Literary as hell.

Tag: furious gazelle (Page 2 of 8)

“Sister Holly,” by Alex Haber

Sister Holly

by Alex Haber


At the far end of our street there is a cul-de-sac, a dead end of houses removed from our proper neighborhood. We gather in the woods behind the cul-de-sac in a clubhouse built at the top of a tree, titled with an old bar sign one of us stole from the rubble of a nearby fire: The Rusty Nail.
From our clubhouse we can see into the houses of the cul-de-sac. Two of the properties are owned by old hags, the ancient Agmon sisters, whose rundown houses face each other across the street. Other than to investigate the strange whirring noises that come from their bedrooms at night, we’ve had no reasons to study them.
The third house, painted pale yellow so that it stands out from the plain white others, and with large, uncurtained windows, belongs to Sister Holly. Sister Holly is the youngest nun we’ve ever seen – all of us students at the Catholic boys’ high school. She must be just a few years older than us, and she doesn’t teach, as far as we know. Each day she leaves her house in full uniform, heading to an unknown place: a convent in the city, we imagine, or some other queer religious institute. Our parents call her Sister Holly – the italics a tone in their voices – when referencing her.
“Poor Mary Miller,” says my mother to my aunt one evening at the kitchen table. Across the room my father sits in his usual chair, whittling a piece of wood into some sort of knick-knack. “That daughter of hers is going to end up in the family way.”
“A disciple of Sister Holly,” says my aunt.
Our street is full of these sayings, these innuendos, though we’ve never seen anyone at the pale yellow house but its owner. In the clubhouse we share our findings, trying to understand the young nun.
“Ms. Hamel said she’s had an abortion.”
“Who’s Ms. Hamel?”
“She works at the clinic.”
“You’ve never been to any clinic.”
“She got expelled from the convent. That’s why she can’t teach in town.”
“I’d confess my sins to Sister Holly any day.”

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“Feast of the Virgin,” by Anita Haas

Feast of the Virgin

By Anita Haas


“Try it on, Soli. You’re so saintly, it’ll look perfect on you.”
Soli looked at her cousin with misgivings, then at the garment with longing. “We’ll get in trouble.”
“They’re all over at your house. They won’t be back for ages.” Pati argued, lighting a cigarette.
“Oh no, Pati. The cigarette. My mother will kill us.” Soli was stroking the blue and white embroidered cloak dreamily.
“I don’t care. My mother let’s me smoke. God, it’s hard to believe they’re sisters!
Soli lifted the gleaming cloak up in front of her chest and turned to see her reflection in the mirror. “And it seems … kind of sacrilegious.”
Pati rolled her eyes “Don’t tell me you still believe in that crap?”
“What crap?”
“All that hocus pocus they made us learn in school. All those stories about saints and …” she turned around and took another drag from her cigarette.

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“Birthright,” by Diego Luis



Mr. Weaver lost his hat. He felt it tumble backwards down his cranium and disappear into the dark. “Must have been an owl,” he muttered.
Motley grunted and drove the horse on. The reins jingled in his pale hands.
Mr. Weaver’s head felt cool. A harsh, autumn wind with an early hint of winter’s chill rushed his hair. He feared the worst for his appearance. He squinted at the night’s impenetrable black veil, thinking he saw little shapes flitting about in the corners of his vision. Mr. Weaver cleared his throat. “How much further?”
Motley mumbled something. He covered his eyes with a ragged hand, his lips moving inaudibly. His head swayed from shoulder to shoulder with each bump of the carriage. “Ten minutes more, I should think,” he said. He tugged at his collar.

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She is my mother, by Jennifer Lesh

