Janine Lehane
February 2017

As Rachmaninov's second piano
concerto flows from the blue radio,
I try to resist its depth, momentum,
force myself to listen to the end, recall
your prodigious offence. How could you play
so small? For years, I have haunted the show
hall. When love's season comes around, I want
to grace the venue, to strew roses for me
on the lighted stage. Though you do not see
the need for compassion, I will scale
the heights of sympathy and forgive you.

—from a series of Monthly Notes that explores music, curated by Jared Pearce

Spirituals

Smuggled over the border
in the throat of slaves
hummed loose in the fields
as soft as cotton balls.

Stuffed into saxophones
and blown out
time and again
on fountains of air.

Captured and hung on lines
like laundry
dripping with black notes.

Brought into concert halls
dressed up in tuxedos
bouncing off the walls
drowned in a red curtain call.

The Organist

In the cockpit surrounded by a thousand blinking lights
he revs up the engine until music shoots out from pipes
like exhaust fumes that fill the stained-glass hangar
crowded with souls, raptured
as the nimble pilot abandons his dotted map
and improvises us into virgin territory.

—from a series of Monthly Notes that explores music, curated by Jared Pearce

Jared Pearce
October 2016

Those seeds who need
That freeze unfurl
Finally when the snow
Sinks in, a shallow

Soak to let them know
The world’s become
A different place,
Has a different face:

Stark, repentant
The oiling soil
Loosens, and she begins
To rinse her limbs,

Take on the sun
And glowing peat,
The heat tugs on
Her head and feet,

She pulls my way—
A tendril apricity,
Her heart hammering
Its frozen clay.

Joseph Reich
July 2016

Who the hell was Nanook of the North? My landlord from Brooklyn who I used to really like a lot used to always call me Nanook of the North, but who was he to talk? An out of control alcoholic who every Saturday night like clockwork a whole squad of squad cars would just show up to their brownstone because of some brand new drama, which of course he denied because used to always black-out and then the next day you’d see the whole holy family parade over for confession, like some procession of demented Norman Rockwell paintings; his son eternally out of work working the system for quote on quote disability and every evening literally hearing him throwing his wife and kid around sounding like the sound of half-crazed Eskimo madmen in an igloo of linoleum as all you’d hear is the trail of back and forth insane echoes; his daughter whose husband got whacked by La Cosa-Nostra and every time I showed up to pay the rent was conveniently wrapped in her towel just coming out of the shower, asking if I wanted to come in which I really wanted but didn’t want to become the next victim, although in the past had sincerely gone out with my fair share of Mafia Princesses mostly from Hell’s Kitchen and always touch and go situations; grandson, a dope addict doing inside jobs stealing shit right and left to support his habit, and myself literally having to drag this old timer out by his ankles into the hall after he had passed-out from the heat fixing a leaky faucet in my apartment ranting and referring to everyone as a hippie and had hair far shorter than his, but irrelevant as in his reality was convinced, and honestly found there to be something quite charming even lovable about him always appearing to slur his words whether drunk or sober, and just seemed to add character to the neighborhood, referring to me as that cat Nanook of the North which I took for something of a compliment.

Mitchell Krockmalnik Grabois
April 2016

1.

Grandpa had been hopeful when he boarded the freighter, but by the end of the journey he had decided that no matter how terrible things had been in Rumania, they were going to get worse. All the positive things about America he’d been told had been lies.

All he had was some salted meat, a change of clothes and his childhood menorah, crusted over with old candle wax, looking evil. The young woman who would become my grandmother cleaned it, spit on it and polished it up. My grandfather’s hope was rekindled. He broke down and cried.

2.

After Hurricane Isaac tore my house from its pilings and washed it away, I went down to the beach to ponder my future. There I found twenty-thousand nutria, their fat rat bodies drowned, dead, and stinking.

In that manner, God showed me the way.

I had a sudden craving for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I resolved to walk and keep walking until I found one. There I would stop and build my church.

Marguerite S. Miller
March 2016

1.

