Judge Santiago Burdon

Van Gogh Ate Yellow Paint

Made it out of bed and was grateful I had survived another day. Here I am, a frog taking temporary residence on the lily pad of another princess,  searching for the kiss to change me into the prince of a fellow I know exists.

I walked into the kitchen, and she stood at the sink, looking out the window. There was the faint sound of sobbing. I wasn’t excited at the prospect of dealing with a dilemma first thing in the morning, but I put aside my feelings and inquired why she was blue despite the possibility of any number of reactions.

“Good morning my love. What’s wrong? What’s got you so downhearted?”

She turns and hugs me placing her head on my chest.

“It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”

I had an idea as to the cause of her melancholy. There’d been an opening for her new series of paintings at a fairly prestigious art gallery last evening, and it didn’t come off as well as she would have liked. The review of her work was less than complimentary, describing her art as mediocre. However, she did sell four pieces and collected a tidy sum of cash. 

Damn it! The trap has been baited. When a woman is crying and tells you it’s nothing, trust me, it’s something. There’s no way to determine if you should take her word for it and not concern yourself or risk inquiring further as to the reason for her grief. I choose to honor her request and not pursue the matter.

“Okay baby, well cheer up. It could be worse, it could be raining. Did you make coffee? I’m starving this morning, gotta a taste for chilaquiles. How about you? Did you eat already?”

“Really, all you can think about is stuffing your face? Don’t you care that I’m depressed? Is a little compassion too much to ask for?”

As usual I had made the wrong  decision. Now I’d given reason for her sadness to develop into rage. Unwittingly I had offered myself, an innocent bystander, as a target for her displaced aggression.

“You know my dear, the symbols  for opportunity and crisis are the same in Japanese or Chinese, I’ve been led to believe.”

“Well that’s just fucking great. I’m not Japanese or Chinese. I don’t live there and don’t speak either language. So you’re saying I can count on all my opportunities to end in crisis?”

“No, what the hell? Why do you have to take it that way? I was just making a point that possibly your present crisis will provide you with a future opportunity.”

“I’m mediocre. Just mediocre. I expose my life, my feelings, my insecurities in color on canvas, and I am viewed as mediocre. No one wants my art.”

“You sold four paintings. That has to count for something. I consider that a success. Did you know Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime? They say it was bought anonymously by his brother.”

“Is that supposed to make me feel better? It didn’t do much for Van Gogh in the end. He ate yellow paint to make himself happy, and it obviously wasn’t much of a cure because he cut off his own ear and committed suicide.”

I waited to see if she was done.

“You can sit down and write shit about poodles eating garbage out of a dumpster in an alley, and it will be interpreted as some insightful  sociological observation on prostitutes, drugs, booze and your personal  mental condition. People seem to just eat it up with both hands and have second helpings. They refer to you as a Bukowski protege or the bastard son of Hunter S.  It is all so easy for you.”

“Is that a compliment?”

“I’m not sure. I didn’t mean it to be.”

“It’s not your paintings I like, it is your painting.”

“You said that before, and you have to say things like that because you love me.”

Whoa! I couldn’t recall ever saying that I loved her. If this is her idea of expressing love, I’m definitely positive I never used the “L” word.

What do ya think? Should I address the love reference now, under these adverse conditions, or save it for a more appropriate time? Sure, I know there’s some of you out there wanting me to bring it up now. You sick bastards, hoping to witness my demise. It’s not going to happen just yet, I’m not totally masochistic, after all.

“I really like the poodle prostitute analogy. Can I use it? Secondly, no one has ever referred to me as being as talented as Bukowski. Don’t sully his reputation by putting my name and his in the same sentence. Although the bastard son reference, to Hunter S., is classic.”

“All I’m saying is that it is all so easy for you.”

“That’s bullshit! Nothing has ever been easy for me. I’m not complaining just stating a fact. The difference between you and I is that I’m not a writer seeking fame and fortune. I’m a writer because I’d been cursed at birth. It’s an affliction, not a blessing. All genuine writers will validate my statement. I write for me, not to please anyone else. I don’t care if they appreciate my work or not. Never should your success be determined by the judgement of others.”

“I know what you’re saying, I just don’t know how to think that way.”

“Well to start, I guess it’s bloody marys, Mozart and drugs to get this Sunday off to a better beginning.”

My prescription cured her temporary infection of self loathing. Within an hour, she was back to the person I enjoyed being with. Later that afternoon, after some angry sex and righteous cocaine, she drifted off to the place where nothing is real, nothing can harm you, nothing else matters, for her. I’m unable to find that place. My dreams are made from empty scotch bottles, plastic baggies, and the sound of my father screaming at me.

