Through shoes with cardboard soles that sport a clownish grin, my blackened toes flash like rotten teeth. Crows, spooked from the pizza box atop the trash, hurl their curses from the wires on high, to the concrete canyons of misty light.
Chalk colored piles with dark swirls,, like rippled custard, dot the box, and I wonder at the absence of odor, as I lift the lid. One piece is better than none, a find at last, and some fluff for a bowel that growls.
Sitting on the curb, my breezy feet to face, I figure that I have had worse, and smack the pizza down. Time to nap, I scan the shadowed doors about, and see my pick is occupied. A lumpy blanket squeezing hair, with weathered boots parked aside.
Removing my flaps of shod I waft to the shadowed lee, do a trade and carry on.
The crows are quiet as sin.
By The Sea
Arching its neck over the undulating highway to feed from the other side, an orange dinosaur fittingly forms a gateway for my passing, a secrete portal to new things in a world of vivid color. In awe of this unexpected find, I smile and look aside at the jungle flashing by. Along its face smiling heads of scaly creatures look out to welcome me. Huge friendly eyes, shaded by leathery furrowed brows, seem to say, “What took you so long?”
Turning to Bill to share my joy, I exclaim, “After all the looking, I have finally found it!” Bill is undisturbed to part from his muse and turn his mask of calm my way. Simply meeting my eyes, he knows, yet he needs not say. Turning back to his muse and calmly tooling the little VW through the herds of prehistory, Bill drives on.
In the back seat Rocky laughs and says, “Danny tried to set me on fire.” Looking back between the seats, I see that Danny has lit a cigarette, its blood red swirls of smoke flashing tracers from the rear window sunbeams. Immune to Rocky’s claim, Danny returns my look and shrugs. Rocky immediately forgets his outcry but likes the attention anyway. Scrunched together, excitement in their eyes, like Bill, they are watching. I watch too. And together, the miles suck us in.
For a moment the late autumn sea leaves me a child standing in the middle of an empty slate dump, grey expanses running to steep hills of leafless timber. Then, I am here again, as slate grey seas kiss a cumulous scattered sky.
Danny squeals and dances in the surf while I and others sit in the sand, our sneakers wet by his dance’s reach. Suddenly across the tableau of what seemed untouchable for so long, a string of pretty girls parade, all enjoying the ancient interest of our smiles, yet bemused by them a stitch.
Wildwood by the Sea blesses our short stay as another portal begins to close. Still whooping and high kicking the curled white froth, Danny does not see. Grinning at this sight, like a silent monk, I wait. It will not be long now.
Charles Hayes, a Pushcart Prize Nominee, is an American who lives part time in the Philippines and part time in Seattle with his wife. A product of the Appalachian Mountains, his writing has appeared in Ky Story’s Anthology Collection, Wilderness House Literary Review, The Fable Online, Unbroken Journal, CC&D Magazine, Random Sample Review, The Zodiac Review, eFiction Magazine, Saturday Night Reader, Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Scarlet Leaf Publishing House, Burning Word Journal, eFiction India, and others.
Setting the Landlord on Fire
Let me explain something first.
This was by mistake.
Although I remember a motivational speaker
saying something about how there are no mistakes.
And it was only his face.
I was trying to do a circus trick.
I was drunk.
He had a giraffe shirt on
so I couldn’t miss him.
I spit the vodka aflame into his face
and he had a beard
and fell back
into the Christmas tree,
which wasn’t my Christmas tree,
because I’m not Christian
and I don’t own a saw.
which is a people
and maybe this is the first time you’ve ever heard of us,
in this poem
about my landlord
in the thorns
of silver and gold
orbs and beads and crucifixes
do stick in backs
and he didn’t die
or even get wounded
It was more embarrassment.
Like every time I go to the slot
and put the check in
and realize I can’t even hear it
hit the bottom.
I don’t even have the satisfaction of that.
The EMT Instructor Shows Us a Video of a Man Falling to His Death
There is, of course, absolutely nothing
to be learned from this.
Other than I should have spent more money
on the college.
Except this isn’t really a college.
