by Dale Wisely
I'll Have a Number 17.
I can't remember if I told you this story. A few years ago, I was out of town and needed a haircut. I don't have much hair, but in those days I was paying people perfectly good money to buzz down what little I had on the back and sides.
I checked my smart phone and located a barbershop in the neighborhood I was visiting. The shop had mirrored windows, and I couldn't see in. I walked through the door and saw that it was a 4-chair shop. There were 4 black male barbers and about 19 black guys sitting around either waiting for haircuts or recovering from haircuts.
I do know that barbershops are often more than just barbershops. They are a place for black men to be where there's probably just about zero chances of getting arrested. I don't want to say anything else because that would seem like whitesplaining. It also would be whitesplaining.
In spite of the fact that a bunch of guys were laughing and talking when I walked in and things got a lot quieter, I just wasn't about to walk out. I headed for a chair and picked up a copy of Jet magazine. I'm sure my casual perusal of that magazine did not come up among these guys after I left.
Anyway, after a wait that seemed to run about 36 hours, my turn came. Once in the chair, I saw they had one of those fantastic numbered haircut posters. Looks like this, but wasn't this one.
Number 17 was this haircut. Some of you may recognize this gentleman as Larry Blackmon of the 1980s funk band Cameo. (I'd say "word up" at this point, but you're already having to deal with me reading Jet.)
My barber took a perfect comic beat, then rubbed my bald head and said, "Oh, Buddy. We'll fix you right up." The shop had a good laugh.
Here's a useful quote I wish I had known at the time.
White dudes. If you have green money. You can go to a black barbershop.
It just FEELS like everyone's looking at you. But they aren't.
As is his habit, Mr. Coates is right.
Enjoy issue 125. My thanks to the wonderful editorial team and to all contributors.
With the 19 or 20 guys in the barbershop being awfully nice by doing all to ignore me—the very best thing they could have done to make me feel inconspicuous—I said, "I'll have a number 17."
there are days when my mind feels like an ill-fitting sweater, and i wish simply to slip out of it and into the cool air.
Chance Encounter in Space-Time
On a charter boat bow out of
Yaquina Bay, off the port side
a standard Home Depot portal
materializes, opens, and I enter a
smokey, beery, bar where The Poet,
younger, takes a limpet shell
from his left front pocket and mutely
palms it to my hand. Does this
mean be tenacious? He turns
to window gaze a long silence
says: all this god-damned snow.
Wendy Taylor Carlisle
I welcome its sticky caresses.
I shove my fingers in it.
I kiss its shoes.
I concoct rituals to it.
I think I am smart
but I don’t know what
it calls itself or
what name it has for me.
Think about your money. Think about
your country. Think about your outrage,
how it comes around disguised as
a neighborhood ice-cream truck,
gleaming and playing that tinkling song
which once was bells but now is
computerized noise you barely recognize.
Think how you stand at the curb, your
mouth a little tight, maybe brushing away
a tear, leaning forward, waiting for it.
Think how your mouth begins to water
because you’re hungry for justification
and maybe it's on that truck.
Self-Portrait as Hoot Owl
Who do you think I am, what will
grace serve, where in this moonless
void might you lie, can we echo
through the hours and never attach
ourselves to one discernable tree?
Is query my only song? Is sadness
yours? Wrapped around these
priceless silhouettes, our voices
merge downhill near the creek's
rustle, below the seeping clouds
and stars yet somehow above the
night and tomorrow's slow ascent
into more questions, more doubt.
The Shadow Behind You
That moment, spent. And another.
This goes on for hours,
days, metal pails filled with condensate,
emptied onto the parched soil
and sucked away within minutes.
What stares back at that precise second?
A void forms flesh, becomes a vessel
tumbled into the darkest rectangle,
leaving no evidence behind.
Our natures, revealed in absentia.
The dog barks at his reflection,
never thinking to examine himself,
while you stoop under the weight
of the tethered black, adjusting
your conscience, killing time.
Self-Portrait as Compost
Beneath the surface find warmth,
the fruit of decay and mastication,
of layered mixes and intermingled
juices. Disintegrated or whole,
still I strive to speak. Bits of me
mingle, to be absorbed slowly; I
process and am processed: here,
within the pepper bush's deep red
berries, there among the dianthus.
Scattered, deliberately placed,
having been, I shall emerge again,
forever changed, limitless, renewed.
How Baseball Explains the World
I’m not always having sex. The weight of the night sky can be just too great. Like the other night, I was standing in the kitchen next to Alexa, feeling weirdly amped up. As a joke, I asked, “Alexa, what’s the meaning of life?” and Alexa said, “The traditional answer is 42.” We all laughed at the incongruity, but a couple days later, while I was climbing to the top of the street, my heart about to fall out of my chest, I remembered that 42 was Jackie Robinson’s uniform number, and that the world, under normal conditions, was a waste pitch thrown down and away.
Never to Entwine
A lone worm in the summer grass
fails to revive the strand of spaghetti
that’s fallen from Cynthia’s plate.
On the Guadalupe River
my daughter plucks out
a single monarch wing
that floats on the murk
like a prospector panning
for gold. She passes
the fragile flake to me
for safekeeping. In my hand,
I swear it thrums, the memory
of wind stirring lift
and glide and the hunt
when our lungs
it was deafening, but
with the same
left open on a garden table,
pages blowing in the
soft whimsy of a
summer morning’s breeze.
Hike Within a Hike
I'm watching my feet
move through the forest
in little blue shoes
that thump loudly
and crunch the little
thousands of them
all trying to walk
on the sun
Potatoes, Their Various Moods
You were distressed
to think of potatoes alive
on your countertop
until you cooked them.