I want this to be a story of lemons,
me hitchhiking to see boy
lemons in the back
of this pickup truck wincing
like vixen-babies

my mother doesn’t know the thick
yellow bounce of lemon bodies
when the raven-nailed man
tongues       a pothole

the lemons’ flaxen tips
leaping like breasts
above the steel waves
of this truck     this danger—

his hand almost        in my lap

2.

I want to know about dying

the tart pulp of the sky
clots over me,
his chewing tobacco,
red man silver
in the walls of my gums
as if our mouths had met

I want to sleep like a bear
or the golden-slow of sun raging down,
to be invisible in the nap of the woods

he sees me
tells me a name
that his papa was a prophet,

that I’m pretty

“Ars Poetica” is a poem in six parts. To read the complete poem, click here.

April Schmidt
February 2016

I stand on your back porch smoking watching
your laundry hang from the line. White dress shirt,
shoulders pinched by clothespins like a cat
carries a kitten. It is so much bigger than you are
now, buffed up by breezes slapping innards
and fucking with my cigarette smoke.
An arm whips around in what I thought
looked like a wave but now two sleeves
billowing an X. Your new straight jacket.
A ghost caught between two winds
not haunting anything, anyone
would think it a nice piece of clothing.

Meisaan Chan
September 2015

I step down from my throne
and take off my crown
remove all my clothes
and give you my kingdom:
for this is how you see me, Lord
this is who I am

Morning throttles Jax’s motor,
lowers her frost skirt for him,
if someone else’s bride. Let Lambs
work their way up class ladders
with Starter hats and Nikes, he
thinks when Colleen clicks past
ignoring catcalls, heels snapping concrete,
a jar of maraschino cherries jiggling, ready
to be tossed into her Alka-Seltzer
before she drops wasp-waisted onto the
stage apron, owing nothing to no man
and off all day tomorrow.

Alice Lowe
May 2015

        My husband calls me the “energizer bunny,” says my hummingbird metabolism matches my bird-brittle frame, says what I call my low-energy days are more animated than his at top speed, even though when we met, our youth behind us, I’d slowed down to a mellower pace, and we’re yin and yang now, we balance each other, but thirty years ago we’d have been oil and water—“You shoulda seen me then,” I say and tell him about my younger self, a scrawny kid, my worried parents thought me frail and undernourished in spite of my voracious appetite and boundless energy, so my mother would pack two overstuffed sandwiches in my lunch with chips, fruit and cookies, and after school she’d make milkshakes with eggs and banana plus a PBJ or two to fatten me up, but I would eat and eat and not gain an ounce, and that was still true at thirty when a boyfriend told me I’d be sexier, more attractive if I put on a few pounds; he found no fault at first, but soon started carping about one thing or another, like—it should have been a warning—when I said I wasn’t a good dancer but he sweet-talked me onto the floor and I waited for praise, however false—come on, flatter me—but “You’re a terrible dancer,” he said, “stiff as a board, lighten up,” and I slithered away humiliated, but when he said, “You should wear more makeup,” I did—pathetic, huh?—and his reproach followed me into the bedroom until finally I’d had enough of his verbal battering, but at least I never tried to gain weight for him, and in fact the stress of the weeks and months as the relationship ground down caused me to lose weight, “ha, that’ll show him,” I thought, and after we split, the taut strings of my psyche loosened and I relaxed and gained a few pounds, and when I ran into him months later he noticed and said something grudgingly complimentary, and I smirked, I said yes, it’s amazing what being happy can do for a girl’s figure, and while I’m older and happier now I still move quickly and stay trim though I work at it now, stop eating before I’m full, because I can still put it away. Like a hummingbird.
        Did you know that hummingbirds consume more than their weight in nectar each day but are always mere hours away from starving to death since they store just enough energy to survive overnight, so they visit hundreds of flowers daily and remember all the flowers, all the feeders in their territory, eating for short spells seven times an hour yet spending only fifteen percent of their time feeding and the rest of it digesting and maybe, like me, planning and thinking about and tracking down the next meal, the next sip of fuchsia or slice of pizza.

David Feela
April 2015

A pot of tea steeping
on the marble sill, its steam
clouding the window.