I sat in the kitchen, just staring out the window. Then I began to write.

I found refuge behind a dumpster to sleep that night. The noises of the city; the sirens, car horns, distant screams and gunfire served as my lullaby. When I woke the next morning, I noticed a pristine white poodle eating from a garbage can in the alley. I could hear the click clack of high heels coming closer, followed by the voice of a woman.

“Angel cake, angel cake, get out of that garbage baby!”

It was a prostitute, most likely just finishing up her shift, chasing after her dog.

“Hey, I like angel cake,” I said. “Did the dog eat all the angel cake?”

“Who said that..?”

And the circus continues, the show that never ends.

Michael D. Amitin

free ballad

shooting up raggedy winds
blood crimson frost
faraway nights,
Montreal, she’s there
tender eyed

walking lightstreaks ahead of me
I stumble shiny stockyards into 
morning future fogs
yesteryear tattoos fading on thin dreamrail hearts 

she never liked to walk as a kid
ice creams summers along the Seine

she loves me,
gotta fly

wwoz on, funky as ever
in the midnite boil

a lot of me in her
torn tender grasses, blue moon trances

as lampposts gleam broad street
endless roads await her hot tire rampage tracks

purr, run the engine
it’s all yours baby

Joseph Farley

Ishtar

“Ishtar is the goddess of love.”

So she said. She was naked except for long strings of brightly colored beads. Several around her neck hung down over her breasts. These could easily be brushed aside, as could the beads hanging from a gold chain around her hips.

I stared into her black eyes thinking about the good works of such a goddess.

“If you would love me,” she said, “You must love her.”

She was in her prime, lithe, and, I had been told, without restraint.

“Sure thing baby,” I said trying to waltz her to the bedroom.

“To say so is one thing,” she said. “To mean it is another.”

“Of course I mean it.”

“Then prove it,” she said, putting my hand on her breast. “Prove to me that you love Ishtar.”

I kissed her neck.

“How baby?” I asked. “How do I prove it?”

“Stand before the altar and make a sacrifice.”

She pointed to a small table. It was made of polished wood, and stood waist high. It had a single drawer. On top of it was a red cloth. On the cloth stood a small metal statue that I had not observed or had overlooked. In front of the statue were a small wooden bowl and a penknife.

“Sacrifice?”

“Yes,” she said. “A sacrifice. You must give something of yourself. Prove to Isthar how much you love her. Prove to me how much you love me.”

I looked at her body. I looked at the bowl. I was reluctant to take my hand away from her breast. but did so. I went to the table that served as an altar. I bowed slightly to the statue.

“Praise Ishtar!”

“A sacrifice,” she said. “You must place the sacrifice in the bowl.”

I placed some bills in the bowl.

“Donations are welcome, but you must make a sacrifice. You must give something of yourself, of your body.”

One glance at that face and that body was enough to overcome my hesitation.

I picked up the penknife and opened it. Holding the knife in my right hand, I pressed the point against my left arm until there was a pin prick sized wound. Blood flowed for a few seconds into the bowl. The red splatter grew to a small puddle.

“Is that enough?” I asked.

She smiled broadly.

“That’s more than enough. You truly love Isthar. Most visitors pare their finger nails or chop off some hair.”

I suddenly felt stupid for having cut myself, the other possibilities not having crossed my mind. 

“Wait here,” she said.

She left the room, and returned with a bottle of anti-bacterial liquid, a wad of cotton and a bandage. She took hold of my arm gently cleaned the wound, and bandaged it. When she was done, she lifted my arm to her mouth and kissed the gauze.

“All better now,” I said.

“You love Ishtar very much,” she said, and then added coyly. “Does that means you love me very much?”

“Of course.”

“How much?”

I reached in my pocket for the roll of bills and place them in her hand. I had been told by a friend what amount would be sufficient. She grinned. She did not bother to unroll or count the money. She opened a drawer in the table under the statue, dropped the money inside and slid the drawer shut.

She came towards me and put her arms around me. She looked into my eyes.

“You love me very much. I can tell. Now, I will love you very much.” 

Gently clutching the arm that had made the sacrifice, she led me to the bedroom. There she made her own sacrifice. She proved she loved the goddess very much. And that she loved me much more than the price demanded. I had found a priestess for my private religion. She made me into a holy man. I visited her many times in the months the followed. Imbibing her wisdom and the scent of her perfume. Praise Isthar.

