Gregory Hill – Fiction

AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL RECOUNTING OF MY BIRTH

I took my first breath in the year of 1942, during the final song of a performance by the Stables Family Band at the Bijou Theatre in Cumber, Wisconsin. It was August as hell and my mother was playing fiddle.

The birth occurred without the aid of a doctor. Rather, I slid out of my mother’s well-practiced womb and splashed upon the wooden stage between her shoeless feet. In anticipation of this, Mother had worn her wedding dress that night. She’d been wearing it for seven straight days.

The dress had first belonged to my grandmother, who had sewn it for her own wedding. Grandmother had bedecked the dress with hideous, cascading folds and frills and fluffy things in order to hide the shameful bulge of her belly, a bulge that would eventually turn into my mother.

These many years later, the dress’s white cotton had aged into the color of sunstained newsprint, and it was perforated with moth bites. After an unlaundered week as stagewear, the cotton had acquired several additional hues, the perforations had expanded into holes, and it was as pungent as a pond of panther piss.

In spite of this, the dress looked great on Mother. Everything always looked great on Mother. Even in her mid-thirties, she had remained a dish, thanks to her lifelong loves of performance, moonshine, amphetamines, and rigorous fucking.

My first memory, planted that firefly and frogsong evening, is of my babyhead colliding with the Bijou’s age-warped stage.  The impact jiggered my soft body all the way to the bottoms of my convex feet.

My phlegmy nostrils, desperate for oxygen, drew in a teaspoon of air dank with the funk of Mother’s unwashed, bare feet. One of these feet rose and then stomped the floor adjacent to my head. Birth liquid splashed upon my brand-new skin.

My universe consisted of a cotton sky, a hardwood floor, and two stocky legs. From the murky and mysterious Other Side of the Dress came the whoops and hollers of an audience. Vibratories of hundreds of boots stomping in merciless unison shook the wavered floorboards below me.  My untouched fingers spasmed into involuntary fists. 

 In the dim light afforded by my birthtent, my untrained eyes followed my mother’s bare foot as it lifted its blood-speckled toes and dropped them floorward, and then did so twice more. My abode fell into complete darkness.  The stage curtains had closed.

Of some concern was my inability to inhale. My nostrils had by now become clogged with a quantity of phlegm far beyond the pneumatic power of my tiny lungs.  I redirected my respiration to my mouth, a procedure that required me to shift the tip of my tongue to rear of my throat. This endeavor should have liberated my breath, but it did not. My convulsions had by now settled into the lackluster mouth-stretching flops of a fish tossed to the bottom of a rowboat. I found myself becoming disillusioned.

The audience wanted an encore. Their slap-claps and stomp-bomps walloped the pink folds of my wet ears.

Mother’s toes massaged my chest with apologetic squeezes, working my ribs and lungs. Mucus oozed from my nostrils. My teeny diaphragm jerked up and down noncommittally. My fingers groped for my throat.  There they encountered a tightly coiled rope of flesh. To be murdered by the very umbilicus that had sustained me heretofore. My first brush with irony.

Unseen by me in the midst of this unseen struggle, the curtains spread open. As was the tradition, the band approached the lip of the stage to perform one final song. This intimate moment was the conclusion of any Stables Family performance, barring those that were cut short by a slow-motion drunken slugfest between members of the band and/or the audience.

With Mother following the rest of the group to the front of the stage, I was dragged along rivuleted planks by my own umbilical cord. The tugging spun my body once, twice, until the cord unwound from my throat like the last inches of thread spinning off the spool.  

The band had by now assembled in a line, their eyebrows dripping sweat and their limbs poised begin the encoric tune.


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My first contribution to the Stables Family band was a single squawk in the midst of that brief moment of silence.

Squawk, I did, and there proceeded a longer-than-brief moment while band and audience alike attempted to reconcile what they’d just heard with the fact that there were no geese in the auditorium.

Mother, being as she was both a natural ham and unnaturally stoic, flapped her bow-arm up and down and replicated upon her fiddle, as best she could, the squawk of my first exhalation.

The noise thus explained, the recently-pregnant silence was replaced with hooting and hollering and general glee.

On that August evening of 1942, as I took my first unencumbered gulps of air, as I lay dripping upon a wooden floor under my grandmother’s hoop dress, the Stables Family Band performed what is considered one of their finer versions of one of their lesser songs, A Light in Yonder Glade.

