Issue 138

You Know Where You Are

daniel-jensen-UDleHDOhBZ8-unsplash.jpg
Photo by Daniel Jensen 

Kelsey Bryan-Zwick

Robert Carr

Jean-Luc Fontaine

Howie Good

Jason Graff

John Grey

Daniel Jensen

Kate LaDew

Jeremy Nathan Marks

Joy McDowell

Irene Mitchell

Tom Montag

Michael Olenick

Brian Rihlmann

Larry D. Thomas

The Note

 

Many years ago, I contracted amoebic dysentery while working in Central America. I got sick the last night I was there and it was a terrible night. Then I had the trip home the next day, which involved a small boat, a small airplane flown over the jungle, then a jet. 

This happened in a bad year. An uncle died. My father died of pancreatic cancer. Weeks later, both of my grandfather's died a few weeks apart, both from colon cancer. Then I went south and got dysentery.

I couldn't shake it when I got home. I was sick for 5 or 6 weeks.  I was hospitalized for a week. This drug didn't work. That drug didn't work. Flagyl in an IV didn't work. There was some discussion of giving me small amounts of arsenic on the theory it would kill the amoeba before it sheared off too many IQ points. I declined, arguing that I clearly had no IQ points to spare. And that I was pretty sure I read somewhere that arsenic is bad for you. 

A larger-than-life physician who rounded on me one weekend said, "Jesus, you look like a freaking cholera victim! You don't have some pussy Floridian amoeba! You got yourself a hearty Central American one!" (If any of you are poets working on a poetry collection, I'm giving away the title "Pussy Floridian Amoeba," first come first serve.)

I developed a kind of delusion while I was in the hospital. I became convinced that I had some kind of cancer in my digestive system. They had found the amoeba in my specimens so there was no reason to think I had cancer. Except, I guess, the year I had had. Uncle, Father, Grandfather, Grandfather. 

I wasn't allowed visitors in the hospital for fear I was infectious. I don't remember why. I've said that because this was in the 1980s, there might have been a concern I had HIV. That doesn't add up, really, all I know is I couldn't see my wife and small daughters.

Here is what I want to say. I was afraid I was dying. I felt terrible. I was lonely and isolated. I wasn't in a coma and I wasn't on a ventilator. But it was a dark, dark time.

Since then, I've thought a lot about sick people. Really sick people who are afraid of dying and believe they are. Or actually are.  I think about people who are afraid to say the things they fear—the dying and their families. I think people are afraid they will conjure up death. A death that already is present and walks alongside us no matter who we are or what the state of our health. But, mostly, I think about scared, sick, lonely people.  I think about the view at night out hospital windows, for sick people lucky enough to have a bed there.

Many of us now scoff at the phrase “thoughts and prayers.” I won’t go into it. You know why. So, let’s find another way of saying, I can’t be with you in your suffering now and at the hour of your death, but I have you in my mind and in my heart. 

I know I write for all the RHP editors: We hope you and yours are physically well, financially okay, and coping with this tragedy. Thanks to all the contributors to this issue of Right Hand Pointing, #138, "You Know Where You Are."

Love,

Dale

Joy McDowell

 

Gift of the Storm

In slashing rain and wind,

the windows hold; shingles, too.

 

Trees splinter and electricity

turns sporadic. Hike down the hill.

 

Check for damage. Beneath oaks,

love has been blown to the ground.

 

Mistletoe twigs with white lichen

rest among crumpled maple leaves.

 

The underbelly of bad weather

offers up a fistful of kisses.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

 

Keren

Mais la vraie vie à mon avis est… -Keren Ann

 

In March

it rains

and then

it snows

in April

a girl

in stockings

revealing

her toes

takes photos

of a river

the colour

of her parasol.

Jeremy Nathan Marks

 

Paper Cranes

Paper cranes

stand in

for the real

thing

they are

arrayed

on a table

with ground

cherries set before

a window.

