She Whispered Antiques

A Poem by Bobbi Sinha-Morey

In the unquiet auction
a woman who looks
like Jayne Mansfield
wears glasses to examine
antiques, her green eyes
reflected in the crystal
calm, unbroken dialogue
inside her head
over the porcelain rooster
and rosewood desk. She
loves buying cut glass,
delicate objects from
the past, as if they were
her entrance to a dream.
She’d love to buy a house
in heaven, furnish it with
pastels and everything
she sees. The light of a
violet lamp shade, letters
from the forties elegantly
written by hand, lyrical
beauty from unforgotten
eras. She touches a bowl
of carnival glass. A door
in her heart opens.

Mojo

A Poem by Wayne Scheer
 
Mojo, the neighbor’s cat,
old, blind, deaf, arthritic,
kidneys failing–
 
We watch our friend’s
three year-old daughter
while she takes the cat
to be put to sleep.
 
The child, always happy,
chatters about Mojo
going to heaven
and how butterflies
aren’t made with real butter. 

The Wonder of Yet Another New Year

A Photograph by J. C. Lee

Editor’s note: The final gift for the Tet holiday, a view of glorious wonder, the sun rising over yellowed waters, the rising of man to all that will come in the new year and everything grand that the new year holds in waiting, the pure joy of sunrise and color and, yes, wonder:

Photo Credit: J. C. Lee

Three Hours Before New Years and Counting

A Poem by Martin Willitts Jr.

(Editor’s note: Just because New Years happened on the 31st in our country, doesn’t mean it isn’t celebrated later in other countries.)

I knew that New Years Day was off to a bad start
when snow began to fall inside of my closet,
geese flew from the coat hangers,
and someone tobogganed out of the shoe boxes.
I could blame the Mayan calendar
for predicting the end of the world,
but the sun just rose over New Zealand
and it will take hours by bus transfer to get here.
Where is my party hat for the chaos coming at tax time?
Does it mean anything that the Saint Bernard
is bringing an application to AA?
The Walrus brought his own bucket of ice for the champagne.

A Residue of Sun

A Prose Poem by Brian Michael Barbeito

I think I see something as the sky turns red in the horizon. There is a blink. Then it goes out and the tree-line is gone, the roofs different, the forest watching the river. I only have a few minutes. Once before this happened and I went to get a camera, but when I arrived back to this place, the sky was gone. I vowed to never make that mistake again.

I could only make a mental image this time. I thought of spring, the time nearer to summer, when something about smell conjures the memory of older times when they are fresh, when they are borne, when they are happening—

My grandfather in a wool sweater too hot for the weather, stealing oranges off trees in New Port Richie a couple hours before dusk.

A girl I once knew, by an old town cathedral in Centreville, and how the aged city was beautiful and had a sort of delicious decadence that could live inside your spirit,–right on the inside, right there. For an instant I was back with Annette watching her beside the Mana Loa motel as the waves from the Atlantic came crashing in not a few hundred yards away and when I looked to the horizon again because I had looked away, the sky was still there.

Tall libraries lonely in the afternoon, but with some glee and something like that around them.

Strip clubs, the smell of the beer and the women there.

A dream of an apocalypse where machines fought in the distance in a bombed out city. Of course, she was there. She who I could not have known forever, but somehow had.

There are a few moments left. I try to think. I even try to burn inward a bit, where the Ajna Chakra sits. I think I see something as the sky turns red in the horizon.

Lost

A Poem by Mark Reep

Night and Time were lovers once,
or one sea,
or all.
I forget how it goes.

The last stars have fallen,
riddled sails leak old light.
The Captain claims all the ships we hail,
the faces at the distant rails are ours.

A Day of Service

South Africa ended apartheid—the classification of people by skin color (delegating the dark skins to the worst conditions in society and the white skins the best)—ended in 1994 a little under twenty years ago. Yet today in a mall shoppers of all races can come together and shop without any problem or any papers.

Please watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5iIFqHMOE1g

If South Africa can overcome its racist background, why can’t the United States? Some people call the Martin Luther King Holiday a day of service—but why one day of service? Why not everyday a day of service? Why not find a way to bring happiness to others just like the individuals in the flash mob above did in a nation where two decades earlier there would have been mass arrests because at that time a person of color (and where did this phrase come from–doesn’t everyone’s skin have color?) was not even allowed near a person who was not. And to actually hold hands with someone of a different race? Unheard of.

