13 May

Poetry: By Stephen Massimilla

ASCENT
-After Neruda

On the ladder of the earth, I clambered
through the atrocious thicket of forsaken forests
up to you, Machu Picchu.

Lofty city of stone stairways,
finally a dwelling where the terrestrial being
did not hide in her nightclothes.
In you, as in two parallel lineages,
the cradle of lightning and that of man
rocked together in the bristling wind.

Mother of stone, spindrift of the condors.

High reef of the human aurora.

Trowel abandoned in primordial sand.

This was the dwelling, this is the place:
Here the large grains of maize swelled
and fell again like roseate hail.

Here the golden wool of the vicuña was spun
to cover the loved ones, the barrows, the mothers,
the king, the worshippers, the warriors.

Here the feet of man found rest by night,
beside the talons of the eagle in the high
meat-strewn aeries, and at dawn
they stepped thunder-shod through the rarefied fog
and touched the soil and the stones
until they recognized them in the night or in death.

I gaze at the rags and the hands,
the trickle of water in the sonorous hollow,
the wall softened by the touch of a face
that with my eyes gazed at the earthly lanterns,
that with my hands oiled the vanished
planks: Because everything—clothing, skin, pots,
words, wine, loaves—
was gone, fallen to earth.

And the air entered with its orange-blossom fingers
over all the sleeping dead:
a thousand years of air—months, weeks of air—
of azure wind, of iron cordillera,
that were like soft hurricanes of footfalls
polishing this solitary precinct of the rock.

WHAT ENDURES
-After Neruda

Oh you dead of the lone abysm, shadows of one chasm,
of such depth, as if rising to the measure
of your magnitude—
the true, the most consuming
death, and from the quarried rocks,
from the scarlet turrets,
from the staggered stairways of the aqueducts,
you tumbled down as in the autumn
of a single death.
Today the hollow air no longer cries,
no longer acquainted with your feet of clay;
the pitchers that filtered the firmament
when the blades of a sunburst spilled forth
are already forgotten,
and the mighty tree was swallowed
by fog, struck down by gusts.

Suddenly, from the highest summits, the hand
that it held up toppled
to the end of time.
You are gone now, spidery fingers, delicate
filaments, interwoven mesh;
all that you were has dropped away: customs, unraveled
syllables, masks of resplendent light.

But there was a permanence of stone and word:
The city, like a cup, was uplifted in the hands
of all—the quick, the dead, the silenced—sustained
by so much death, a wall; out of so much life, a hard blow
of stone petals; the sempiternal rose, the traveler’s abode,
this Andean breakwater of glacial colonies.

When the clay-colored hand
turned to clay; when the diminutive eyelids closed,
crammed with coarse walls, crowded with castles,
and when the whole of man lay ensnared in his small hole,
exactitude remained there waving like a flag:
the high site of the human dawn.
The loftiest vessel ever to contain the silence;
a life of stone after so many lives.

CLIMB UP WITH ME, AMERICAN LOVE
-After Neruda

Kiss the secret stones with me.
The torrential silver of Urubamba
sends pollen flying to its yellow cup.

Emptiness flies from the creeping vine,
the petrified plant, the hardened garland,
over the silence of the mountain coffin.
Come, miniscule life, between the wings
of the earth while—cold and crystalline in the pounded air,
extracting battered emeralds—
wild water, you gush down from the snow.

Love, love, until the sudden night,
from the reverberant Andean flint
down to the red knees of the dawn,
contemplates the blind child of the snow.

Willkamayu of resonant threads,
when you whip your linear thunder
into white foam like wounded snow,
when your precipitous storm winds
sing and flagellate, waking up the sky,
what language do you bring to the ear
hardly uprooted from your Andean froth?

Who seized the lightning from the cold
and left it chained in the heights
divided into glacial tears,
shaken into choppy rapids,
striking its embattled stamens,
carried on its warrior bed,
bound to its rock-tumbled finality?

