1st Wave

POETRY

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The Difference
By Sandy Day

From the library
I took two books
one of God poems
one of love
And read them side by side
each day
and could not see the difference.

O’ that you would kiss me
with the kisses of your mouth!
prays the solemn Sol.

Surely God is not some gentle reaper
but a rapacious rapper
come knocking in the night – Yo
Muthafucka
this a booty call!

I find God in delight –
it’s not like He sleeps nights!

Love is tailing me down the street
a bitch in heat
a dog unleashed.
Or is that God’s purring and growling I heed?
I don’t care
he’s catching me!

Poems do not belong in books.
They read from groins
and every romance tongue.
I am certain
God is drunk and singing
in His creating
both of one.

A staggering inspiration in the fall of 2008 compelled Sandy Day to write again after a twenty year silence. Sandy recently completed a fictional concordance to a group of 160 poems, which she plans to publish online in serial format. Sandy lives in Toronto, Canada where she writes and edits ghost content, and manages microsites for talented peeps who have no time to market. She is always looking for ways to pay the piper!

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Home Begins…
By Barry Napier


We have considered the lamplight that hovers on the bedside table and found it lacking—neither

angelic nor man-made—just another way that our errors are revealed to us


and we have weighed the options that were left for us on the kitchen table, placed on fancy paper

with unnecessary letterhead as if we did not know the hand that penned the words


and we have measured the spaces along the floor where, although cold and defined against our

backs, has never felt the grinding of bodies exchanging heat and dreams and hate


and we have counted the stairs to find that they always come up in even numbers, even when

leaping past the final few, landing on an ankle that knows a thing or two about running


and we have prepared millions of meals that had no identity but became intimately connected to

us as it touched our tongues in the midst of discussing mundane things


and we have met each other here at the end of most days when we are both tired, as is the sky

and the ground from cradling us, and there are only the crumbs of each other to taste




Barry Napier’s poetry and fiction have appeared in more than 30 online and print publications, most recently including The Pedestal Magazine, Inkspill, and Kaleidotrope. His poetry collection, A Mouth for Picket Fences, is currently available through Needfire Press.




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Dead White Men Tell Too Many Tales
By J. Bradley




A love letter once sutured buttonholes.
Bedsheets wore boys better than regret.
A check box asked for closure.
A slow dance crossed the border;
A three-inch heel fired the first shot.
The jeweler stopped printing maps.
When asked why, he said
“There are no bathtubs here
to leave the body; do not ask
for organs.”




J. Bradley is the author of Dodging Traffic (Ampersand Books, 2009), The Serial Rapist Sitting Behind You is a Robot (Safety Third Enterprises, 2010), and My Hands Are As Thick As Dreams (Patasola Press, 2011). He is the Interviews Editor of PANK Magazine and lives at iheartfailure.net.




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FICTION
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Dominant Genes

By Laura Hallman


It was too rainy for July.

I huddled my shoulders and cupped my hand around my mouth, blowing into it to keep warm crossing the parking lot.  I approached the boy sitting on the bench outside the bus terminal.  Billy—seventeen and clever and carrot-topped and way too damn sure of himself.  He was still Billy, not yet decided on Bill or Will.


“You can’t keep doing this,” I said just before stepping up under the overhang.  It sounded so bitter coming from my mouth, of all mouths.


“I know.”  He aw-shucksed me and looked away.  “But you know what she’s like.”


“Yeah, I do.”  I nodded.  “And I know what you’re like too, little brother.”


“What’s that supposed to mean?” He looked me up and down.


“Come on, really?  Billy? I’d put money down even you at least started whatever fight put you on that bus.”


“Why do you always take her side? She did the same thing to you and you got to leave, Melanie.”


“That was a little different. And I am almost positive I have never once taken her side.  Billy, where’d you get the money to get here?”


“Nowhere.” He looked away from me.


“Oh. I see. I didn’t realize Greyhound started running fairs on lies.  Why’d you stop here?  Have enough fuel to get yourself clear across the country.”


“Yeah, whatever, Mel.  Just let me stay.  Can I stay?”