Origin

A Poem by Sandy Benitez

Squatting silently on a rattan shelf
above the kitchen sink like a statue
of Buddha, a fat porcelain bowl of
lemongrass infuses the room with memories
of childhood; sipping bowls of steaming,
hot beef noodle soup with my brother
as we made faces at each other
and licking our lips dry after tasting
mom’s dessert of sweet tapioca pearls
in custard. I never wanted those moments
to end. Neighbors looked at mom
with curiosity, as if she were an alien.
Dad told us mom was from Thailand.
I knew it was a country, just not sure
where it was. She didn\’t seem very different
to me; she was just my mom. Until one day
I looked in the mirror at my own reflection;
a tiny face rudely stared back at me
just like strangers did, trying to figure out
where I came from and what I was.

Chinatown

A Poem by Sandy Benitez

Let’s pretend we can speak Chinese.
We’ll get symbols of Chinese words
tattooed on our arms,
wear sleeveless tees
in Chinatown.

Or maybe we should just be
ourselves for once.
Order Chinese takeout,
throw out the cookies and not the fortunes,
save the chopsticks as drink mixers,
and eat with forks.

Learn how to make fried rice
from scratch.
Save the tattoo money
for a rainy day.
Go see a martial arts movie
starring Jet Li.

The God’s Fish–Part 3

A Short Story by Olivia Griffin-Cordray

Durly couldn’t bear to listen to their talk any longer, and finally, he fled for the solitude of his beach. Now the sea churned as if some monstrous creature was turning over in its depths. Clouds roiled across the sky, shutting out the sun. The smoke from his pipe was acrid in his mouth and burned his tongue. He knocked the ash out of his pipe and tucked it back into his vest. If it had been any darker he wouldn’t have seen the flash of white in the waves, the twisted length of limb, the body that bumped up against the beach.

Durly got to his feet. Something cold gripped his stomach and he stumbled down the hill. His feet broke through the crust of brine over the sand, leaving jagged dark holes in the bands of frost. At the water’s edge he stopped, pulling off his boots — too valuable to ruin — and then he sloshed out into the icy waves.

His feet went numb almost immediately, but he didn’t have far to go. Another wave surged in and the body came with it, drifting up toward him with such force that if he hadn’t braced himself it would have knocked him backwards. Instead he caught it against him, heavy and slippery and ghastly pale like the belly of a fish.

He didn’t know why he did it. On the occasion that the dead washed up on shore the people of Brindlecove usually pushed them back. It was bad luck to take from the sea what the sea had claimed for itself. But his arms went round the body nonetheless, and he twisted his left arm instinctively so his hook wouldn’t dig into the flesh.

It was a girl, he saw then. Her lips were a bruised purple, her hair shock-white and tangled with black ropes of seaweed. Durly staggered backwards under the weight of the body but managed to drag it out of the water and onto the sand. When he got her fully out of the sea he realized he had no idea what he was doing. He began to release his hold to let her body slither to the ground, but then he uttered a shriek of horror as the dead thing suddenly convulsed and clutched at him with claw-like hands.

The girl’s eyes shot open and she gasped for breath, choking and coughing and spitting out sea water and gasping again.

“Oh god,” said Durly. “Oh, my god.” In his shock he let her drop. She curled up on the sand, shaking.

One way or another he managed to drag the girl indoors. His hut was small and dark and smelled of ripe burnt oil, but the coal forge and the kiln kept it warmed through even the coldest months, and the thick wool curtain over the single window – a purchase from Herdann’s girls – shut out the wind that managed to get through the shutter. He bypassed the slab-like bed and dumped the girl rather unceremoniously by the still-warm forge. He yanked the rough woolen blanket off the bed and wrapped it around her, then wordlessly pumped air into the forge and put a pot of water on to boil.

The girl at first lay prone by the fire, shivering uncontrollably. But eventually her tremors ceased and then she went from deathly pale to bright pink all over, and she began to scratch at her skin almost unconsciously. Durly made tea and tried to get her to drink it. She took only a little and refused the rest. He tried to offer her the bed but she wouldn’t move away from the warmth of the forge. The blanket he had given her was damp from her half-drowned body, so he brought her a fresh one from his trunk and let her be.

She slept fitfully. Durly thought he should go to town and call someone to help — maybe Marla and Bittern. But he didn’t want to leave the girl alone for a moment.