Michael Olenick

 

Eschatology

The first raindrops that hit the dry pavement

are the only ones you get to know.

 

They wait for their cloudmates

who will only smudge them

into continuous damp.

 

You are not the rain.

I am not the pavement.

We are not the clouds.

Life is not the damp.

 

But since all my poems are about you

then either this is not a poem

or this poem does not exist

or perhaps I have just proven

that you still do.

Larry D. Thomas

 

Baboons

As she deftly

swats a fly on her belly

and flicks it toward the gawkers,

her partner probes her fur

with his long black fingers,

pinching fleas with the surgical

efficiency of tweezers.

Now and then he stops,

stares down the gawking humans

and gracefully resumes his thwarted,

private display of affection,

luxuriating on the warm,

padded sunsets of his butt.

John Grey

 

A Longing for Natural Behavior

Wolves stir in the distance.

One howl is followed by another.

I dine to the sounds of wilderness,

watch TV with a background

of loud, hungry moans,

fall asleep to back-and-forth banter

of a pack staying in touch

My family are never so vocal,

so unwavering,

so clear in how they feel.

If only I could change the bulb,

replace it with a full moon.

Irene Mitchell

 

Trinity

All the jonquils were in a row.

She looked up from her planting

to find the woman next to her

still digging.  That woman

looked up from her digging

at the woman to her left, 

who had hours ago finished

her rows and was now contemplating

how comfortable the jonquils looked

in the garden as a whole.

 

This trinity of planters

is in reality a painted image.

It depicts the last woman

in a vanishing aura, a breeze perhaps,

meant to keep her in the garden

a bit longer.

 

I could name the three women

if I thought it would have meaning

for anyone but the three of us.

Irene Mitchell

 

Meditate and Breathe

In the sanctuary of blue waves

rock the spellbound fish,

so delirious in the cobalt

they cannot also be mindful

of the sky.

 

In a fathomless night

of sleep and exile,

the sea is violet, the current sings.

Tom Montag

 

After Xing Qui's
"Parting Sorrow:  Writing for Someone"

Late in the day

crows and sorrow

 

are everywhere.

The willows along

 

the pond show some

green tenderness.

 

If we didn't grieve

we wouldn't get old.

 

I carry my sadness

with me up the stairs,

 

look into the distance

knowing I won't see you

 

beyond the mountain.

I look again. Nothing.

Tom Montag

 

After Lu You's
"Plum Blossom

The plum blossoming

near the broken bridge

 

has no one to love it.

Dusk is falling and,

 

with it, wind and rain.

Plum is never the first

 

to flower in spring, but

it is always lovely.

 

Even when it withers,

when crushed in the mud,

 

the fragrance stays with us.

Kelsey Bryan-Zwick

 

Sister

Sometimes I stick things in a drawer

not thinking, because I found my sister

in a drawer, after she died: every paperclip

every mismatched earring, held her, her

last gifts to me, and I do not want to be

a dead thing, but I want to be found

 

Needed past giving—so that every remnant

becomes sacred artifact, becomes a whisper

of the truth—her voice, I miss her voice.

Kelsey Bryan-Zwick

 

Love Doesn’t Always Glimmer Like a Horse

love doesn’t always marry

sometimes it dies young 

leaves children behind

love doesn’t always last

gets traded away before

we know what we had

love passes in the look

in the feel of hands intertwined

love blisters and warts

sags with the weight of

all that is not love

love is insecure, ties

its shoes with double knots

wears a helmet and elbow pads

love is the one stuck with arrows

asking you kindly to apply

pressure to the wounds.

Kelsey Bryan-Zwick

 

Sitting in the Coffeeshop

I've ordered, and as I wait for

my cappuccino I unpack my rolling papers

my gram of White Widow freshly

purchased at the counter.  The skunky

smell of the flowers, sticky in my fingers

as I press them into the shape, hand roll

a joint.  My drink served, I sit and sip

draw in my travel journal, light up

inhale, listen to the DJ, who doesn’t even

lift an eyebrow at me.  Here, out in the open

nobody shouts hate, nobody dies

and the pain quiets, and I’m okay

for a little while, I’m okay.