Bless the tubers
who’ve known all along
this life was not their own.
Coffins were hard to come by
during the famine. We are all foxfire
or decaying timber. We are not.
What I mean is, it’s early March.
Let’s see how the weather holds.
After I graduate summa cum laude,
you command my appearance to
bestow a gift. You cut yourself
a warm slice of my success
after contributing an ice
cream scoop of skepticism.
While I unwrap, you boast about
calling in a favour, getting it free,
this mismatched trophy assembled
from discarded scraps. When I
mention my name is misspelled,
wrong degree, you reply,
“It’s the thought that counts.”
Wherein use of the word “same” is important
Jonathan sits for long hours with children,
emptying his brain, as if it were a mothering
bird, into theirs. He curses the same traffic
on the way home, though its composition
of cars and people in time and space is infinite.
But the same cursing, the same church signs
with different puns. All that changes is small
at first. He arrives home and transitions
from being seen to seeing. His face glows
as he transitions from talking to listening.
Only after dark will he go outside and stare up
while smoking, the same thin rectangle
of night made by the roof and the garage.
Sometimes the moon is enough,
but sometimes it can be poked out.
M. A. Istvan Jr.
The hand kept at its drum,
quaking the entire church hall
it seemed. I scowled left
to give a hint, but this
to no avail. For me it was
only sober day five,
and my own hand shot out at his,
stilling its chair rap. At once
I was stunned by my action.
Eyes in the circle homed in
to the site of touch
and I wanted to use right then.
But this was not the hand
of a child being disciplined.
It neither cowered nor shook free.
It held my own in embrace
the whole meeting through,
and I spoke for the first time.
M. A. Istvan Jr.
Tearing apart a mere blade of grass
is a spectacle of sorts. The spectator,
conscious of it or not, is a participant.
Although it is perhaps more apparent
in the dismemberment of cattle or,
better, in the quarterings of criminals,
seeing the hunks scattered, tossed
to and fro, collected up after, invokes
within the spectator an awareness
that he is meat, that it could be him
scattered in the wind, dangling
from hooks, chopped and wriggling—
that these pieces are him, in a sense.
Great Job, You Did It
Congratulations: you’re married, paid taxes
cocktails, Christmas lights
dances, satin drapes
dome of teary wishes: heaven
recreated using everyday décor.
Avocados, mangos. Earth bore a blessing
and the workers flung the earth.
I’d like to thank machines, algorithms
eros, moon, cloud , stars, sky.
Puts a tear into your eye.
2018 represents Peter Bakowski's 35th year writing poetry. Currently every second day he walks two miles to the city of Melbourne public library to try a write a fresh poem.
Stephen Briseño's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Memoir Mixtapes, 8 Poems, former cactus, and Riggwelter. He lives in San Antonio with his wife and daughter, teaches middle school English, and drinks too much coffee.
Wendy Taylor Carlisle lives in the Arkansas Ozarks. She is the author of two books and five chapbooks. Her most recent work appears in Artemis Journal, Sinking City, 2River View and pacificREVIEW. See her work at www.wendytaylorcarlisle.com
Emma Chervek is a Des Moines, Iowa native and a student of English, Writing, and Education at Central College. Her most recent work has appeared in Red Fez, on her mother’s fridge and in notebooks scattered around her bedroom.
Eileen Cleary is a graduate of Lesley University's MFA program. She is a recent Pushcart nominee and has work published or upcoming in Naugatuck River Review, J Journal, The American Journal of Poetry and Main Street Rag. She once accidentally owned an albino skunk.
Zachary Eller lives in Jersey City, New Jersey. His work has previously appeared in Cha, Ghost City Review, and Waxing & Waning.
Howie Good is the author of The Loser's Guide to Street Fighting, winner of the 2017 Lorien Prize from Thoughtcrime Press, and Dangerous Acts Starring Unstable Elements, winner of the 2015 Press Americana Prize for Poetry. His latest book is I'm Not a Robot, forthcoming from Tolsun Press.
M. A. Istvan Jr., Ph.D. is a Texas citrus thief. He pinches not just a few grapefruits or oranges here and there. He has coordinated large crews to help him plunder entire acres in the secret of night.
Mallika Lakshman is an agender poet studying at New York University. They once slept in a palace in the middle of a lake. It was summertime. This is Mallika's first publication.
Jonathan May grew up in Zimbabwe as the child of missionaries. He lives and teaches in Memphis, TN, where he served as the inaugural Artist in Residence at the Brooks Museum of Art. In addition, May has taught writing as therapy for people with eating disorders. Read more at https://memphisjon.wordpress.com/
Robert Okaji lives in Texas. The author of five chapbooks, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in Red River Review, The High Window, Vox Populi and elsewhere.
Kimberly Peterson writes poetry and creative nonfiction. Recently, her work has appeared in Room Magazine, NōD Magazine, The Banister and In/Word Magazine.
Sean Tierney's first collection of poetry, titled My Ill-Read Ophelia Poem, was published in 2010 by Ra Press of Vermont. Ra Press has since released seven of Tierney's books, a mix of poetry and short stories, the most recent of which is 2017's Inhibition at 20,000 Feet. He currently resides in South Florida.
Born out West, Gerald Wagoner became a sculptor and poet. In NYC since 1983 he made art, exhibited, taught, and wrote long into the future. He is currently a Visiting Artist at the Brooklyn Navy Yard writing a series of poems triggered by the Yard and its history.