Michelle Hartman – 2 poems

Speed of dark

 

there is a formula for the speed of dark
a formula with variables
a wedding ring

      an alcoholic
a fist    a five-year olds face
a gun and August humidity

swirling up from Houston asphalt
if light speed is space divided by time
then dark is inner space divided by
diminishing opportunity
fear divided by loss of job
or money churned in quantum
waves accelerated by variables of heat
proximity and vodka
this is the formula

 you calculate with thought word and action

with your thin lips twisting hands supplicating ways

and the self-actualizing catalyst is

                           It’s not my fault.

 

🍃

 

I have no dowry

sheep or goats
land or title

there is no juicy portfolio
no stocks, bonds
secret Cayman account

I have little or nothing
between me and & penury
but words

and with these
I’ve made you
the desire of lovers
far and wide
until a time
of no poetry.

 

🍃

 

 

Michelle Hartman’s latest book is, The Lost Journal of My Second Trip to Purgatory, from Old Seventy Creek Press. The first poetic look at child abuse and its effects on adult life. Along with her poetry books, Irony and Irreverence and Disenchanted and Disgruntled, from Lamar University Press, Lost Journal is available on Amazon. She is the editor of Red River Review. Hartman holds a BS degree in Political Science, Pre-Law from Texas Wesleyan University and a Paralegal cert. from Tarrant County College.

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Neil Leadbeater – fiction

Sudden Death

The strangest things happened at Mr. Slade’s Typing Academy. To begin with, there was the gramophone. He maintained that it was a helpful aid to rhythm. When he put on a record, you could be easily forgiven for thinking that it was a dancing class. He would stand in front of his students and conduct them with his fingers. Everyone agreed that his timing was perfect. To begin with, he played records at rates of speed which enabled the finger movements to be made at one stroke per second and then he built it up to the equivalent of four strokes per second or, to put it another way, 48 words a minute. “You’re movement must be in perfect accord with the rhythm,” he’d say, “until it becomes automatic”. The effect was almost hypnotic. “A relaxed posture is so important for continuous work at the keyboard. Repeat after me.” He was a stickler when it came to the study of rhythm – the rhythm of the beginner and the rhythm of the rapid operator.

On the first night, he took his students through the whole spectrum of commercial abbreviations: everything from A.a.r (Against all risks) to A/v (Ad valorem). They learnt how the ampersand should be used for the names of companies but not as a conjunction in the body of a letter; how accents could be substituted for existing type and he made sure that they had all the necessary typewriter accessories (erasers, cloths, oils and rollers) to hand.

Mr Slade was dapper. He was tall and thin and practically bald. He had a small moustache. He believed in courtesy and punctuality and sharp medium-grade pencils. He had a penchant for Pica type because it was neat and wrote ten letters to the inch with no appearance of cramping.  He shouted respectability.

The second class was devoted to the next letter of the alphabet. Everything from a backing sheet to a button. Nobody dared to step out of line or make a mistake. Mr Slade was not a man to tolerate mistakes. He was far too correct in everything.

After the warm-up and the military marches, everything at the third class revolved around the letter C. Before the night was out, Mr Slade had tutored his students in capital cases, concave keys and the correction of carbon copies. They reflected on how short the class would be when they reached the letter X but this was not to be.

Between the third and fourth class, on a calm summer’s evening somewhere in the London suburbs, Mr Slade died. They should have known that D stood for death and that he was now a d/w (a dead weight). For such a tidy man, it was an untidy end.

Nobody heard the warning bell. The bell-trip had failed to connect. Somehow or other there was a patent need for a word of explanation.

In mourning his passing, his students considered that their education was incomplete. The class of ’59 had only just begun and a little knowledge was a dangerous thing.

 

🍃

 

Neil Leadbeater is an author, editor, essayist, poet and critic living in Edinburgh, Scotland. His short stories, articles and poems have been published widely in anthologies and journals both at home and abroad. His books includeHoarding Conkers at Hailes Abbey(Littoral Press, 2010), Librettos for the Black Madonna (White Adder Press, 2011); The Worcester Fragments(Original Plus, 2013); The Loveliest Vein of Our Lives (Poetry Space, 2014) andFinding the River Horse (Littoral Press, 2017). He is a regular reviewer for several journals including Galatea Resurrects (A Poetry Engagement) (USA)and Write Out Loud (UK).  His work has been translated into Dutch, Romanian, Spanish and Swedish.

