Rhonda Ward

[b]Dance, Amari[/b]
[i](for Amari Diaw)[/i]

Do not untie your hair, Amari. Do not,
for perfect plies and pirouettes, turn
from native locks or wish for whiteness.
Kick up your thick-boned legs in cultured
protestation. Avoid unbraided simulation.
Take first position, stand on pointed principles.
Deconstruct the dance politic.

Amari Diaw is a four-year-old, African-American resident of New Bedford, MA, who faced being banned from her dance school recital in the summer of 2003 because she wore braids which could not be “slicked back and pulled into a bun.”

Missing Limbs

Mostly she misses
his left leg
shorter than the right
the bend in his right knee
when his left leg fell into step
the thirty-degree angle
the wrinkle in the leg of his pants
the perfect point of the crease
as he stepped into his
right-legged stride
the rise and fall
the space between
the space
the leg
the war
the life
the loss

Between School and Home

School is behind me, home before, and between,
this blue-black face with red-pink lips
and weekend breath catcalls from across the street.

His hat-wearing swagger balances on the breeze,
outstretched arms, bent knees. Bloody eye whites
drink me in as if I were the brown-bagged bottle
he wears in his pocket with lint and loose change.

He does not need to say what he wants. I am nine
and already a woman (that’s what my mama told me
the day I woke up —cut’, screaming for an ambulance).

I am all bright-eyed, new-woman fear;
and the Samaritan arrives only after my socks
have fallen under the explosion of my bladder.

I walk quickly the rest of the way. Home,
I hole up in my room, say nothing to no one.
But nights I dream, scream, wake, remember.

[b]Ain’t No Mountains in the Ghetto[/b]

I ain’t got no garden. All I got
is this stretch of dirt in my shortcut,
a few weeds peekin up in cross-eyed patches
lookin like they wanna be
cabbage or greens.

Ain’t no mountains in the ghetto.
I do have a purple dress, though, that I look majestic in
if I do say so myself.

Rollin plains and fields? Forget it.
Only things rollin round here is them pieces of candy wrappin
and cigarette butts movin along on a whim of the wind
on they way to the gutter.

But beauty ain’t lost on ghetto folk.
We got us a foreign language we speak in English.
We got hair–natural, fried and curly.
We got soul food, and double-dutch.
And purple,
we got purple.

[b]Portrait of the Porch in Summer[/b]

There are faded lines where he erased, then stretched,
the too-short porch, made the windows larger,
straightened the steps to the multi-paned door
on the two-dimensional replication of the latchkey
house where he returned sometime after three,

weekdays. The curtains are closed and still
behind shut windows. No breeze to blow
ghost sheers aside to sneak ripple glances
of the empty jar of promises he opened
each day to deposit jail-cell covenants
fragile as Dead Sea scrolls.

He draws a precise facsimile,
crayon memories of ten-year-old summers
sitting on the steps of the porch
chin shoved into the seat of his palm,
awaiting his father’s release.

[b]Gray Matter[/b]

Her hairline sits back from her face
Like moonlit fields of wheat far from a dusty road.
Wispy strands of gray.

Her brain is mixed, pulled,
twisted circus taffy. Her thoughts
transgress to how her husband

left without a word. She gave
her best to diapers and dinners.
There are only empty plates

and pans. In a bowl she mixes
colors—covers the gray.

[b]Remnants of the Other Evening[/b]

A nearly empty bottle of red wine
(you were worried sediment had settled at the bottom),
three or four dog-eared books of poems
scattered across the cocktail table,
butts of cigarettes from designer tin cases
smashed into tiny v’s and a roach in the ashtray.

You read [i]The Applecake[/I] as comfortable in your nudity
as in your ability to speak English.
I wore my nakedness beneath a veil of self-consciousness.

Earlier, you wrote of complications, later confessing
that you are prone to “falling in love.”
I would prefer to be a warm slice of Applecake–
on Sundays, when you have settled into the arc
of my ribcage, when the world has drifted out of thought
and serious complications wait just outside these walls.

[b]Observations on an Autumn Drive[/b]

Quaint cottages and people and commerce.
Trees, naked, ashen. Their branches remind me of withered fingers.
People hurry, walk with hands jammed into their pockets
leaning against the gusts.

Indian Leap, where feuding Natives took flight
like crows over bladed black rocks,
over the chasm of a rushing fall–
and died.

Tiny towns and semi-cities. Boarded up buildings.
Parishioners emerge from churches. Siblings skip
alongside the road, rosy-cheeked from Autumn’s sting.
They smile and call to one another, laugh.