What do your injured flashes say?
Your secret rebel lightning:
Did it once travel thronged with words?
Who keeps smashing gelid syllables,
black languages, gold banners,
fathomless mouths, muffled cries,
in your tenuous arterial waters?

Who goes reaping floral eyelids
that arise from the earth to gaze?
Who hurls down the dead clusters
that dropped into your cascading hands
to thresh their threshed night
into geologic coal?

Who flings down the linking branch?
Who again entombs the last goodbyes?

Love: Don’t touch the border,
don’t worship the sunken head:
Let time fulfill its high stature
in its salon of broken fountains,
and between quick water and the great walls,
gather the air from the narrow pass,
the parallel plates of the wind,
the blind channel of the cordilleras,
the crude greeting of the dew,
and climb, flower after flower, through the thicket,
treading on the serpent hurled from the cliff.

In this precipitous region of crag and forest,
green stardust, clear jungle,
the Mantaro valley explodes like a living lake
or like a fresh level of silence.

Come to my very own being, to my dawn,
up to the crowning solitudes.
The dead dominion still lives.

And over the sundial, like a black ship,
the predatory shadow of the condor crosses.

THROUGH ME
-After Neruda

Rise up to be born with me, my brother.

Give me your hand out of the most profound
reaches of your wide-sown sorrow.
You will not return from the rocky bottom.
You will not return from subterranean time,
You will not return with your hardened voice.
You will not return with your deep-drilled eyes.

Look at me from the depths of the earth,
farm laborer, weaver, silent shepherd,
keeper of the tutelary guanacos,
mason of the faithless scaffold,
water-carrier of Andean tears,
lapidary with well-worn fingers,
farmer trembling over the seed,
potter fallen into your own clay,
bring your ancient buried sorrows
to the cup of this new life.
Show me your blood and your furrow;
tell me: Here I was whipped
because the gem didn’t sparkle or the earth
didn’t yield the stone or the grain on time.
Point out to me the rock on which you fell
and the wood on which they crucified you;
spark up the old flints for me,
the old lamps, the whip-lashes stuck
to your wounds across the centuries,
and the axes with their glitter of brilliant blood.
I come to speak for your dead mouth.
Across the earth, unite
all the silent wasted lips,
and from the depths speak to me this whole night long
as if I were anchored here with you.
Tell me everything, chain by chain,
link by link, and step by step,
sharpen the knives you kept below,
thrust them in my chest and in my hand
like a river of flashing yellow rapids,
like a river of buried jaguars,
and let me weep: hours, days, years,
blind ages, stellar centuries.

Grant me silence, water, hope.

Grant me struggle, iron, volcanoes.

Cling to me, bodies, like magnets.

Hasten to my veins and to my mouth.

Speak through my words and my blood.

 _________________
Stephen Massimilla
A poet, scholar, professor, and painter. His multi-genre volume Cooking with the Muse (Tupelo, 2016) won the Eric Hoffer Book Award, the IAN Book of the Year Award, and several others. Previous poetry books include the The Plague Doctor in His Hull-Shaped Hat (an SFASU Press Prize selection); Forty Floors from Yesterday (winner of the Bordighera/CUNY Prize); Later on Aiaia (winner of the Grolier Poetry Prize); and a critical study of myth in modern poetry. He has recent work in hundreds of publications ranging from Agni to Poetry Daily. Massimilla holds an M.F.A. and a Ph.D. from Columbia University and teaches at Columbia University and The New School. For more info: www.stephenmassimilla.com and www.cookingwiththemuse.com
30 Apr

Poetry: “About Fireflies” and “Keeping Faith” by Susan Flynn

ABOUT FIREFLIES

Thinking of you this sultry summer night, I see fireflies. When I was six, I darted from myMidwestern front porch to capture them in a mason jar, poking holes in the tin lid with my father’s can opener. I didn’t understand they might be dead by morning. All I cared about was the light. Wanting to chase it, capture it.