Ian C. Smith – 3 poems

Around the World in Eighteen Ways

 

Arabs fan fainted me, dehydrated in Aden.

In Tahiti I fall ill, bronchitis amid humid splendour.

At a summer camp in Dutchess County I get the sack.

Cops warn me for hitch-hiking after sundown in Maine.

In the wintry Cotswolds I wheeze in a bedewed attic.

A lost aunt is found in Liverpool post-Toxteth.

I cycle The Orkneys crabwise in North Atlantic gusts.

Ireland’s west coast lays me low with gastric misery.

Norway’s Customs suspect me of being drug cunning.

East German guards check for smuggled children.

Strasbourg hustlers flog me a carved vase that leaks.

Blackfly bitten bloodsucked, I itch The Cabot Trail.

On Newfoundland my backpack tips me backward in a bog.

Quick wits save me from a crazy in Thunder Bay.

Sailing The Inside Passage I awaken soaked on deck.

On the MI I leave lifeline money in a telephone box.

Bronchial again, in Barcelona, Las Ramblas torpor.

A drunken South African punches me on a plane.

My years approaching roads’ end, I savour souvenirs.

Again?  Where do we queue for the Time Machine?

🍃

 

Incident Remembered

 

 

We try to catch up, inch ahead of the bills

working for low pay, me by day, her, evenings.

Kids abed, I smoke, watch TV, the clock, do crosswords.

There is no romance in the blur of such marriages.

We had paid a deposit, moved to a house in the sticks,

pinprick of light to former teenage sweethearts

who had sheltered in shadowy rooms behind a butcher’s.

 

Black midnight.  Brakes squeal in our rutted driveway.

Under the porch light, alarmed by her frantic horn,

I gape, she scrambles from the car, voice trembling.

Another car stops outside, village quiet shattered.

This was when I knew no loss, phones had cords,

when a bully she cut off hammered on her tail.

Road rage, women as victims, news now.  Echoes.

 

I was a hothead, still can be guilty of this.

My fury drives the moron off, my smarts, too few,

note the licence plate for police who track him,

tell us he must touch or threaten to be charged

but is in big trouble now with his wife, as I was

years after sticking together when we fell apart,

the only excitement in life the dangerous kind.

 

🍃

 

 

This Other Life

 

 

The what if alternative to chronic gothic memories

whistling around my mind so late now,

a life in which my parents value art’s integrity,

understand love’s kindnesses, children’s fragility,

where education is sanctified in lieu of lucre,

that is the current fantasy owning my insomnia.

 

Mapped undergraduate days begin in my teens

reading poetry, crashing in and out of love,

studying dreamily on campus, eschewing student jobs.

Qualified, I start real work in my mid-twenties,

enjoy lunch I can afford at a redolent hip deli,

leave my desk at day’s end, hands clean, satisfied.

 

Marriage to a woman who treasures books delights

despite autumnal affairs, because we take time

to touch each other, ‘sorry’s power stitched to last,

witnessed lessons of quality sustaining long-term.

Her people friends whose approval I value,

love our crumbling inner-city street, its old elms.

 

Wounded but little, at least until older,

I do not convey hurt, either to body or soul.

Suffering wrongs never eclipses me in moments alone,

betrayal’s burns resulting from minor exchanges only.

Friendship vanquishes seclusion, beauty is all.

Wrong moves?  Few and trivial in this wishful life.

 

 

🍃

 

 

Ian C Smith’s work has appeared in, Antipodes, Australian Book Review, Australian Poetry Journal,  Critical Survey,  Prole,  The Stony Thursday Book, & Two-Thirds North.  His seventh book iswonder sadness madness joy, Ginninderra (Port Adelaide).  He writes in the Gippsland Lakes area of Victoria, and on Flinders Island, Tasmania.

Phebe Jewell – fiction

In Line

Fourth in the express lane at Safeway, you scan the rows of gossip and gum displayed at eye level. The old man in front of you keeps taking the same piece of paper out of his pocket, reads it aloud, then puts it back in his pocket. A little boy in the lane next to you points to the mylar balloons floating above the registers. A blue and gold “Congrats, Grad!” rubs against a pinkly sweet “Happy Birthday”.

You’ve been stuck with this cashier before, the one who whistles “On Top of Ol’ Smokey” as he punches in each code. You glance behind you. The line stretches through the aisle beyond the frozen pizza.

Someone calls your name.

“Hi Marge” you reply, keeping watch on the boy, now begging his mother for a balloon.