Jason Graff

 

On the Skid

There’s only a few inches of snow, but I make it look like arduous work getting to the feeder. Amber wears a look of awe. I guess I don’t need pretend heroics to impress my granddaughter. The kid's life hasn’t exactly been replete with grownups worthy of admiration. Her father I didn't know well, and what I’ve learned isn’t worth remembering.

As for Heather, not too hard to say where I went wrong. She was a sweet girl but pure hell as a teen. I drank heavily in my day, which she must’ve noticed. Never got myself arrested, which I guess passes for bragging in our family. I just wasn’t careful around her. After Laddy, her mom, passed I kept saying how I needed to straighten out. She was just a little girl then. I thought I had time.

Heather’ll get back from rehab changed, and this time it’ll stick. I keep telling myself the same lie because what else can I do. I see Amber’s still watching from the window and all I can think of is helping her avoid that mess.

The feeder’s an old birdbath that the birds abandoned soon after my neighbor got a cat. I fill it up with feed early every morning. I try to do it before the traffic gets bad because the deer always come from down the hill to cross the road. I don’t want to endanger either animals or men if I can help it.

Amber taps her finger against the glass as I near the door. Three deer have come up behind me, already eating with what I'd say is great decorum for animals. She’ll stand there and watch until they take their last bite.

Later that night, it happens.

A screech jolts me awake; the sound of rubber being left on the road. It seems to go too long. Just as I begin to think it’s some kid fishtailing up the hill, there comes the crunch of metal and shattering glass.

Amber springs out of bed with an alarmed cry. I try to race ahead and prevent her from seeing what I’m sure we'll find; a wounded deer limping back across the road. When I get to the window, it takes me a beat to realize what’s happened. When I do, I can only wish it was a deer.

“Sweetie,” Heather screams, staggering from the white car someone was dumb enough to lend her, probably some loser she met at a bar. Blood streams down her face. She looks worse than the last time I saw her, when she was half-crazed on booze and who knows what else. “Come to Mommy.” She’s about to cry. Her face crinkles up like a mask that’s been there too long.

Amber stands frozen at the window. I try to move her away, but she won’t budge. I go to open the door, but she locks it as soon as she sees my hand move.

Robert Carr

 

Migraine

I speak from an outside

skull, only to discover

what it means to be cleft.

Words I find profound

 

spin in cinema of crania.

I long to be Samson

on silver tray, impacted

tooth. I settle behind shades.

 

How did this black hole,

compressed, take hold?

I expand on a too-small neck.

What am I seeking

 

through this hammocked

helmet? Does sky contain

contemplative stars or are heavens

ocular, hair root, also pain?

Jean-Luc Fontaine

 

Wrestling

Each time we moved to a new army base, our parents bought my brother and me discounted Halloween masks, long rolls of frazzled fabric, and helped us patch together wrestling costumes, so we could lariat and stage dive like the leather-skinned Randy Savage and the scar-streaked Kane we loved to watch on TV. Friends vanished, like a referee when the chairs start flying across the ring, but each backyard a new arena—each laundry line and rust-hued hose a prop to use as we flailed our pipe-cleaner limbs against one another. Each time father told us to stuff our suitcases, we sulked into our rooms, and quietly stained our sheets with streaks of snot and tears. But in the ring, we suited up in Darth Vader masks and make-shift leotards, then bruised our bodies red and Hulk-Hogan-yellow. Our Walmart-blue boombox blasting AC/DC in the corner as we swung our tiny fists against each other, two brothers grappling in the mud, holding each other the only way we knew how.

Brian Rihlmann

 

When It Comes to Overcoming

I’ve been watching the quail, and

I see it now ... we’re like that—

 

when it comes to overcoming, we don’t

fly up and over the fence until the last minute—

 

until something creeps from under a

thicket and really spooks us. A thought,

 

a possibility, a hint of danger—

those only make us run faster along the

 

perimeter ... but how far and how fast we do

run, until we finally flap our stubby wings.