I’ve learned more since then. Fireflies produce a cold light, a luminescence without heat, to attract a mate or prey. You did both with flash and sparkle. Brilliant mind, dazzling smile, fiery touch—with you, I was six again, all chase and capture. Only caring about the light, not thinking about what might be dead by morning.

The first time I saw Caravaggio’s painting Conversion on the Way to Damascus I, like St. Paul, was thrown from my horse, struck dumb by the light. I was standing in front of the painting in Santa Maria del Popolo in Rome. I’ve learned more since then, about the life of the body, the nature of light, and Caravaggio—how he prepared his canvases with a pigment from the powder of dried firefly wings. Like me, all he cared about was the light.

KEEPING FAITH
there is no jangle
no chaotic push
to please or prove
no muscly need
to fix the sadness
or cure what’s broken
my mother’s ashes drift
through wind and sound
then settle on the pond around me
is all my body’s yearning
for her?
______________
Susan Flynn has been published i Late Peaches, An Anthology of Sacramento Poets; No, Achllles, An Anthology of War Poetry; Tule Review, Oberon Poetry, and Cosumnes River Journal. She has attended several writing workshops and studied with Mark Doty, Carl Phillips, Susan Kelly Dewitt, Fenton Johnson, Kate Asche, and Pat Schneider. Susan has her BA in American Literature and her PhD in Clinical Psychology, and currently works as a clinical psychologist in private practice and a university professor. She lives in Sacramento and enjoys fly-fishing, writing poetry, photography and hiking.
30 Apr

Poetry: “A Corporal Warning” by AJ Urquidi

A Corporal Warning

Sailing the black milk and syrup
over León, you sleep on my arm,
which was made for your sleeping.

Guanajuato highway, runway, roll
the vessels into one. A mountain’s down
there, broadcast antenna. Hear your dreams

through rental headphones—volume
soft. Your grandfather’s finger across
the mesa, he tells you your shaken past.

Nice parts, disjointed stuff. How you
learned to drive dry fields at night,
scorpion cradling your brother’s crib.

How you took your shelling of parents
for granted. The moment you laughed,
the whole room stopped to hear. Here

is a different world, he utters. The clouds
no longer arrive for free. Ours, a world
for maxed voices, muted logics,

clear vices: a corporate warming.
With everyone a leader, there are none
to heed orders. Louder, whispers:

There’s something to always creep
towards. I wonder, then, what’s slashing
your brakes as we reach it?

 

 _______________
AJ Urquidi  At times representing Monterey, Los Angeles, and NYC, AJ Urquidi is a heterogeneous poet and editor. His writing has appeared in various journals, including FaultlineVerdadChiron ReviewRipRap, and DUM DUM Zine. A Gerald Locklin Writing Prize recipient, AJ co-founded online journal indicia and has led workshops at Cal State Long Beach and Beyond Baroque.
30 Apr

Poetry: “They Have Named My City A Hundred Times” by Steve Klepetar

They Have Named My City a Hundred Times
Once for a woman with golden hair,
and once for the spirit hills rising
to the west. They have called it after
a species of bird that flocked in the
pine-rich woods, but hasn’t been seen
for a lifetime or two. A king named it
for his dog, another for his horse,
a third for a gleaming ship that brought
a Bronze Age army to its shores.
It’s been named for generals and queens,
businessmen with large mustaches,
for castles, cathedrals, and banks.
One time it took its name from some
great, roaring inland sea that turned
to sand thousands of years ago, leaving
fishbone fossils in the sedimentary rock.
Every street has had a hundred names –
Pear Street became Lion Street, and then
Flood Way, or Disaster Boulevard, and when
the smoke cleared, The Avenue of Curses and Remorse.
 ____________________
Steve Klepetar lives in Saint Cloud, Minnesota. His work has appeared widely in such journals as Chiron Review, Red River Review, and Muddy River Review, and has received several nominations for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize, including four in 2016. Recent collections include Family Reunion, A Landscape in Hell, and How Fascism Comes to America.
30 Apr