I sighed.  This was just like the other dozen times he called me and begged me to come out and live with me and leave our mother’s house.  But this time he had actually left; this time he was here.  Should I give him credit or send his still-juvenile-ass back on the next bus?  I left at seventeen, and he never forgot that as a strong point in his argument to stay with me.  However, I was forcibly thrown out.  I probably wouldn’t have left otherwise, at least at seventeen.


“You know what she’s like,” he repeated.


“Yeah—”


“Melanie, most kids think their parents are superheroes, but if she was a superhero she’d be Wonder Woman.  As in: Wonder-What-the-Hell’s-Wrong-With-Her-Woman.”


“Billy, how long did it take you to come up with that one?”


“All the way here.  Want to hear about her powers?  She has the ability to fly—right off the handle.  She forgets responsibility for her children faster than a speeding bullet.  And she can jump to conclusions in a single bound.”


I laughed and tried not to.  It felt maternal.  “See, Billy?  You are not without talents.”


“Like talents worth keeping around?”


I could see both sides of it—he was right about her.  She probably had too much to handle with Billy.  Maybe I had gotten pregnant after all to get out, without realizing it.


“I don’t know, Billy.  So did you steal whatever you sold to get you here?”


“Not really,” he said, twisting his face, really sure he’d convince me.  “Just from Mom.  Does that count?”


“Well.  Yes.  Technically.  But I won’t tell her.”


“So can I stay?”


“Billy…”


“Come on.  You got out.  Now help me, right?”


“Billy.  That’s different.  She threw me out.  You’re not knocked up at seventeen, you’re just rebellious at seventeen.  Go home until you figure out how to make it on your own.”


“Why won’t you let me stay with you?  I wouldn’t be rebellious or whatever against you.”


Sometimes I understood why a parent would want to dismiss a child—not explain or go out of the way to hear him talk, just dismiss him.  Sometimes I understood the pure exasperation of teenagers unto their parents.  But if my daughter ever asks, I have never felt this way about her.


“If you want it to be even so bad, I had to do it on my own.  If you want out so bad, figure it out.”


I had.  It had taken me all four years since I left home to be this stable, to be somewhere good in my job, pay regular bills on time every month.  To know my daughter and I could really survive had taken all four years.  I couldn’t take on a seventeen-year-old.   We’d sink.  He would never be as much help as he would claim now or as I could con myself into believing possible.


No, I didn’t want him to suffer.  I wanted him to grow.  While he still had opportunity to learn to do it on his own, why shouldn’t he?  Before she threw him out too, let him just go home and get a stable footing so he could do it.  If he moved in here with me—even just stayed for a little while—he would never get out.  Why should he?  He could walk all over me, mostly because I just wouldn’t want to hear it.


But he would be a nice addition.  For a while, at least, I would be able to guilt him into chores.  And did I owe it to him?  Does the older sibling blaze the trail?  Was that the natural order of things?  What if he, my younger brother, wasn’t as strong as he would need to be?


“That’s all the more reason you should want me here, Melanie.  So you could help me so I don’t wind up like you.”


“Wear a condom.  Go to college.  You won’t end up like me.  There, have I helped?”


He stood a good six inches taller than me now.  I never stood at much of a substantial height, but at least I had always been taller than Billy.


“Are you serious?  Why the hell did I even come to you in the first place?  Why did I think you might help me?”  He stared at me, squinted, tried to intimidate.


That will never work.  He will always be my kid brother.  His freckles and red hair do nothing to help him edge up on me.  My daughter also has red hair and freckles.


“I don’t know, Bill.  You probably should have at least called first.  I could’ve saved you the trip.  The money.  Could’ve put it toward something a little more lasting.”


He stood quiet.  He shuffled his feet in the puddle between us, splashing water up onto the tongue of his brown, suede, skate boarding sneaker.  He got quieter, more desperate.


“You’re really going to send me back to her?  There’s no way I can stay?”


I shook my head slowly.  I couldn’t tell him one day he would understand, because he probably wouldn’t.  “I’m sorry.  I can’t swing it yet.  And you have to go through your senior year of high school.  Maybe, maybe, we can talk about it after you graduate.  When you have a plan.”


