En Route to Marquesado

by Karl Chandler

Hot outside. Hot and dry. Elder Greenwood and I walked along the Avenida Benevides between Barrio los Pinos and los Alerces. The San Juaninos drive crazy along the Benevides. We walked quickly, cursing the sun. He was always walking as close to the wall as he could, sometimes even mashing his white shirt up against the adobe so he could use what little shade there was. She wasn’t that important to me. I liked the open air, even if it meant a burnt nose. So we walked, he on my left hand and hunkering into the wall—when there was one. Even so he loomed over me, and his shadow was my shade as we picked our way through the rocks to the bus stop. We were going to Marquesado.

I don’t remember if we had eaten yet. It was hot outside. The gnats hardly moved at this hour, only in the shade. That’s why I walked in the sun. I hate gnats; mosquitos are friendly than gnats. We were early, so we must have eaten in our apartment that day, but I can’t remember. Maybe we were going to eat in Marquesado. As we walked, we looked at his watch and decided to teach someone before the bus came. Someone awake who would listen.

Picking our way over the rocks and dirt, hardly looking up because of the sun and because we didn’t want to trip, we suddenly stumbled onto a vegetable stand. This was new. No vegetable stand was here yesterday, just rocks and dirt. But today something was different—a stand had burst out of the ground like its wares. Inside, watermelons and squash crouched in the shade by the tables that guarded tomatoes and peppers and onions and eggplant under the tarp, far away from the sun. Everything looked aged; it might have been there for years.

A man sat by the table. A woman—maybe his sister—stood behind him. They were drinking mate. I never could understand why they drank a hot drink with the sun scalding like it did in San Juan. Drinking mate and waiting for customers. Or perhaps hoping there wouldn’t be customers so that they could drink their mate. Or not caring. He looked like a man who did not care. His sister cared especially when she saw our suits and nametags. I think that’s why he agreed to listen to us: because his sister didn’t want to and he didn’t care. He cared only enough to make her angry. It was hot under the tarp, even hotter than in the sun. And it smelled like vegetables that had been there for years.

Elder Greenwood began the discussion, and I, bothered by the gnats in the shade, tried to concentrate on the words and the message. I drifted from the words to the watermelon to the tomatoes, and then settled on the Benevides. Not far from us the cars passed, less than ten feet from where we sat. They passed quickly, rending air already bent by heat. It was hard to tell where the road ended and the heat began. They mixed in little twirls that blended into one another, especially if I looked far away. I read once that’s how a mirage works. Looking far down the road, I thought I saw a puddle. A mirage. There were no puddles today.

Wandering back from the Benevides, I again saw the man and his sister. I heard Elder Greenwood winding down. It was my turn. I began to talk, telling the man of the mission of Christ while the dust and the gnats ground in my throat and between my teeth. The man was enjoying himself—perhaps because his sister was not. He answered my questions over the passing cars. The Benevides was a busy road. As I talked and listened, I thought it stupid of us to try to teach someone here, especially someone who listened to irritate his sister. Still I concentrated my efforts, hoping my feelings would burn into his heart. Elder Greenwood wasn’t paying attention. He was looking at the Benevides.

A new sound wormed its way through the heat. I talked and listened and identified the sound. It was a moto—a little motorbike that could hardly carry one person. Sometimes the San Juaninos rode by twos on them, and the driver would have to push with his legs for the first twenty-five feet to make it go. I talked. Elder Greenwood looked at the Benevides. The man’s sister looked at the Benevides. The man looked at me and at the Benevides. They all moved, looking closer at the Benevides. Then I looked. It was a bigger moto than I thought, light blue with a black seat and silver handlebars. It was going very fast for a moto. My grandpa has a red one and an orange one like it. A man was riding it—a young man. He was making a left turn by the grocery store on the other side of the road. He made a glorious turn, leaning so he didn’t have to break his speed. He was looking at the grocery store on the other side of the road.