Sunrise on the counter
like the yolk of a broken egg,
oh happy disaster of morning.

All is settled then, the man
still asleep, the woman
keeping this time for herself

beside the sink, thinking of every
beginning and ending she's known
before filling her cup.

Michael G. Smith
January 2015

stops,
      fingers a volcanic outcrop
            roofed mostly in duplex lichen,
                  one of the tenacious earthmakingmen
                        helming a weathering like and unlike

wind
      and sun and rain – thick-skinned
            operatives saturated with clarity
                  at times breezy, bright and merry,
                        their many modes furthering the world's

en-
      jambment – recomposing log nurses ten
            alders, elfin firs to sprout in their future
                  shadows, nothing microminor
                        about a percolated spring's rambles to an icy

creek's
      once-in-many-decades flood wreaking
            pick-up-stick behemoth-log dams'
                  slow-pooled jamb
                        trout rests and paper-packed poets'

writs
      of bits
            into bosomed ash-heaps
                  head-deep
                        in the tree-tower boughs sifting the given

light.

This poem was written while the author was a writing resident of the Spring Creek Project (Oregon State University) at the HJ Andrews Experimental Forest.

Danielle Susi
November 2014

Each hue is defined by wave length
or frequency. How often or far apart.
The inconvenience of closeness, or
the memory of longing for
harmonic intervals of light
filtered through the human eye

and, sometimes, the mechanical eye,
yet how we discriminate these wave lengths
is not well understood (in light
of other things we know) and apart
from corresponding frequencies for
each prismatic color or

manifestation of color or
what resides harmoniously in the eye,
there is an equivalent harmony for
the musical ear, which collects length
and time, and, in turn, plays a part
in the generation of light

but cannot identify single tones of light,
like notes fingered on a piano or
a cello plucked as part
of an orchestra performed at the center of the eye.
To take red, any length
of red, and mistake it for

the afterimage of green, for
the deposit of complementary light,
is to speak of harmony to some length
and the joining of two or
more colors behind the eye,
pretending like vision is not a part

of what makes the body a part
of a machine for
forgetting. What makes the eye
not a tool for collecting, but for losing light.
To suggest that the human eye is satisfied, or
in equilibrium, is to deny the comfort of length,

the redemption of length,
the restlessness of length, or
the longing for memory of light.

Hilary Brown
October 2014

grew from my mother’s fingers, sprouting
in the dirt under her nails and sending
their shoots through her veins.

Her lungs were filled with bitter earth.

Her feet became clay and crumbled under
the weight of trees. Hyacinths took root
in her liver and lilacs

perfumed the air too sweet.

Roses sprung from her womb.
We picked their berries
for our tea.

Donna Vorreyer
July 2014

There has been a small fire, burnt
tar-paper in a wastebasket, an accident
of no consequence, really—a thimbleful

of water tamed the blaze—but somewhere
buildings are burning, and I feel it is my
fault, like I have called the flames from

the cold sky with my witchcraft of longing.
I watch a calf being birthed in a pasture
surrounded by high red cliffs. I boil fresh

eggs still warm from soft underbellies
of chickens. These things are pleasant, yet
undeserved. At night, I sit with my books.

Somewhere, a fish is being angled for
off-shore. The hook in its mouth makes me
seasick, metal taste rising in my throat

like an anonymous threat. I keep changing
my address, shift from hotel to rooming
house, just to avoid the hook, the reeling in.

Liz Dolan
May 2014

As a child
I listened
most
to what was
not said

to the chasm
between
the spoken words
that floated out
and hung
in the air
like morning mist

to the soft sighs
between
the soft syllables
to the breaths
between
the Oh… yes
and the Maybe… so

Kari Wergeland
January 2014

We press on, firing furtive glances
at the sneaky walking of the gull
determined to drop it, make use
of the foundationless to kill his prey—
the blue-black mussel that plummets
from air to pavement, maybe
three times, before it cracks
open to reveal its yellowish spoils.

