On Grandmother’s Couch

by Q. Woodward

The only doctor in Franklin, Idaho,
was drunk that night, so a midwife
caught my grandmother before she fell
onto the rough kitchen table.

Eighty-six years later, we sit
on her plastic-covered couch,
her scarecrow body slumping
into mine, her hands like
orange peels, curled
across my forearm, grabbing
at almost anything today.

Because I have hair she calls me
Nathan―her teenage gardener who says
he feels guilty each time my mother pays him.
All bald men are Arnold―her husband
twenty-eight years dead. This silent hour
is punctuated only by her battle
to breathe through thick phlegm
that refuses to rise.

The doctors we pay to preserve her
speak clinically, as if we are colleagues,
noting that things like this will run
a charted course. I sit, cradling her frame,
and count the tiptoe rhythm of her heart,
every measure nearing decrescendo.

Breakfast Catechism

by Jared Pearce

Christianity has chosen symbols well―purifying
water, the voice of thunders and rushing
air―for the superstitious language that hold God.
But if He speaks in thunder, who hears
at 5:19 in the morning?

Rain patters on the tin awnings over the windows;
good, I think, that the water comes and cleanses after
the voice of God has shaken the house―the wind
slams the hallway door and makes me start.

Tiny drops renew after God’s mad preaching. Clouds
roll north into the mountains―again His voice―
and again the rain and coolness comfort, but I’m unnerved
by the questions that listening brings to all discourse:

How, in the rumbling, do we discern mood or tense?
Is this a command, perhaps a complaint, in response to His all-knowing
glance on the dresser and bedclothes?

Chastity

by Jared Pearce

The scrub juniper exploding dark green life
and shadow around us, over us; the night hours when
even crickets have stopped dancing. Curiosity,
the eternal in another’s body―sacred

individuality beyond touch―like the narrow
between clavicles. We treated each
other like temples, proselytes
approaching the holy. My nervousness

in sustaining distance and desire since in some months
I’d leave to try religion―I always wanted
to be a religious man. But I’m divining
the lonely freshness of a second skin moving

independently in synch―I’m sure snakes
are used to this―and hearing a voice say
wait, and walking home by moonlight and speaking
of rightness. I imagine, after a belly-full

of knowledge of good and evil, Adam and Eve spoke
of this―justification for wanting
to be so near another human person connected
to an idea of falling―

In love and engaged, Making out in the old pickup
in Prescott, spring, parched for each other
over months of abstinence. Dizzy communion, our bodies
signs, we walked along the cemetery

where a bleached tombstone Gabriel spooked
us back to the comfort of the radio and reckless
driving. Laughing at ourselves we stopped only twice
on the road home to straighten make-up,

hairdos, excuses. Her mother only slightly noticed
the rosy flush at our throats in the morning.
We still smirk about that―the funny, moral
wriggling of bring caught in love.

Man Silently to His Wife at the Meat Counter

by Alma Christl Call

My objection, chopped
like these two thick steakes
that I don’t want but you must have.
Congratulations,

on such a good cut
not bleeding, cauterized
quickly with this carved
smile, for the butcher.

You must win, must say so aloud.
But, this is not a new pain,
this emptiness somewhere
between the rib and backbone,

as if a needle left over
from an old surgery
had wormed through a lung.
I know nothing

of surgery except the daily
operations of your voice, sterilized
like your formica eyes.
Your conversation, clinical.

Each day an -ectomy.
Another part of me.
And the resentment
grows like an -oma.

Our First Christmas Eve

by N. Andrew Spackman

The air above my parents' roof is cold.
It pushes smoke back down the chimney.
I turn off the fire alarm
and open both windows, but
my wife and I still can’t breathe,
so I hang a wet towel from the mantel,
next to the Christmas stockings
my mom made for us.
On mine she needled baby.
The one she made for Kathy
is black with soot.

Beneath the smoke,
Kathy and I drink eggnog.
On our hands and knees,
we lap it up like kittens.
She hides her hands in my hair
and sponges my face with kisses.
"Be soft," she says
when I bite her lip on the hide-a-bed.
That night, in dreams, I stand before her,
black with soot and tempting.
She says all she wants is a pomegranate.

Old Mc Donald [Had a Farm]

by Joseph Anthony Hunt

When I worked for the Nobel Prize committee,
they gave me a Visa card,
a rain slicker, and fifteen weeks
to find the man
who wrote “Old McDonald [Had a Farm].”

“We want to give him the Nobel Prize.”
“For literature?”
“For literature, chemistry, peace,
it doesn’t matter.”

“Ee,” he said.
“Aye,” he said.
“Oh.”
And then he sighed—
an eighteen-second sigh.
I’d never heard anyone sigh for so long before.