Poetry: “If I Had Known” by Sanni MonsuruAdetunji

IF I HAD KNOWN
If I had known,
I would have paused the
Sacred moment that we
Spend to spent, when the
Haze of your love
Cluster my heart like a
honeycomb.
If I had known,
I would have travelled
Through the path of time,
Just to be with you.
If I had known,
I would have been to
The sorcerer, to cast
Your aroma of love on me.
If I had known,
I would have sat with you,
Day and night, to dance
To the rhythm of your heart.
If I had known,
I would have drank
From the fountain of
Longevity, just to be
Aged with you.
If I had known,
I would have visited
The sky-
To see the star-gazer
Just to realigned our stars;
To see the moon
To aglow our faded dreams;
And
To see the sun
Just to fetch rays to
Reignite our faded love.
If I had known,
I would have listened to
The gossip songs of the
Whirling winds, chanting-
Never sow all your seeds
In on farm.
 _________________
Sanni MonsuruAdetunji
is a graduate student of Biochemistry, currently working on
Metabolism and Toxicology of Antioxidants, at Molecular Drug Metabolism and Toxicology
Research Laboratories, University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He is a young and aspiring poet that
dwells in the wilderness of word-smiting not long ago.
30 Apr

Poetry: Sergio Ortiz’s “This Year” and “Gypsy Cartography”

This Year

I’ve noticed woodrats
in my verses. They’re searching

for shiny metaphors.
They gnaw my lines, bring garbage,

fill everything with crumbs, and footprints,
I’ll have to clean it all up.

―At least they’ll have a place to spend winter―
I’ll insert similes of oats,

something about the Easter Bunny
and cheese. By spring my villanelles

will be full of fat happy woodrats
celebrating Pasch.

 

 

Gypsy Cartography

Yes, my life a map
tracing rivers and prairies

with the poems of Lorca.
A life feeding off the night songs

of gypsies.
I own a large house

inhabited by five sisters,
a blood moon illuminating

the patio, streets loaded with
wars I prefer to forget.

The days of my life made
flamenco and duende,

cartography without guns glued
to my head.

 

________________
Sergio A. Ortiz is a two-time Pushcart nominee, a six-time Best of the Web nominee, and 2016/17 Best of the Net nominee. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Valparaiso Poetry Review, Drunk Monkeys, Algebra Of Owls, Free State Review, and The Paragon Journal. His chapbook, An Animal Resembling Desire, will be published by Finishing Line Press.  He is currently working on his first full-length collection of poems, Elephant Graveyard.

22 Apr

Poem: Celebrity Crush by Gabrielle Lee

celebrity crush
by Gabrielle Lee

when the hot boy in the tv show steps forward
and shakes his long, wavy hair i have to ask my friends
is he the love interest? because i don’t get it
his standard of beauty is ugly to me
like ethan craft in lizzie mcguire
i never understood what his fascination was
with his own hair
shaking it every five seconds
like he was freeing it of dirt
after a day at the beach
only they lived in middle america
or some shit

who cares
the point is

i was in love with gordo
the best friend
the one who gets overlooked until the movie
the jewish one
i liked that he cared more about filmmaking
and being a decent friend
and unicycling
and all the other weird things he liked
but didn’t care what anyone else thought about those things
i liked that he hid behind his hair and let it do its thing
and that he was always around to give lizzie a hug
and when i think back on it i never liked most boys on tv

i always thought the girls were prettier
the awkward heroines who tripped over their own words
with braces and freckles and glasses and frizzy hair
their vulnerability
insecurity
confidence
vibrance

and it isn’t until years later that i realize
that my taste in men is limited
to jewish and asian boys
while my taste in women spans everything
and there were plenty of pretty girls on tv
but the boys
just weren’t
there
Author Bio: Gabrielle Lee is a California-based writer and editor. She has a BFA in Dance Choreography and a BA in English from the UC Irvine, and an MFA in Creative Writing from Eastern Washington University. A past Managing Editor of Willow Springs and now working for the government’s space program, Gabrielle writes and edits by the candle of the night (sometimes literally). Her first novel, COMFORTS WE DESPISE, is forthcoming from Zoozil Media in 2018. Find more of her work on her website, riewrites.weebly.com, or shout at her on The Twitter @yesrielee.