Then we watch his stubborn take-off
into the sky which reaches out
and holds him firmly and which,
as though with tender hands,
tethers his wings to one place.
There, practically motionless and calm,
there defying the laws of gravity
and casually triumphant, he faces the wind.

E. Louise Beach
December 2013

Lallation—
like that of a brook—

without malice or guile
as when humans were good,

and gain could be got
with lesser vexation.

Then follows congruence
of wind and trees,

of the musical
with the metrical accent.

Each word, a birth.
Like a morning walk

beside a white fence
toward horses.

Korkut Onaran
November 2013

I wake up early
and take a walk
into dawn’s sky.

I meet a shadow
way up there
who doesn’t remember its source.

The moon is still out.
I fold some moonlight
and put it in my pocket for later.

I run into an old routine.
I feel at home
seeing it.

A poem asks for directions.
I don’t know my way around
these skies either, I say.

Then I meet a future without a past
and it tells me that
my absence does not exist.

How can I talk about my presence
without my absence?
I ask.

A hummingbird
lands on my ear and draws some words
out of my brain.

The poem keeps staring at me.
After a while it asks
for a kiss.

Mark Turcotte
September 2013

Back when I used to be Indian
I am reaching toward the light
with both fists, yawning,
growling like a flower.
Mother pushes me, gasping.
Mother pushes me again.
I swim out from muffled
cradle, dripping blood,
salt of the very first
flood, first wound, I uncurl
upon the island shore.
I breathe.
Mother pulls me, gasping.
Mother pulls me again
to her weeping breast. I drink
and begin, with one shaky eye
to search for my father.
The room rattles with empty.
In the hallway hoofbeats fade.
Millions cry in my veins.

“Continue” was originally published in Mark Turcotte's Exploding Chippewas (Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2002).

Sarah Brown Weitzman
August 2013

To subtract to increase.
Each paring, each chip
magnifies the essential.

Brancusi’s brass bird
a curved gleam
gives flight form.

On marble heads
both nose and brows
streamlined to a slender V.

Just lips jut out
from a polished egg.
To subtract to increase.

Each paring, each chip
magnifies the essential.
What genius

to express only essence.
What genius to know
just how little it takes.

Geoffrey Miller
July 2013

Paperboy, cleaner, tourist guide, stock taker, dishwasher, lifeguard, waiter, bartender, teacher, house painter, writer is a thing I have been paid for. Kyke, algebra, wop, drop-stich, jap, bowline, chink, piecrust, nigger, radius, dyke, spelling, faggot, manners, yank, voltage, spic, driving, whore, ice-skating, slut, baseball, cracker, geography, trash, climate, dingo, playboy, French-press, prep, weed, jock, drinking, nerd is a thing I have been taught. Whale, snake, dolphin, dog, chicken, pig, cow, ant, cricket, camel, lamb, bear, buffalo, pigeon, pheasant, duck, lobster, crab, oyster, snail, mussel, roe, tuna, salmon, veal, trout, catfish, piranha, swordfish, cod is a thing I have killed. Paris, London, Tokyo, Doha, Dubai, Christchurch, Seoul, Hanoi, Moncton, Vancouver, Lima, Hong Kong, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, LA, NY, Dallas, Beijing, Colombo, Ulan Bator, Gale, Siem Reap, Efate is a place I have slept. Lied, loved, slapped, kicked, cheated, liked, defrauded, slurred, defended, accused, believed, envied, trusted, helped, stole, cared, hit, threw, shamed, lusted, burnt, built, hated is a thing I have done. Ayako, Amanda, Mohammad, Brian, Chris, Jon, Jane, Alex, Hyun Jung, Roanne, Halumi, Ahmed, Glenn, Ayesha, William, Anna, Ozgur, Merv, Alana, Joanne, Soo Nam is a person I have known. I, me, you, we, they, them, those, these, son, rival, brother, student, lover, enemy, friend, foe, colleague, boss, teammate, opponent is a thing I have been. Hate, fear, passion, lust, hunger, joy, compassion, respect, love, horror, history, friendliness, thirst, inspiration, reverence, betrayal is a thing I have felt. Archapilago is how I first said it but my father correcting me by saying archipelago is a thing that taught me shame and pride.

