January 2021 | poetry
It was intoxicating, heady, wild
to drink forbidden liquor from the bowl
that led us unsuspecting, yes, beguiled
to lend the brazen god our very soul.
With placards as our thyrses lifted high,
we clambered up the hill reciting chants,
feverish with need to falsify
the pestilential truths that threaten dance.
Euphoric in our frenzied shibboleths,
our malice, fear and churlishness unmasked,
we taunted and defied the looming deaths
whose meaning we, as one, refused to grasp.
Now winter’s come, his power had to fade.
And we, unblinded, see the masquerade.
Mary Hills Kuck
Having retired from teaching English and Communications, first in the US and for many years in Jamaica, Mary Hills Kuck now lives with her family in Massachusetts. She has received a Pushcart Prize Nomination and her poems have appeared in Connecticut River Review, SIMUL: Lutheran Voices in Poetry, Caduceus, The Jamaica Observer Bookends, Fire Stick: A Collection of New & Established Caribbean Poets, the Aurorean, Tipton Poetry Journal, Slant, Main St. Rag, Burningword Literary Journal, and others. Her chapbook, Intermittent Sacraments, will be published by Finishing Line Press in June, 2021.
January 2021 | fiction, Pushcart nominee
We went to see him at night. Upstairs, third door on the right. One room with a bed, chair and table. Clothes hung on a metal rack. A bathroom down the hall. He was working—taking the foil from an empty cigarette pack, folding it, cutting it with a razor blade, unfolding and folding it again, cutting it again. Finished, he laid it flat on the table and slowly pressed the creases out with his thumb. I couldn’t stop looking. Do you have more we can see? We moved aside as he got down on hands and knees beside the bed and pulled out one large ring binder after another. Is this all of them? He smiled. No. I’ve got more. Fascinated by nature with edges, creases and spaces, I spend an hour sitting cross-legged on the floor, slowly turning pages, examining each one up close just as I have Van Goghs, Mondrians and Kandinskys. No two are remotely alike.
On the way home:
How did you find him?
I heard about him from a friend.
We should show his work.
What about the committee?
We’re going to show his work.
I’ll talk to him about it.
What do you mean?
We’ll see. I’ll do my best.
Opening night, the place is packed. The artist has brought his daughter and granddaughter.
He has a daughter?
I don’t get it.
Something else I didn’t tell you. He has cancer. He’s dying.
Why didn’t you tell me?
Would it have changed anything?
I look at his daughter’s face. Proud of her father. Astonished at the hundred or more people milling around and the dozens standing in front of his work, politely jostling to get close enough to see in detail the corners of the cuts, the faint lines of the creases.
Under the light, I look at his face, covered with creases, intricate in design. Shiny. Perfect.
Michael Harold, who also goes by the name Michael Aro (his father’s birth name), is the author of five novels, five volumes of poetry and two chapbooks. His work has been published in The American Poet, The Journal of Experimental Fiction, Identity Theory, Smokebox, Harvey Bialy’s bialystocker.net, Steve McCaffery’s North American Center for Interdisciplinary Poetics, Unlikely Stories, In Posse Review and in the Unlikely Stories of the Third Kind Anthology by Unlikely Stories and the Dirty, Dirty: Anthology by Jaded Ibis Press. He has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, once for a poem, once for a novel. He lives and works in Louisiana.
January 2021 | nonfiction
Hair coiling and swirling in the murky current, she claws at gnarled fingers of seaweed, struggles to rise toward the surface before she chokes on the sea sponge lodged in her throat. Bolt upright in bed, she gags. Full moon. Open window. The wad of phlegm lodged in her windpipe loosens. Box of tissues on the bedside table next to the novel she hasn’t started reading. She spits into a tissue and draws heat-thick air into her lone lung. Thinks of how a man she once knew said he’d coughed up a log of tar when he quit smoking. She pictures it, the same texture and colour as the sponge she inhaled in her dreams.
In her dream, she was her girl-self swimming in Lac Pelletier. She leans back against her pillows, wondering why she returned to those long-forgotten docks. Where she was afraid the seaweed in the stagnant lake would drag her down and drown her. In the dream, she clamped her bluing lips against the dead minnows that began trembling on the surface. Panic exploded in her lungs, and she struggled against the sudden undertow until her feet hit the slope of sand. Her leaden legs propelled her to the colourful towel abandoned on the beach where she collapsed. Firepit smoke was in the air. A wiener roast.
She squeezes her eyes against the memory. Inhales and traps air in her remaining lung. Last night, before she went for supper, when she’d glanced back into the full-length mirror, checked her reflection for panty lines, she’d glimpsed the faded scar protruding from under the dress, just above from her left shoulder blade. A reminder that all suffering fades. How, eventually, loss blends in with the mundane. Like the spattering of summer freckles mid-March. As she exhales, she recalls the smell of a bonfire lingering before she slept.
Last night, a fever had penetrated her in his bed and clung as she untangled herself from his legs, his sheets. The heat followed her home where the swelter was trapped. As she’d lifted open the window, the neighbour’s woodfire wafted in and she paused—torn between the desire to savour the smell of her lover lingering on her skin and to escape the heat. Not wanting to get sucked into the undertow of a love that will never be more, she left the window open and sank into her empty bed.
Rachel Laverdiere is a writer, course designer and instructor living on the Canadian prairies. Rachel’s essays are recently published in journals such as The Common, X-R-A-Y Literary and Pithead Chapel. Her flash CNF was shortlisted for CutBank’s 2019 Big Sky, Small Prose Flash Contest, made The Wigleaf Top 50 Very Short Fictions 2020 and has been nominated for Best of the Net 2020. For more of Rachel’s writing, visit www.rachellaverdiere.com.