I’m just living in it. And the world’s a workshop.
Sonny was different, though. Even for one
we’d call young gifted & black without being
bromidic. Sonny heard so much but mostly
only listened to himself, waiting and creating
his own kind of way, expressing everything.
How do we describe the kind of man already
in rarified air deciding he wasn’t high enough
(having already eschewed the artificial ecstasy
that ruins veins and soils brains, Body and Soul)?
This colossus, keeping his own council, split
his apartment to set up shop in the crow’s nest
of the Williamsburg Bridge, perhaps the one
place aside from the Arctic Circle where no one
could see or hear history being picked apart
like a carcass, and then reassembled in real time.
Three years of this. Almost a thousand days
while the world spun, the cash registers rung,
and so many pretenders to the throne ascended
for lack of better options. Sun turned to snow
and dawn turned to dark and there were still
all those sounds: a style being tweaked, a gift
being refined, an experiment being improvised.
The quest for vision, it’s said, will make
otherwise steady men see outlandish sights:
as they deprive themselves of human fuel
they become something at once less & more
than a vessel; the spirits speak to and through
them and once that barrier is broken, one sees
oneself changed, then begins changing the world.
(*In 1959, feeling pressured by his unexpected rise to fame, Rollins took a three-year hiatus to focus on perfecting his craft. A resident of the Lower East Side of Manhattan with no private space to play, he took his saxophone up to the Williamsburg Bridge to practice alone.)
Sean Murphy has appeared on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and been quoted in USA Today, The New York Times, The Huffington Post, and AdAge. His work has also appeared in Salon, The Village Voice, The New York Post, The Good Men Project, Memoir Magazine, and others. His chapbook, The Blackened Blues, is forthcoming from Finishing Line Press. He has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and served as writer-in-residence of the Noepe Center at Martha’s Vineyard. He’s Founding Director of 1455 (www.1455litarts.org). To learn more, please visit seanmurphy.net/ and @bullmurph.
On the day of the final exam, students walked into the classroom to find a long table lined with body parts inside jars. Confused, and not seeing their professor anywhere, they walked along the table and read the labels on the jars:
– #1: Albert Einstein’s Frontal Lobe
– #2: Frida Kahlo’s Hands
– #3: Chris Hemsworth’s Biceps
– #4: Joan Sutherland’s Lungs
– #5: Usain Bolt’s Feet
– #6: Jane Austen’s Temporal Lobe
– #7: Freddie Mercury’s Vocal Cords
– #8: Oprah Winfrey’s Mouth
– #9: Anthony Bourdain’s Tongue
– #10: Beyoncé’s Legs
– #11: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Heart
– #12: Mother Teresa’s Heart
One of the students noticed an envelope at the end of the table marked, “Please read aloud.” He picked it up and said:
“Hi, class. This is your final exam. You get to choose one jar to eat from. A few minutes after you’ve eaten, you will receive skills and talents related to the person’s body part you’ve selected. As there are only 12 of you, you must choose quickly. You will receive your grade after the test is complete. Once these instructions have been read aloud, you have precisely one minute to select and eat. I am watching. Go.”
The students were the best and brightest at the university, maybe the country. They scurried around the table, some diving for their desired jar, snatching off the lids, shoving the various body parts into their mouths.
After the minute passed, the students stood around the table alternating between looking at each other and looking down at themselves, blood smeared across their hands and faces, meat wedged between their teeth. Only one person stood apart from her classmates.
She clung to the wall, face ashen, body shaking, but as each of her classmates began to clutch at their throats, lines of red crossing across their eyes, gasping, reaching out for help, toppling to the floor, convulsing and then settling into grotesque stillness, she noticed the lone jar left on the table, the one that would have been hers, shining like a beacon, and she understood.
The door opened, and the professor walked in, beaming.
“Congratulations,” he said, shaking her hand. “You passed.”
Elison’s work has appeared or will be appearing in The Rumpus, The Santa Monica Review, The Portland Review, Lost Balloon, and other places. Elison has an MA in Creative Writing from Sacramento State and was selected as a Best Small Fictions 2020 winner. To learn more, please visit www.elisonalcovendaz.com.
Claire Scott is an award winning poet who has received multiple Pushcart Prize nominations. Her work has appeared in the Atlanta Review, Bellevue Literary Review, New Ohio Review, Enizagam and Healing Muse among others. Claire is the author of Waiting to be Called and Until I Couldn’t. She is the co-author of Unfolding in Light: A Sisters’ Journey in Photography and Poetry.