Donna Dallas

White Collar Gods

When you said ride or die 
I didn’t realize you would
expose every pore
every crack
bore your wisdom
into my very core
these kids today–
what do they know
about hovels 
walking to and from the bus
in the rain
snow a foot deep
panting steam as we walked uphill

I learned how to chew
my food slow
while we rode fast
without seatbelts
through Milano
Venice
Turin
into Paris
across to Bordeaux

I longed for this life
but the price was
every last drop
siphoned

You called my name
it echoed into the empty
hull of my body
sometimes it feels good just to pee
when 4 hours sleep is all I get
or the calls
at 2am from India, China, Tokyo, Russia

The endless flights
home is in my head
a hearth with a warm fire in my chest
strong loving arms
I know nothing about
because I raced through the years
with a laptop
cell
extended resume

I missed the turn
for lovers and babies
this womb has dried
to a crackled
dusty
pit

My bank account
is my daily orgasm
after 8pm you can find me
slugging a flawless martini
that’s taken years of perfecting
with Dolin Vermouth

I cradle the bottle

David Thomas Peacock

Mother’s Day

Some people should never have kids, she thought, holding her baby’s head underwater. If God wanted them to live, he would have made them strong enough to fight back.

The little body looked like it was trying to swim as it struggled until finally becoming still. Starlene had been kneeling on the hard linoleum floor as she carried out her grim task next to the old cast iron bathtub. Her knees hurt as she sat back on her butt, out of breath. Jesus, that took longer than I thought.

After a few minutes, she managed to raise her heft and stood up, dirty wet hair stuck to her sweaty face. Glancing at the little body, now floating face up in the tub, she searched for her cigarettes. Where’d I put my Virginia Slims?

Looking around the trailer, they were on the coffee table she’d found in the alley right after moving in. Someone had put it out for trash pickup — made out of laminated particleboard, it had a cardboard tabletop embossed with a depiction of The Last Supper. Her cigarettes were sitting squarely on Judas’ face, a can of Schlitz on Philip’s. You could barely make out Jesus through the dirty glass ashtray covering his sad, knowing expression. He appeared to be disappointed with the world.

Some things never change.

Waddling over to the table, she’d no sooner reached for the pack when she heard it. A piercing cry, loud enough to wake the dead.

A baby’s cry.

She froze just long enough for her endocrine system to squirt out a bolus of adrenaline. Spinning around, her slack jaw making an “O” with her mouth, she was dumbstruck. There, on the floor next to the tub, was the baby. Quite alive, thank you. Screaming like a banshee, it’s little arms and legs thrashing, face angry and red.

What the fuck? Was the best her mind could come up with in response to this unexpected turn of events.

This can’t be happening, This can’t be happening, kept repeating in her mind like a nonsensical loop, not really a question or a statement. Kneeling down, she went to pick the thing up, but it tried to bite her, she was sure of it. It seemed unnaturally strong, not like before. The child’s screams were deafening, so loud she couldn’t think.

Panicked, she picked the baby up and threw it back in the tub, knocking the plastic box filled with rubber toys in the water with it. It’s kicking and flailing seemed to be keeping it afloat like it knew what it was doing. The little rubber cartoon characters were bouncing up and down in the turbulent water like they were caught in a storm. They seemed afraid.

Not wanting to touch it, she grabbed the plunger next to the toilet and used it to hold the thrashing thing underwater. It wasn’t easy, but eventually, she pinned it to the bottom and used all her strength to hold it down. Bubbles kept coming up as it screamed, eyes wide open, looking straight at her. It didn’t seem scared, more like enraged. Her arms were starting to burn as her muscles fatigued — but still, the goddamn thing kept moving.

Just when she thought there was no way she could keep this up, its movements began to slow, then stop. Continuing to pin it to the bottom of the tub, she was now panting. Her whole body trembling, she was afraid to release it. The baby’s eyes were still open — they appeared to be looking right at her, accusingly. Starlene felt like they were looking into her soul, threatening her.

Exhausted and unable to hold it down anymore, every cell of her muscles were on fire as she gasped for air. Slowly releasing pressure on the plunger, she slumped over, her head collapsing on the edge of the tub, spittle drooling out of her mouth as she struggled to breathe. Kneeling back on her heels, she looked down. The baby was still on the bottom of the tub, motionless, eyes open, staring.

Her panic starting to fade; she thought, What does it take to kill this fucking thing?