She is my mother

As she drives, she explains to me why she married my father. I listen by closing my eyes to her words. I take in her scent. It is a subtle scent, not flowery or over powering. It reminds me of when I was a child, and she would tip- toe into my bedroom. I would pretend to be asleep as she kissed me good night after coming home from a party or dinner with my father. It was the perfume she wore for special occasions that she wears now. As she drives I breathe her in. She is my mother. She is wonderful and beautiful, yet she causes me great anxiety.
Last night, as I sat on her bed, watching her rub face cream on to her freckled face, she complained that her skin is getting dry. She eyed me from the bedroom mirror as I picked at my finger nails. I pretended not to notice her staring at me. She wanted to talk to me about something last night, I knew. I sensed it, but I flopped down on the bed and started going on about how she always makes a production about everything. I complained. Why did she always have to go over-board, kissing me in public, bragging about me, telling people my secrets?
“You have secrets?” she asked, “You better not have any secrets from me. I am your mother,” she laughs, “I know all.”
“Oh please, you only know because you read my diary, and half the time I make up stuff because I know you are reading it.”
I am angry with her. I am always angry with her these days. I feel so out of sorts with myself.
She calls me a sour-puss.
How many trips have we taken together? England, France, Italy, Germany, and Switzerland, and that doesn’t include the States. She was always about the trips. She loved planning adventures together. She’d come home from work and say, “Girls, we are going to Italy this summer, start looking through the apartment for all the twenties I hide.” We found hundreds of dollars, stuffed in books, hidden in her purses, folded under the carpet, tucked away in the china cabinet. Hidden away until my mother had the urge to flee from our Chicago apartment and find our summer adventure elsewhere. We piled all the loot on our parent’s bed, and counted it out. “Girls, I think we have our plane tickets, and then some.”
I did not want my college visit to be our last trip together. I wanted it to be the next stage of our trips. I wanted her to be well. I wanted her to not worry about me. When I met her green eyes in the bedroom mirror last night I saw her tears. I knew, despite the silence between us, that she did not want this to be our last trip either. Earlier in the year, she had spoken of wanting to go to China to walk the Great Wall. “They eat dogs there,” I whined.
“You always have a complaint about something,” she had said.
I take a deep breath. To me, her scent does not smell of flowers, but an earthly manifestation. My mother’s essence bottled and stored. When I was a child, I would dab the perfume behind my earlobes. I felt strong when I would sneak a bit of her perfume on my wrists. “Are you wearing my perfume,” she would yell. The scent lingered between us. It intermingled with my sweat, my own scent.
She sent me away on my first trip to France alone, “to find myself.”
“You complain now,” she said, “but later, when you are older, you will understand why I wanted you to travel.”
“I am not lost,” I said. “I know myself very well.”
“Really, at fourteen,” she retorted.
Angouleme, a town in southwestern France, was my first trip alone. I had made my way alone through Charles De Gaulle airport, then to the train station that would take me to Angouleme. I lugged two huge bags filled with presents for my house family. It was my mother’s idea. She believed that people always like presents, even if they don’t like you. I spent the summer trying to understand why my mother had sent me away, why she didn’t want me near her.
My mother has a thing about French stuff. She used to sell French wines for a living, but she hadn’t married a Frenchmen; doesn’t know a word of French. She speaks Italian, like the rest of our family, as her second language because in her world, everyone should speak a second language. I can’t speak Italian. I can barely speak English correctly, I am told by my father, but I have attempted to bumble my way through four years of French, a language she wanted me to learn. Je suis Americane. Je suis fatigue. Je suis triste. I can also count to 100 in French.
My father had spent two years in Paris after his stint in the Korean War. He taught English to wealthy French children. He rented a small apartment in St. Germaine de Pres, and sipped coffee and smoked cigarettes at the same café that Simone de Beauvoir and Sartre wrote their philosophical offerings. My father studied philosophy in college. He went to Paris because he wanted an adventure. He was not looking for love, but a sense of who he was. That’s what he told me before I left for Paris this last time.
I wanted to go to college in France, Aix-en Provence, but my father had laughed and said my French was so horrible that I would be laughed out of the town. So, I chose a Liberal Arts college in Ohio where I had gotten a scholarship.
My mother continues to tell me her story. I tap my fingers on my lap, wanting to turn on the radio and tune her out. I close my eyes and let the hot air blow on my face from the open passengers’ window. I am the little prince, flying from planet to planet. I am touching the sun with my fingertips. My mother’s voice takes me to a place where nothing else matters, where my joy comes from knowing when I open my eyes, I will see her. She will tell me everything I ever wanted was in the palm of my hand.
“Roll up the window,” she shouts, “I don’t want my wig flying off.”
“Now that would be funny,” I joke. She laughs.
What lingers now in my dream state is the “bloody thing,” her words, that now grows in the womb that once housed my sister and me. If I could, I would lacerate the damn thing that has entrenched itself in my mother’s womb. I would kill it if I could. I’d tell it to fuck- off and never come back. The “bloody thing” has become, to me, like a misanthropic step sister. She gets all the attention now, with all of the late night trips to the hospital and discussions on the next step in treatment. She is an intrusive one, but very much a part of the intimate circle of our family of four.
She has become an omnipotent presence who invades my every sense of being. I cry myself to sleep, squeezing my eyes tight in my darkened room. I am infinite in my own space. I am outer space. Darkness has invaded my home, my safety, my love for my mother. I picture “the bloody black thing” growing in my mother’s womb. I blast it with my mind. I want it gone. I want to know that my mother’s womb is still safe and beautiful, empty of all ugliness and odorous foreign bodies.
For my college visit, I am wearing a black skirt, black blouse with black boots and black leather jacket. I refrained from wearing my fishnet nylons, and opted for black tights.
“Are you in mourning?” my mother asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“You are so damned dramatic, you should be an actress.”
“I am. I am always acting.”
None of my clothes are from French designers; all of them had been bought at local thrift stores. My mother does not understand my look. She does not understand since she has made it her job to refine my tastes by instilling culture and beauty from our world travels together by influencing me with being proper and well- groomed, by sending me to France for the last three summers to educate me, and in her words “to instill a sense of class, as well as to get me away from the ordinary.” I tell her that I know how to use a bidet. She laughs, and shakes her head and says “a $6,000 investment and that is all you got from three summers in France?”
“No,” I say, “I have impeccable table manners. I love the Provencal life-style, and when I am old and dying, I will escape to southern France and live in a chateau and wear only purple.” Again, she laughs.