Albert Pertalion
May 2013

Tannic water

Sky-scraping cypresses

Lofty limbs

Cathedral light-columns

Dropping moccasins

Alligator nostrils

Pirogue and paddles

Fly rod and spinners

Black gnats and cat-gut

Green trout

Stillness

This poem is about a swamp where I fly fished into my twenties. A true swamp, it nevertheless had an open feeling. The light coming into the darkness was like shafts of light in European cathedrals. The water was dark, but not muddy. The green trout were really small mouth bass, but the locals called them “green trout.” Moccasins would plop off a limb and aggressively swim toward the pirogue we fished from. I killed many with the paddle. The fly bait was a wet fly (black gnat) we used with a very tiny spinner and trailing a sliver of cat-gut. No fly fisherman ever uses a spinner except in the Southern Louisiana swamps. The most an alligator would let us see were two black nostrils, just above the water line. After we cooked the bass late in the day and ate them, we took small wooden stools down by the water, sat, listened to the silence.

Cresce a vinda da lua (but what is gained by the moon's return?)
Teu corpo, teu limite.
When will o rio dovetail nas ruas and which ainda arrives too soon?
Cresce a vinda da lua.
While the drunken dogwatch pities      another far-off monsoon,
Teu corpo, teu limite.
Something pulls against day's patois. Something restrings the body's loom.
Cresce a vinda da lua.
Who would leave your side for comfort? Who would row against the moon?
Teu corpo, teu limite.
Tudo cresce, tudo pity tudo rua, tudo moon
all is body, all is rowing, all notation is natação.

 

“Caravela with Two Lines by Fernando Pessoa” was originally published in Terri Witek's Exit Island
(Orchises Press, 2012).

from “The Second Book of Muwadi”
Victor David Sandiego
November 2012

My death rolled over in bed with a sorrowful face.

“Why do you not embrace my torso?” it asked
and for a moment
I became frozen between worlds.

The babbling street crawled in one ear through the window
and heaven descended from the bovada bricks
into the other. Street and heaven clashed behind my eyes
and severed my vision.

But I recovered and to my death replied:

“It is your neck I love, the rough dusty feel on my fingers
when I caress the crypt”–

and my death merely stared at me,
as if I had ordered a coffee in a foreign tongue.

Kristin LaTour
October 2012

for Antoinette

I knew she was of the sea
from the green shimmer
of her body, and the seaweed
that coiled round her waist.

She lay on that rock
buoyed by life and the warm sea.
Her rounded breasts fell
to each side of her ribcage;
her arms reached down
to let her fingers play in the water.

I could not see her face,
turned as it was from mine,
but her hair, her hair
was what I wanted:

long as my leg,
curly as the chips that fall
from the boat maker’s plane,
brown as the wood planks
that shine on the deck.

I wanted to wrap my fingers
in the mass like fish hiding in coral.

I wanted to bury my face
in her neck and smell the salt sea.

Heather Holliger
August 2012

You can survive on only ten inches of living skin.
While I count my birthdays, sticking white twist-candles

into yellow cakes, you grow a new layer of flesh
from your cambium, a ring of growth 1/100th of an inch.

In your rings, in your old skins, you’ve recorded the climates—
dry seasons, wet years, temperatures, and you tell us

about soil and wind and bedrock, even about sunspots.
Written in your rings is a story about us; we call it

dendrochronology, as if you were a fossil, or bones,
but no, your needles are green, you make red-purple

flowers in the spring, you are the oldest known still alive.
If I had roots like yours, if I could drink from limestone,

if I could endure through a mere twelve inches of rainfall,
I would make of myself a knotted, gnarled faith, a multi-trunked, branching desire.

Lesley Dame
May 2012

They say it was a pomegranate, not an apple,
that brought us all this knowledge. It seems absurd
to us, who spend our autumns peeling and coring,
slicing and heating, burning our fingers as we fill
the clear glass Ball jars. Food of life, we think,
food for thought. We wonder who invented sin.
Who named it. It’s the naming of a thing that makes
it real, makes us feel it close to our skin, tickling.
What would happen if we forgot the words
and began again? What would happen if we didn’t label
each jar but offered them to you, hands open?