Perhaps it was the heat. Perhaps it was the heat or the gnats, or maybe he was bored and was thinking about mate. Or maybe he just forgot that the Benevides was a busy road traveled by many buses and remises and taxis and motos. Maybe the man just forgot that the Benevides was a two-way road. I don’t know. He was dead before I could ask him.

Through the heat and the gnats on the other side of the Benevides ripped a remis, a little car with a big antenna. It was quieter than the moto. Perhaps the man did not hear it. The heat carried the crunch to us. We could almost hear the bones mesh with bumper and bike and gnats when the car hit the moto. It was a nice car, remises usually are. The man made no sound. He flew up and backwards, his eyes looking down and his feet rising. The car pushed the moto slowly through the gap between the man and the Benevides. He was very high when his feet came level with his head. The head plunged, face toward the grocery store, and the feet came over. He was too high above for me to see if his leg was mangled. Then the man looked skyward again, perhaps still alive. I don’t know. He was dead before I could ask him. His feet pointed skyward too, like a man looks in a coffin. Then he hit, his head at the door of the grocery store on the other side of the road. He was looking up, looking up at heaven. We couldn’t hear him hit because the moto was screeching along the Benevides.

Suddenly I was at his side—no, at his feet. I was at his feet looking at his face; I and his face and his feet looking up to heaven. Cars were honking. Elder Greenwood was yelling. The moto‘s engine was still popping. But everything was silent, too. The man was dead. The cement was cracked under his head and there was blood leaking at the base of his skull. Blood leaking over the new cracks. There was blood at the right side of his mouth, leaking at the very edge of his lips over his cheek and down around his neck. His body looked whole. I moved to his side and noticed that he had blood at his feet. It was leaking out of his pants. I wondered if his ankles were broken. Sometimes I still wonder. He was dead before I could ask him. I went back to his feet and looked at him. There was nothing I could do. I wondered if he had children. Perhaps it was the heat and the gnats, but he looked like a daddy.

Then it got loud again. The man from the vegetable stand was there. Elder Greenwood was there. The man driving the car was there, and then he left again in his car. He was escaping. The moto was there on the side of the grocery store, its motor still popping. I wondered what gear it was in. Everyone was there. People from the grocery story were there. Elder Greenwood was still there. He was scared.

“Come on,”  he said, “come on! We’re gringos. We’re Mormons. They hate us here. They’re going to think it’s our fault. They think we did it. Come on! Let’s go!”

So we left. We walked to where the dirt becomes asphalt on the other side of the Benevides. We returned to the vegetable stand and picked up our books. Looking up, we saw the bus. Number seven came toward us on our side. We ran and called it, and it took us breathing to Marquesado. I forgot whether we had eaten yet or not. Maybe we were going to eat in Marquesado. Instead, we just sat in a park and listened to each other breathe. It wasn’t hot anymore, and I don’t remember any gnats. And so we feasted on our own breath.

Burials

by Neil Aitken

Pulling through Montana in the snow
we cling to the tail lights of the last car
blurring back into the darkness.

"Like the inside of a coffin," my father says
as if knowing the exact shade the dead see
lying stiff, frozen eyes peering up through closed lids

he shifts in his seat, watches the road disappear
thinks again of dying and the burials we've seen,
his father's simple reduction to ashes.

How small the urn, how light, for a man
that stood 6'3", carried a boy on his shoulders,
lived on trains as a youth, picked apples as a man.

This past summer, watching him thin
to disappearing, blurring out lines between lives,
my father trying to return pieces, fragments, time,

the body burning, the dark smells of crematoriums,
funeral homes, and pale-faced lawyers.
Something merges, ends, and begins.

My father placing the ashes back into the air,
offering to the skies, to the seas,
unaware of how Buddhist he is at this moment,

how the faint sound of bagpipes echoes
how the ashes fall catching light
reflecting something back into the silence,

the dark birth of the sun coming into view.

Qua Têt

(Beyond the New Year)

by Karl Thomas Rees

Does it change, now that she is dead
the silent intrigue, the sudden shower
over the Vietnamese fish markets,
refreshing the tiled, open streets,
where once the red cannons burst
as the Dragon danced and ate the lettuce?