He worked quietly while she slept, sanding and shaping the handle of a work knife he needed to finish, and cutting out pieces of leather to make a sheath for it. He went outside to smoke his pipe again but it had gotten dark and even colder, so he didn’t stay long, except to limp down to the water’s edge to retrieve the boots he’d left there. He felt trapped within his own ribcage, like a single fish thrashing around in a bucket.

After several hours the girl stirred, pulling the quilt closely around herself. Her hair was white as salt, but she couldn’t have been more than seventeen. She watched Durly with something dark deep in her eyes. Maybe suspicion. Maybe rage.

“How do you feel?” Durly asked her at last.She furrowed her brow, but otherwise did not respond.

“You’re safe here,” Durly tried again. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’m just a — ” He stopped himself. He’d almost said fisherman. “An old man by the sea,” he said instead. “You’re safe with me.”

But she didn’t say a word.

Durly worked his mouth around thoughts he couldn’t put into words. Questions like Who are you? and Where did you come from? seemed insignificant in light of the fact of her survival. He didn’t want to call it a miracle, but how else did a body survive the sea the way she had? Her hair was still full of seaweed; she looked like some wild sea creature from the old stories, come to devour the world for the harm it had done her kind. A chill of fear prickled over Durly’s skin and he shivered.

He had to say something; she was looking at him with such a terrible look. “This is my home,” he began slowly. “We’re in Brindlecove. I don’t know if you know it. It’s just a little coastal town built up on the backs of fishermen. I used to be a fisherman, before….” He gestured with his hook. She stared at it but her expression didn’t betray a single thought.

Durly cleared his throat. “Anyway,” he said, “I’m not a fisherman anymore. My sister’s husband apprenticed me when I lost my hand. He said I didn’t need two hands to make knives. Turned out, the hook’s even better. I don’t have to worry about burns when I’m tempering a blade.” He smiled a bit at that.

The girl was staring at a hank of her white hair as if it belonged to someone else. The knifemaker watched as her hands found a ribbon of seaweed and began working to free it from the tangle.

“My father used to tell me the story of the god’s fish,” Durly said, watching her work. Her fingers were as deft as a fisherman’s mending a net, as deft as his used to be. “Long ago, before the Wall, there was a winter in Brindlecove that lasted six months. The sea became thick with ice. The earth was hard as stone. They had no food, no firewood; whole families would huddle around a single tallow candle trying to keep warm. They boiled shoes to try to eat the leather.

“They were getting ready to ransack the temple for firewood when news came that a monstrous large fish had washed up on the beach – the very beach outside this hut. The men put down their axes and followed the messenger to the sea, and sure enough, there it was – a fish as large as a boat, as large as ten boats, still gasping for breath and beating the water with its powerful tail. The men tore into the beast, and found it carried enough meat to feed the entire village, and enough fat to burn until the winter broke.”

The girl was watching him, her hands working slowly now. She seemed to be listening intently.

Durly hunched his shoulders. “The god sent fish every year after that. Huge fish, fish the size of houses. So much fish they salted it and feasted on it through the summer. So much that people got sick of it.” He paused for breath and it caught in his throat painfully. “All that god-damned fish.” He gasped, the pain going deep now. “The god was just giving us what we wanted.”

The girl from the sea watched him as he covered his face with his good hand. He turned away from her, curling up on the hard slab of his bed, his face to the wall, his knees pulled up to his chest, and he held in his breath like a man plunging into the sea.

He dreamed of ash, hills of it, ash floating through the air like snow. It caked the ground, his hut, his hair; it mixed with the sea and turned it to sludge. It buried Brindlecove so only the tops of the chimneys remained, belching out smoke and even more ash until the whole world was white with it, and the sea gnawed away at its edges.

Then someone was shaking him and he woke up to find the girl leaning over his bed, her hair licking up around her head like fire. The ash from his dream. Her head was on fire. No – it was just the glow from the forge. But –

She spoke finally, and her voice was deep and roughened. “The Wall is coming down,” she said.

Durly’s mouth worked silently like a fish sucking at air. Finally, he managed to say, thinking she mistook the roar of the sea for the rumble of falling rock, “It’s only the ocean.”

But she shook her head and her wild white hair floated as if she was still submersed in saltwater. “I’m telling you, the Wall is coming down.”

Over the roar of the sea Durly heard screams.

He was up and out of the hut in an instant. He sprinted up the hill and when he got to the top he saw the night lit by the lunatic orange of fire. The temple was ablaze.