Mira Martin-Parker
April 2012

I look at you
every evening,
and you gladly show yourself to me.

You're not at all shy.

In fact you're brazen.
You twinkle and shift—
wink and smile—
turn about.

Every evening
I come to you,
eager for your display.

I await your colors—
gray,
gold, and blue.

I await your smell—
smoke,
sea, and cypress.

When that time comes
and you call for me

obediently

I will slip on my shoes
and head for your door.

Cheryl Snell
March 2012

The thing about it is its size.
It’s smaller, and your sister is there
on the other side of the screen, waiting
to be told goodbye. It’s not as if you could
hop on your bike and rush back to hug her,
although that might enlarge the moment.
Instead, the memory keeps shrinking,
blinking off and on like fireflies
she used to catch in a jar.
Their pale light receded
as you rode past your father
watering the brittle grass
full of the ends of other lives.
Beyond that extinguished light,
the memory of light;
and behind that,
the sound of your sister
pushing through the screen,
twisting open the jar.

Thomas J. Erickson
January 2012

They are trying to start
over. It’s a rambling ride with stops
and starts. When she feels like she can’t
do it again she thinks of killing herself
but death is too busy for her right now.

Her friends all meet in a group and say
things like only talk to him four times
a week
and tell her to depend
on a higher power
. She talks to her
dog who feels worn out.

He takes the long view because
his hands have been burned by all
the re-ignitions. It’s funny, he thinks,
how the clock has stopped between the two
ticks that separate one day from the next,
how time is just a series of perpetual presents.

To his surprise, she has turned the knife
toward him. Should he disarm her? No.
Better to be stabbed and stabbed—
she can’t kill him now anyhow.

Bruce Lader
November 2011

A sough in the leaves brushing blue
      every so often, like susurrant surf
below cliffs, as if the swarms of monarchs
      mingling migration out of November sky
to winter in this eucalyptus stand
      are gossamer fans wafting the aroma
of menthol on occasional breezes,

      wings swirl like snow that never
comes to the mild southern California
      coastal mesa where, navigating
meridians of light, they return
      from Canada, swim like goldfish,
an agile tide of myriad wings carried
      on warm currents of cloudless air,

they cluster tiger camouflage
      over tree columns, long dovetailing
beards stream Byzantine branches
      like strange wisteria, a soundless throng
festoons the woods, then pulsing flames
      gather lingering rays of persimmon sun,
enfold their journey in dormant night.

Nathan Hunt
August 2011

         The grass
begins to be green again—
         the end of summer.

The lawns are watered
without sprinklers.

         The sparrows:
hatched months ago,
         now fully grown.

The mothers tend
the twigs of empty nests.

         A glimpse of yellow—
lichen growing on the car
         you left behind.

         Moss climbing
the bark of the trees
         you planted.

         Hollow cornstalks:
brown and drooping
         in your garden.

Chantel Tattoli
May 2011

Camouflage ]
Us “higher cribbing” the toniest zoological hides. Prints
by Natural Selection, or
form following function to trick bug as stick, good-to-eat as unapproachable.
In camo
we make war, we make
a fashionable statement, which is so plain-vanilla funny...........................
  because the point was supposed......................
.........to be unobtrusive, to
.........be pastel-like.
Not to cause a scene.
 
 
Zarape ]
Rough Mexican blanket.
Lime stratum.
Then hot pink then
black.
Where the silver. The gold?
The varyingly blue sky or could be ocean.
All
fuzzed against each other like Rothko's bright bands of color.
 
 
Paisley ]
A heady pattern, of toothy raindrops
and discursive tendrils. Which
which may look to you like
microorganisms illustrated in
science textbooks—imagine
can you
just one mote of a cell, but oh a whole round world.
Jeremiads
(about the evil pod shapes with
mazing vines
you follow           and follow
until you're dizzied)
are easy.
 