Glancing over at the TV, Celebrity Jeopardy was on. Thank God the volume’s up, she thought, just as Burt Reynolds missed a question about Gunsmoke.

She was the female saloonkeeper who had an unrequited relationship with James Arness. Alex sounded as if he was interrogating a witness on trial for murder.

Who is Mrs. Pussy? Burt answered after a pause, laughing nervously. The audience tittered as Trebeck said, No, that is wrong. The correct answer is, “Who is Miss Kitty?”

Jesus Christ, Starlene thought. How can you miss that — you were on the fucking show!

Her bulk collapsing onto the sofa, she lit a cigarette and took a long drag, trying to collect herself. Once this fucking baby’s gone, Tor can move back in, and everything will be alright. Two days ago, they were living together, happily, or at least that’s what she’d thought. Then yesterday, he said he couldn’t take the child’s crying — it wasn’t his, and he couldn’t stay there one more night with the thing’s incessant wailing.

They’d only lived together for two weeks, but Starlene had never been with anyone like Tor before. When sober, he worked as a strongman with whatever circus would hire him. The problem was, his alcoholism was now well-known, making it next to impossible to get jobs. When she met him, he was working as a roustabout for a carnival, sleeping on a chair in the doghouse for the Ferris Wheel. She offered him a place to stay, and everything seemed perfect until yesterday. Her plan seemed simple enough: all she had to do was get rid of the baby, Tor would come back, and everything would be okay again.

Looking at the clown face wall clock, it was almost midnight. I’ll just take a little nap and then get rid of the body, she thought, stubbing the cigarette out on Jesus’ face. But then, just as her eyes closed, it happened. A scream so loud she knocked Tor’s 38 Special from between the cushions where he kept it onto the floor. Then another even louder. Blinking her eyes in disbelief, she saw the baby was now halfway between her and the tub — crawling towards her with what looked like murderous intent. Starlene began to feel panic-stricken; for a second, she wondered who was in more danger — her or the child?

Standing up, heart beating so fast she thought it might explode, she backed away, afraid. The creature’s screams were deafening, so loud it didn’t seem possible something so small could make that much noise. They didn’t seem like screams of pain or fear, though. They sounded threatening, malicious even.

Knocking over an end table next to the sofa, she spotted a plastic laundry basket filled with dirty clothes. The baby was inexorably getting closer; it’s little hands looked like tiny fists as it pulled itself across the dirty linoleum. With each wail, its lips pulled back, exposing small bared incisors that it seemed to be snapping together with surprising force.

Desperate, she grabbed the laundry basket, emptied it on the floor, and turned it upside down over the infant, trapping it. The creature became more frantic as it tried to break free; she struggled to hold it. Just within reach was a case of Schlitz; putting her full weight on the basket, she pulled the beer over and placed it on top. Wanting to be sure it couldn’t escape, she duct-taped the whole thing to the floor.

Having contained it, Starlene stood there, her hands on her knees, trying to catch her breath, her whole body shaking. Still, the thing screamed. It didn’t seem to breathe between shrieks, unleashing its cries like a weapon.

Suddenly it hit her — Crib death! Why didn’t I think of that before?

Throwing a comforter over the trap to muffle the caterwauling, she sat down, lit another cigarette to calm her nerves, and poured a shot of Jack. I’ll show this fucking thing who’s boss!

Looking over at the sleeping area, there was a white plastic crib she’d bought at a yard sale for $5.00, its side rails blackened with the dirt of God knows how many kids. I’ll just put it in there and smother it with a pillow — no muss, no fuss! Glancing at the clock, it was now almost 2:00 am. One more shot, and it’s showtime, she thought, starting to get her courage back. Looking over at the makeshift cage still emanating muffled screams, she said, Time for Mommy to put you to fucking bed once and for all.

Slamming down a second shot, she went to her mattress and took a pillow, setting it on the floor next to the crib. Turning to the basket holding the still howling child, she started to pull off the duct tape. Removing each strip, the thing got even louder — it sounded like some kind of wild animal caught in a trap. Once it was all off, her hands shaking, she removed the comforter and, in one fell swoop, threw the basket across the room while throwing the bedding over it like a net. She wrapped it tight like a papoose, but it writhed with inhuman force, now making guttural, growling noises. It sounded dangerous.

Struggling to keep it contained, Starlene became overcome with fear. It wasn’t supposed to be this hard to kill a baby, she thought, realizing she was losing control. Somewhere, deep in her subconscious, it felt like the tables were turning.