Grand architecture in unappreciated places.
Dilapidated Victorians, restored Georgians,
white houses with black shutters and red doors.
Miles and miles of farmfields, razed. The acrid odor
of burning leaves.

Windmills and waterwheels. Cows with questioning eyes.
Inclines where the road seems to drop away.
A ray of light from a crack in a cloud.

© Rhonda Ward 2004

[b]Author’s Notes:[/b]

Rhonda Ward lives in New London, CT, in a tiny cottage facing the Thames River (pronounce the ‘th’ like an American and use a hard ‘a’). She writes about the everyday things that go by without a thought most times: simplistic life events told through the use of fine details. Rhonda’s dream is to help bring poetry back to the masses through the support and showcasing of local writers. Her work has been published in the award-winning [i]Beginnings Magazine.[/i]

Koan Inertia

by Dave Clapper

The yellow arrows on the pavement split to left and right, defining the acceptable movements of vehicles. And for a while, I’m immobilized, thinking of a butterfly flapping its wings. A typhoon I don’t want to create, so I sit in my car, studying the arrows. And I think then of my exhaust and of the Greenhouse Effect (especially because my particular automobile mocks emissions tests), and realize that not moving is a butterfly flapping its wings just as surely as turning is. And I’m jolted into action, but still haven’t made a choice. I shift my foot from the brake to the gas and the car leaps forward, splitting the arrows. We jump a curb, the car and I, and obliterate a hedge, its branches clawing at the Mitsubishi’s undercarriage, living people buried and trying to come back. The back wheels then leap the curb as the front wheels bounce down from another. Cars and trucks honk out of our way, my car and me, and we find our way across a street and into the wall of a gas station’s mini-mart. Coming to almost-rest, hood crumpled, steam rises. A butterfly observes the carnage and veers right.

Merrill Lynch Wants Me Dead

by jc jaress

It’s a grossly long story; the missing Merrill Lynch Roth IRA account. The final saga in an ugly divorce…how could it not be an ugly divorce? It was an ugly marriage first wasn’t it? So why is it surprising to think than an ugly union would have anything but an ugly offspring…in this case, the divorce resembled a one-armed strung out hooker with asphalt-torn nylons a broken shoe and a lisp, “Thay, buddy, can I bum a thmoke?” Why do people call us buddy?

But the Merrill Lynch Roth IRA account is still missing. I think that it never existed. But then, I don’t really remember. I quit remembering a long time ago. As soon as the paperwork was filed I figured the money was gone anyways. Either she’d end up with all of it or I’d have to sell it off to pay the attorneys. Either way, I never thought much of it after that.

There is the one known account that is worth about $5,000. Not much, really. I had just started saving the year before she left and, though it had been worth about $9,000 at one point, the dot.com thing sort of took all of the steam out of it. No, the dot.com thing took the money out of it…she took all of the steam out of it. But, today, it’s $5,000 and change. And it’s one half mine. This other, missing account…I don’t know.

The odd thing. No, not odd. Disturbing. The disturbing thing is that I haven’t seen or heard from Merrill Lynch in over three years. I mean, they have my money. I trust them to hold it, I guess. I call…they say they have it. They say that they mail out Quarterly Statements to their investors but I haven’t received one in over three years. I used to receive them at our old house. Before she left. Then I moved. Then I moved again. And then once more. That’s three moves in three years and I’ve never heard from them since.

Though, I still receive Modern Painters, a very good if not obscure sort of Euro-trendy art magazine. I think David Bowie is one of the publishers but it still does a very good job covering art. They deliver it – from England or Canada, maybe – to my house. My old house. My in between house. And my new house. How do they do that? And the credit card bills…they keep coming, too. I was late one month during my second move. Some sort of mix up with the database. I called them and they reversed the late charges and apologized. It’s good that they record those conversations. And the people that are trying to refinance the homes that I have never owned find me all the time. The Disabled Veterans always take the time to send me little address labels with flags and eagles on them. But I don’t use the labels because I don’t send them money. I used to send them money but they just kept sending more labels and I started feeling as if I wasn’t writing enough letters to my family to use up my Good-American allotment of labels.

I was in house #2 and house #3 for less than one week when Home Depot found me. They sent me a nice welcome letter and a 10% off coupon and they gave me directions on how to get to their stores. So what’s wrong with Merrill Lynch?