“You know, they have high schools out here too.”


“Billy… just go home.”


He stared across the parking lot in panic. He honestly thought this would work.  He hadn’t even brought a bag of clothes to stay the night, much less move in. He called collect from the bus stop, not even bringing fifty cents to call me from a payphone.  And he expected to just stay?


“I don’t even have a ticket back.”


“You’re probably going to be the death of me.  Alright, I’ll spring for your ticket back.  I can probably handle that.”


He looked at me, maybe with appreciation, maybe with cynicism.  “Yeah?”


“Yeah.”


His sideburns were authentic now, not just an overgrown haircut.  His shoulders had broadened.


“You know what, Bill?”


“What?”


“I know it’s not what you want, but what if I let you come out for Christmas?  The whole week or whatever you’re off at Christmas?”


“Really?  Like I could really come and stay here then?  I mean, I couldn’t pay for it though.”
“Of course not,” I smiled.  “You’d have to steal something. I’m guessing Mom’s countertop knick-knacks are spread pretty thin.”


“Pretty much.”


“What did you and her even fight about?”


He shrugged.  He bit the inside of his lip.  “Everything.  Nothing special.  Just everyday stuff, you know?  I can’t ever go out.  There’s never anything to eat.  She steals money I actually do have.  She flips out when I steal stuff back.  She’s got friends there at all hours of the night, but I can’t have a buddy over at three in the afternoon.  Much less my girlfriend.”


“Oh, so you’ve got a girlfriend these days, Billy?  Be careful.”


“We are,” he blushed.


“Alright.  I hope so.  Come on, let’s go check the schedule.”


I placed my hand heavy on his shoulder and steered him into the terminal.


“You know,” he said, “They should put her away.”


“Yeah.  They should.”  I shrugged.  “Then you have your plan.  Go home, do well in school, get into college, and become a lawyer so you can draft a Power of Attorney.  Hey, don’t forget your boots at Christmas.  This rain turns to snow.”




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CREATIVE NONFICTION
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Fixed Points in the Universe
By Ashley Bethard




This is her memory (hers, not mine; we are not the same):


The cold is a smell; the smell, a particular memory – one that has stuck with me for years, long after I convinced myself I had no use for it.


“The Shop,” as we called it, was an old garage-style building, large enough to house a small business.  The bottom half consisted of cinder blocks painted a shade of putrid moss, the upper a thick siding the color of deep forest.  It blended almost seamlessly with the surrounding woods – you could barely make out its shape until you were close, where it looked as if it had suddenly sprung forth from the wild tangle of foliage and trunk.


It was where my father kept most of his tools, toys, and other equipment.  It was a boneyard filled with various pieces of machinery and rusted frames, a hoarder’s heaven with treasure filling all corners of the yard, spilling out of the building and into the stone pathway leading to the door.  There, he kept several old cars he was fond of, hardly any of them running.  On a good day, he could turn the key in one of them – maybe the old VW Beetle or the ancient, beat-up pickup truck – and it would rumble and grunt and gasp as my brother and I stood watching, wide-eyed, wondering if maybe, just maybe, its spark of life would reignite, and we’d have a new toy to play with that day.  We learned to appreciate the feeling of almost getting lucky, of speculating on what it would have meant for us, and imagining the adventures we would have had.


The Shop was my father’s playground, perhaps his idea of wealth.  Or maybe he felt like a king as he carefully made the turn off of Old Baltimore Pike into the stony, pebbled driveway – two worn strips of earth carved from his very own tires – and pulled up to the 15-foot high gates, crowned with lacy barbed wire and padlocked shut.  Perhaps it made him delirious with happiness when he heard the “click” of the lock releasing, the gentle creaking as he pushed it open, the soft, trembling metallic sound as it swayed back and forth before finally resting against an old maple.  But it wasn’t his home. No, it was more of a kingdom, his kingdom – a place to keep his things separate from everyone else, to keep his prizes and collections out in the open, on display for himself.