Her body was exhausted; the only thing powering her now was sheer terror. Forcing the swaddled monster into the crib, she grabbed her pillow and pinned it down, trying to concentrate the pressure on where she thought its face was. The power of its movements as it fought to break free was overwhelming — it was like trying to smother a pit bull. Starlene was afraid the whole cheap crib would collapse; she was putting all of her considerable weight on the pillow, and still, the thing was screaming as it fought her.

Starlene began to cry — not out of remorse, but out of fear. Fear for her life, fear of whatever ungodly power she had unleashed, fear of retribution. This was supposed to be easy, but now she felt like the one in danger. What if the thing couldn’t be killed?

After what seemed like hours, its movements became weaker, then stopped. Terrified, Starlene kept the pressure on as long as she could after it stopped moving. Her body wobbly; it was hard to stand. Lifting the pillow, she watched goggle-eyed for any sign of movement. Pupils dilated with fear, her face wet with tears, she stood waiting, but nothing happened.

It was dead.

Somehow she made it to the sofa. Now the silence was unnerving. Leaning over to pick Tor’s pistol up off the floor, she laid it on the cushion next to her. The clown on the wall clock now said it was 4:52; its leering face seemed to be laughing at her. Her body drained of adrenaline; she was crashing hard. Pouring another shot of Jack, she lit a cigarette and tried to collect herself, but it was impossible. Downing the bourbon, she poured another and waited.

Dozing off, her last thought was, What have I done?.

If anyone was awake, they would have heard a blood-curdling scream, but it wasn’t the child this time. It was Starlene, woken from her drunken sleep by what felt like something biting her left nipple. The baby had latched onto her tit like a leach and was glaring at her with unblinking eyes. Screaming as she woke to a living nightmare of her own creation, her last thought was, It can’t be killed, as she put Tor’s 38 in her mouth like a lethal cock and pulled the trigger.

Her neighbors in the trailer next door heard the scream followed by a gunshot and immediately called 911. Within minutes, the police were there. Breaking down the door, the officers cautiously entered, guns drawn, rubber-neckers now gawking safely behind.

The scene before them showed a baby nursing the corpse of what must have been its mother, her brains now splattered across the clown face on the wall clock behind her; a fine bloody mist had settled on the last supper. The infant looked peaceful. 

She looks like an angel! A neighbor exclaimed, peering over the officers. Poor child. What a precious thing!

The Home Shopping Network was blaring on the TV, selling trinkets for Mother’s Day. What better way to say Happy Mother’s Day than to give a gift acknowledging all the things mothers do for their children.

Amen to that, replied the perky, coiffed host. No one knows the sacrifices mothers make.

Jack Henry

The Second Time I Saw It 

By the time I walked across the fresh cut, dewy grass of my high school campus I had lost every pretense of graduating with a grade average higher than a D. In truth I revelled in that reality, much to my parent’s dismay and my younger sister’s utter jubilation. Academia, in 1981, meant very little to me. 

Over the preceding summer i shaved my head, grew a beard, abandoned any sense of fashion or style, embraced punk rock, thickened enough to not be gangly, and developed an impervious attitude of indifference. 

From that first step on campus I had recreated myself so completely few people recognized me, not that I had been memorable in prior years, but my conversion had been complete. 

Mr. Yim, Vice Principal and guardian of all punishment, someone I knew well, did not recognize me. 

“Sir, do you have a reason to be on campus?” He asked as I brushed by him. 

“Yeah. Class.” 

“Excuse me?” Mr. Yim spun around, spoke to my back. “Jack?” 

“You got it,” I shouted without turning back. “I will stop in after school.” I added before he could say anything. 

Cindy Oh-Sure walked around a corner accompanied by a gaggle of friends, clucking away madly about being back and oh my god and can’t wait, best year ever. 

“Hey,” she said. 

“Hey, Cindy.” 

“Do I know you?” Cindy entered the year as head cheerleader, Varsity Volleyball and Softball, and academic decathlete. “Are you new?” 

“Yes, Cindy.” I stopped, looked her in the eye, no more than a foot away. “I am new. Brand new.” 

Cindy and I spent three years at the same junior high school and now entered a third year together and Canyon High School. Other than a memorable encounter in 9th grade we barely spoke and, actually, never had a real reason to interact. 

Later in the day I walked into 4th period English I ended up sitting next to Cindy Oh-Sure. 

“Hi.” 

“Hey, Cindy.” 

“I know who you are.” 

“Really? That’s exciting.” 