19 Apr

National Poetry Month 2018: Our Women Poets Featured at The Ovitt Family Library

This year, The Ovitt Family Library in Ontario, California asked The East Jasmine Review to collaborate on a National Poetry Month project to feature work done by poets in the geographical area adjacent to the library. With this in mind, East Jasmine Review chose poets with ties to Southern California’s San Gabriel Valley, The Inland Empire, and Palm Desert. On the heels of Women’s History Month, we also decided to feature women poets with strong times to community organizing and grassroots activism. The library asked us to select poems along the theme of “Lost & Found,” which gave us room to include transnational work, disability justice work, and work around self-discovery. We hope you enjoy the poems we have selected in partnership with the library. We’d also like to thank our favorite librarian Lauren Candia Salerno for reaching out to us for this special project. Read the poems below the cut.

Read More

08 Dec

Fiction: “Spacey” by Melinda Smoot

Spacey
by Melinda Smoot

He wasn’t a bad teacher or anything, just spacey. My dad even hinted that he was spacey when he came home from back to school night. My dad, the math guy, said my geometry teacher, Mr. Alvarez, was spacey. Actually, I think my dad really said Mr. Alvarez reminded him of an aerospace guy, whatever that meant. I suppose that’s about as much of a mean comment my dad could muster up when it came to a teacher. Mean words certainly weren’t going to come out of my mom’s mouth unless the teacher was coming at me with a knife or something.

Mr. Alvarez definitely wasn’t going to come at anyone with anything, much less a knife. He was shorter than most of the students, and you could tell he had spent a large portion of his life hunched behind a computer because his head was poised on a neck that was cricked slightly forward. He was bald on top, but the hair he did have around the base of his head was thin curly and kept the back of his glasses warm. My friend Hillary said he looked like a seventy five year old version of Squints from the movie Sandlot. When he opened his mouth, he was nowhere near as cool as him.

“Good afternoon, mathematicians,” Mr. Alvarez had said the first day. His voice sounded like a vacuum that was set on the wrong setting.

“Mathematicians,” Bruno muttered from behind me. The brim of his baseball cap bopped the top of my ear, “he does know we’re only here because we have to be, right?”

While other teachers simply handed out syllabi and read from it verbatim to get everyone accustomed to their rules, Mr. Alvarez began the class with no syllabus and a dot to dot illustration of the ranks and files of “Seventy Six Trombones”. He then spent the remaining hour attempting to show us how to prove the maximum quantity of trombonists allowed on turn of the century streets would be only about five in rank, which made the files enormously long and what a parade that would be!

It didn’t take long for other students to start doing their own thing while Mr. Alvarez rambled. We hadn’t even thought about solving equations for three months, and suddenly the geometry teacher was ready for us to go straight into complex proofs. Bruno was playing his own dot to dot game between his right and left hand—where you make squares out of dot to dots. His right hand was winning.

Being raised by southern parents, my background was to smile and nod. Unless something was explicitly wrong, you just treated people with common decency as a citizen of the human race. Mr. Alvarez was a part of the human race, at least in some small fraction of his DNA, I hoped. Bless his heart.

We went home that night with homework of “prove your room is or isn’t a perfect square”, but we hadn’t even checked out geometry book, or any math book for that matter. I stayed up until eleven that night staring at my notebook paper that said Geometry, fifth period, Mr. Alvarez at the top before my dad told me I best get to bed—No good math happened after eleven. I simply wrote the sentence on my paper saying “My room isn’t a square because it’s passed eleven and my bed is a rectangle.”

The next day, my Geometry class had been cut in half. Hillary was gone. Bruno had enough space in front of his desk that he could stretch his legs out and nap while Mr. Alvarez talked. Mr. Alvarez did seem to notice the lack of attendance, but in his words, we were the ones who would be working for NASA someday, and all who missed were simply losing out. That hour was spent attempting to show us how isosceles triangles factored into a cue ball’s movement in Billiards. He didn’t even collect the homework, which all but infuriated me.