We cross into Indiana. I turn up the radio. She turns it down. I start to sing to myself. She interrupts me and tells me to listen. I want to take a nap, to block out the mundane landscape of 1-95, the brightness of everything and the silence that lingers between us. I glance at her profile as she concentrates on the endless expressway. She continues to tell me about how she first met my father. It was at a party. First, she noticed the well- tailored suit he was wearing. At the time he was a social worker for the city of Chicago, and broke but he still dressed well. My mother was also a social worker at the time. My father had been back in the states for three years, leaving Paris in 1964.
Sometimes it is hard to piece together my mother’s stories. She often goes off on a tangent, like now, as she tells me that she didn’t want to go the party at first, but had nothing better to do. She had gotten into a fight with her mother and wanted to get out of the apartment. My mother did not have her own apartment at this time. She lived with her parents, as was the custom of Italian-American families, until she married my father. I can picture the fight they had—things being shouted, maybe even thrown, my grandmother crying at the kitchen table that nobody loved her and my mother running for the door. My grandfather would be on the couch, his false teeth lying out in front of him, watching T.V, ignoring the fight, and, if it got too loud, he would turn up the volume on the T.V to block out the yelling that was going on between my mother and my grandmother. My grandmother was once very beautiful, but my grandfather’s womanizing made her old. She never felt loved. I think it was because her mother died of the same thing that is killing my mother. I share a special bond with my grandmother. We both feel unloved most of the time, even though we are both loved greatly by a woman who is dying.
I want to ask her what she was wearing, but instead I picture what she might have been wearing; a black dress with pearls, something smart and well cut. Maybe something green, to set off her red hair. Her hair was probably piled high on top of her head, and she was wearing a low heeled pump. Again, I glance at my mother. It bothers me that I didn’t get her petite nose. I do not understand why she married my father, who has such a big nose. Did she not realize that most daughters inherit their father’s looks? I say this to her as she drives, interrupting her story. At this point, she is telling me that she was there with a friend and at first she thought he liked her friend, but he asked her to step out on the porch to have a cigarette with him. My father has recently quit smoking for my mother, to help fight the damned thing that has taken over our family.
“Why you are telling me this?” she asks. “You have a beautiful nose.”
“To you,” I say, looking out the window. I press my forehand to the glass. All I see is a vastness of land. I feel overwhelmed and sick to my stomach. I want to roll down the window, but I can’t, for the hot air outside will do nothing but elevate the pain I feel inside. I unfasten my seat belt and crawl to the backseat. I lie down on the backseat, pressing my cheek to the vinyl. I close my eyes to my mother’s words. Somewhere around one of the turns is my college. It’s a place that I chose from a poster I saw in one of my high school hallways. I have this intense desire to be somewhere else. I cannot explain my pain to my mother. It overtakes me; it is physical, mental, and emotional. When I think of the thing taking over her womb, sometimes I gasp out in pain as if I am suffocating, as if I too am dying. I am dying. I feel it, I too feel her pain. I am like that. I try to move out of my own body. At night I pretend again that I am the Little Prince flying; flying away from the internal void I feel whenever I think of the black thing with no eyes and no mouth and no scent. But I picture it with ears; ears that are sucking my mother’s sound out of her, rendering her powerless.
“You are so goddamned dramatic,” my mother shouts. She pulls at my hair from the driver’s seat, not turning her body or taking her eyes off the road. It is just her arm, and extension of her body that I feel pulling at my hair. “Get back up here and keep me company.” I do what she says. I refasten my seatbelt and continue to listen to her story.
“I married your father,” she continues, “not for his nose, but for his brains, and his kind nature.”
My father is very smart; like my sister, academic challenges come easily for them. My father is a thinker, but he is also very removed with his emotions. I too am a thinker, but like my mother, we tend to go off our gut feelings, intuition, she likes to say. When I was accepted to college she told me she had a good feeling about the school. I had made the right decision. There was no logic in my application. I saw the ad, liked where it was, and because it had an Equestrian program, I applied. I didn’t even research the school. I ride horses. I have since I was six. Horses are my way of being, and my mother and father have invested thousands of dollars in me, not to be an Olympic rider, but because they both knew it made me happy.
My mother knows that when I am with my horses all my worries, all my insecurities, all my fears vanish. For a brief time I am invincible. I am infinite; my fingertips are only light and sensation. This I have confessed to my mother, and she is the only one that understands my love for the horse. She is the one that cried with me when my first horse died. She held me, and let me cry and she told me to love so hard is a good thing. To let a love take you over is a good thing, to feel the pain of love is a good thing. But now, I wish I was unable to love. I wish I could remove myself from all emotion. I wish that I could not feel the pain and anguish that I carry inside me every day. Despite my anxiety over my mother, she is my mother, and I am a reflection of her—I am her extension. I am part of her soul, as she is mine.
My mother is dying even if she will not admit it, even though she continues to move her legs and mouth, even though she continues to think the doctors will blast the bloody black thing from her womb, give birth to it, and everything will go back to normal. And yet, while her womb grows swollen and painful, I can only watch in silence. There is nothing I can do, but ride my horses, go to school, and pretend.
I glance at my mother again; her glasses are perched up on her hair. It is not her real hair. She lost all of her red hair six months ago. I heard her cry to my father through their closed bedroom door. I heard him say that he had not fallen in love with her hair. He had fallen in love with her brains. I hear them laugh amid muffled tears. My parents no longer have sex. She can’t because it is too painful. I know this because my mother told me. She told my father to take on a lover. I know that behind that closed door, he is holding her in his arms—what he is thinking, I will never know.
I know he feels her pain every day. This is what we share, and this is what I know without knowing. My sister is a shadow in all of this—I don’t even know she is around most of the time. I see her at the dining room table while we have dinner, but I have no words for her. Our sense of grief is too overwhelming to even communicate any love we might have for each other.
My mother confesses to me as we drive that she never felt complete. She always felt lost, and maybe that is why she traveled so much. She always felt she was running out of time, but when she became a mother she felt whole. She said to me that finally she understood what Plato meant in his writings on love—“that we all seek a union of one’s soul in order to form a union that will make one whole again.” She knew she had to travel, and that is why she worked and took my sister and me with her on her travels. I, too, feel as if I am running out of time. I, too, feel as if there is so much to explore that I would need five lifetimes to see and feel and smell it all. This, I inherited from my mother, the affliction we share- never feeling complete, despite the love around us.
When I think about the soul, and God, love, and the meaning of this life, I scare myself. I scare myself into not thinking. I think of jet-black dots, taking over my soul. I think I’m drowning from my fear. I want time to stop. To take a breath, relax for a moment and regroup, and then, very slowly start again.