“I thought that was you! How are you? It’s been ages. How are Jim and the kids? When does Abby graduate? And Simon? What’s he up to these days?”

Unsure which question to answer, you ask, “How’s work?” trying to remember her new girlfriend’s name, the one who works with disabled kids. The next lane over the mother nods, smiles at her son.

Marge tells you Elise is a miracle worker, amazing and beautiful, and how lucky she is while the cashier untangles strings, finally presenting a green and purple “I Love U!” to the boy.

Marge has never been so happy, so alive. You smile at the appropriate moments and wonder what Marge would say if she knew you’d just left your latest lover, a 24 year old bearded dog-walker who can only fuck standing up, pushing you against a wall, a doorjamb, or a kitchen counter.

“Do you know what I mean?”

“Sorry, Marge…it’s been a long week, and it’s only Wednesday!”

“I hear you!” You remember that little-girl nervous laugh. You want to slap her. Instead you lean towards her, head tilted as if you really care. The guy behind you looks up from his phone and juts his chin. The line is moving.

What would she say if she knew you and Jim haven’t had sex in two years, that Abby has been cutting herself, and Simon refuses the gender binary? What would she say if she knew  the dogwalker was your fourth fling in three years?

What if she asked the right questions? Would you tell her about waking every night, creeping downstairs for a glass of water, your breath a small animal fighting gravity in your lungs? Would you tell her how often you hesitate by the second floor window?

You time your smile at just the right moment, and Marge beams at you. The cashier beckons you to place your six items on the belt. You plunk down salsa, beans, tortillas, two overly ripe avocadoes, a bloodied pound of hamburger, and a bottle of merlot. The little boy smiles up at his mother, the balloon string wrapped around his wrist.

“See you.”

“Bye, Marge.”

You thank the bagger and slip outside, impatient to devour the candybar you lifted when no one was looking.

 

 

🍃

 

 

Phebe Jewell

Henry Simpson – fiction

Close to Home

 

Nathan’s email contained an all hands notice to attend a town hall in the cafeteria at 0800. He, along with 300 or so co-workers, filed like drones into the big, funky dining hall on the first deck and sat at long, penitentiary-style tables, chatting as they waited for Bobby to start the show and tell.

 

The division chiefs were seated on folding chairs atop a raised dais. They were mostly pale, middle-aged, somber-faced, gray-haired, casually attired, and slightly overweight. Top dog Bobby Bendix, a lunchtime jogger, was tall, lean, and fit, with the handsome, haughty face of a Ted Bundy.

 

Nathan wondered what this so-called town hall was all about. The agency had never had one before. The recently elected president may have started the town hall craze during the election, going from town to town to commune with average citizens and convince them he was the most caring candidate. Other candidates followed his example, and pretty soon Nathan was unable to turn on his TV without encountering one.

 

Now that the empathetic dude had been elected, his minions were imitating him, It seemed like they were using town halls to feign interest in workers but didn’t honestly give a shit; it was all public relations and keeping up appearances.

 

Nathan hated the agency, composed of paper pushers, bureaucrats, and managers for life, but at least he couldn’t get fired, as in private industry, where he had worked before. In that former life, he had grown weary of the recurrent layoffs. He had joined this den of mediocrity for job security.

 

 

###

 

 

“What the fuck’s this all about?” Doug said to Carl, who was seated beside him. Carl was Doug’s best and only friend in Human Resources. A former Marine, Carl always said what was on his mind.

 

“Bobby wants to impress everyone what a sweet dude he is,” Carl said.

 

“You don’t like him, Carl?”

 

Carl snorted. “Fuck, man. Do you?”

 

“I’m working in the shithole because of him.”

 

“It’s town hall, you can complain.”

 

“Maybe I will.”

 

“Don’t, man. You’ll piss him off. You can’t go no lower than the bottom deck on this ship of fools.”

 

Doug did not want to be there. It would be boring and painful having to listen to that asshole talk gibberish into the microphone for however long it took to exert his death grip on the workers. He would rather be roaming the Internet, doing social media, pornography, computer games, and whatnot.

 

He detested Bobby. Once, on an elevator, he had overheard him say to a division director, “Have you ever noticed how human resources departments are filled with losers?”

 

The memory stung, for two years ago, after losing his temper and spouting off to a manager, the manager complained to Bobby, who demoted Doug from programmer to trainer, and reassigned him to HR, where he worked in a cubicle in the basement, the refuse bin of the agency. It was filled with filing cabinets, outdated computers, a supply room, and cast off employees in cold storage because they didn’t fit in or were fuckups, insubordinate, lazy, or too stupid or smart for their own good. His new job was to man the computer help line and train computer incompetents how to use their computers.