John Lennon had a Rolls
painted in paisley
(Royce yes Royce).
He was about London
when an old woman saw him and
berated him with her umbrella. “You swine,
you swine!” she called. How dare he.
That car was a
sign of British nobility. It really
miffed the old gal
to see that prime automobile
become psychedelic.

Laura Madeline Wiseman
March 2011

They don’t crunch or chew.
The smooth green skin

of their jaw stays still.
No quake of tongue

to whisk a wad from gum
and cheek. No dance of lips

on knife tip or fork tines.
They don’t slip two stems

in the mouth, their eyes up
as their tongue swirls.

No flip. No spin. No hand
to pluck the wet knot

from tongue’s end. No cocked
brow. No grin spreads

to lure and tempt a thought,
to coax a slow walk home

where hands might touch.
They could, but they won’t.

Stephen Leonard
February 2011

I walk dust-filled streets, into the clanging din of Arusha’s central market district. The craftsmen do their work here, selling machine parts and restoring bicycles that should have been sent to a scrapheap years ago.

I locate the key maker’s stand on the sidewalk, just past a row of women working sewing machines and next to an old man sitting cross-legged on the ground, cobbling a new sole onto a worn leather shoe. The stand appears unattended. On the four-foot high wooden box, a hundred old keys and a handful of uncut ones are laced together by thin metal wires. Among scattered bits of metal and wire lie the key maker’s simple tools: a handsaw, a file and a metal vise to keep the keys in place while the craftsman does his work.

I approach, and a boy springs up from his seat next to the cobbler. He wears a blue windbreaker, a knockoff Puma wool cap, and a solemn face. He looks all of 15, but I will discover that he has been working as a key maker for five years.

The job I demand is not easy: five sets of three different keys. The keys themselves are not only difficult to come by, but intricately designed. He quotes me a price and goes to work. The dusty storm of commerce and craft swirls around him, but he appears oblivious to all.

Gripping both my key and an uncut key in hands seemingly three decades older than the rest of him, the boy examines them keenly before placing them in his vise. With a lightning-quick spin of the handle, he locks the keys in place and begins sawing, then filing. He whips the vise loose, takes the keys out, inspects them again, careful not to let either slip from his own vise-like grip as he turns his hands over, peering at both sides. I stare, mesmerized, as he works the saw into the soft metal of the key, then files it down, before checking on his progress.

When he runs out of uncut keys, he says he’ll return in a moment, and with that he runs down the street, ducking into another shop. He comes back with freshly soldered, blank keys, gnarled and ugly.

He files them smooth with the vise before cutting into them with the saw. In a city where tire rubber is recycled into sandal bottoms, where toys are made out of bundled plastic bags and bottle caps, the key maker contributes to Arusha’s own unofficial recycling program.

Nothing goes to waste.

He plinks each new copy down on his workbench for my inspection. As he finishes, a crowd gathers around, and I wonder if they are curious about me, having invaded their craftsmen’s den for an afternoon, or if they want to see the young master at work.

Back home, I try each of the new keys. One doesn’t work, and a couple others stick before turning, but most click butter-smooth into their locks.

Ellen Palmer
November 2010

There is a woman in this village
who lost her son to a bomb,
lost him
—not like the bumper sticker—
she knew exactly where and who he was.
She lost her husband
to a tank,
and her granddaughter
to a drone.

Now she insists on wearing slippers,
and will tolerate
only library-muffled, worn clothes.
If you come over,
she will serve you quiet foods
you eat with your fingers,
for dessert—ice cream.
She cannot understand anything
said to her above a whisper.
For sanity's sake,
she came to this decision
to only let some things in.
If you try to talk to her in a normal tone,
she will only shrug,
shake her head no.

She will say,
if asked,
that anywhere trees fall,
they scream.

Jacob Stains
October 2010

A light turns on and drowns the stars
in electric white as I'm awoken from a dream.
She stands in the doorway,
pulling her nightgown over her cold bare body
and asks me if I'm coming back inside tonight,
if I'll stay inside tonight.
I gaze over the blackness of the placid lake as the wind picks up
and strokes my face with its cool grey fingers.
"No," I say,
"I think I'll stay out here."