“Pack-ratting” sounds selfish.  Some call it “collecting.”  But collecting – collecting doesn’t seem right.  Collecting suggests something of choice, the conscious selection of an object to add to an already-appreciated group.  It brings to mind deliberation, a distinct weighing of the thing’s value, either sentimental or fiscal, before claiming it, deeming it worthy.  His objects do not seem worthy of this distinction – there are too many of them, and they are not aesthetically shelved, on display for all to admire.


No, his intentions were not that of a collector, a connoisseur of lost treasures.  His seemed thoughtless, verging on a gasping need to fill – what?  I do not know.  His collecting was hungry, greedy, self-serving in all senses.
Some view it as a disease.  There is certainly something obsessive-compulsive about it, this never ending need for “things,” the need to amass, the need to stockpile.  But maybe it’s preservation.  And in another sense, overcompensation.



But regardless of what it may be, I do not condemn my father for this behavior. As children, Andrew and I derived hours of endless enjoyment from these objects, and so we learned to appreciate, even cherish his impulsivity, knowing that most kids our age didn’t have access to such a wide array of toys and diversions.  Of course, my father didn’t know it, didn’t recognize what he was giving us.  But he gave us something.


Inside was where the real treasures, the ones we were most fascinated by, were meticulously stowed away.  There were all sorts of them hidden in torn, musty cardboard boxes, placed high on shelves, tucked into corners – a hodge-podge of tattered black and white or sepia photographs with rough edges; broken jewelry with heavy, gleaming gold pendants; thick glass paperweights with the profile of a bronzed horse’s head etched against a royal blue background so shimmering and rich it looked like velvet; yellowed papers so thin they were nearly sheer, their faint markings like whispers, spelling out land dimensions or sales; sometimes a romantic note with a heavy, deliberate flourish of curving cursive in deep blue ink – but they were someone else’s memories.


My father was good at buying other people’s memories.  He moved quickly, never hesitating, purchasing pallets of them in bulk, stacked high with boxes at auctions and estate sales.  His face lit up with the thrill of a prospective chase, his eyes latching on the item in question as he pulled out his handkerchief (always white, always in the right back pocket) to wipe the sweat from his forehead as his mind began calculating, assessing its potential worth, the value it might add to his collection.  He made these decisions with sure swiftness, often with less than twenty seconds of deliberation.  There were no consultations with others.  My father was a man who trusted his own instincts.  When he saw something he wanted, he’d shove the handkerchief into its rightful place and hurry towards it, his long legs carrying him, his tall, broad frame about a head above everyone else, even as the rest of him disappeared into the crowd.


My mother never understood this way of thinking, and would roll her eyes at what she called his quest for the perfect heap of “junk.”  She didn’t understand, as we did, that there was a chance that we might find something worthwhile amidst someone’s long-forgotten, left-behind belongings, their fragments of a former self, fossils of a past life.  What I didn’t understand was why anyone would allow their personal mementos – no matter how old or broken – to be sold by a loud, crude man shouting numbers obnoxiously in every direction, to be purchased by someone they didn’t know, wouldn’t ever know.


Looking through these memory boxes, I always wondered about the people who once owned them.  Andrew and I would spend hours concocting stories, devising plots and solving mysteries, convincing ourselves that everything about this unknown person could be discovered through the contents – if we paid close enough attention.  Perhaps it was these situations that led me to understand, even at a young age, that my life was not the only one in the world.  People had lives, past lives, that they just didn’t talk about as they got older.  There were shades of a person, degrees of depth and change, and what I saw of someone at any given moment couldn’t offer me the stories and secrets of his past.  Instead, those lives were eventually boxed up, shoved away, stuffed in cloistered attics to smother and suffocate until somehow, some way, they ended up in my hands.
The past.  It seemed alive and well in that place, where we were confronted with the characteristics of age, items attesting to the inevitability of decay everywhere we turned.  But age wasn’t a bad thing.  It didn’t mean death.  It meant a history.  That’s what we heard, my brother and I, as we walked past rusted meter maids with missing doors that had somehow mutated, joining forces to become a sort of mind-boggling hybrid with the earth, all of it dust and rust and malleable material, a handful of silt sliding through our fingers.  We passed stacks of hardened rubber tires that had turned shiny; past our knotted swinging rope dangling from the tree, so thick it was nearly twice the width of my wrist, and it all sounded the same, a chorus of enticing whispers that beckoned – story, story, story.


