April 2021 | Best of Net nominee, poetry
Bench Warrant Wednesday
You’re finally back in your hometown,
only snow greets your arrival.
Court date’s in a few hours,
just time to check into some
cheap hotel and change into clothes
that say I’m a good girl, clothes
that’ll be dumped at the charity shop
after free breakfast, local bank,
and go pay the fine tomorrow.
No time for visiting or sightseeing—
you’ll see all you want from the train
on the head-out-of-town express.
Window cracked to let a thin stream of smoke out,
you breathe in the incense of pines,
catch a quick glimpse of your old house
a little more canted, a lot less yours.
All the wildflowers buried deep until spring
do nothing to coax you back,
and you leave this town that doesn’t bear repeating
once again, the stillness of dusk broken only
by wisps of winter shadows through the trees,
a jukebox song of wild horses in your mind.
The Year of No Men
Granny’s on the front porch with me
playing gin and drinking gin.
I have a Jolt Cola to keep awake.
Mama’s coming to get me soon,
take me to the monthly family day
at the corrections house just down the road.
They call it “house” so it sounds nice,
but you can’t just leave when you want.
Daddy’s there for a while and that’s all I know.
We got a one-year lease on a nice double-wide,
Granny’s a couple rows over.
Other ladies and kids mostly fill in the rest.
Mama goes over to our real house every few weeks,
waters the plants, grabs up the bills,
cleans the messages off the garage door.
I don’t get to go ‘cause those messages—
they’re not too nice most times and mama says
I’m too young to understand.
So she brings me back a lemon pie
from the gas station mini mart
and I watch Granny get stuporfied.
Took a lotta years living
before I could sift through the truth
of our time at the trailer park,
and I made a lot of promises to myself
after that: no bail, no messages
written on any garage doors cause of me,
and gin would always be cards, jelly jars
only for juice and for baking, and “house”
would mean house, with toys in the yard.
Tobi Alfier is a multiple Pushcart nominee and multiple Best of the Net nominee. “Slices of Alice & Other Character Studies” was published by Cholla Needles Press. “Symmetry: earth and sky” was published by Main Street Rag. She is co-editor of San Pedro River Review (www.bluehorsepress.com).
April 2021 | Best of Net nominee, poetry
The darkest hour is just before
the middle of the night.
Mishka Shubaly, “Destructible”
I climbed the infinite staircase
that leads nowhere;
it took me almost a decade,
a fractured ankle,
a fractured rib,
a broken tooth,
my peace of mind,
and half of my soul.
I played the eleven games,
those were happier days.
But I remember the rejection,
the taste of blood in my mouth,
a pitch-black bottomless pit
of youth and sadness.
I know how it feels to be depressed
at your aunt’s birthday party,
to think about death at the dive bar,
I know the strange looks you get
when you make jokes about misery,
I know how it feels
to spend the entire weekend
under a fortress of shadows and blankets.
Advil and beer for breakfast.
Black and white movies,
empty bottles of cheap white wine,
broken glass on the carpet,
suicidal fantasies at the supermarket,
tears at the airport,
cold sweat at the parking lot,
hot coffee and antidepressants,
shattered dreams and broken hearts.
That’s all that’s left:
Bad memories of the good old days.
Juan David Cruz-Duarte
Juan David Cruz-Duarte was born in Bogotá, Colombia. He lived in South Carolina for 10 years. In 2018 he earned a doctorate degree in Comparative Literature from the University of South Carolina. His work has been published in Five:2:One, Fall Lines, the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Jasper Magazine, Blue Collar Review, Burningword, Escarabeo, Máquina Combinatoria, and elsewhere. He is the author of Dream a little dream of me: Cuentos siniestros (2011), La noche del fin del mundo (2012), and Léase después de mi muerte (Poemas 2005-2017) (2018). He lives in Bogotá.