 

“Oh-oh,” Carl said. “Bobby’s on his feet. . . now he’s walking to the mike . . . he’s about to tap on it. Shit, cover your ears, Yogi Bear.”

 

A tapping sound like an over amped snare drum at a deafening rock concert filled the hall, then silence, then the nasally voice of the supreme leader said, “Hello, guys. How is everyone?”
Mutterings from the audience followed by a few claps.

 

“You all look fine,” Bobby went on.
Audience laughter.

 

“I bet you’re all wondering why we’re having this town hall.” A long pause.

 

“Well, I’ll tell you why. It’s because it gives us a chance to bring you up to date on agency developments and allow you, our talented workforce, to share your thoughts on how to improve our workplace.”

 

A long pause.

 

“I’ll start by saying that the downsizing rumors are just that, rumors, so your jobs are safe, at least for the time being.”

 

“How long is that?” someone shouted.

 

“Who asked the question.” A pause.

 

“Please stand up.”

 

No one stood.

 

Audience murmurs.

 

“Well, if whoever asked the question won’t identify themselves, I won’t respond.”

 

Someone whistled. Scattered clapping echoed throughout the hall.

 

Bobby turned to the seated division directors and they carried on a brief dialogue.

 

When the audience quieted, Bobby turned back to the mike. “Ahem. Moving on, in the next three months, contractors will be removing walls on floors six and seven to convert the private offices to open space with cubicles.”

 

“Cubicles suck,” someone shouted.

 

“Studies have shown that cubicles increase interactions among employees and enhance teamwork.”

 

“Distractions, not interactions,” someone yelled.

 

“The decision has been made,” Bobby said forcefully. He cleared his throat, and continued, “Moving on, Ryan Fox is a former FBI agent. He will be coming aboard next week as Security Officer. His office is located on the first floor, opposite mine. I encourage you to drop by, introduce yourself, and make him feel at home.”

 

Doug stood up and shouted, “Hey, Bobby. I got a question for you.”
Bobby looked at Doug. “What’s on your mind, Douglas?”

 

“When are you going to fix the climate control system in the HR spaces?”

 

“Is there a problem?”

 

“Yeah. It’s freezing down there in winter, and sweltry in summer.”

 

Bobby turned to Ellen Sparks, Doug’s supervisor. “Is there a problem with the climate down in your neck of the woods, Ellie?”

 

“No, Bobby.”

 

Bobby looked straight at Doug. “Sorry, Doug. Ellie doesn’t share your opinion.”

 

Doug said, “You should come on down there sometime, Bobby, find out for yourself.”

 

“Moving on . . .”

 

Doug remained standing.

 

“Was there something else, Douglas?”

 

“Yes, sir. We already got the federal cops. Why a security officer?”

 

“Ryan’s a special investigator, on temporary assignment. When he finishes it, he’ll leave.”

 

Doug flushed, feeling a sudden sense of panic, and sat down.

 

“Nice work, Dilbert” Carl said. “Now you’re in for it.”

 

Sitting there in the cafeteria, Doug felt an amalgam of emotions. Anger at Bobby’s dismissive response and his supervisor’s lie. Anxiety about that FBI guy Ryan. Fear because he and Carl had a money-making scam going. Carl ran the supply room. The scam was, instead of shipping all surplus property to a federal warehouse, he took the good stuff to Doug’s garage and they sold it on eBay and Craigslist.

 

Doug wondered if someone had caught on to their scam and the FBI was coming to investigate.

 

He felt like mentioning his theory to Carl, but had second thoughts.
Carl had said the scam was undetectable, but he was not the brightest guy.

 

The FBI always got the bad guys, and if they busted Carl, he would incriminate Doug as his accomplice. Stealing from the government was a federal crime. If convicted, Doug and Carl would spend hard time in Leavenworth.

 

“Get up, man,” Carl said.

 

“Huh?” Doug said.

 

“The revival’s over, man. Time to get back to the shithole.”

 

Doug got up, and looked around. The cafeteria was almost empty. They walked together toward the stairwell.

 

“What’s wrong with you?” Carl said.

 

“You were sitting there, like in a trance.”

 

“Got a lot on my mind these days, bro.”

 

Carl checked his watch. “Shit! It’s only eight forty-seven. It’s gonna be a long fuckin’ day.”

 

 

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