“Jack? Right?” Cindy beamed inexplicably, as if she won a prize for best pig at the state fair. “I remembered.” 

“Genius at work,” I muttered. 

“What’s that?” 

“You are correct, Cindy. I am Jack.” 

“You look so different.” 

“Do I?” 

Cindy and her gaggle had never been friendly to kids they presumed to be less than equal to their own self appreciation. And my pals and I returned the favor. 

Over the next several weeks Cindy Oh-Sure and I chatted before and after 4th period English. My disdain for her decreased significantly and her intrigue in me increased. Not quite proportional, but enough for her to ask me to the school’s Sadie Hawkins Dance, a beleaguered traditional, at the time, where a young lady would ask a young man to a dance. 

I said no, initially, but acquiesced when she returned with the gaggle in tow, as if reinforcements might be needed to force an affirmative response. 

As we had never been on a date up to that moment in time, I suggested we go out to gauge compatibility. 

“What do you mean?” Cindy Oh-Sure asked. 

“You know to see if we get along, outside of school.” 

“Oh.” She thought it over, her mind peppered with a variety of scenarios and possibilities, all seemingly new and complicated. “I guess,” she finally offered. 

After a Friday night football game, a punishing loss to arch rival Villa Park, I took Cindy Oh-Sure for pizza at Mario’s near the Orange Mall. An hour later I dropped her at her front door promptly at 10, just as I promised her father. 

“So, did I pass?” She asked as she sat timidly in the front seat of my 1964 Chevy Pick-up Truck. “Are we compatible?” 

“I think so, don’t you?” 

“Oh, sure.” 

I walked around and opened the door. We had a furtive first kiss, knowing the prying eyes of her parents, or little sister, would be upon us. 

The night of the dance I picked Cindy up early and endured the pictures with the parents, pictures with the gaggle, pictures of us with the professional photog. As the dance was casual, I wore tore jeans, black biker boots, and a black Ramone’s tee-shirt; Cindy wore a short light blue dress and matching heels. The gaggle wore similar dresses, and their dates wore jeans, dress shirts, and lettermen’s jackets. To a one. 

The dance itself did not provide any lasting memories, until the very end when Cindy whispered in my ear that her parents, and little sister, had actually gone out of town within minutes of the cascade of photographs and well-wishes. 

“Really?” I tried to remain cool and collected, but my brain began to scramble. In the weeks leading up to the dance I had made the appropriate purchases, as preparation. With the beard I didn’t look my age and buying booze had never been a problem, but nerves caused me some anxious moments acquired prophylactics. 

“Yes,” she said as she kissed my cheek. “We can leave whenever you want.” 

Fifteen minutes later we’re pulling into her driveway. 

The moment we walked through her front door I feel further from my element. Being in the lower class of the high school hierarchy combined with shyness, sloth and acne, I never really spent any time with a girl, but I didn’t let on. As with most of my male counterparts my lie was dead on and smooth. But girls always knew the truth. 

Always. 

As we sat on her couch, I opened the Maddog 2020 and poured it into a couple of crystal glasses Cindy retrieved from her father’s liquor cabinet. After drinking and sitting quietly she leaned in and kissed me. Deep and hard. I responded in kind and before another second passed hands were moving quick, clothes were dropped fast, and she was leading me up the stairs in bra and panties and me in boxers and one sock. 

At the foot of the bed she stopped me, reached behind her back, and unsnapped her bra. For a moment I marveled at her dexterity, and then marveled at her breasts. She quickly pulled down her panties and that was when I saw it for the second time. 

“Kiss me,” she whispered, holding her arms out in an exaggerated way. As we embraced, she started to pull my boxers off, and I finished the task. The sock stayed on. 

“Should I get a condom? They’re in my pants downstairs.” 

“No, I’m on the pill.” 

We collapsed onto the bed, kissing and groping. My level of fear and anxiety growing as quickly as my erection. 

As I kissed my way down her stomach, not really knowing what I was doing, I paused suddenly, and began to speak. With each word that came out of my mouth, in real time and as I spoke, I knew I should just stop talking. 

“We meet again,” I muttered, as she pulled her legs back, spreading them enough to guide me in the right direction. 

“What was that?” Her hands were combing through my hair. She didn’t know any more than I did. 

“Nothing really.” I paused, looked up at her. Her eyes twinkled in the dim light of a street lamp outside her window. “I was just remembering 9th grade.” 

“Ninth grade?” 

“Yeah, Mr. Bowen’s history class.” 

Cindy Oh-Sure froze, legs slammed shut. 