I have for months been keeping bits of my mother’s hair that I find in the bathroom sink or on her bed pillow. I put them in plastic baggies, hiding them in my underwear drawer. It is as if I am a kleptomaniac. It is an impulse I do not really understand. I steal in to her room, and brush all of the hairs into little baggies. I do not know what my mother would think if she ever found my baggies full of her lost hair. She already thinks I am a bit weird, with my punk rock look and sulky personality. She hopes I will outgrow both. She tells me that once I get laid I might be less sulky. But then again, she feels no boy will look at me or want me because of my outrageous looks.
I don’t want to talk about my father, but it appears important for my mother to tell me her story of falling in love. I am fine with it just as long as she does not tell me about their sex life. My mother is very open about sex with me. I was told on my last trip to France that under no terms was I to lose my virginity to a Frenchman. It is a running joke with my family, because there was no chance I was going to lose my virginity in France. The boy I had fallen for turned out to be gay. I think my mother in some way planned it, willed it; some “secret mother power” still protecting me, even while I was thousands of miles away. When I had complained to her that I was unlucky in love and that is why out of all the boys I had met on that trip I had fallen for a gay boy, all she had to say was, “there is no logic to love, and love does not make sense, even to your father.”
“It is getting dark. Do you want me to drive,” I ask.
“No, I need you to listen to me,” she says.
“You know the kids hated me that first summer you sent me away. I spent most of the time riding their horse.”
“I didn’t send you away.”
“You know that Dad wanted me around, he wanted to know I was safe, not tramping around the French countryside on some strange horse. I wrote to him every week, explaining that he had no worries. I had fallen in love again with of course, a horse. He wrote back saying that was the best love to have.”
“Yes, I know, I read all your letters.” She says switching lanes, and putting on the headlights.
I learned that summer that memory is magic, and time can stop for a moment, or two. And now as I listen to my mother I think of that horse. I think how I galloped him through the hills. I breathe in his musky scent. I remember how he felt under my fingertips. How I cried when I left for home, knowing I would never see him again. He was a big chestnut with a flowing brown mane. He made my summer, and I spoke perfect French to him. “Je t’aime, Je t’aime. You have my heart,” I whispered as I felt his heart beat as we trotted through the wooded bridle path.
I continue to stare out the window, listening to my mother talk. I picture myself riding a horse across the openness of the land that parallels the expressway which we travel. I picture myself as a frontier woman, making my way into a new territory, staking my claim to a new land. I picture myself any other place than listening to my mother’s words. Her loquaciousness is exhausting to me. I feel selfish for not wanting to hear about her love for my father. I am ashamed for not being more interested, but all I can think about is myself, and what I am going to do without her. How will I define my own being without my mother’s guidance?
“I first noticed your father’s hands,” my mother continues. “You know, your father’s hands are well defined, well – manicured, not stubby, and fat like some men’s.” I think on this, and have to agree with my mother. My father has very nice hands, strong, with nicely shaped finger nails that match.
“He was smoking a cigarette and going on about the labor movement, and how we all had to organize a union. And all I could do was look at his hands, and wonder how they would feel on my body.”
“Really, Mom, please skip the details,” I whine.
“Oh please, like you don’t think such things when you see a handsome boy? Remember, I read your diary.”
I close my eyes, and listen to the car wheels along the expressway. I like telling stories. I like making stuff up to get a reaction out of people to see if they will believe me. I like making up stories to tell my mother. I told my mother that I had gotten drunk on red wine with a boy from Angouleme. We had met on one of the bridle paths while I was riding. He had stopped me and asked my name. He took me to a clearing where sunflowers grew along the side of the road, and kissed me. We met every day until I left to go home. My mother at first believed me, asking me what his name was, and what he looked like. I explained to her that his name was Pierre, and he had brown hair, and hazel eyes, and he was tall, and spoke perfect English. My mother’s eyes grew wider, and she took off her glasses, setting them on the kitchen table. I continued to tell her the story about finding true love in a field of Sunflowers—she interrupts me and says—“Jen, that is a beautiful story, never ever forget it, but I don’t believe a word of it.”
“Why?” I had asked.
“You would never have gotten off the horse.”
We had both laughed. She was right. I would have galloped past him, and laughed that his name was Pierre. I am told I have my mother’s laugh.
I think of the story of the Little Prince when he first meets the fox. The fox says to him, “What is essential is invisible to the eye.” I think of my father. I think of how love is invisible, and how with one touch, one glance, one first kiss, everything changed for my father when he met my mother on that porch in Chicago. When they kissed for the first time, their fate was sealed. Never did he think he would watch her die, and be able to do nothing.
“I fell in love with your father that night, she said with a sigh. I fell in love with the cadence of his voice and the softness of his kind hands, and how he talked not at me, but to me, as if I were his equal. It took me off guard. I was, at the time, dating a man who did not want children, but I wanted to get married. I wanted children. I always knew I wanted to be a mother.”
Despite the darkness in the car, I know my mother is crying. Recently she has been crying more—she has always been a sappy crier, the type that cries over touching commercials, endearing movies, inconsequential stuff that I would never cry over, but lately, I find her crying more, especially over my father.
“How did you know it was love?” I ask her.
“He told me on the porch that he wanted to be a father. It was like our paths crossed, as if I knew that he was the one, as if I knew this was meant to be.”
I reach for my mother’s hand in the dark. I do not want her to feel alone at this moment. I feel alone for her. I feel as if her love for my father is what, at times, keeps her going. I wonder if fatherhood answered some of the questions that philosophy could not. My mother feels too much. I know she feels the black thing growing inside her.
“You will promise me Jen, one thing,” she swallows hard as she makes the turn into my college driveway, “When I am gone, you will take care of him.”
My mother and I have had this conversation before. The first time was in the hospital. Now, as we sit in the car in the dark, she brings it up again. “Jen, you have a stronger nature than most; you process your emotions differently than most.”
What does that mean? I want to shout at her. What does it mean to process emotions?
“Jen, promise me,” she asks again.
I think of my father before we left on our trip. “Make sure, if she gets too tired you do the driving.” I gave him a hug, told him that everything would be fine, everything would be great. Now, I picture myself riding my horse, jumping into fields of the unknown. I picture myself as the little Prince, blasting off into space—I hold tight to my mother’s hand. I breathe her in. She is huge and infinite. She is my mother. I will do what she asks. I will take care of my father.
Jennifer Lesh lives in a small village on the back side of the Sandia Mountains. She has several dogs to keep her warm at night and she rides horses. Several of her works are scattered on the Internet. She writes not for fame or fortune but because she likes to tell stories. She can be contacted

