The Mumps

Issue 120

Claire Bateman, Howie Good, Jeremy Jusek, Christy Helms, Michael Kriesel, Bill McCloud, Margo Mensing, Sarah Russell, Jon Sindell, Jane Vincent Taylor

 

The Note

by Dale Wisely

I think most of you, our beloved readers, are writers, and so you know well the experience of staring at a blank page. In my case, I've been staring at a field of orange on my laptop screen. My last The Note was pretty sober, so this would be a good time to write a funny one. But, I'm not up to it.

 

I know what it is. It's Parkland. It's AR-15s. It's mental illness. It's the horrible event-media coverage-next horrible event feedback loop. It's the various species of madness that comes in response to the madness of mass shooters. 

 

 

 


 

This reminds me of the arm-the-teachers thing. We won't protect you by providing what you need to take care of your students, they seem to be saying. We won't protect you by trying to enact some common-sense gun control. We won't do anything to make mental health care more accessible and affordable. So, they are saying to us: You better get a gun. Everyone else has one.

Thanks for your patience. And, thanks to our wonderful editorial team. Thanks to all contributors to this issue and all who submitted.

 

Dale

 


 

Near my city, there is a state prison which is one of the worst of Alabama's shameful set of detention facilities. Stabbings occur there more or less weekly. Prisoners aren't able to lock their cells, which means they can be accosted by other prisoners more or less at will. Guards have been known to tell new inmates: "You better get a knife, because everyone else here has one." Because we fail to fulfill our responsibilities to provide protection to people we have in our care and custody, we tell them, essentially, to fend for themselves. It's morally depraved. 

 

 

 


 

Sarah Russell

 

Learning to Play Baseball 

We were rounding third when I said 
I love you. Not the look-deep-into-his-eyes 
I love you. More a wow-this-feels-great 
I love you. Turns out that's a 
foul ball 
into the right-field bleachers. Turns out 
you can say mmmmmmmm or 
ohgodohgod, but not . . . you know. 

 

Margo Mensing

Capricious 

That would be 
what she is 
a little of this 
a little of that 
all of it put together 
in a tidy quick turning plot 

She could get out 
faster than a whistle 
hauling the arc 
of its scream 

Even 
in a rainstorm 
when her faulty 
umbrella turns itself 
inside out 
points its stays 
skyward 
even then 
she could get out 

 

Christy Helms 

Pennies

On the morning of the drive-by shooting, I was eating Mini Wheats while I watched my sister Bentley pick up a trail of pennies on the driveway. The copper blazed like stars; I was sure the pennies would burn a hole in her pocket. She planted a fresh row of thirty coins, then squatted down to harvest them, one by one, into the front pocket of her blue denim overalls with the acorns embroidered on them. Every few pennies she’d waddle forward. I remember thinking how ducks waddle that way to nudge their babies in line. It looked like she was collecting little pieces of sun. I wanted to go out there and join Bentley, to pinch those bits of sun between my own fingers. 

That same day, Bentley died. So did Papa. And Uncle Hank, with flowers bunched in his fist. Seated at our kitchen table, the police sergeant said they’d had to pry those lilacs out of his fingers. The sergeant was a large man, and when he leaned forward, his starched slacks stretched taut across his thighs. The top of his head reflected our kitchen light like a greased melon. Tufts of white hair curled over his ears. He set his navy cap squarely in front of him on the linen placemat.   

 

I asked if I could keep the bouquet. He said no, it had to be held for evidence. Momma asked if I would please go out on the front porch. Her knuckles were white, wrapped tightly around a handkerchief. The sergeant shifted his paunch in the chair. “Denver,” Momma said. “You hear me? Head on out and let Momma talk to Officer Jim.” 

Out on the porch, I smelled pine in the wet air. Mist made my thighs rub sticky against the slats of wood on the swing. Papa had cut down three pines from the backyard to build the porch. Now he was dead, and Uncle Hank, and Bentley with him, shot dead in Papa’s white Ford Pinto. 

I wonder if, when she was shot, Bentley still had her pennies. I wonder if all those coins spilled out on the vinyl seat when the bullet hit her chest. I wonder, did they blaze like copper stars? 

 

Michael Kriesel

Early Birthdays

It’s 60 degrees and spring’s in a hurry, 
braiding the ditches with rivers. 
Patches burn like candles through the snow, 
green as the world’s early birthdays. 