“Oh my fucking god. I totally forgot about that.” 

“What?” 

“You were peeping at me.” 

“Peeping?” 

“Yeah, you were a little pervert!” 

“You weren’t wearing panties. I thought it was intentional.” 

That’s when I should have stopped talking, completely. 

“Intentional?” 

“Yeah, I thought you were flashing me because you wanted…” 

“Wanted what, hmm? Jack? What exactly did I want?” 

“Ah…” 

Cindy quickly dressed in sweats and a tee-shirt, leaving me naked except for one sock. 

“You need to go.” 

“Go?” 

“Yeah, go. As in, get the fuck out.” 

Without another word I raced downstairs, dressed and left. From the curb I heard the front door lock and the lights in her bedroom go out. 

A week later, after a multitude of apologies, a degree of pleading, some sobbing on my part, and outright begging, Cindy and I wound up in my bedroom, my parents, and little sister, out of town for the weekend. 

After a proper introduction the third meeting proved to be mutually positive, as did the fourth, fifth, and sixth.

Matthew Borczon

PTSD

PTSD is an unfinished
symphony played
on the screams of
wounded Marines
and the cries of
Afghan children

The percussion
is a helicopter
the woodwinds
are all wound vacs
it’s free to come in
and listen but it will
cost you everything
if you ever hope
to leave

PTSD is the space
between my wife
and me in bed

The space she fills
with pillows
blankets
and two dogs

The one I fill
with sweaty sheets
fear and the desire
to once again
be the man
she married

PTSD is the look
on my pharmacist’s
face when I don’t
want my anxiety
medication

It is the note
my mother sent
asking me when
will I get over
all of this

And it is the taste
of vomit
in my mouth
when anyone
thanks me for
my service

John D Robinson

The Ass of God

Patricia stabbed Ronnie
3 times in the stomach
but he survived and
they got divorced

Texas was a one eyed manager
of the ‘Dripping Spring’ and
after 3 years he hit the road
with 18 months of takings

Ruby was held hostage for 48 hours
and forced by a fuck-freak into
sex acts her modeling career
had never anticipated

Julian was a junkie and bisexual
and a talented artist who
committed suicide by heroin
after his partner had died of AIDS

Monkey Dave, the hash dealer,
died of a broken heart after
learning his beautiful wife
was being fucked senseless
by his friends and customers

Linda, also a pot dealer,
was sexy and wore short skirts
and tight white panties
and low cut blouses and
died of cancer aged 45

Niko was a junkie
and we all assumed
that he’d die of O/D but
cancer beat his ass aged 44

Ricky was a sweet kid
but a methamphetamine
induced heart attack
took him aged 29

Sailor Al was stabbed
to death in a hovel,
Gordon froze to death
on the streets, and
Mick the Karate survived
4 gunshot wounds and
even lived to take
his revenge

Tony, the street drinker,
told me he was going to
shove this life up
the ass of God

Swan Dive, By David Boski

These poems by David Boski hit hard and punch you in the face like the narrator in the opening poem ‘Thanks for Asking’. Confronting the demons found in sickness, death, relationships and simply walking his dog, Boski is unafraid to spit out the truth. Although some poems have been written in the times of Covid-19, Boski reminds us that there has always been suffering, isolation and fear. Difficult things to deal with, and Boski asks on more than one occasion “What’s the point?” I would say it’s that we need to endure and face the demons and Boski’s words show us we are not alone in doing so.

Adrian Manning, Poet and Publisher: Concrete Meat Press

For copies, please contact:
boski.david.boski@gmail.com or johndrobinson@yahoo.co.uk

James Babbs


Circle of Light

Barlow kept seeing a tiny circle of light, over there, on the wall, up near the ceiling. He figured the light must have been coming through the window in the top of the front door but he didn’t get up and check on it. Barlow just stayed in his recliner, holding a beer in his hand, taking a drink, every now and then, and watching the tiny circle of light. Barlow wasn’t sure what he thought the circle of light was going to do but he kept watching it, anyway.

When he had finished the beer, Barlow leaned forward and stood up. The circle of light was still there. It, still, looked the same to him. Barlow walked over to the circle of light and touched it with the open end of the empty bottle. Then, Barlow put his hand on the circle of light. He thought it would feel warm or something but the circle of light didn’t feel like anything at all.

Barlow had texted Jeannie three or four times in the last half an hour or so but she hadn’t responded. If he didn’t hear from her in another hour Barlow was going to give her a call. Maybe he’d tell her about the circle of light and how she needed to come and see it for herself.