“Tripoli,” by Philip Bowne


The day the children received their letters from home, Mohammed had nothing. He was sitting on his own, as he always did, watching his peers at the summer school tear open brown envelopes. Each was marked with a different colour stamp from a different part of the globe.

‘I’m sure a letter will arrive for you soon,’ I said. He hadn’t had a letter from his family in the five weeks he’d been staying at the school.
‘If you say so, Mr. Raine,’ he said, squeezing his shoulder blades together as he waited for his first English lesson of the day. The tips of his brown fringe had been bleached blonde. The July heat was cruel and dry.
‘Tripoli is far away, after all.’ I squeezed his hand. It was half the size of my own and his knuckles were lined with white scars that stood out against his dark olive skin.
The last group of children ran into the hall. They jumped onto the stage at the far end and knocked a plastic table down to the floor, breaking off two of its legs. Mohammed jolted upright and moved closer to me. His eyes became two black marbles and a trail of goose bumps prickled up along his hairless forearm.
Another teacher ran over to the group and started pointing and shouting. Mohammed giggled. The morning bell rang for lessons to begin and the groups of children left.
‘Time for class, Mo,’ I said, gesturing to the door. He looked ill.
‘I will not go today,’ he said, folding his arms across his chest. His t-shirt was sitting looser on his shoulders and back. He’d been observing Ramadan for the past ten days and had only eaten before sunrise twice.
‘Wait here for me then. We’ll go for a walk.’

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Poetry by Changming Yuan



You are just a tiny pinpointing dot

But you can pin an end onto

Anything, anybody, even the entire cosmos


From the strongest statement

In the most powerful discourse

To the weakest form

Of the representation of life


A solid full stop

A minimal black hole




Among all punctuation marks

You have the most uses:


In ancient Greek you were meant

To cut off everything as if to show

All the continuity in modern English


Even in Chinese, or Babelangue

Word’s Worth: Wisdom in Nominal Formations  


Art should be a work able to startle the heart

Belief is impossible with a lie in it, while

Business never goes well without sin in between


Fact cannot be produced in a factory

Issue is anything that can lead you to sue, while

Life, like your wife, is always a matter of if


Recovery always implies something that’s over

Signature reveals the nature of the signer, while the

White have a hidden agenda to hit; by the way


Forget what you may wish to get:

Passion is the emotion of an ass


Yuan Changming, 8-time Pushcart nominee and author of 4 chapbooks (including Mindscaping [2014]), is the most widely published poetry author who speaks Mandarin but writes English. Growing up in rural China and starting to learn the English alphabet at 19, Yuan currently co-edits Poetry Pacific with Allen Qing Yuan in Vancouver, Since mid-2005, Changming’ poetry has appeared in 997 literary publications across 31 countries, including Best Canadian Poetry (2009,12,14), BestNewPoemsOnline  and  Threepenny Review.


Away from the Flock by Liana Andreasen

Away from the Flock

by Liana Vrajitoru Andreasen

“It doesn’t hurt.”

The two boys hit Andrew’s legs again.

“Did it hurt now?”

Andrew shook his head, his eyes moving from one to the other. They were all about seven or eight.

“How about this?” One of the boys scratched Andrew’s face.

“It doesn’t hurt.”

“You’re lying.”

“It’s my turn,” Andrew said. “I’m gonna kick both of you and you aren’t allowed to cry.”

The two boys looked at each other. One of them turned and ran away from the low bushes, to the water. Now he was in full view of several other children, and one of the adults.

“Come back here,” Andrew shouted. The boy started running by the water, along the tree line. The geese ran away from his path.

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“New Wine,” by Jonathan Dean

Marcus Valerius was one very bored soldier. The enthusiasm he had previously displayed at becoming a proud Roman centurion was rapidly disappearing under the hot Palestinian sun. It was past noon, two hours into his watch at the tiny military outpost between the villages of Cana and Nazareth. He had been assigned this posting, as an inexperienced recruit, so that he could ‘develop his skills as a soldier’. Starting from the bottom up was how he saw it.

The outpost was no more than a few small buildings where he and four other cohorts slept, ate and watched the travellers pass by. It was perched on a bluff overlooking the road which took a sharp turn to the North a few stadia away. Usually the dusty road was busy with traffic. You could never see who was coming until they turned the bend and hove into sight. There might be Syrians on horseback, wagon trains of supplies to and from Capernaum, camels and their Egyptian riders, all kinds of local Galileans: Samaritans, both good and otherwise, and many, many travellers on foot.

But today it was all very quiet. Barely more than a handful of people had passed by and Marcus Valerius had little to do. He propped his spear and shield beside a large rock and wandered round his assigned post. Occasionally he took out his short sword and made a few practice thrusts, some imaginary enemy coming to mind. A quick campaign in Gaul, or even Britannia, was needed to put some excitement back in his life. But he had been posted to Palestine and he had to do his time. There were always squabbles to be sorted out between the local inhabitants, taxes to be collected and, in general, law and order to be enforced. Marcus had come to think of himself as more of a policeman than a soldier, major criminals being dispatched to Jerusalem to be dealt with by the authorities in that city.

He cooled himself in the shade of a tree and waited. The heat and general lack of activity had made him reflective. And so, the arrival of the next traveller caught him unprepared. He didn’t actually see him coming down the road from Cana because of the bend that hid him from sight. But he certainly heard him!

The singing was loud and discordant. And the singer was very drunk. He rode into sight, seated precariously on a donkey. The animal was loaded on either side with baskets of fruit. The rider would occasionally reach into the baskets, extract an orange, study it carefully as if he wasn’t sure of what he was transporting, then toss it nonchalantly over his shoulder so that it landed with a dull plop on the ground. He swayed on the donkey’s back which resulted in the poor beast wandering all over the road.