Howie Good

 

The Way to Dusty Death

Ducks are swimming

in Rome’s fountains,

 

dolphins splashing

in Venice’s canals.

 

The loud sun blinds

with cold, slimy energy.

 

Rudolph Hess, the only

inmate in Spandau Prison,

 

was 93 years old when

he hanged himself in his cell.

 

On a train bound for nowhere

you know where you are.

 

photo by Kate LaDew

Contributors

A Best of the Net and Pushcart nominee, Kelsey Bryan-Zwick is a Spanish/English speaking poet. Disabled with scoliosis from a young age, her poems often focus on trauma, giving heart to antiseptic language of hospital intake forms. Writing towards her new collection, Here Go the Knives, find her at www.kelseybryanzwick.wixsite.com/poetry.

Robert Carr is the author of Amaranth, published in 2016 by Indolent Books and The Unbuttoned Eye, a full-length 2019 collection from 3: A Taos Press. His poetry appears in the American Journal of Poetry, Bellevue Literary Review, Crab Orchard Review, Massachusetts Review and Rattle. Robert is poetry editor with Indolent Books. robertcarr.org

Jean-Luc Fontaine is a Tucson-based writer who enjoys long train rides and hot coffee. He is a part-time teacher and a part-time grocery bagger.

Howie Good, who is in self-imposed exile on Cape Cod, is a longtime and regular contributor to RHP.

Jason Graff’s debut novel Stray Our Pieces, published by Waldorf Publishing in the fall of 2019, concerns a woman extricating herself from motherhood. heckler, about lives colliding at a struggling hotel, was published by Unsolicited Press in January of 2020. He lives in Richardson, TX, with his wife and their son.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Transcend, Dalhousie Review, and Qwerty with work upcoming in Blueline, Hawaii Pacific Review and Clade Song. John was one of our earliest contributors and his work has appeared here many times.

Jeremy Nathan Marks lives in London, Ontario. Recent work is found at On the Seawall, Dissident Voice, New Verse News, Unlikely Stories, Barren Magazine, Literary Orphans, Apricity, The Culture of Winds, and 365 Tomorrows.

Joy McDowell is a graduate of the University of Oregon. She lives on Sky Mountain overlooking the McKenzie River. Her work was recently published in Willawaw, Terra Incognita and appears in several anthologies. She likes all things small because she is five feet two inches in height.

Irene Mitchell’s fifth poetry collection, Fever, was published by Dos Madres Press, 2019. Formerly Poetry Editor of Hudson River Art Magazine, Mitchell is known for her collaborations with visual artists and composers. She was a summer 2019 Associate Artist in Residence at The Atlantic Center for the Arts.

Tom Montag's books include: Middle Ground; The Big Book of Ben Zen; In This Place: Selected Poems 1982-2013; This Wrecked World; The Miles No One Wants; Love Poems; and Seventy at Seventy. He blogs at The Middlewesterner. With David Graham he recently co-edited Local News: Poetry About Small Towns.

Michael Olenick lives in Brooklyn with his daughter, son, and wife's ashes. His work has recently appeared in Euphony Journal, Offcourse Literary Journal, R.kv.r.y Quarterly Literary Journal, and Streetlight Magazine. He's not sure of the difference between a journal and a magazine but he's happy to appear in either.

Brian Rihlmann was born in New Jersey and currently resides in Reno, Nevada. He writes free verse poetry, and has been published in The Blue Nib, Cajun Mutt Press, The Rye Whiskey Review, and others. His first poetry collection, Ordinary Trauma, (2019) was published by Alien Buddha Press.

Larry D. Thomas, a longtime contributor of poetry to RHP, is a member of the Texas Institute of Letters and served as the 2008 Texas Poet Laureate.

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