It’s more of a basement in need of a shave.
The man keeps falling in the video,
mostly because the instructor keeps playing it
and laughing and he looks like
he’s eaten people’s dreams his whole life.
Not the man falling. The man falling
looks like nothing. He looks like a flash
of flesh. He is nameless and he’s not
nameless and I look at the teacher
who doesn’t teach who looks like
he was eating a dream last night,
all night long, in his insomnia,
and I wonder what happened
that made him think he can do anything,
say anything, and have no repercussions.
It’s a city.
You’ve never heard of it.
It was New Year’s Day.
You’ve never heard of that either.
It’s a day in the U.S.
where everyone commits suicide.
I’m defining Negaunee for you.
I can’t explain New Year’s Day.
It’s too complicated.
It’s sort of like Christmas
but with more syphilis.
We went out to go shovel
but the shovel was buried
under ten feet of snow,
because I come from a place
where we have to shovel
a hole up to the sky,
building a ladder
so that we can crawl
out of our homes
up onto the snow banks
where the crows are waiting
to eat our eyes. But if you’re fast,
you’ll eat theirs first.
for Kevin Simmonds
German wonder crook,
the talk to the lot of us
could be so lethal,
and yet, even told that,
and don’t even wonder.
Not the women, not the men,
not even when the blood
legs its way over to us.
and blink and four years fly by
on our new island, walled and chained.
from the Gaelic, ‘ruler of the world.’
We hear your magnificent
of pus and drool.
Ron Riekki’s books include U.P.: a novel (Sewanee Writers Series and Great Michigan Read nominated), The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works (2014 Michigan Notable Book from the Library of Michigan and finalist for the Eric Hoffer Book Award/Grand Prize shortlist, Midwest Book Award, Foreword Book of the Year, and Next Generation Indie Book Award), Here: Women Writing on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula (2016 IPPY/Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal Great Lakes—Best Regional Fiction and Next Generation Indie Book Award—Short Story finalist), and And Here: 100 Years of Upper Peninsula Writing, 1917-2017 (Michigan State University Press, 2017).
A Seminary Education
The most interesting thing I’ve learned while
at seminary was not taught to me in a class, but
something I observed gradually around campus:
amid this gluten-free fitness-freak city it seems I’ve
stumbled upon some holy place for women who are obese—
everywhere I turn there’s a thigh as wide as my waist
gyrating against its mirror, and I can hear seams
screaming, clinging like lovers being dragged apart—
I cringe, and cannot help but wonder why, what it is
about the religious life that beckons to them.
Of course in my heart of hearts I wonder if
I’m being an ass, if just having this thought is
offensive—but if I can’t even ask, if I can’t
wonder aloud in my own head, what’s the deal
with all these fatties? then I’ll have sacrificed
truth, or the pursuit of truth, nailed it to some
crucifix in favor of a world where young girls
can eat through their sorrow, can gorge with
sticky fingers upon words that whisper: doesn’t
this feel good? who needs beauty when you have
the grease of misery? If I can’t ask what all these
bowling balls are doing here, can’t wonder how their
wobbly pins don’t snap in half, then the world will
keep spinning and young women will keep turning
to Jesus, for he’s the only one to dry their tears
after a binge when the night is empty, the only one to
make them feel loved, the only one to look upon
all these obese women on campus who have, at long last,
given up hope, and told them it will be alright—
if I can’t even ask, then nothing will ever change.
Lost & Found
Or at least that’s what the sign says.
I watch the severed hand
scuttling and rummaging through
diamond rings and key chains and
Kodak cameras, through sunglasses
and eyeglasses and pocket-sized maps,
through coffee cups and baseball caps
and phones too stupid to find their way home.
The sleepy-looking boy had looked at me
in mild disbelief when I told him I lost
my soul in room 3-3-0—it must have
slipped between the covers when
I wasn’t looking and hid, listening,
or else it dove into the crack
between bed and wall—I don’t know
why it left me but I know I want it back.
And now it could be anywhere,
anywhere except here in the blue
bin at the concierge.
Alex Hughes is a poet residing in California.