Out front, my dead uncle’s cream Pinto was one of the first things to greet us as we reached the gate.  It had always been, as long as I could remember, unchanged — the bright silvery metal handles dotted with flecks of rust like age spots on my grandmother’s arm, clumps of matted leaves trapped beneath the windshield wipers that had been there so long they left a greasy black residue of soot, a faded decal of The Roadrunner in the window.  We have photos of my uncle eating cake with us on my brother’s fifth or sixth birthday, a small smile creeping across his wide, pleasant face as he held his fork.  But when I think of him, I don’t think of him eating cake with us, or playing cards at a kitchen table late into the night.  I think of that car, a solid boulder in the landscape of my childhood, a fixed point in my own universe.


Near the Pinto there was a military-issued Dodge truck painted a chalky reddish-brown, taller and wider than any I’d ever seen, serving as a jungle gym for my brother and me.  I asked my dad several times how and why he’d gotten it, and he’d always told the same story: it was a gift to my mother years ago, before they had children, before they had gotten married.  I was puzzled by that – I had no idea what my mother could possibly want with a huge truck that, to my knowledge, she couldn’t drive, so I asked her one day – a day when I was still a child, long before we moved to Ohio and I learned about the affair and that woman, long before I loved a man named Bryan who didn’t – couldn’t – love me back.
To my surprise, she confirmed the story.  And according to her, she had driven the truck.  But it wasn’t until years later that I realized she could have had no interest in it whatsoever.  No doubt my father’s generous “gift” was an impulsive auction splurge, one bestowed on her to alleviate some of the potential backlash he may have received for purchasing such an unnecessary item in the first place.  It was a gift to himself, really, shoddily disguised by offering it to my mother.


But let me return to the cold, to The Shop.  It tempered some of our adventures, shortening them with the need to run inside and heat our hands by the woodstove as we sipped instant hot chocolate from Styrofoam cups, but for the most part it was another adventure unto itself.  In the winters, The Shop took on a new persona, a sleepier one, one that kept memories safe and the past intact beneath blankets of snow.   But other than that, it’s difficult to remember the cold, because the majority of my childhood memories are rooted in warmth.


I am six or seven, old enough to know that touching a woodstove whose door is glowing a bright, liquid orange around its edges will be hot.  I know this.  Don’t I?  But I reach my ungloved hand forward (ungloved?  Why was it ungloved?  I must have taken it off once I had gotten inside the shop, away from the icy wind) and placed it – bare, naked – on the stove.


My father and my cousin Ross were in the middle of the building, the center of my father’s world, oblivious to everything else.  There were no actual “floors” with stairs to reach them.  Instead, there were levels.  The middle of the building was open, but the edges were lined with a thick, sturdy shelving system.  There were iron bars mounted along the walls, secured with bolts half the size of my fists.  On top of that, there were shelves made of a material thick enough to hold the piles of crates, boxes, and other weighty items that littered them.  To look up from the first floor, in the center of the building where there was a small opening, was something like Alice in Wonderland falling down through the rabbit hole: a jumble of items, some curious, some scary, adorning the walls, the shelves.


Here’s where the memory falls short: I assume that my father and Ross were in the middle of the building.  Rather, that Ross was in the middle of the building – the only place on the ground floor clear enough to stand – waiting for my father, who had disappeared into his piles of dusty toys, scurrying one way and the next like a weasel.  He often sifted through these piles of boxes stuffed to the brim, looking for one particular object or another to complete a project – a certain tool to tinker with the engine of his old, pale green VW Bug that was usually covered in tarp, maybe a chain to attach to the rusty old hook hanging from the ceiling, a wrench for tightening or loosening bolts.


I was fascinated with the way he seemed to know exactly where everything was.  It was as if he’d mapped it out in his mind, memorized it, knew how many paces it took to get from the doorway to the old Avon box overflowing with old Christmas ornaments, how many shuffles to get to the cartons of random car parts.  I looked at the room and saw only the overwhelming clutter and disorganization; he took one glance and saw everything in its rightful place.


