The feral boy sleeps at the foot of your bed. You only get him one weekend per month but he refuses to sleep in his bed.
You don’t get to have sex with your younger girlfriend because your feral boy curls at the end of your bed, waiting, like a stray to be taken somewhere.
You feign sleep, hoping that the feral boy too will close his eyes and drift but you don’t know if he does. You can’t tell.
This boy was an accident. He was an “oops” in the backseat. You had protection but it didn’t help. You didn’t plan on having this kid. You were just fucking around. You can admit that to yourself. Shit, you were young, you still are, but this feral boy nips at your heels like a fucking stray who smells meat in your pocket.
Your girlfriend, who called him feral boy in fun even though it bothered you, touches your naked body underneath the sheet and you look down to your boy who lies on the floor. You cannot see his eyes. You do not know if he is awake or not.
You still her hand and she pouts. She is disappointed. It is dangerous if she gets disappointed because she is younger than you, too much younger than you, and if she gets disappointed or bored, you won’t get that young beautiful body of hers.
But you tire of the pouting.
The feral boy laughs in his sleep, a dream he seems to be enjoying, happiness, and you push her over, rolling away, to try to find the same kind of dream.
by Ron Burch
Ron Burch’s fiction has been published in numerous literary journals including Mississippi Review, The Saint Ann’s Review, Eleven Eleven, Pank, and been nominated for The Pushcart Prize. Bliss Inc., his debut novel, was published by BlazeVOX Books. He lives in Los Angeles. Please visit: www.ronburch.com.
Joe lived in a cabin
outside of Mount Vernon, Washington,
a place his uncle built for hunting.
I visited him there once or twice,
on my way somewhere else.
There was no water, no electricity,
just a woodstove and black windows,
and his things: a suit of armor
into which he had pounded hundreds of nails,
a jar with a cat skull and cat bones
that he had labeled with a strip of tape
like the old-world naturalists—
He had a few books on chemistry,
medieval history, alchemy,
a biography of Alistair Crowley.
And he had a little wooden statue
of the weeping Buddha.
It was such a forlorn place to live,
dark, in the woods, off the road on a dirt drive—
he said, “I don’t fit with people.”
And it’s true, he never did.
Even as a kid he was wild,
eyes on fire with something—
up in his attic room one time,
he and his brother, Jerry, and I
were hanging out doing nothing
on a rainy Sunday, parents away
downstairs somewhere, and Joe ran out
and came back with his father’s shotgun,
loaded, and pointed it at Jerry’s head,
pulled back the hammer—
Jerry just sat there, smiling, a kid
maybe four years old, unknowing,
and then Joe pulled the trigger—
click, and nothing happened.
It was a miracle, really.
We were in slow motion, then,
blue gun barrel, warped windows,
then came back up to speed—
Jerry was crying, and the parents appeared,
my mother grabbed me by the arm
and swept me away.
I ran into Joe years later.
He’d just gotten out of the Navy.
He’d had a good run, he said:
a small ship, hosting dignitaries, parties,
and all the drugs he took, he said,
should have killed him, he should be dead.
But the angels came down and said,
enough…you’ve done enough,
and we can’t protect you from here—
“The rest,” he said, “I can’t tell you.
I don’t want to scare you.”
He drifted back to the northwest,
took some classes at the college,
and began living alone in his cabin there
under the big trees
with his armor and his cat and his Buddha.
The last time I saw him, he said,
“Hey, man, can you help me?
I sort of banged up my truck.
It’s just down the road, there
could you could give me a lift
so I can get my tool box
and tie a rope around it
so kids won’t mess around with it?”
I drove him down the road,
and we came to his truck at a curve,
and what I saw—
the front end was smashed in,
the steering wheel was punched back
through the driver’s seat,
the battery in the passenger seat,
broken glass, buckled doors—
I looked at him and said,
“How did you survive this?”
There wasn’t a scratch on him.
“I don’t know,” he said. “Just lucky, I guess.”
We got his tool box,
tied a rope around the truck,
and I took him back to his cabin,
dropped him off, and drove away.
I avoided him after that
because I could see he was lucky, sure,
but guys with luck like that come out clean,
and leave wreckage as they go,
and it’s not their fault,
they’re just always in the eye of a storm,
so you have to beware—the force of nature.
they hear it constantly
a low rumbling
like a truck going by
and it drives them mad
no answer to what it is
industry electromagnetic pulse
plates of the earth grinding away
and she hears it too
I hear it
can’t you hear it?
it won’t stop
it’s like a nightmare
and we can’t wake up
she says it’s making her crazy
can’t wake up
can’t wake up
look at your hands
Thoughts of a Hanged Man
I’ll never be cold again
I’ll never feel hate again
I’ll never be hungry again
I’ll never feel fear again
I’ll never know pain again
I’ll never have nightmares again
I’ll never experience shame again
I’ll never regret again
I’ll never choose badly again
I’ll never wait in line again
Raymond Carver has a beautiful grave
with a big granite stone with his words on it.
That’s pretty solid, man—
your words etched in stone.
And he’s got a granite bench you can sit on
and look at his grave and his words
or out over the graveyard at the sea.
Actually it’s the Straight of Juan de Fuca,
which I think of as his
because he wrote about it in his poetry.
I picked out where I’d like to be buried—
Lake View Cemetary
between Denise Levertov and Bruce Lee.
That’s how you’d find me—
someone would say, yeah, he’s right over there
between the poet and the philosopher.
And someone might ask, so what was he?
There probably won’t be a bench.
You’ll just have to stand there
or sit on the ground. Come on, get real close.
Maybe there will be words on the stone.
I don’t know, and maybe when you look up
you’ll see something you’d say is mine
because I wrote about it and claimed it with words.