Marcus Valerius straightened himself, picked up his spear and waited for the man and donkey to reach him. As they drew opposite, the couple stopped, whereupon the rider promptly fell off the animal. Marcus grabbed the rope that circled the donkey’s neck, which halted any idea the beast might have had about fleeing. He led it to a tree and tied it to a branch. Then he turned his attention to the man who was making feeble attempts to rise. Marcus took a handful of not-too-clean tunic and hauled the fellow to a semi-upright position.

He was young and obviously worked at some menial task. His tunic was soiled and tattered and his sandals were in desperate need of repair. In one hand he clutched a leather water bottle which he waved in the air, and from which he took constant sips. Marcus propped him up against a rock at the side of the road where he promptly slid into a heap, his legs giving way beneath him. The soldier looked down at this sorry sight.

“Tell me now, traveller, what has caused you to be in this state?” The heap on the ground gave no coherent answer, just a lot of giggles and more waves of the water bottle.

“What’s your name? Where have you come from?” Marcus tried again but it was obvious he was not going to get much from the man in his present condition.

“Wait here,” he commanded, not really expecting the other to go very far, and he walked over to the well that supplied the little outpost. Filling a bucket, he returned to the man lying on the ground and tipped the contents over him.

“Water! That’s good!” the man spluttered, shaking his head from the dousing. He managed to raise himself up into a sitting position and tried to get his bearings. “Do that again,” he requested. Marcus Valerius obliged with another trip to the well.

“It tastes like water,” the traveller informed the Roman soldier when he had regained a modicum of sobriety.

“What did you expect?” came the terse reply.

“It’s not like the stuff up the road.”

“That’s because all local waters taste different. Salts, minerals, they all change the taste.”

“There are no salts or minerals in this,” said the traveller, waving his water flask.

“If it’s water, there will be some,” Marcus informed him.

“Take a sniff.” The flask was held out by a dirty hand. Marcus took it tentatively and held it to his nose. There was no ‘lack of smell’ which could possibly have signified water was present. Instead, over the odour of leather, came the sweet aromatic smell of wine. He tipped the flask carefully and caught the few drops that appeared. He raised his hand to his lips and licked at the liquid. It was wine; good wine, from what he could tell. Not just the ordinary local brew but something considerably more superior.

“You have wine in this flask,” he informed the man who was still sitting on the ground, waiting for a reaction from the soldier.

“Well done, centurion!” Marcus was temporarily promoted to the aspired-for rank. “And how did it get in there, do you imagine?”

“You put it in there, obviously,” was the reply.

“I thought I put water in there. But that isn’t water. It’s good stuff. Took me by surprise.”

“How do you mean ‘took you by surprise’?” Marcus wondered how this individual could afford wine of this quality. Perhaps he had stolen it.

“It was in the water jugs,” the man explained. “At a villa in Cana. I stopped to deliver fruit – there’s quite a wedding going on – and they needed oranges. So when I was finished and they sent me on my way, I stopped at the gate. They always have jugs of water there. The master leaves them for travellers; anyone passing can fill his flask. I went to fill my flask, the jug was empty and I told the man checking the guests at the gate. He took it to the well and filled it with water. I watched him do it. I filled my flask from that jug and got on my donkey and left.” He waved at the animal standing patiently under the tree. “It was only a ways down the road that I took a drink from the flask. Imagine my surprise. Wine! So how come wine got in the well?” He passed a hand over his lips, and then settled himself more comfortably on the ground. “It’s good quality, too!”

This long explanation seemed to tire him out and he closed his eyes. Marcus could see his head drooping as the residual alcohol caught up with his brain. Further information from this source would not be immediately forthcoming.

Being responsible for keeping law and order in this part of the world was part of Marcus’s job. After considering how to handle this situation, relatively minor as it was but intriguing, nonetheless, he called on another member of the garrison to accompany him up the road to the village of Cana. He chose Caius, the biggest and burliest of the group, because a single Roman soldier, however well-armed, was fair game for any band of brigands he might meet on the journey. Cana was about a mile and a half to the North and about half an hour’s brisk march.

The villa at which the wedding was taking place was not hard to identify. Cana was a small village and the villas, all six of them, were scattered around its approaches. The first villa the two soldiers came to seemed to be deserted for the day, no sign of life. The next villa, however, was a hive of activity; shouting, laughter and music all coming from the compound within the walls. And there, on a stand just outside the gate, were the two water jugs, just as the orange merchant had described, available for all passers-by to help themselves. At the gate, an old man with a donkey laden with flagons argued with a guard, the stream of annoyed conversation never ceasing.

“I’m the wine merchant. They asked me to come and bring more wine. I do their bidding, load up my animal, and what do I find when I get here? They don’t want the wine after all. They have more than they can handle. They say someone just supplied a better lot. For nothing.” He threw up his hands in disgust. “They completely undercut my prices. And I have supplied this house with wine for years. Can anyone tell me what’s going on?”

The guard at the gate watched the two soldiers approach.

“Do you mind if I try the water?” Marcus asked.

“Please yourself.” Roman soldiers were not the most favourite people here in Galilee. Marcus took a sip from one of the two jugs. Water, pure, clean and cold. He tried the other container. It was almost empty but the contents were definitely not water. The wine was good quality, too.

“Is it usual to put wine out here for the travellers?” he asked the guard.

“I don’t know anything about that,” was the sullen reply. “It must have got mixed up when they changed the jugs.”

“Someone said it came out of the well like this,” Marcus continued.

“All I do is check the guests as they enter,” said the guard, and as another two visitors walked up to the gate he unrolled a scroll. They were allowed entry only when he was sure they were on his list.

“Well, I need to look around,” Marcus told him. “I have reports of a strange occurrence and I need to check it out. It’s just routine, but all these things, big or small, have to be reported back to the Tribune. So I have to go in and see what is going on.”

The guard did not take too kindly to this but in the present time of Roman occupation the soldiers were going to get their way, anyway. Grudgingly he took a step back.