~ ~ ~

“Does he not realize I was up all night doing his homework?” I snapped at Bruno on the way home. I had crumpled the paper I had stared at the late hours of the night into a ball and tossed it towards a trashcan. It missed. I kicked the paper up towards the trash again, and when it missed a second time, I kicked the trashcan itself.

Bruno had more colorful choices of words for what he thought of Mr. Alvarez, ones that I can’t repeat for the sake of my soul. “I’m not going to class tomorrow,” he said as we stopped at the nearby 7-11.

“You’re ditching?” I asked while he grabbed some Big League chew and a Sprite.

“No, I’m going to get my mom to get me out of there,” he said. After handing the cashier a few dollars, he took his stuff, and we left. He shoved a finger full of Big League chew and blew a large bubble. It popped before he continued, “I’ve not learned anything there. Simple as that.”

For a small moment, I wished that I had Bruno’s parents, but I knew, eventually, it would have to get to that point if I complained to mine enough.

~ ~ ~

The following day, Bruno was gone and class attendance was a total of six. Mr. Alvarez’s eyes were dark. His face was gray. His voice was deep. He looked straight in my eyes and asked, “Why do you suppose the class has gotten so small?”

I bit my lip. I wanted to say because although it was clear he knew his geometry principles, it was also clear that he lacked a certain something when it came to teaching high school students. I never really got a chance to speak though, because one of the few remaining students spoke for me.

“Because we haven’t learned anything,” she said. Her fake eyelashes seemed to sassy clap together as she spoke.

Mr. Alvarez’s eyes narrowed. He grumbled that we should pick up our math books.

“We don’t have any,” I said.

“Then listen and listen good. That’s how us older and wiser ones did it,” he said. He uncapped his dry erase marker and drew a circle. This was going to be his moment, I knew it. He outlined the circle with his dry erase marker again.

“Say you have a round patch of land,” he began.

“You mean a cir—” I started, but Mr. Alvarez interrupted.

“No! We don’t know it’s a circle!” He pointed his Expo marker at me as though it were a ruler poised at the ready to slap me between the eyes.

“It looks like one based on your drawing,” another student said.

Mr. Alvarez stood and walked around the empty desks. He hid his dry erase marker behind his back and explained, “I know my drawing looks like a circle, but geometry is about proof with support of mathematic principles. We have to prove this is a circle. How would we go about doing that?” he asked.

The class was silent. It wasn’t because we didn’t want to participate, but because we had absolutely no idea how to go about proving this drawing was—indeed—an actual circle. We certainly didn’t have geometry books we could cross reference yet either.

Mr. Alvarez could tell we were struggling. He moved toward the white board and drew a line from one edge of the circle out to the top right corner. “Okay, let’s change things a little bit here, shall we?”

I rubbed my eyes and yawned. When my yawn was gone, I saw two lines drawn out to a point in the top right corner of the whiteboard, although the second line was from almost the opposite side of what might have been the circle, should we have the knowledge to prove it. “Say you and your family are prepping claim for your homestead out west. This circular plot looks nice and wonderful, doesn’t it?”

“Sure,” I said.

He drew two covered wagons at the point where the two lines crossed, “But your rival, Sparky Mcgee is eying that land from his camp also. You gotta get there before him.” Mr. Alvarez told a lovely story about how your rival was only a thousand miles away, and you had to make a trip of about fifteen hundred miles with a young child who was dying of dysentery and a broken wheel that needed repair. It was as if he were transporting us back to the good old days of playing Oregon Trail on the Apple 2E in kindergarten. His eyes seemed to light up while going on about how life was so complicated back then, and we had a much longer trek to make just based on the data alone. He was quoting theorems that we hadn’t learned yet, but soon would learn in his own words. It was easily the most animated moment I had ever seen come from a math teacher. For a moment, even I wanted to believe that this would be a moment when he showed just how wonderful math was.