Maybe not. It’s not really up to me to decide.
by Douglas Cole
Douglas Cole has had work in The Chicago Quarterly Review, Red Rock Review, and Midwest Quarterly. More work is available online in The Adirondack Review, Salt River Review, and Avatar Review, as well as recorded stories in Bound Off and The Baltimore Review. He has published two collections of poetry, “Western Dream,” through Finishing Line Press, “Interstate,” through Night Ballet Press, as well as a novella, “Ghost,” through Blue Cubicle Press. He received the Leslie Hunt Memorial Prize in Poetry; the Best of Poetry Award from Clapboard House; and First Prize in the “Picture Worth 500 Words” from Tattoo Highway. He was recently the featured poet in Poetry Quarterly. He is currently faculty at Seattle Central College.
The Dining Room Table
is the universal receiver of all
letters that will be answered and filed soon
and bills to be paid next month and the sprawl
of folders on diets and the health effects of prunes.
It’s the holder of everyday intentions
to make some sort of conscientious order
of what we’d forget if put away. The tension
of undone work turns a table into a hoarder
that could say, “I know it’s in here somewhere.”
Yet, the presence of some trivial burdens
are motes defining light-rays shafting the air.
These small tasks we see remain blurred on
the outer edge of our visual periphery,
to be completed by the vagaries of industry.
The Quart-Size Strainer,
having given up its childhood ambition
to be a catcher’s mask, still sees itself thrown
off ceremonially as the catcher runs to position
himself to snare a pop foul. Standing alone,
the catcher puts on his mask and squats behind
How spaghetti’s rinsed with cold water,
so their strands won’t stick together, reminds
him that he is made of mere mesh; that order
of wires and space, with a handle of wood.
Yet under the faucet he feels the Zen
of being in the flow. He guesses it’s good
holding rinsed string beans for string bean julienne;
but to be a hero, no one can replace—
ah! to be a catcher’s mask and save a catcher’s face!
by Marc Tretin
Marc Tretin’s writing has been published or is forthcoming in Bayou Magazine, Crack The Spine, Diverse Voices Quarterly, The Griffin, Lullwater Review, The Massachusetts Review, The New York Quarterly, The Painted Bride, Paperstream, The Penmen Review, The Saint Ann’s Review, The Round, Whistling Shade, Ghost Town Literary Magazine, and Willow Review, and he was the second runner-up for the Solstice literary magazine poetry prize in 2013. Conferences Marc has attended include 92nd Street Y, Colrain, and the West Chester Poetry Conference. He has studied with David Yezzi, Molly Peacock, Rachel Zucker, William Packard, and Emily Fragos.
It should be Margaret Meade
leaving her barely palatable threesome
to figure it all out for me.
I don’t live on the banks of the Orinoco:
these rocks on the bottom are
all paved and worn with ruts.
I do want to know why
my brown eyes turned green after
fifty years, why Ancestry DNA needs
my saliva. Is there really no
First Nation in my children
or Swede in my black hair?
Come on, Margaret, crawl out
of that anemic bed and learn
my language, that secret ceremony
that should save me, again, again,
and never does. Tell me the meaning
of rituals I always answered with yes.
Why is time suddenly the last button
on a dress shirt; the half-ripped
left back jean pocket; I’m naked
wading to my waist in muddy
water, leeches threatening.
Just look at me, write it down.
by Karen Vande Bossche
Karen Vande Bossche has been writing poetry and short stories for decades. Some recent work can be found at Damfino and Damselfly. Karen is a hard core Pacific Northwest inhabitant who believes that sun is best delivered in liquid form.
I never told anyone but
I’ll tell you.
About the fire
Folding up my tongue,
The last counted hour
With my stomach shrinking
Toward my graveyard spine.
My body wanted to be pins
Balancing voided meals with
Cigarettes. Burn marshmallow
Fat like burning up
In my rounded knees.
My body was statistical.
It was burned and tarred
And feathered. Monster me,
An under-the-bed story.
Cool dinnertime untruths,
The daily dizzy shrivel, the
Ribby abdomen poke, the
Airbrush collapse. Spark,
Sear, scissor open
The new pack.
by Alison Lanier
Alison Lanier is a Boston-based writer and graduate of Wellesley College. She recently joined the editorial team at The Critical Flame. Her fiction, reviews, articles, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Atticus Review, Counterpoint Magazine, and The Wellesley Review, where she also served as editor.
“The Marrow of Zen,” one of the sutras of Shunryu Suzuki’s book, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, relates zen practitioners to four horses, with the fourth horse responding only after the pain of the whip penetrates to the marrow of its bones. If alcoholics need to hit rock bottom, I have some sense of what that means. I read Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind thirty years ago, yet it took the onset of chronic neurological pain in order to commit to something I had only dabbled in for decades.
When looking out became impossible, and I could reflect but not imagine, I retreated within. At times, breathing was the only thing I could manage. What I found looking within was a life thrown out of balance, like a load having shifted in the back of a pick up with nothing securing it to the bed. Having seen myself for so long as a good guy, it was unsettling to realize how vain, shallow and self-indulgent I could be. Meditation became the ropes to re-anchor the load.
Who knew that pain could teach so much? Not me, but I now admit to being a slow learner. Someone might question whether I’m glad for the headaches. Make no mistake, I would like to be free of the symptoms that stifle me and keep me from enjoying all of my days. In fact, my search for a cure continues. Yet, looking back, I don’t think I would have otherwise learned things about my life and I’m glad to have found a teacher who speaks my language. Pain has finally penetrated so that I know in my bones what once I only thought in my mind.
by Charles Varani
Charles lives, writes and teaches in Oregon. He is also a shodan at Open Sky Aikido and rides his bicycle. Like most people in the Willamette Valley, he usually has something fermenting.