“You have to check your weapons. I can’t let you in, armed to the teeth. It’s a wedding, for goodness sake; no-one here is going to start a revolution.”

“A Roman soldier never surrenders his arms.” An indignant Marcus drew himself up to his full height. The plume on his helmet waved proudly in the breeze.

“No weapons – no entry.” The guard moved to block Marcus’s path. At the same time a group of four well-apportioned young men appeared, seemingly from nowhere, to lounge nearby. Marcus conferred with Caius who had already agreed to wait outside the gate. Finally he handed over his spear and shield.

“And the sword.” Marcus laid it on the ground.

“And the dagger.” It was handed to Caius. “Now you may enter.”

Marcus walked into the courtyard. Open tents had been set up as a protection from the sun, and guests milled around chattering and visiting. There was a tent completely stocked with all kinds of food from roast lamb and vegetables to grapes and oranges. And, of course, flagons of wine. Marcus could see the bride and bridegroom in another tent, surrounded by friends and relatives. But his priority was the well. He located it in one corner of the courtyard, and after peering into its depths to ascertain the water level, he lowered the bucket.

“Best water in the area!” A deep voice sounded behind him. Marcus hurriedly drew up the bucket, sniffed the contents and took a sip. It was good and it was no different from the water in the jug at the gate.

“I am Matthew. Welcome to my villa and my son’s wedding.” Marcus turned to see a handsome man in a long white garment. “We don’t usually see the emissaries of Rome here. Do you come on a business matter? Or has there been some sort of a problem? With all the guests on this happy day I hope nothing untoward has happened. So, how may I help you?”

Marcus took another drink from the bucket of water. His brisk march from the military detachment had left him thirsty. He considered how to approach the topic that needed investigating.

“We have just come from the detachment up the road. An orange seller, very drunk, as it happens, came past about three hours ago. He had a rather peculiar story about wine in water jugs.”

Matthew waited for Marcus to continue.

“The jugs outside..”

“Yes, they are for the travellers,” Matthew answered.

“They always contain water?”

“They do.”

“Never wine?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

“Then you should check one of them. It certainly has contained wine.”

Matthew looked puzzled. “The water comes straight from this well. The servants are responsible for keeping the jugs full. I wonder if….” He thought for a moment, “There’s someone here you should talk to. I’ll see if I can find him. Just wait and I’ll send him to you.” He gave a little bow, turned and hurried off in the direction of the crowd.

Marcus took this opportunity to take in his surroundings. The guard at the gate continued to check the visitors who came for the wedding celebrations. In another part of the compound a number of women, who were obviously in charge of matters, issued orders to servants. Guests were eating and drinking in another open tent and Marcus felt a momentary stab of hunger. He watched as a young man, wine cup in hand, detached himself from a crowd and walk towards him. He was dressed simply in a long robe, cinched at the waist. A pair of dusty sandals gave evidence that he had travelled a fair distance earlier that day.

“I bid you peace and welcome!” he said to Marcus. “Matthew told me you would like to talk to me.”

“Yes,” said Marcus who wanted to get to the bottom of the matter quickly. He explained again about the orange seller. “What can you tell me about this?” he asked.

“Well,” the other began. “With all the guests here someone had miscalculated the amount of wine we needed. It had almost all gone by midday. The celebrations have been going for two days now. So Mary, that’s my mother who is helping to organise this event, told me about the problem when I arrived. I called the wine merchant who usually supplies the villas with wine but did he come? No, he was delivering elsewhere.”

“But you did send out to the merchant?”

“Yes, of course. In fact he’s out there at the gate now. A bit ticked off, I think.”

“He’s planning to lay a complaint,” Marcus said. “He told me that someone has reneged on his contract. Wants to lay charges.”

“Really.” The young man raised an eyebrow.

“So what did you do to get him all annoyed?” Marcus went on.

“I don’t think I did anything. I just solved an immediate problem because my mother kept nagging – and she does go on sometimes. Anyway, I didn’t think anything would happen. I mean, changing water into wine! I was rather surprised when it did. And…”

“Just hold on a moment.” Marcus held up his hand to stop the flow. He looked dubiously at the young man from under his helmet. “We get reports of things like this happening all over the place. They never amount to much and the character involved is usually long gone when we get there. So your claim is water into wine?”

“Yes,” the enthusiasm continued. “And I’ve also discovered something else; it works the other way, too! It’s interesting watching the reactions. I can change it all back for you if you think I should.” He handed the soldier the cup he was carrying. Marcus took a sip, then a longer, more appreciative swallow. When he put the cup down he regarded the stranger with a respectful look.

“No. No, I wouldn’t do that.” He drank again, deeper this time. “No, I would leave things as they are. May be you’ve got something here. This is very good stuff. But you could turn it back into water? That is, if you wanted to?”

“Well, yes,” was the reply. “It wasn’t too difficult doing it the other way. I practised on a mug, just to see if it would work. It can cause quite a stir at mealtime – wine one minute, water the next.”

Marcus was silent, considering the implications.

“Ever thought of doing this on a bigger scale?” he asked.

“Well, that’s always a possibility,” came the reply, “But it could put the local wine industry out of business. I suppose they could always diversify if they had to. I’m told that olives and figs do quite well around here.”

“Just a minute.” The soldier stopped the proceedings as he remembered why he was here. He became more official. “We started with a simple problem, a drunk and disorderly orange merchant and now we have progressed to the suggestion of bringing down the local wine industry. I think you may have encouraged this.”

The young man looked crestfallen.

“I was only doing what I was asked to do. Would you let your mother down in a crisis?” he asked the soldier.

Marcus hesitated. He was torn between filial loyalties and the desire to see law and order in this part of the country.

“I’ll have to make a report about this,” he said, finally. “It will go all the way to the authorities in Jerusalem. They can look into it again if they see fit. So, if you could keep these…” he struggled for a word, “incidents… to a minimum, then probably not too much harm has been done. Meanwhile I’ll bid you ‘Good Day’.”