I couldn’t leave soon enough.

I slept that night in the Nobel Prize Hotel.
At 2:30 a.m., the telephone rang.
“Have you left yet?”
“No.”
“You’ll find a taxicab outside the lobby,
continental breakfast in the backseat,
and slippers, underneath your bed.”
I went first to Oregon, Klamath Falls,
the city I was born in.
There, there are lots of farms,
with a quack quack here
and a quack quack there.

I met a man, at Country Villa candy store
(which also sells petroleum).
“I hear you’re looking for Shiloh McCarthy.”
“Who?” I said.
He pulled out a gun.
“Get into the car.”

The car was a’79 Cadillac Seville,
black, with leather interior, anti-lock brakes . . .
“Calm yourself,” the man spoke.
“The revolver is merely to emphasize my point.
It’s not even loaded—see?
My moustache isn’t real, either.”
I nodded.

“Shiloh McCarthy is the man whom you seek,
the man who wrote the song you know so well.
I am Emil, emissary of the Catholic Church.”

“But why?” I said.
“The Church desires to make him a saint.”
“Really?” I said.
“Yes,” he said.
“This is no joke.”
I licked -y lips with my tongue
and rolled my eyes backwards,
to think.

“To be a saint,” I said,
“you have to be dead.”
“Yes, for one year.”
“Hm. Then he’s dead?”
“Yes.”
(I didn’t know if Nobel prizes
could be given to dead people.)
“Hm.”

“We’ve been studying his life
in this vicinity for two months.”
“Hm.”
“So far, ‘things are looking up,’
as they say.”

“To be a saint,” I said,
“you have to do three miracles.”
“Yes,” he said.
“What were his miracles?”
“Er” he said.
“Aye,” he said.
“Oh.”

Thin Daughter

by Alma Christl Call

My hands smell like onions.
The chicken breasts between us.

Well, eat up! I say.
She stares at her hand

I have molded around a fork
until it shakes open.

The fork leaves dents
in her fingers.

You have to eat.
Her head jerks up.

It is the cumin sharp
in my nose that reddens

my eyes, blurs my vision.
While marinara bleeds

with broccoli juice across
the white bones of her plate.

The Fruitcake I Bury in My Backyard Each January

by Q. Woodward

I can’t tell her no, so she brings the same thing
every year “Oh, Grandma,” I say, “you shouldn’t
have.” It is the only truth I speak all week. She settles
into my rocking chair, and I set the heavy block
beside the microwave to sit in its plastic shroud
for seven days—seven slow days until she leaves.
Every night at dinner she mentions it. I feign deafness.
She persists. “We’ve just had so many sweets lately,”
I conjure. “Besides, we want to save it all for ourselves”-
as if our greed for her gift were boundless.

Her car rolls out of the driveway, and I crouch
beside my back porch, digging the eighth identical,
tiny grave alongside the last seven years’ unmarked
martyrs. I wonder if their rubber-fruit skeletons are still
resting beneath the hard winter earth,
and if when Grandma goes the way of all
fruitcake, she’ll meet the ghosts of her
offerings and learn the secret of my annual wake.

One day, when my mother begins bringing
my children the same Christmas curse, Grandma
will soar through the sky to my home, float above
the row of stockings hanging from my mantle,
and cast an angel’s spell of hardened dates and
bitter nuts upon my calloused heart.

Oil

by Melody McGrath

Following a brief rain,
your car will unintentionally deposit
in an asphalt nest
a perfectly shelled and shimmering
egg of oil.
It arcs a rainbow under 
your Toyota,
a slight pocket of crude
within a rim of color.
You will marvel at its loveliness,
remarking on its wild, murky abandon,
feeling the grandeur of life in a 
handful of swirling blue.
The sky dampens and repeats the downpour,
and your lovely rainbow creature
driven to frustration by an incessant drumming of rain
breaks its shell
and rolls away.

Pica

by Krista Halverson

This eighth month I have been painting women. Gesture
Juncture, profiles next to apples, in poses that embarrass
Me. This one cracks her knuckles on the back of her neck, stares

Like the plump sister in another wash–arm raised overhead
Like a crescent roll. Same skin
Slipping over her jaw, same monochrome and glaze,

Poised, like she could never think of breathing,
My doctor tells me to explore, play music, buy yellow–for a boy
Or a girl. Explains why I hold mouths full

Of soil, bite my tongue until my eyes run,
And take small swallows of warm grit. She calls this Pica,
Which condition bothers women, mainly, She knows

A woman whose husband found her digging clay
From under a cold rock; she ate the roots of her Geraniums.
The hair on this girl looks like roots. She smells like me, like paint
And that hole in the wood floor where the oil drains.