A beer can sails past like a trout. 
The sun hits it just right, blinding me 
and everything’s unborn in brightness, 
all things held again in one white second.

 

Jeremy Jusek

The White Birch Grove

A discarded mattress 
suffocates in a bed of leaves 
at the grove's center. 

Each spring coil—a rusted tooth 
soiled by mossy gingivitis. 
The agape smile is dazzling. 

I sleep, meditating on this 
stern 
reminder of choice. The earthy 
aromatics
rise around me. 

 

Jon Sindell

Facebook House Party 

I was reluctant to host a Facebook house party until seventy-four Friends thumbed-up the idea. The first two Friends to arrive mirrored my smileys and thumbed my funny t-shirt, and I thumbed them back. Then they thumbed the potted fern outside my door, and I thumbed them for that and placed my hand on my heart. These were good Friends. And when I frowned at the withered fuchsia next to the fern, commenting with a self-deprecating smiley, “I’m helpless with this one,” they flashed compassion-smileys, and the one whom I had recently friended based on our shared appreciation of a cat-video commented: “Bummer. I have a dead plane too,” obviously meaning to say “dead plant.” I pointed my Friends to the buffet table, which they thumbed with maximum smileys before shooting dozens of selfies with food.  

 

The next guests were four Friends who had brought thirteen Friends of their own. My four Friends courteously traded smileys with me and thumbed-up my fern, but only three of their thirteen Friends thumbed-up the fern, and not one thumbed my funny t-shirt! Worse still, only one of my four personal Friends thumbed my dog, who is adorably thumb-worthy—some Friends!—and not one of their thirteen Friends could be bothered to do so! One even tweeted: “Allergy City, might bounce.” 

  

A tsunami of Friends, Friends of Friends, Acquaintances, and Friends and Acquaintances of Acquaintances rolled into my place. It was one Friend’s birthday, and the birthday of two Friends Of Friends and three Acquaintances, so I gave each a pointy party hat and an ironic cupcake. The tumult brought my three-year-old out of her bedroom in her fave princess costume. Two-hundred-eighty-one people thumbed her up with maximum smileys and hands-to-heart, and it took me fifteen minutes to thumb and heart each in turn. Then things turned nasty when a pack of Acquaintances threw disgust-faces at my daughter while commenting “Gender stereotype!” The comment elicted forty-three thumbs-up from my five-hundred-eighteen guests. That stung, and the sting worsened when I noticed that one thumb came from an old high-school acquaintance I hadn’t even known was there listening. Then a Friend of an Acquaintance commented: “Parents like that should be shot.”

 

I bulled my way towards the moron with hostile intent, but her Friends blocked me. Fortunately I was white-knighted by a new Friend I had bonded with when a mutual Friend posted a picture of her son at Disneyland and our comments revealed a shared preference for the Pirates of The Caribbean ride before they added the Johnny Depp bots. This Friend replied to the nasty commenter that it was harsh and judgmental to criticize someone for how they raise their child, especially in their home. This comment got twenty-three eye-rolls, which annoyed me, but I felt vindicated—and, frankly, loved—when one-hundred-sixty-eight guests thumbed-up my Friend’s comment and shook the room with “LIKE!” “LIKE!” “LIKE!” “LIKE!” The uber-nasties oozed out in defeat, commenting “party sucks” and “crappy food,” and I took their pic from the doorway for revenge-posting later—and there was my dad with sorrowful eyes because I’d forgotten Mom’s birthday at the old-folks home. Hey, it’s not my fault she’s not on my Friend list.   

 

 

 

 

 

Jane Vincent Taylor

Worry

There is a certain euphoria when you realize your bank account has not been hacked. Let it be a reminder to change your passwords. Discard Rilkeangel2, 46Ghazels, Y2pencils. Make up one you can remember, everybody says. C3birdz, HMary44grace, O4Trainbow. Okay. Now you have got that taken care of you are free to wait on the doctor to call, to concentrate on numbers of nodes, MRIbgood, count the Dayz2Go, hack into plain old cell-0k-ness.