Durly cursed softly. He could barely breathe. The fish trapped in his ribcage ceased to thrash. “The god is dead,” he said aloud, despair causing his voice to break.

“He’s not,” came the girl’s voice beside him. He hadn’t noticed her clamber up the hill behind him, but now she stood at his side, one clenched fist holding the quilt tight around her body.

“That’s our temple you see there, lighting up the night,” Durly told her. And then: “I guess the people got tired of waiting for the god to send them a fish.” A gust of wind blew ash into their faces and Durly began to cough.

But the girl smiled eerily, the light of the bonfire glinting off teeth like pearls. “I am the fish,” she said. “And the Wall is coming down.”

The God’s Fish–Part 2

A Short Story by Olivia Griffin-Cordray

Durly fixed his gaze on the restless waters. He didn’t want to believe it. But the god of his forefathers hadn’t spoken since the Wall had risen. How long had it been now? Three hundred years? Nearly? What did it matter, he thought; the god wasn’t listening anymore.

Today he had gone to town as usual. He had taken his wares in a roll of butter-soft suede, tucked tight under his shoulder as he made his way to the One-Eyed Mule, where Herdann had his ale waiting. But the alehouse was darker than usual, just a little bit quieter, and Herdann had a tenseness to his face that crinkled his brow and tightened his lips as he passed the mug across the bar to Durly.

“Eh, Durly,” said Herdann, “you catch any of the brother’s sermon this afternoon?”

Durly had not, and he shook his head. “Didn’t know it was a feastday, cousin.”

Herdann swiped at the bar with his rag and then tucked it into his apron. He was an average-sized man but had a nose as long as a broomstick and eyes as pale as marbles. His blond hair was going grey and stuck up around the crown of his head like a haystack. “More a fastday, the way the brother tells it,” he said. “These Ashen Monks are bad business. Say what you will about the temples and those that run ’em, but if the temples aren’t too sacred to fall, what’s stopping ’em from burning down a whole village? Brindlecove is half driftwood. We’d go up like so much dry grass.”

Durly wiped foamy ale off his moustache. “You think they’re coming this way?”

Herdann turned away. “They’re working their way east,” he said. “It’s only a matter of time ’til they get here. And no one’ll bother stopping ‘em. Let the brother try to rouse the rabble; the plain truth is there’s a new god that rules now, and his name is Chaos.”

Durly didn’t know why it hurt so much to hear Herdann say this out loud. He himself had never been a great believer. The sea ruled his life as it had ruled his father’s before him. But there was a comfort in thinking the god was watching. He wanted to believe in a purpose to things, a reason that ruled the tides, the flights of birds, the coursing of a man’s blood. If chaos really did rule, what was to prevent the tide from washing over the whole earth and razing it to stubble? Durly’s heart felt leaden and black.

“The brother says the god is letting us suffer as punishment,” said Durly.

“It’s a wicked kind of shepherd to let the wolf carry off the flock,” said Herdann stonily.

“It’s because of the Wall,” said Marla, Herdann’s fourteen-year-old daughter, who sat near the cave-like fireplace at the end of the room. Unlike her father she was small and dark, with her hair tied in bunches like sheaves of wheat. She had huge eyes that glistened in the firelight. Next to her sat her older sister Blind Bittern, who was spinning yarn with a drop spindle. “That’s what the brother says, anyway,” said Marla. She turned her attention to her sister again, handing her a pinch of rough wool to draft into the yarn.

“The Wall wasn’t our fault,” said Herdann as he pulled another cup of ale from the keg. “It was the thaumaturgists who raised it in the east, and who brought hell and damnation down on our heads when they were trying to decide how the world turned. The wars raged for fifty years and what did we get out of it? Blasted earth and poisoned waters from the thaumaturgists’ evil fire.”

“The thaumaturgists’ power ended at the Wallrise,” said Durly tiredly. “Maybe the Wall was a gift from the god in that respect.”

“If it was a gift, it was his deathbed gift,” said Herdann.

“You think the god is dead then?” said Durly.

The barkeep was silent a moment and then Bittern spoke up from the end of the room. “I don’t think the god is dead.”

Durly gave the girl an assessing look. Bittern had been blind since birth. She would likely never marry because of it; men around Brindlecove wanted wives who could work. If no one took pity on her, she would remain in her father’s alehouse for the rest of her life, sitting by the fire and spinning. If anyone had cause to doubt the god’s existence it was her.