A Letter to the Person Who Will Go through My Pockets When I’m Dead

by Jerem Pickett

 

Dear Posthumous Pocket Investigator:

Please forgive me for dying
this way—I can only guess
how it happened. Perhaps, as my
Buick settled near the eight-foot line,
pool bottom, I sat there wishing
I had worn my other brown tie;
or maybe, as I stood choking
on a Golden Delicious, I felt
the ephemeral sensation of gazing
in a darkened theatre; or, as I
slipped off an edge at Zion's,
I confused dirt and air and wondered
if I were really falling.

I have always regretted
not being able to predict things:
when a traffic signal will change,
what the weather will do,
that a person will stop hoping
or staring a certain way and leave
only a semitoothed comb, a few
navy blue pantsuits,
300-and-some-odd cotton swabs
in your closet.

No loose ends here—
my sewage is paid, photo album
up to date; and if you take care
of my pet octopus (he's probably
at home, wanting to be fed), I won't
prod you in Mass,
misplace your TV Guide,
or disappear down side-streets
just after the bars close.

Running Circles

by N. Andrew Spackman

It's a sodden, autumn morning
and those idiot dogs
are running circles again.

They bound through the muck
on stubby legs,
down and up and down
like teeter-tottering sausages.
Their tongues flop to the rhythm,
and their panting
forms frozen puffs
that dissipate
under barren trees
and a dim, white sky.

Centuries of pedestrians
idle past my view.
They wear thick clothes
the color of dirt.
They beat a hard-packed path
with their noses
dragging on the ground.

Every morning,
I sit at the window.
I eat these porridge oats.
I watch those
idiots run circles.

Grandmother Naming

by Shannon Castleton

In the passenger seat she rubs her belly
like a good idea, and reads billboards out loud.
She is looking to name the baby. Dick's Café.
St. George Inn. She thinks it's a boy
she's naming, having read the paper clip
dangling from a kite string over her wrist: left
to right, a boy. Circling,
a girl. She pats the warm fluttering, thinks
my little man, my sweet idea.

At this point, I am no one's idea,
though it's my mother's fingers grown smooth
in the thin sac. When she's pulled out
onto the white-sheeted bed, she will already feel
they are sad for her
girl parts, will already be full of her allotted eggs.

Inspecting her, Grandfather will call her good
and name her after himself—also
after Jerry Lee's Used Car Lot.
Later she will imagine me, her first brilliant
daughter. She'll close her eyes to a dream
of my face, believe I love my name
and my body. Why shouldn't she? She doesn't
know who she's dreaming. For now I am bright
arms and glimmering feet. I am little
sun-dried white dresses.

Adam’s Song

by James Richards

Tommy was the first pet I had in Eden,
par'a-keet" seemed to fitsmall parrot
with long tail, the color of apple, new leaf,
and lemon; harsh, irritating song.
I called it screaming at first but my softer side
said, "Song, Adam, song."

Eve taught me about mu'sic—a medley
of sounds and tones, as of the wind.
Cain taught me that some music is hard
to hear: "Father, I have killed Abel
and buried myself where frozen stars
draw black flowers from my grave."
That was a song.

I clipped Tommy's wings that day,
with scis'sorsa cutting instrument, two pivoted blades.
I gathered the yellow, green, and dark
red shadows in the valley of my palm.
Eve sang a music I could hardly hear.
I inserted one-by-one into the warm earth of Abel's grave
the cool feath'ers—lighter than flowers, less afraid
of flying; colorfast and hardened by a harsh song.

Principles of Tree House Construction

by Laura Owen

 

Bob and Jane were building a tree house. Jane thought the tree house ought to have more rooms, for her cocktail parties and reading-club meetings. Bob disagreed because he had been reading Thoreau and felt that two people who wanted to live in a tree should be satisfied with two rooms. The tree house said that two rooms were not enough and began to expand across the branches, crushing the tree’s leaves and buds. Jane rushed to stop it, explaining that there were less violent ways to solve a disagreement, although current trends in composition allowed for absurdity on the part of the tree house in short works of fiction. The writer, who had always wished she could afford a vanity, gave Jane one more room for a boudoir.