Andrea Barton
August 2010

As yet unfinished men,
the boys tended toward the drama
of scaling the water tower
those hot, dark, summer nights.

Shirtless, bony, pale, barefoot
and drunk on pilfered beer,
they threw up their arms to God,
whooping, as close as they would get.

We girls, with newly invested wisdom,
bore our breasts to lure them down.

Dominic S. Failla
June 2010

Where does my poetry come from?
the sweet honey
of fear
a fist of dark stars
children making soap
out of ancient clay
windows opened—on a summer day—
to breaths of joy
women dressed in black
harvesting wine grapes
the hot sun
burning in their heads
bonfires of desires
the aroma of chick pea soup
rising from wooden bowls
cradled by tired hands in the dusk.

David Morley
February 2010

Natasha brought me tea and sat down at my desk. As usual, she filed her nails and regaled me with tales of her clever shopping in the new economy. Competition ran riot. One market had best prices in this thing, another market in that thing. Natasha was an eager expert.

She rose to answer the doorbell. Our bullet-proof steel door was always locked, but for no purpose because whenever anybody rang the bell, we just opened it without looking through the peephole or shouting "Who's there?" This time, when Natasha turned the deadbolt she was thrown back against the coat-rack by a stampede of burley Russian Mafiosi who quickly fanned out through the office. Their Chief strode in behind them and shouted out, "Director! Where's the Director?!"

Everyone froze in their work and looked up. Vlad, our Director, turned white.

Meekly, Vlad stood up. The Chief grabbed him by the arm, pushed him into the storeroom, and slammed the door behind them.

The other thugs swaggered among us. One guy inspected a floppy disk with thick calloused fingers that could barely navigate the thing. Another guy poked at the buttons on the printer, and joked over his shoulder in a loud guttural voice. Others looked into closets and drawers. Tiny Natasha walked around to each of them, shouted insults in their faces, and hit at them. We menfolk sat glumly silent.

Suddenly the Chief charged out from the storeroom and briskly led his thugs out and away in their several Mercedes. Slowly Vlad emerged, still white as death and breathless. His hands were shaking. He gathered his things, and left.

The rest of us gathered around the kitchen table. Oleg speculated that Vlad would pay "protection" of $500 per month. When Natasha heard this price she dropped her nail file, looked up, and banged the table, clattering the teacups. "That's too much!" she shouted. "I'm sure we can find cheaper mafia!"

Christopher Mulrooney
October 2009

how if I were to stir it
saying how are you
how do you do
and so make time
until dinner

and ask you too
how do you do
until dinner then
ask and so make time
until dinner

whenever that should be

Beneath the locust tree Zoe circles and circles, gathering courage to flex her legs and collapse into the deep shade. But there is no comfort and soon she is dragging herself through the sun bleached yard, stiff-legged, panting, waiting for me to make up my mind. “Hip dysplasia,” the vet said. “You’ll know when it’s time to put her down.” In the blue air a turkey vulture circles, its swift shadow flickering, then glides over the ridgetop, and I find myself walking to the phone.

But if time were circular—like the twin tracks of the Lionel electric train of my childhood, its sturdy locomotive pulling a string of silver cars into a toy town with a crossing guard and a railroad station where I was waiting for the conductor to call out “All aboaaard”—I would climb the oil smelling stairs to the dining car where a vase of purple sweet peas was set in the middle of each spotless tablecloth and the waiter in his crisp uniform would bring me strawberry ice cream and root beer in a frosted glass.

Outside, the world would glide by in its green loveliness. Cows would stand in the tall grass beside a curving river and a red barn, and a man on his tractor would be waving at me. Beside him, black and white paws a blur, Zoe would be trotting, her tail going round and round like a propeller.

Some nights I slide my electric train under the bed and start the engine. As I fall asleep the town vanishes, the cows leave the meadow, and there is only the sound of something moving below me where Zoe went into the ground.

©2009-2017 Labletter LLC. All rights for individual pieces reserved by contributing writers and artists.