your weekend?”Come on, do you really want to hear about my weekend, or you are trying to distract and soften me before asking me to do something for you? 

After this ritual of exchange of pleasantries, it is not so easy to say no, is it? Without realizing it, you feel obliged, even before the real conversation starts. Very clever. Now it is not only insincere- but also- manipulation. 

This is why I developed my personal answer to “How are you?” 

“I am fine so far, but it will depend on what you say next“.  

You will not believe how fast the boundary is set. 

Well, I need some kind of shield in this brutal world. 

_________

Maria Tolosa lives in Luxembourg and sometimes thinks she can write something better than a grocery list.  English is not her mother tongue, so she is still fascinated with it, poor thing.

Poems by Kathryn Kopple

Epidemics 

I can’t recall why.  Or when I bought

Hippocrates’ Epidemics.  I was on  

a tangent that should have taken me east

of Athens to Perinthos on the Sea of Marmara.

To get there, I would have to stop over

in Crannon. About Crannon, I know

nothing, which is basically how I’ve

always traveled. Floundering from 

country to country.  Blind to where I was going.

After Italy, why not Hungary?

I passed the time surrounded by

Soviet architecture. Buildings

stripped of ornament uniformly at war

with old world charm.  My host, a woman

and her boy. He didn’t walk, couldn’t feed

himself.  His silence. Her patience.

I felt oddly blessed and cursed. Lightning.

I’ve been struck more than once. Spinoza’s

famous question: What can a body do?

Bite my tongue. The toll it takes

to come back from the dead.

On the phone, I hear my partner offer

his sympathies. There’s been a significant

uptick in requests for advance directives.

The neighbors left for Charlotte a week

after the schools closed. To read the mail,

we put on gloves. The house reeks of chlorine.

We’re still under orders to hunker down.

For how long, no one knows.

When this is over, I hope to visit Perinthos,

a hanging cliff-town in Turkey, overlooking

a luminous sea, harboring every

ounce of light the heavens will spare.

Insomnia

When sleep up and leaves

like a bad break-up,

I move in and out

of thoughts as if switching

between subway cars—

interiors sprayed wild

with pieces and tags,  

signatures from the underground.

 

You are also a work of art:

Latin cross, broken heart,

ball & chain branded on your arms.

Boldly, I showed you where a razor

sliced my cheek as a child, remembering

my mother holding a bloody towel

to my face. I was two, maybe three. 

That scar, a perfect convergence 

of her art and frustrations.

 

I’ve seen what aspiring to artistic greatness

does to the body. The damage.

 

On your back, I draw with my fingers.

We did that a lot, lying in bed, playing 

word games—and slept. Our weekends,

hours in hibernation.

 

Now we kiss goodnight and close

the doors to different rooms.

The bed is strewn with magazines.

The mattress treats me as an unwanted guest.

The window looks on with indifference.

  

They call the riskiest places to tag “heaven spots.”

If sleep were only kinder, I’d think less—

and leave the past, with its untimely

arrangements, behind in some far-off distance. 

 

___________

Kathryn A. Kopple works in English and Spanish. Her writing has been published in numerous magazines, including the Bellevue Literary Review, The Threepenny Review, and Easy Street Magazine. “Rubik’s Cube, Six Twisted Paragraphs” appears in the anthology The Shell Game: Writers Play with Borrowed Forms. She is the author of two novels, Little Velásquez and The Leaving Years. 

Poems by Danielle Hanson

How to Murder Rain

There’s no surprise 

attack—it has a bird’s-eye 

view. It will be all fight—dodge 

and parry, dodge, and parry. 

Rain is multitudinous and fast, unafraid 

to fall. It can shift

the ground out from under you, 

raise a breathless wave above 

your head, pin your shoulders 

down, crawl inside your body. Wait 

for it to spend itself—drive it into 

ground, use its body to raise 

an army of grasses, glinting 

their wet swords to sky.

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That Time I Was at the Steppenwolf New Play Festival and Took a Piss Next to Tracy Letts in the Garage Theater Bathroom, A Monologue by Adam Seidel

This happened back when I was living in Cleveland working at a big theatre there. There’spretty much only one big theatre in Cleveland. Anyway, I was working under the theatre’s artistic director who I would travel with to theatre festivals all around the country, and this particular time we were at the First Look festival at Steppenwolf in Chicago. This was like the first year they did the festival, which was 2011. At any rate, it’s the opening night and there’s two plays back to back playing in their garage space, which as you can maybe guess, was a one-time parking garage converted to a theatre space. It was pretty rugged as far as top-tier regional theatre goes, but I think that was also the appeal. So the artistic director, let’s call him Dan, and I are sitting in our seats, which happen to be in the first row of this semi in the round configuration, which means the audience sits on three sides of the stage, and we’re sitting on one side of the stage so there’s people sitting on the other side facing us, and Dan nudges me and I look at him and he nods to this Asian woman on the other side of the stage facing us.