Harry Longstreet is retired after twenty-five years as a writer, producer and director of filmed entertainment, primarily for television. He’s always looking for images that speak to the human condition and the world around him. He favors ambient light and unposed, unaware subjects. In the last fifteen years, he’s had a number of one-man shows, and his work has appeared in more than two hundred national and international juried exhibitions. Longstreet is twice a Single Image Merit Award recipient from Black & White Magazine and twice a Single Image Merit Award winner from Color Magazine. In 2013, he was awarded the Gold Medal (monochrome) in the International Varna Salon, and in 2014, he took Best in Show in the annual CVG Washington State competition and in 2017 First Place-Photography.
Adeet Deshmukh is a New York City based photo editor, photographer, and digital designer. His images capture the interplay between light/shadow and emotion/composition—in the streets of Manhattan and Mumbai, in the faces of family and strangers, and in the fields of Iceland and the Midwest. Adeet has had shows in Chicago and New York, and his work has appeared in various newspapers and literary publications. Most recently, his photography was featured in a group show at the CUSP Gallery in Provincetown.
I headed toward Central Park West and 75th Street after leaving Dr. Zimmermann’s office. As usual, I pretended my mood was improved in order to avoid prolonging any conversation about adjusting my antidepressants. But honestly my mood wasn’t all that bad. It was my favorite kind of fall day: the wind gusted fitfully, and it was just cool enough for a light jacket. I like to cover up as much as possible. With nowhere to go immediately and a long, lonely train ride ahead of me back to my lonely apartment in Poughkeepsie, I decided to idle along the park side of the street. As I crossed 75th, I sensed someone looking at me. Waiting at the light, a dramatically handsome man—wavy blond hair, early forties, square shoulders, soap opera good looks—smiled at me as if I was his long-lost best friend. Propped on his bicycle seat, he hunched forward slightly, right foot on the sidewalk to steady himself. He wore a flannel shirt over a white tee and faded jeans, and, like me, seemed in no rush to get anywhere. Or maybe he was just that kind of confident person who gives the impression of being exactly where he needs to be at all times. He smiled even more broadly, perhaps amused by my obvious shyness and the confusion on my face. It was an unexpected flirtation. A rare flirtation for someone like me.
“Isn’t it a beautiful day?” he asked.
Disarmed by the easy intimacy of his warmth, I returned his smile in my own timorous way. Just at that moment another cyclist nearly ran me down, screaming as he passed, “Get out of the way, FAT ASS!”
I was so startled I barely knew what was happening. I turned and saw the second cyclist riding away, decked out in his expensive jersey, cycling shorts and shoes, and an aerodynamic helmet. Slowing down only momentarily, he glanced back as my beautiful friend screamed after him: “He has the light, asshole!”
For a moment I stood frozen in the street, shamed and a bit disoriented. All I could think was “…but I had the light.” Strangely, I didn’t feel even a little angry. I dropped my head to avoid eye contact with my soap opera hero and continued on my way. We exchanged no more words. Certainly, I’ve known greater injuries. Of course I have. Yet frequently I find myself compelled to reopen this lesser wound, reckoning with the abjection of that lovely fall day. Maybe it is the strange and disorienting coincidence of kindness and cruelty knotted inside of me. The arrested moment of an entirely unexpected intimacy and a very public abasement
Hiram Perez teaches in the English Department at Vassar College, where he also directs the Women’s Studies Program. Presently on a hiatus from academic prose, he is at work on a memoir that contemplates the relationships between racial embodiment, sexuality, and shame. His first book, A Taste for Brown Bodies: Gay Modernity and Cosmopolitan Desire (NYU Press), was awarded the Lambda Literary prize (or “Lammy”) for LGBT Studies in 2016. He has published essays in a variety of journals, including Social Text, Camera Obscura, The Margins, and Scholar & Feminist Online.
Issue 105, published January 2023, features works of poetry, flash fiction, short nonfiction, and photography by L. Ward Abel, Evan Anders, Nancy Connors, Diana Dinverno, Melissa Goodnight, Carol Hamilton, Ditta Baron Hoeber, Tess Kelly, Robert Knox , Bernard Knudsen, Kathy Kremins, Clare Marsh, Mary McGinnis, Dawn Miller, Michelle Morouse, Larena Nellies-Ortiz, Lorrie Ness, Robert Nisbet, John Perrault, Patrick T. Reardon, Lisa Rua-Ware, Michael Salcman, Rich Spang, Joshua St. Claire, Eugene Stevenson, Pamela Wax, Ann Weil, and Evan Morgan Williams.
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