As captured by an art-deco microphone operated by a Purple Hearted, certified Radio Technician Third Class, the show was being broadcast across thirty-eight states from the mighty needle of WOZI’s 50,000 watt AM transmitter just up the hill. It is said that the slender, two-hundred-foot iron tower lured fireflies with its weird, crackling noises. The fireflies would spiral around this electromagnetic god until they became so saturated with ionic madness and that they would splatter in small static explosions.  It is further said that the accumulation of guts had rendered the tower practically luminescent.

Anybody who listened to the broadcast that night–huddled around their vacuum tube radios or driving in their large iron cars–will claim they heard something special.

I’m not so sure about that. If something special did happen that night, it had nothing to do with me. 

GREGORY HILL

Glenn Hubbard – 1 poem

Leaving

            

They were the last to leave the small island.

It had got too big for them, the circle 

in which they could move tightening around 

their frailty till they spent most of the day 

fretting about the next: anxious and vexed.

He had a line out for rockfish when a

gust near took him off the cliff. She had a

bad fall feeding the hens. No neighbours no

friends. No-one to call on. Him no longer

able for the curragh, its heavy oars.  

Indoors, they spilt milk and could not keep the

fire in, both sitting shivering of a 

morning till the turf caught and they could heat

water for tea, listening to the sea,

the wind whistling in off the Atlantic.

Once or twice something made them panic and

they hastened to embrace to make it go

away. Till one day they both knew: a clear

view of the island from bungalow 

in the village would have to see them through.

The pair of cows were sold, almost too old

now for milking. The hens they gave away.

On the last day they walked clockwise 

around the well three times, reciting the

prayer, commending its care to Mary.

Young Hugh from the pub ferried them over,

the kitchen left to the mice, the walls to

the lichen, the pasture to the brambles.

They sat holding hands. It was the bitter 

wind that brought the tears to their eyes.

            

Glenn Hubbard lives in Madrid and has been writing poetry since 2013. This year he won the Bangor Literary Journal’s 40 Word Poem competition. The greatest influence on his poetry has been R. F. Langley.

Susan J. Wurtzburg – 3 poems

Birds of a Feather

            

The coffeeberry ensnares birds with scarlet treats.
Waxwings stalk the branches, protecting their berry wealth
from avian competitors. No altruism in the animal world.

Little of it in the human world, as people shake the money trees,
pocketing green paper avariciously. Feathering their own nests,
with none to spare for others. No altruism in the human world.

The contradiction of living in a nation that praises democratic principles,
as we are governed by multi-millionaires. Leaders gathering shiny baubles 
to fly home proudly to their states. No altruism in the political world.

An expectation of altruism may be unrealistic, although aspirations 
seem healthy. Emily Dickinson wrote, “hope is the thing with feathers.”
Perhaps, focusing on waxwings in the coffeeberry is the path forward.

            

Negative Space

            

I inhabit my body, but sometimes I don’t.

The space around me, a twitch on my skin,

            can I go there?

Beyond my boundaries, pores open to change,

            hairs reaching out.

Eyes stretched to see, ears ringing nothing,

            air mouth-inhaled.

Fingers extended, a void between, visible

            tendons on hand backs.

A visit to negative space, which is not me.

            

Roping a Young Cow
            

is poetry. The lasso demarcated

dust, startled eyes, nothing fits. 

Rope-held, animal outline rears

from the dirt, structure achieved. 

But, still disorderly, checking

needed for a walk toward the barn. 

With a flick of the gate,

penned, 

ready for market.

Susan J. Wurtzburg is a retired academic, and lives in Hawai‘i. She writes and runs her editing business (Sandy Dog Books LLC), in between water sports, hiking, walking her dog, and socializing online, while she waits for the pandemic to diminish, allowing life to resume.


Book shout: Etching the Ghost by Bindweed contributor, Cathleen Cohen

Congratulations to Bindweed contributor, Cathleen Cohen on her recent poetry and paintings collection, Etching the Ghost, published in February by Atmosphere Press. It’s available now from IndieboundBarnes + Noble, and Amazon.

Cathleen has contributed poetry to Bindweed and was published in February. You can read more of her work in Issue 11.

We wish you all the best with your new book, Cathleen!