 

The writer then began to decorate the front rooms. She added a crystal chandelier but decided it was preferential to privileged persons. Instead she tried writing a mop and a bucket in the corner next to an ironing board but felt that this affirmed traditional symbols of female subjection. She deleted both the chandelier and the bucket and replaced them with a bust of Augustine. Bob felt that this was a bit high-handed. The writer penciled in a totem pole and a plate of Jell-O next to the bust.

 

Suddenly the tree house became a tea house. The writer had made a spelling mistake. The tree house did not want teacups and sugar cubes.

“I have been improperly defined,” it complained. “I demand a reconstruction.”

 

“Damn,” said Bob. He didn’t know why.

The writer was experimenting with offensive material. She wanted to remain religious, but not naively religious. Mild cussing on Bob’s part was sufficient. Bob began to bury his children under the tree without telling Jane. This upset the tree, who disliked Bob’s corruption of its roots, and the plant threatened to topple and leave its inhabitants in a pulpy pile under the trunk. Jane considered involving herself in a fiery love affair with a writer in order to legitimately escape Bob’s neurotic behavior. The writer began to consider alternate means of attracting readers.

 

She asked Bob and Jane to take a look at the draft and propose possible changes.

“I suggest a more terse style,” said Bob, who was a man of few words and who didn’t particularly care for the rococo clock in the tree house’s bedroom.

“I think this whole tree house project is demographically misplaced,” said Jane, “and the cumbersome diction has made dents in the paneling.”

“Are you sure about the efficiency of employing an Iowa workshop method?” asked the tree house.

 

Bob and Jane noticed a hole opening up in the west corner of the tree house.

“I am excluded,” the reader suddenly chimed in. He/She had slipped in through the hole.

“We know you are excluded,” Bob and Jane and the tree house and the writer explained, “but we are aware of your exclusion and exist for the Other. We cannot make a whole, only holes. After all, we are not final, only informed.”

The reader grumbled. “I want to be part of this interpretive community, too.”

“Think of me as a womb,” the tree house said, trying to console him/her. Several branches reached tenderly for the reader.

“Is there a tree in this house?” Bob asked.

Jane sat down and began to read The Unauthorized Biography of Martha Stewart.

The writer said nothing. Another hole had opened up in the tree house floor, and she had clumsily fallen through.

Pah Tempe

(Paiute for “water from the rock”)

by Sally Stratford

After another day hiking the desert,
I lock the door of my car
and turn towards the hot springs
in the cool night.
On the gravel trail
I'm wrapped by stars,
rehearsing the legend of
the woman kept from cancer
by the water.
Hard to believe
that the Virgin River
shaped this jagged canyon.

Terraced pools seep down
to the river, I slide in
and the sulfur water
holds my body, hot, sandy.
I see Pete, the naked regular
through the rising steam.
My first time
he asked, "Why are you here?"
He comes after a day of drinking
then returns to his flickering trailer
        healed.

I want to soak naked
the whole time too,
not just alone in the cold river,
to wash sand out of my bathing suit,
but I'm not a regular yet.
Under the waterfall
I rinse caked mud from my hair
and off my white arms.

I return to the pool and find Pete
leaning against the rock, asleep
like a little boy exhausted
from crying in the dark.

The Mood This Afternoon

by Krista Halverson

 

At the door is an oven mitt
attached to a Sister whose face is red
in the steam of soup.

Perfumes slosh in the bottles she dusts
around. She's very good
at cleaning me up and the traces of me.
I would like to go out

with a squirt on each wrist, my best
clothes heavy and wet with scent.
Until I can't smell anything but me.

I should have a dozen more pictures
of myself, in frames. There are babies floating
on all the walls of this house.

Here is what else I want, in writing, so you can't
forget: my daughters to sit in piles
of my clothes. My sons to stumble
on my pearls, clicking
on the bottom of the drawer. Someone
who looks like me
to bring the youngest home from school.

And one more thing,
I look like a witch, and someone
ought to tell me.