April 2021 | Best of Net nominee, poetry
Like eyes in a skull,
riveted on me,
I see the windows
of a white van
in my rearview
I speed up
so does he
and we keep
going like this,
the sweat of fear
stinging my eyes
till I am racing,
a rabbit, with
a fox that covets,
A sign for a business district–
the car, and my heart, slow
down. I turn off, spy a gaggle
of little boys headed home
from Cub Scouts or Bible School.
Grateful to them, I stop, roll down
the window, tell the nearest child:
“I am being followed.
Could I use your parents’ phone?”
“OK”, the kid says “I live over there,”
pointing down the road. “Get in,”
I say, “I’ll take you all home,”
and seven small boys
I am driving slowly
when the sheriff
at the sight,
of a white lady’s car
with black boys,
I look back and see
the white van
at the turnoff
to the town,
E. Laura Golberg
Laura Golberg’s poem Erasure has been nominated for a Pushcart 2021 Prize. Her poetry has appeared in Rattle, Poet Lore, Laurel Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Spillway, RHINO, and the Journal of Humanistic Mathematics, among other places. She won first place in the Washington, DC Commission on the Arts Larry Neal Poetry Competition.
April 2021 | Best of Net nominee, poetry
Honestly, I can’t be bothered to find out
Whether there is already a poem
About how to draw a horse,
The words brushed sleek as the roan mare
You curried the summer you were fourteen
And horseshit was a perfume you sniffed
Eagerly as lilac, as bread broken open,
The linseed funk of a boy two years older,
His voice beyond breaking; his long lashes
Pretty as a forelock. Stables call for pen and ink
And a sure hand; you can use charcoal for a canter.
How to draw a horse– you’re thinking the horse
Stands for something else and it may,
They come standard in quartets for an apocalypse,
Well-matched, ready for a chaise and four
Like Bingley had, along with Netherfield
And Darcy’s impossible friendship, fronting
A dusty stagecoach in the Wild West. You listen
For hoofbeats similar to your systole
If you are not terrified, in a tizzy, falling in love
The way I fall down the stairs in my dreams, endless,
The fall through clouds on a gas giant, pocked Jupiter
Or Bespin, an asymptotic descent I cannot complete.
How to draw a horse:
Using your dominant hand,
Knowing the crest and the croup,
Still, breathless, tasting
The sweet green scent of masticated hay,
The antithesis of your adoration,
Knowing you will fail.
Daisy Bassen is a poet and practicing physician who graduated from Princeton University’s Creative Writing Program and completed her medical training at The University of Rochester and Brown. Her work has been published in Oberon, McSweeney’s, and [PANK] among other journals. She was the winner of the So to Speak 2019 Poetry Contest, the 2019 ILDS White Mice Contest and the 2020 Beullah Rose Poetry Prize. She was doubly nominated for the 2019 Best of the Net Anthology and for a 2019 and 2020 Pushcart Prize. She lives in Rhode Island with her family.
April 2021 | Best of Net nominee, nonfiction
Grace in Four Parts
My mother enrolled me in a tap-dance class when I was five; I hated it. The little outfits hung awkwardly on me, the sequins always falling off. The shoes hurt my feet. My steps were uncoordinated and always three beats behind everyone else’s. I couldn’t twirl without stumbling. Everyone else got that lovely tap sound as they danced across the floor. “She’s very pretty with those blonde curls,” the teacher told my mother. “But she has no grace.”
Grace was my only friend in sixth grade. I was hers. We sat alone at our lunch table. We laughed together. If one of us had money we bought a candy bar to share. We exchanged books. One day I invited her home after school. My mother bought cookies. Her parents didn’t want her to go, but she came anyway. We were happy walking home as I told her about my games and chemistry set, but when we got to our apartment my mother sent Grace home. I didn’t understand. My mother said, “I’m sure she is a lovely girl, but she’s colored. She belongs with her own kind.” “She is my kind: we read the same books, laugh at the same things, like the same cookies,” I insisted, but my mother walked away.. Grace’s mother told her that she couldn’t have anything to do with me. The rest of the year I sat alone at lunch; no Grace.