Herdann cleared his throat. “He’s either dead or sleeping or he just don’t care about us enough to pay us any mind,” he said.

But Bittern shook her head. “I don’t think it’s that,” she said. “I think the god is wounded. Everyone knows the stories of how he used to provide for us, in the ancient days. He made the sea feed us even in the darkest winters, when we were cold and hungry and had nothing left to us but ashes.” Durly found himself nodding. He remembered hearing about the giant fish that once swam the seas, big enough to feed a family of ten for a month. But the fish had gone after the Wallrise. Some said it was the god’s curse on mankind for daring to split the earth in two.

Bittern, however, didn’t seem to think it was a curse. “When the thaumaturgists raised the Wall, the god saw we could make our own miracles,” she said. “We showed him we didn’t need him anymore. He’s not punishing us. He’s giving us what we wanted.”

Durly felt bloated from the ale. After that, the conversation only grew darker. More men continued to straggle in, all bringing news of the Ashen Monks. It wasn’t news Durly cared to hear. The brother had gotten the whole village riled up, it seemed, but his sermon of resistance against the Ashen Monks seemed to have the opposite effect of what he’d intended; the men mostly spoke in favor of the renegades’ goals. The god was dead, they said. The temples were nothing but a burden to the smallfolk. The brother would be better off out on the sea like the rest of Brindlecove’s men. Why wait for the Ashen Monks to show up? Fishermen had good hot fire like anyone else….

The God’s Fish–Part 1

A Short Story by Olivia Griffin-Cordray

The lone and level sands stretched far away along the barren shore, grey as ashes, cold as iron. Frozen black bulges of seaweed littered the high-tide line, and ripples of snow rimed the sand down to the water’s edge. The brine-crusted stony beach had long ago been beaten into submission by the icy sea. The sea, called Kalc by those who believed in the power of names, menaced the vast sprawling north of the map that had once belonged to the knifemaker’s father. The sea didn’t stop at the map’s edge, but man’s fortitude did. Nothing scared the knifemaker more than the sea, except perhaps the Wall. It was the sea that took his hand fifteen years ago, back when he earned his keep on a fishing boat. But it was the Wall that took his god.

Now the sea was the only god left in the north, and Durly the knifemaker made his home beside its dark sacred waters. He was thirty-five years old, thickly bearded, heavily scarred, twisted in the back, and since he quit the fishing business he had grown as scrawny as the gulls that shrieked and circled over the beach. When working on his knives he wore a pincer-like hook where his left hand used to be. His hut, a round stone construction with a sloping thatched roof, was his home and his workshop, and it nestled in the hillside overlooking the cold beach that had belonged to his family for three generations. Before he had lost his hand and when his father had been alive, the beach and the dock had been always busy, but now it lay abandoned and all but useless.

Durly preferred the view of the town. When he climbed the hill and looked south he could see the dingy sprawl of Brindlecove, the smoke rising in pillars and threads from its crooked chimneys to the pearl-grey arc of the sky. He walked into town nearly every night by a dirt road split by gaping ruts, remnants of the now defunct fishing trade that had once brought merchants to the beach in droves. He’d take his wares to sell in Brindlecove, but mostly he talked to the men of the town, listening to whatever news that had come their way and sharing stories late into the night.

But tonight he had come home unusually early, and now he sat on a rock in front of his hut, pipe clenched between his teeth, shoulders hunched against the bitter cold as he watched the sea churn. Off to the east the Wall stood sentinel, taller than the mountain range from which it had erupted all those years ago. Durly didn’t know how tall it was — tall enough, he guessed. No one had gone east since it rose. You couldn’t scale it. You couldn’t even sail around it. For all he knew, it stretched out across the sea to the very edge of the world. Maybe even farther.

He rubbed his forearm ruefully. He wouldn’t be the one to find out how far it went. He hadn’t been on a boat since he lost his hand and didn’t plan on boarding one any time soon.

The water looked as hard and forbidding as iron now in the evening slant of the sun, and the waves worried the beach like a man chewing his fingernail. Durly sucked on his pipe and let the smoke whorl over his tongue. He couldn’t stop thinking about the news from the west, of the men who had been tearing apart temples all along the coast. What had Herdann called them earlier?

 ”They’re working their way east,” Herdann had said just this afternoon. “It’s only a matter of time ’til they get here….”

The Ashen Monks, Durly thought. That’s what he called them.