He gave a little bow and turned towards the gate. The wine had been very good, he thought; perhaps he would check the water jugs outside the villa once again.

“By the way,” Marcus spoke to the guard as he retrieved his spear and shield, “what is that fellow’s name?”

The guard thought for a while, trying to place him among the guests. “It began with a ‘J’, Joshua? Joseph? Jesse?” he ventured. He looked down at his scroll. “There it is.” He pointed a finger at a name. “Jesus. From Galilee.”

“Jesus. A Galilean. Well, I had better send in my report; the authorities in Jerusalem want to know every little thing out of the ordinary that goes on.”

Marcus sheathed his sword and dagger. Caius closed up in formation and the two soldiers prepared to march back down the road. Another guest arrived at the gate and the guard, without looking up, went through the process of checking him in.

“Name?” Marcus heard him ask.

“Lazarus.” The reply was clear. The finger read down the list of names.

“Right. There we are. Welcome, Lazarus. I remember you now from the last time you were here.”

Lazarus walked on through the gate. The guard straightened up and stretched, bored with his duties after so many hours.

“Ah, Lazarus,” he said, looking over his shoulder at the receding figure. “The life and soul of so many parties. Once he’s gone, we’ll probably never see the likes of him again!”


Jonathan Dean was born and educated in England. He came to Alberta in 1968 and taught in the public school system, introducing his students to quality literature. He has written many stories since then and hopes to epublish a collection later this year. In 2008 he produced the audio programme ‘Stone Soup’ for Voiceprint. This series of original stories and poems from current authors across Canada won a Gold Medal at the annual International Association of Audio Information Services at Cincinnati, Ohio in 2009. He is an occasional reporter for the Lethbridge Herald newspaper, a keen gardener and enthusiastic home chef.

“Potential,” by Michele Markarian

Maya turned her key in the lock and stumbled through the door, tripping over a heavy object – backpack maybe? – that someone had placed in front of it.  “Shit,” she hissed involuntarily.

“Is that you?” she heard a voice say from the bedroom.

“Sorry I woke you,” she whispered, trying to make herself sound as if she weren’t both drunk and high, which she was.

“Thanks a lot!  You know I need to be up early for work!  I’ll never get back to sleep,” said Jim, her husband.

“Sorry!  Sorry.  Can you keep it down –“

“I might as well read,” said Jim, turning on the light.

“Jim , are you crazy?  It’s – it’s three in the morning!”  Maya looked at her watch, surprised.  She was starting to get a headache.  Why had she let Shauna talk her into smoking a joint at 12:30am?

“I know what time it is.  I assumed from your late arrival that you didn’t,” said Jim icily, picking up his copy of The Economist and flipping through it.

“I told you, we were celebrating Missy’s promotion.  Besides, I wouldn’t have woke you up if I didn’t trip on whatever it is someone left by the front door.”

“Your kids’ backpacks!”  snapped Jim.  “Remember your kids?  Peter and Connie?  Remember them?  Somebody’s gotta take care of them while you go off celebrating Missy’s big promotion.” He turned his back to her and started to read.  “I’m going to be useless at work tomorrow thanks to you and your little corporate friends.”

“Sorry,” mumbled Maya.  She couldn’t resist throwing in, “I think you’ll be able to rally for the hour.  You can always come home and crash.”

“At least I’m helping people” Jim retorted.  “How many lives has Stars of the Startups saved this month?”  Stars of the Startups was the magazine where Maya served as Editor-In-Chief.

Just four that I care about, thought Maya.  Yours.  Mine.  Peter’s.  Connie’s.

“Exactly”, said Peter.  “None, that’s how many.”


Maya’s alarm went off at six.  Ignoring the throbbing of her head, she went into the kids’ bedroom – an office, really – to wake them up.

“Mama, I don’t feel good,” whined Connie.  Maya put her hand to Connie’s forehead – it was warm.

“Crap,” she said.

“I don’t feel good either!” said Peter, who was seven years old to his sister’s five.

“You’re fine,” said Maya after briefly touching Peter’s forehead.  What the heck was the school’s policy on fevers?  It was bad to send a kid to school with a fever, wasn’t it?

“Go back to sleep, Connie.”  Maya pushed the hair back on Connie’s forehead.

“Will you stay home with me, Mama?” murmured Connie.

“Um –“

“Mama’s taking me to school!  Right, Mama?  You’re taking me to school, right?”  Peter jumped up and down on the bed.

“Let me talk to Daddy,” said Maya.  She went into the tiny birth canal of a kitchen and took some eggs out of the fridge.  “Jim?”

“What time is it?” Jim demanded from the bedroom.

“A little past six.  Connie’s sick.  Can you stay with her and I’ll take Peter to school?”

“Maya, you know I can’t miss work.”  Jim rolled over onto his back.  “You’re going to have to call in late.”

“Jim, I have a deadline.”

“Call in late.  Aren’t you supposed to be the boss over there?”  Jim got out of bed and stumbled into the bathroom.


Twenty minutes later, he came out, adjusting the strap of his crossing guard uniform.   Maya put a plate of scrambled eggs and toast in front of Peter, and tried, as she did every morning, to pretend that her husband, with his PhD in Semantics, was gainfully employed in an occupation worthy of his potential.  Potential has a shelf life.  Maya had read that in a Margaret Atwood novel once.   It rankled her still.



Michele Markarian’s plays have been produced across the United States and UK.  Michele’s short stories have appeared in anthologies by WisingUp Press, Mom’s Literary Magazine,, The Journal of Microliterature, and the anthology  Her plays have been published by Dramatic Publishing, Heuer Publishing, Oxford University Press USA and Smith & Kraus. She has an anthology of plays, working title “The Unborn Children of America and Other Family Procedures” that will be published by Fomite Press this spring.  Michele is a member of the Dramatists Guild.

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