Then there was a sudden pause, and his face dropped. Three other students were busy passing notes, but I could see a small sparkle in the corner of his eye. A small freshman student in the front row broke the inevitable silence.

“Mr. Alvarez,” she asked.

Mr. Alvarez held up an empty palm in reply, effectively silencing the student of any potential for criticism, though judging from the thickness of this freshman’s glasses, I’d be surprised if there was any kind of utterance similar to that.

“I’m very sorry, mathematicians,” Mr. Alvarez said. His voice was slightly higher than usual. He turned to the drawing on the whiteboard and wiped at his eye. Condensation was beginning to form on his glasses. He threw the Expo marker onto the tray by the eraser and said, “there is no such circle like this.”

The entire class was hushed. Even the students who were passing notes back and forth seemed to stop.

Mr. Alvarez picked up the eraser and lifted it toward the circle that he had proven wasn’t a circle after all. The eraser shook as he made contact with the whiteboard. It would have only taken a few seconds to wipe the whiteboard clean and have his mistake behind us, but he seemed to choose to keep the shape on there. Perhaps it was the fact that he had, at long last, received our undivided attention at the most inconvenient time—everyone knew he had messed up.

“We all make mistakes,” I said. I knew plenty of teachers who had written or done something wrong in front of students, but this shape seemed to completely unwind Mr. Alvarez to his very core. This circle, or not circle, had suddenly proven to him that he had chosen an incorrect path somewhere in his life—not that he had simply made a miscalculation in a moment of manic illustration.

Mr. Alvarez lowered the eraser into its cradle with his Expo marker. The shape—whatever it was—stared at all of us.

I sat there, torn. The geometry teacher who just seconds ago had excitedly belted off mathematical principles collapsed into the chair at his desk defeated. I wanted to give him a hug, but that was not the time or place to do that.

What I had seen before as a sparkle seemed to grow into a tear. It moved from his eye to the bottom rim of his glasses. Several other tears joined and pooled there until Mr. Alvarez lifted his glasses to rub his eyes. The tears then coasted down his cheek despite the fact that he tried to bite them back. The room stayed completely quiet until the bell rang and fifth period was finally over.

The six of us who remained left the room with Mr. Alvarez spewing tears onto his black loafers. I thought I heard him saying “What a waste” as we left.

~ ~ ~

By the following day, all the remaining students had all been reassigned to different geometry teachers. My new teacher, Mr. Moreno, reminded me of Fozzie Bear from The Muppets. He would clap his hands together and say “Come on guys” when we misbehaved, but he brought us back to the basics of geometry—where proofs meant “Prove triangle ABC and triangle DEF are similar”.

There was a small bit of mystery to what exactly happened to Mr. Alvarez. Bruno swore he probably drank himself to death, but I held out hope that despite him obviously not fitting into the high school environment, he was off somewhere in a covered wagon, listening to seventy six trombones marching down an extremely small street.

________________________
Melinda Smoot

Melinda Smoot lives in Cypress California, where she and her husband have an ongoing war with the air conditioner temperature.  In her spare time, she enjoys karate and chasing her cat and dog around the house.  She holds a Bachelor of the Arts in Creative Writing, Fiction emphasis.

08 Dec

Fiction: “In All Honesty” by Kim Venkataraman

In All Honesty
by Kim Venkataraman

Maybe it wasn’t the accident that planted the seed, although later that’s how she’d think of it. But it wasn’t an idea that grew and developed over time. No, it was as if at the moment of impact—when metal and glass exploded—Liz understood exactly how things would unfold.

Sean’s comment, forgotten now, had them all laughing in the easy way of two couples out for dinner on a warm summer night. As their car stopped at an intersection, a red convertible pulled up next to them. Later they’d all remember admiring the car, but Liz was the only one who said she’d known—even before anything happened—that something was not quite right. The four of them were still laughing when a truck slammed into the back of the stopped convertible, pushing it forward into the intersection.