I screamed, a little-girl scream, but mighty nonetheless, the sound echoing in the tall building, bouncing off the high walls and ceiling.  It was a piercing, metallic sound that would stop any adult in his tracks, thrusting pulses of fear and panic into his gut.


To a parent, there can be no worse sound than the shriek of a child.  Especially, as was my case, an invisible one:  I was hidden from view, as the woodstove was tucked away into the makeshift front room next to the main entrance, partitioned off with a wooden frame hastily constructed with 2x4s, a skeleton whose narrow beams were filled with coffee cans full of nails.


Yes, this is most likely what happened: Ross was standing alone in the middle, completely out of place, hands in pockets, glancing up at the metal rafters and worrying about the possibility of bats while my father was weaving through piles and aisles of what my mother called “junk.”  This, I say, must be true, because it was Ross who reached me first, after the scream.


He rushed over, saw me, my hand still outstretched, my face shiny and moist with tears and snot.  He knelt down in front of me, asking if I was okay, grabbing my wrist, attempting to turn my hand over so he could see the damage done.
I can imagine his confusion and terror when I began to scream louder and louder, yanking my hand away as if his touch was as equally scorching as the stove.


I could chalk it up to childlike embarrassment—I didn’t want him or anyone else to see me that way, crying and hurt—all the while feeling stupid for reaching out to touch the stove in the first place, a stove I knew would be hot.
But the truth of the matter was this:  I wanted my father.


DADDY!  DADDY!  I WANT MY DADDY!  I screamed.


Not knowing what to do, Ross turned to look for him.  But my father was already rushing around the corner.
He knelt down in front of me, slowly turning my hand over.  I can remember what he was wearing as he inspected my palm: blue jeans and a thermal, a black and red checkered button-down flannel, a black winter hat.  I smelled the smoke that lingered in his clothing from setting the fire in the stove, the thick leather of his work gloves, the slight scent of sweat as he began to perspire beneath all of those layers.


But here is what I don’t remember:  what my hand looked like.  It makes sense that after touching the stove, I’d be immediately concerned with the damage and, like any child, look down in fear to see what I had done to myself.  But I don’t remember glancing down.  I don’t have any scars or telltale signs of injury on my palm.  I don’t remember if there was an ugly, raw impression made by the hot iron, if there was a red, weeping wound that impeded my movement for weeks.


What I do remember is this:  my breathing started its descent, its gradual return to normal, the moment my father was in front of me.  My heart rate slowed, the screaming stopped, and a feeling of fullness began to settle in, to creep over me – that stuffy, somewhat satisfied fatigue I feel after I’ve had a good cry and know there aren’t any tears left inside me.  My chest feels hollow; my head feels heavy, as if it’s stuffed with weighted cotton and steel wool.  There it is: the overwhelming sense of exhaustion coupled with sheer relief.


That was a memory from another time.  Its keeper, another girl.


How strange it is, looking at it now, a fixed point in my universe that I see in the distance, but can’t reach – the path has been destroyed, the link, broken.  And that girl stands on the other side of the chasm – I know her, but she doesn’t know me.


I feel pity for her.  And envy.


I pity: that she did not understand, or could have begun to fathom, the crimes that her father would commit against her, her mother, her brother – their family.  I envy:  her bright eyes, her trusting manner, her truth that her father would be there to run around another corner when he heard her scream.  I pity:  that she didn’t know that someday, she’d scream – only to find that he was not there.  I envy: that the woman I am today, who I am now, sitting upstairs from him as I write this, cannot, ever again, see her father as the little girl did.


She didn’t know the truth of the stove at the time – how a small, simple gesture would turn into a guiding principle, a truth she lived by without understanding it.


This is my hand on the stove.  I am writing to understand it.




Ashley Bethard is an editor, writer and nerd with no hidden talents. She’s obsessed with cheese, argyle socks, her two dachshunds, Joan Didion, and beatnik culture. She blogs at ashleybethard.tumblr.com and sporadically celebrates Didion’s genius at dailydidion.tumblr.com. On a more professional note, she has an MFA in Creative Writing from Ashland University and a BA in English, Creative Writing and Applied Writing.



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