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Poems by Ken Poyner

COMPETENCE

I was supposed to be the subject

Of a painting.  Something with a bit

Of haze, maybe a light red tint,

A background of reeds leading

To open water.  Birds – but way off,

And painted more precisely than

Anything in the foreground.  Perhaps I

Would be in a dress, or draped

Like the goddess Diana, or possibly

Delicately naked, twisted

At the hip, seen from the back.

There could be a tree, perhaps Spanish

Moss.  The painter is yet to decide.

But I have been cut out of the production.

The figure now is to be nondescript,

The light all second hand.  There will be

Something ominous closing in.  Had I been

The subject, the painting’s elements

Would have conspired against me.  My own

Children, regarding the painting in place of

Lunch, would not have recognized me.

But for me to have known that the effort

Was mine, who the misty unrecognizable

Woman was, and the effort to gather it all

Together, would have been comforting.

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Holy Ground by Jennifer Spiegel

Nothing To See Here

In June 2015, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Surgery, Chemo, Radiation, Reconstruction, and More Surgery followed. Between then and now, I wrote Cancer, I’ll Give You One Year: A Non-Informative Guide to Breast Cancer, A Writer’s Memoir In Almost Real Time. 

 

Unraveling

People ask how cancer has changed my life. Am I more religious? Have I forsaken sugar? Given up red meat? What’s with sex? 

It’s in the book, but:

  1. I’m an introvert now.
  2. I savor road trips. 

The road trip part first: I’ve always loved travel. But now, I crave the jammed-in-the-car/free-hotel-breakfast/seven-hour-stretches–of-highway. I want to craft memories for my children. I want to unravel maps with them, holding hands in White Sands or before Renoir. I know life is a privilege. 

But Introversion is new to me. I’ve always been extroverted, social. 

Cancer has rendered me insular. There are medical reasons, like exhaustion, like incessant hot flashes. However, there are others: I just want to be with Tim, my husband. I’m a little nervous to be out there alone. I do it sometimes, venture into the world. I do writer things. I flew to Portland for a conference, went to Kentucky for a teaching gig even. But it wasn’t easy, and I missed my small world: family, pets. 

(Do you know how many times Tim has attended my readings? Like, a gazillion. Because he’s had to go to every single one of them.)

So, I rarely go out past dark alone. Cancer has left me stumbling at dusk, longing for middle-aged marriage, a cup of tea, Tim, and his nightly bowl of cereal. 

Unintentionally or maybe intentionally, I have made it a hard thing to maintain a friendship with me. With some trepidation, I admit that Tim is my world. Saying that—admitting that—frightens me. I love my steadfast friends, the persevering ones, the other introverts. And I’m wary of the vulnerability of my position, my reliance on some guy. Really? 

Just the same: I’m an introvert now.

Cancer demanded of me that I get my house in order—because I was going to spend a lot of time in it.

Is this an essay on marriage?

No.

It’s an essay on writing under the cancer rubric.

It’s an essay on road trips.

It’s an essay on writing about road trips under the cancer rubric.

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“Avocado,” a flash fiction piece by John Brantingham

You try to steer Cyndi in her Hulk costume away from the house three doors down where the pediatrician lives. He opens the door and pulls an avocado and a toothbrush out of a basket and tosses them into her pillowcase. He says, “Happy Halloween.”

Cyndi thanks him, but you can’t help yourself. You say, “You know it takes a special kind of asshole to give a child a lecture instead of a piece of candy.” You point into his basket overflowing with the Earth’s bounty. “Is that a beet?”

He cocks his head. “What? Did you have a couple before you took your kid out trick or treating?”

Of course, you did, but only because you forgot it was Halloween, and anyway, you thought you’d mouthwashed the smell away. Apparently not. “Yes, madam,” you say, “but tomorrow, I’ll wake up sober, and you’ll still be a shithead.” The quotation is right on the top of your head because you’ve been teaching Churchill in your graduate seminar for the last two weeks. You know you got it wrong and the “madam” probably confused the guy a little, but it feels like a good retort, so you spin on the back heel and catch up with Cyndi who’s sitting on the front lawn.

By now, the guy’s slammed his door, so you say to her, “If you want, we can throw the produce through that fucker’s front window.”

“No, Dad, no. I’m the peaceful Hulk.” This is probably why she drew a Mercedes Benz symbol on the chest of her costume. She brings the avocado up to her nose and inhales and smiles and then lifts it up to you. 

You take it and breathe it in, and it fills you up. “You make a good point, Gumdrop, and besides there’s more loot to be taken on this street.”

She takes it back and smells it once more. “It’s so good,” she says. “It’s just so fucking good.”

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