        “Oh my God,” Liz said, maybe the others did too. And in that moment the evening changed, although in all honesty, it was different already. On the surface it was like many of the Saturday nights in the last few years. They’d met at Beth and Sean’s condo and had a beer on the deck while they debated where to go for dinner. Eventually they narrowed it down to either the steakhouse or the Thai place, finally leaving with a plan to decide in the car. Liz and Beth had been roommates in college, and Sean and Tom both worked at Sun Life. And while Liz and Tom had started dating first, by the time the two couples had moved into apartments near each other, there were so many ways their lives were intertwined they almost couldn’t remember who knew each other first or how they’d all become friends.

But this night was different. They hadn’t been out together for more than a month. The reason was something they all knew and yet it remained unspoken. Separately they’d talked, but as a group there seemed to be a silent agreement to pretend that everything was normal. Maybe, Liz thought as the evening began, this would be their new normal. In the last few weeks, she’d been thinking a lot about trust and how, in the end, virtually everything depends on it. We go about our lives assuming that bridges won’t crumble and that elevators will stop. We fill a glass at the sink and trust it’s safe to drink. But, yet, we know that airplanes sometimes do fall, and when we’re in our cars, sometimes the driver behind us doesn’t stop. So if it’s all about trust, what do you do when you don’t have it?

The trunk of the red convertible had been crushed, although the rest of the car looked unchanged. The silver-spoke hubcaps sparkled in the light from the streetlights; something Liz thought was odd to be noticing even as it occurred to her. As the four of them watched, the driver of the pick-up truck put it into gear and looked back over his shoulder. The truck reversed about thirty feet, its brakes screaming as it came to a stop. The whole time the man and the woman in the convertible sat stiffly in their car, staring straight ahead.

In the moments before the truck began moving again, Liz had time to consider what was happening. Maybe the truck’s brakes had failed? Maybe the driver was drunk, or maybe he was going to take off? But even before the truck began accelerating, she knew that what was happening was about love and betrayal and someone wanting to hurt someone else. For a second time the pick-up rammed into the back of the convertible. This time the truck wasn’t going as fast, but the sound was still shockingly loud, and the convertible was pushed a few feet further into the intersection. The truck looked as if it was wedged into the red car’s trunk, and for what seemed like minute after endless minute, the vehicles continued to sway from the impact.

        “Oh my God,” one of them said. Maybe they all did.

        When another car pulled up behind the truck at the intersection, Liz was reminded that what they were watching was real, not a scene from a movie. The pick-up truck was now blocked in, and she watched the driver, waiting for him to get out of the truck or go crazy and pull out a gun. She felt pressure in her throat, as if she was going to throw up. She glanced at the convertible’s occupants, who still sat immobile in their car, and then at the traffic light suspended above the road.

        “Green…the light’s green,” she said, choking on the words.

Beth reacted next. “Sean, go! The light’s green.” She reached over to push on his leg. “Go, go. Let’s get out of here!”

        And as they pulled away from the intersection, they sat in stunned silence. Liz tried to decide whether she dared to turn back to see what was happening.

        “Wow…what the hell was that?” Sean said. Which is what they were all thinking, but it was also how Liz knew that their marriage wasn’t going to survive. There was only so much pretending that any of them, especially Beth, should be expected to do. Sean turned west on Route 9 as if he knew, or had decided, where they were going.

“You know, honestly, I’m not really that hungry,” Liz said.

“Mmm,” Beth responded.

Tom reached across the backseat for Liz’s hand. “Yeah, why don’t we just call it a night?”

Sean nodded silently and, at the next intersection, turned to go back home. The tension in the car grew as they rode the rest of the way in silence, each of them knowing that, in all honesty, sometimes there’s no such thing as a new normal.

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Kim Venkataraman
kimvenkataraman.com

Kim’s short stories have appeared in The MacGuffin, Midway Journal, Redivider and others. She recently completed a novel, “Enough”, based on her grandfather’s experience of being orphaned at the beginning of the depression.