Barlow carried the empty to the kitchen and tossed the bottle into the trash. He got another beer from the fridge before returning to the living room. Barlow walked over to the front door. He looked at the front door and he looked at the circle of light. Then, Barlow waved his hand, the one not holding the bottle, back and forth across the window in the top of the door. He did this several times but the circle of light didn’t change.

Barlow took a drink of beer. He lowered the bottle away from his mouth and put his free hand on the circle of light. He pushed on it as if the circle of light were some kind of a button that controlled an unseen device. When nothing happened, Barlow made a fist and tapped it lightly against the circle. Then, he took his beer and sat back down in the recliner.

Barlow hadn’t turned on the TV. He hadn’t turned on the radio nor started playing any music on the CD player. Barlow just sat there enjoying the silence and drinking his beer. The silence had its own kind of music, thought Barlow and he liked the sound of it.

Barlow finished the beer and went and got another one. He didn’t pay attention to the circle of light on his way back into the living room. Barlow sat down in the recliner again and looked at his phone. Still, nothing from Jeannie. Even when she didn’t want to talk to him, she would, usually, text him back to let him know she was okay.

Barlow took another drink of beer and glanced up at the circle of light. The circle had grown bigger. Barlow looked at the front door. It was getting dark outside and the circle of light had grown bigger. Barlow gave a sort of laugh into the empty room and took another drink from the bottle.

He put his beer down on the small table next to the recliner and stood up. Barlow walked over to the circle of light and put his hand on it. The circle was larger than his hand so Barlow tried to center his hand in the middle of the circle as best as he could. Now, the circle of light felt warm and Barlow pushed his hand against it, applying pressure, before moving his hand back and forth.

The circle of light moved and Barlow moved his hand a little faster. The light grew larger. Something was happening, thought Barlow. Now, he put both of his hands on the light and slowly spread them apart. The circle of light expanded. Barlow kept doing this until the circle of light had become a rectangle and was as tall and as wide as a door.

Barlow pushed against the light with his hands. He was convinced the light really was some kind of a door and he was sure he could open it if he just knew where to touch it. But no matter where he put his hands only the rectangle of light remained. In frustration, Barlow kicked the rectangle and said, Ow, after his toe hit the wall.

Barlow’s phone rang. For a moment he just stood there frozen. The phone rang a second time and Barlow went over and picked it up. It was Jeannie.

–Hey, said Barlow. He was a little out of breath.

–I’m on my way over. What’s wrong?

–What do you mean?

–You sound out of breath. What have you been doing?

Barlow laughed. –It’s the light.

–The what?

–The light. The circle of light. Well, it’s a rectangle now. Some kind of door.

–What? Jeannie sighed. –You’re drunk. God.

–No, listen. Okay. I’ve had a few beers. But there’s a light.

–Oh, shit. I’m on my way.

Jeannie’s phone disconnected and Barlow looked at the screen. He put the phone down and picked up the beer. He drained the rest of the bottle and then threw the empty as hard as he could at the rectangle of light. The bottle didn’t hit the wall but passed through the light and disappeared.

–Fuck, said Barlow.

He went and got a hammer and marched over to the light. Barlow laughed before he gave the hammer a mighty swing. The hammer landed in the middle of the rectangle and made a hole in the drywall.

–Son of a bitch.

Barlow started pounding the hammer all over the wall, all over the rectangle of light. The hammer made holes in the wall. Pieces of drywall crumbled and fell to the floor. The hammer turned white with the dust from the drywall. The dust covered Barlow’s hands and got in his hair. Sweat dripped from his forehead. He wiped it away with the back of his hand and smeared the dust across his face.

The light was fading. Barlow had made an opening in the wall about the size of a door. He could see the two by fours inside the wall. Some of them had pieces of drywall still stuck to them. The front door opened and Jeannie came into the house.

–What the hell? She said.

She looked at Barlow. She saw the hammer in his hand. Jeannie looked at the hole in the wall. Barlow looked at Jeannie. He looked at the wall. He looked at Jeannie, again. Barlow, still, held the hammer in his hand.

–There was a circle of light, he said. Barlow tried to laugh but the sound didn’t come out right.

Jeannie started crying. She put her hands up to her face. Barlow looked at the hammer in his hand. He looked at Jeannie and let the hammer drop to the floor. The hammer made a small burst of sound. Barlow approached Jeannie with his arms opened wide. He knew she would probably start screaming when he touched her but he kept moving toward her, anyway.