My grace period for paying my student loan was up. The credit mafia made threatening calls, sent threatening letters, even knocked at my door. “But I pay everything I can at the end of the month. I’m supporting two kids,” I told the man on the phone. “Sometimes I give you ten dollars, sometimes twenty-five but I always pay” The man scoffed; “Your money problems aren’t ours.” A friend who was a lawyer worked out a credit plan with them, but I was broke halfway through every month and lost any line of credit for seven years.
“Grace period is over,” they repeated to my lawyer. “No grace left.”
“Forgiveness is an act of grace,” My husband told me when he broke my jaw after a disagreement about nothing important, something I can’t even remember. “Just let it go. I’ll never do it again,” he insisted. Then he repeated, “Forgiveness is an act of grace.”
I laughed and told him, “Everyone knows I have no grace.”
Michelle Cacho-Negrete is a retired social worker who lives in Portland Maine. She is the author of Stealing: Life in America. She has 80+ publications, 4 of which are among the most notable, 5 in anthologies, 1 won Best of The Net and another won the Hope Award.
January 2021 | Best of Net nominee, fiction
Every time Robert pulled the starchy, white surplice over his head, he thought of watching his ma help his grandma into her nightgown, even though hers was flannel with pink flowers on it. He knew the other boys got to watch Hawaii 5-0 on the color tv in the rectory on Tuesday nights and the housekeeper made them chocolate chip cookies, and sometimes Father Ignatius gave them private catechism lessons in his study. The other boys gave each other nicknames based on the show but they called him Porkie, which he knew had nothing to do with Hawaii 5-0. His ma told him he was lucky to stay home and watch tv with her instead, but he felt sure that father Ignatius left him out because he was fat.
In the locker room after the game, Victor Viccarelli flicked a towel at his butt and called him a name he would never say out loud himself. He’d known most of the team since elementary school and St. Augustus days, although he’d stopped going to church when his grandma died, but he still wasn’t one of them. Robert hated showering in the mildewed open shower room where he felt his size was not an advantage, like it was on the field, but an excuse for others to pummel and pinch, as if he were made of clay, not flesh. He laughed it off but sometimes let the shower stream longer on his reddened face to obscure the tears.
He never thought he would become friends with Victor Vic, but from the day they sat next to each other in the molded plastic chairs of the Marine recruiting office, under a dog-eared poster claiming, “We Don’t Promise You a Rose Garden,” they had learned to appreciate and protect one another. One evening at chow, when Robert was picking out the stringy cubes of pineapple from the fruit cocktail and pushing them to the side of his plate, Victor made a joke about watching Hawaii 5-0 at St. Augustus, as if they’d both been there. “Those were some days,” he said. Robert shrugged and said nothing, feeling that pit-of-the-stomach weakness that still lurked beneath the armor of his camouflage uniform.
It was his ma who spotted the obituary in the local paper, circled it in red magic marker for him and left it on the kitchen table, so he saw it when he got home from work. Victor had hung himself with his standard issue Marine mesh belt in a Holiday Inn in Manhattan, Kansas. That wasn’t in the obituary, of course; another old classmate who worked at the airport with Robert heard it from a friend of Vic’s sister. Robert thought about going by the Viccarellis’ house to pay respects, but he had never really known the family.
No one in town besides Robert seemed surprised by the story about Father Ignatius, who was long gone now, anyway. Sandra Viccarelli wrote a rambling, angry letter to the editor about her brother, but people said she was a drug addict and a drama queen and just wanted attention for herself. Robert spent days watching reruns of Hawaii 5-0, his bulk pressing down, down into the brown plaid couch, his calloused fingers picking at the wiry upholstery. His ma asked him to come to mass with her, just this once, and he said no.
Theo Greenblatt’s prose, both fiction and nonfiction, appears in Cleaver, The Columbia Journal, Jellyfish Review, The Normal School Online, Tikkun, Harvard Review, and numerous other venues. She is a previous winner of The London Magazine Short Story Competition. Theo holds a PhD from the University of Rhode Island and teaches writing to aspiring officer candidates at the Naval Academy Preparatory School in Newport, RI.
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