 

Claire Bateman

Swimmer

You must have been 
daydreaming again, 
losing speed, 

for now you find yourself 
lightly surrounded 


by butter churns, 
bushel barrels, 
and a bevy 
of wasp-waisted mannequins 
with waxen heads 
and green glass eyes, 
all bobbing about you. 

If you want to catch up 
to the artifacts 
of your era, 
you’ll have to kick 
that much harder.

 

Bill McCloud

A Good Idea

Could someone please tell me the name 
of a bird in Oklahoma 
that makes a sound 
like a telephone ringing 
in 1963 as you rush to it 
with a good idea of who’s calling? 

I’ve been hearing it for awhile now 
but it’s in a tree and I can’t 
see it to describe it to you 
and that’s all I have to 
go on at this moment 
but isn’t that something?

 

Howie Good

The Country I'm From

This is the country of the future—
houses abandoned, streets with holes, 
power lines hanging down. And
 

it really ought to get to stay here 
rather than be turned into coffee tables 
and electric guitars. I’ve never been 

in a war zone but I’m pretty sure 
this is what it feels like. These kids 
freezing in the tents could easily be
 

my children. I’m not a journalist, 
not a secret agent, I don’t
need 
to know everything about everyone. 

It all comes down to wording. 
The orange splotches have been 
added to suggest the snow is deep.

 

Howie Good

The Mumps

A man I had just met offered some advice: “Go fuck yourself.” So I unzipped. The police interrupted before I could finish. One cop handed me a paintbrush and a bucket, and told me to number the trees. The occasional passerby would slow down to look and then get an eyeful and scurry away. You can become that easily the kind of person you never wanted to be, this miserable sight, pale and distorted, like a lumpy victim of the mumps. Ever since, I’ve had a lot of difficulty sleeping. I keep hearing kids screaming and gunshots in my head.

 

 

 

 

 

120

 

Claire Bateman teaches and writes in Greenville, SC, and is also a visual artist. She is the author of eight poetry collections, most recently, Scape (New Issues, 2016).
 

Howie Good is the author of The Loser's Guide to Street Fighting, winner of the 2017 Lorien Prize and forthcoming from Thoughtcrime Press.


Christy Helms writes in Georgia, where she is currently completing her undergraduate degree in Creative Writing at Georgia College and State University. Her story "La Cucaracha y La Luz" is featured in The Peacock's Feet.

 

Jeremy Jusek earned his MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arcadia and lives in Cleveland with his wife and two kids. He facilitates a poetry workshop through the Cuyahoga County Public Library which is entering its fourth year. To learn about recent publications and other projects, visit www.jeremyjusek.com .
 

Michael Kriesel is the new poetry editor of Rosebud magazine. His work appears in the 2017 anthology New Poetry from the Midwest, and his full-length collection Zen Amen: abecedarians is forthcoming from Pebblebrook Press. You can read his electronic chapbook of short poems Every Name in the Book at http://www.righthandpointing.net/michael-kriesel-every-name
 

Bill McCloud's full-length book of poems, The Smell of the Light: Vietnam, 1968-1969 (Balkan Press) reached #1 on the "Oklahoma Best-Sellers" list (The Oklahoman). He's had poems in Conclave, Red Dirt Forum, Dragon Poet Review, eMerge, and Vitamin Zzz.

 

Margo Mensing has published poems in La Presa (issues 1 and 3), Tupelo Quarterly, Literary Review-East, and Chronogram. Her essay "Canceled" was published in Gastronomica, Winter 2008.

 

Sarah Russell’s poetry has been published in Kentucky Review, Red River Review, Misfit Magazine, One Sentence Poems, Psaltery and Lyre, and many other journals and anthologies. She is a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee and blogs at SarahRussellPoetry.net .


Jon Sindell wrote the flash-fiction collection The Roadkill Collection and the long-story collection Family Happiness. He is a humanities tutor who curates the San Francisco-based reading series Rolling Writers and used to practice law, with an emphasis on civil rights. Much of his writing hides in plain sight at jonsindell.com.
 

Jane Vincent Taylor loves collaboration. Her latest book, Pencil Light, became part of an exhibit of pencil drawings at Artspace/Unitiled in Oklahoma City. Her collection The Lady Victory was adapted for stage by Michigan State University dramatist Ann Folino White. Jane frequently teaches at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico. For more visit Janevincenttaylor.blogspot.com .

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