It got me to wondering…all of these others…they must want something from me. I think it’s my money. I mean, I’m sure their sweet people and all but really…they want my jack. And so they keep up with me. They put up with me. They don’t care how many times I move or what city I live in or whether I own or rent or steal. They all know that eventually I will want to read about David Salle or Alex Katz or…what’s her name…the one that paints those swirling, sensual, fleshy canvases like de Kooning but with more sex. Whatever. They know that one day I will buy an extension cord and some 2-part epoxy. And one day, maybe, I will write more letters to my family and friends. That’s why they keep up with me. That’s why they follow me. So what’s wrong with Merrill Lynch?

OK, so I haven’t invested in my IRA in over three years. Do they think that I will never make another investment? Don’t they realize that people’s lives change and that, although I can’t put money into that particular account anymore, maybe I might be interested in opening a new account and dumping a whole bucket of new cash into it? Isn’t that what they do? Take buckets of cash and wring their commissions out of it and leave us with just a little more or just a little less than when we started? Isn’t that their job? Why don’t they follow me like the rest of the rats?

Then it dawned on me…they want me dead.

Merrill Lynch would rather that I die and my family have no way to find the money. They don’t want someone cleaning up my house, snooping around wondering what this Quarterly Statement is all about. No, they want me to die without a trace so that the company can wait the three or four or seven years and then absorb my money back into the system. By osmosis…right down to the bottom line. Back into their overfed, diabetic system.

All right, maybe they don’t want me dead but at the very least they want me to forget that I have my money there. Why else wouldn’t they follow? It’s pretty shortsighted on their part. Is this the sort of small-minded corporate thinking that has consumed our country’s institutions? Take the easy pickings. Don’t say anything…maybe they’ll just forget. Or die. Yeah, die.

I can see the Inactive Accounts Manager at Merrill…Merrill, that’s what they call it. Over lunch. On their cell phones while you and your partner or mate or whatever you call him/her are having a very intimate, and expensive, moment. They’re on their phones instructing someone to “…and call Merrill to follow up on those inactive account reports. See if anyone has died lately. I want a breakdown of the Recently Dead, the One-Year Dead and the Two-Year Dead when I get back to the office.” Click. Is it a click anymore? Maybe it’s a flip or a beep. Whatever.

Every morning the Inactive Accounts Manager reads the obituaries and wrings his sticky hands. He is a small man. He’s a big lazy slob…but he is a small man. He doesn’t pay his fair share when he dines with friends. He smokes. Mostly your cigarettes. He drinks on your tab. Drives a Buick Regal or something that wishes that it was a Buick Regal and the velour smells like coffee and gin sweat and there is a greasy worn out spot between the driver’s legs because he has a habit of steering with his left hand while the other is stuffed between his legs like a little kid trying not to pee.

And he is waiting for me to die.

Well, fuck you – I do not plan to die during your reign on this planet. And it is not the lousy $5,000 and change account that is truly missing anyways. It’s the other, nonexistent, account that is missing.

I don’t know how it happened. It was ugly. She cheated. It got uglier. She cheated more. What is beyond ugly? That’s where it went last. And she cheated again.

We sat down with the lawyer–her lawyer–we listed the accounts that we had between us and planned how to divvy them up. Then they fucked me. I’m not bitter but they really screwed me, so I got my own lawyer and we spent two years trying to cut a watermelon in half. Seriously, one medium sharp pencil, one piece of scratch paper and a calculator with about 15 minutes of juice in it was all that was needed to cut this fish in two but it was decided to drag it out for 20 months instead because that would somehow make things more right. The lawyers and the accountants…I never knew that there was such an animal as a forensic accountant…they’re like the Quincy’s of the bookkeeping world…anyways, the professionals, they ate all of the money. They left us amateurs with less than nothing. I still owe.

But there’s this missing Merrill Lynch Roth IRA account. I know it doesn’t really exist. But somewhere (and we do not know where) someone (and we do not know who) said that there were three Merrill Lynch Accounts. One hers and two mine. I don’t know. I quit paying attention five years ago when this all started. Five years ago when all of the air was let out of the balloon. And the balloon was rolled up and put into its traveling case and the case was loaded onto the ship and the ship was sent hurtling into space in the general direction of the sun. With any luck the balloon, the case, the ship and the sun will all converge one day. The resulting flare will cause worldwide blackouts. All radio transmissions will sound like Jerry Lewis being eaten alive by hyenas. The sky will flash bright then darken completely. Computer memory will fail – everywhere. The One-Year Dead, the Two-Year Dead…all of the Dead will no longer exist and a very small man who used to have a reprehensibly cushy job at Merrill Lynch will sit behind the wheel of his 1998 maroon-colored vehicle and he will grab his balls and begin the long drive home.

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