Nights No Longer Lure the Moon by Frank William Finney
And we, who whisper
to the dead,
ignore the sounds
Clair de Lune by Ellie Snyder
A dozen days before he dies, my dad’s dad
suggests they build another house together.
He is very proud to be 90 and barely eats,
calling his wife by his daughter’s name.
Grandma is confused, so frustrated by
the growing holes in her mind that tears
flow silently forth. My dad shows her
photos of her mother, aunts, sisters,
watches several threads tauten behind
her eyes, then fray again when the room
returns. She can no longer leave her bed.
Nine days later, removed of their son,
they have drawn in, closed ranks. Together,
they no longer speak. They eat like sparrows.
They are not in any pain. My dad says,
It’s just time to go home. Finally, his mother
leaves quietly in the middle of the night.
His text: Mom’s mind is finally clear.
More than clear - glorified! I am glad then
for the immense consolation in his belief.
Seven hours later, his father has gone.
His text: It seems appropriate, since they
were never apart. Something like 60 years.
To be so wrought to another by time, love
children, grief as to go because she’s gone.
To feel nothing left in staying. He asked her
to play Debussy when they first met.
CAMBRIDGE by George Franklin
My son tells me, “You wouldn’t recognize Harvard Square,”
And I realize how much the details have faded, names disappeared,
Locations gone or fuzzy: the cafeteria with baked scrod and vegetables,
The place with good muffins and weak coffee served in dark brown cups,
The newspaper kiosk where I’d buy The New York Times on Sundays
And retreat to a below-street-level restaurant on Boylston where they’d
Let me sit for hours just for ordering a croissant or two, maybe
The ones with chocolate inside. When you’re not yet twenty, you don’t
Think about calories or cholesterol. Two brothers ran a bookstore
Right by the square, and one told a story about buying a first edition
Of A Soldier’s Pay for a few dollars at a book sale, reselling it
For thousands. I never got that lucky at book sales, but I read a lot
And shuffled through the collapsed pile of poetry on the wooden table
By the couch at the Grolier. Gordon Cairnie, the owner, was alive then
And gossiped freely about the marriages of poets, but was oddly
Reluctant to recommend books. His only advice:
“They tell me William Butler Yeats was a pretty good poet.”
I’d already bought my copy of Yeats, so I picked up Lawrence’s
Selected Poems instead. Gordon didn’t seem to mind. I think
He was surprised anyone purchased anything.
Road Kill by Carmen Corridan
Summer opens with a dead
animal on the road.
A dove, fox, badger,
fur and feathers seep into
the hot asphalt, tires cremate
the insides, a summer ritual
as old as broken brown glass
strewn in heritage sites, as idle
as soft plastic pinning the dirt
hostage while sugary pop music
echos into a blue tomorrow,
roots hobble around the
artificial, twining for breath,
little blunt needles burned by the sun.
Pet Sitting by Rhea Melina
I bury the remains of a half-smoked joint
in their tidy herb garden and immediately
consider exhuming it because these
might be the sort of people who keep
a perfectly detailed inventory
of the soil in their raised beds
but I leave it, hidden, contained
and the next thing I know
I give full attention to furiously
scrub spilled coffee out of their couch.
Whoops, it's just this house
is immaculate and I'd really like to be
invited back to watch the dog
who seems to adore me because
I smell like an animal, and I am a wild
one in this strange house, propping up
the many ornate pillows on one side,
stepping back to see if they look right
then trying them on their other sides
but every which a way I lay them
they look out of place.
It's just my eye, so partial
to grime. I've also never
been in the habit of vacuuming
but it's probably important
to not leave a smell behind
or two too many beer cans
in the recycling bin, so I take out
all my trash, make the giant bed
and let myself out
of the fantasy—this house in Ballard
I will never have.
I lock the door at noon
before the creating any
more incriminating evidence
and realize when I get home
I’ve stolen 7 pens.
Lipstick by Nadja Maril
Before letting in the paramedics, my mother asks for her lipstick. I help apply it to her lips, a creamy layer of red.
As a child, I’d marveled at how that same color matched the flannel bathrobe she wore each morning. And I remember waking in the night and being rocked to sleep in her arms. One night, when I struggled to breath, she knew exactly what I needed. I remember the warmth of steam on my face and the feel of her fingers rubbing Mentholatum into my chest. Was she wearing lipstick then? I don’t remember her face in the dark, just the feel of comfort; my head upon her breast, the smell of her perfume, the creak of the rocker’s rungs against the floor.
My mind jumps back to thirty minutes earlier when I’d driven one hour, from my house to hers. Her phone call. I’d found her on the carpet unable to stand. Her slurred words had issued commands. Call her doctor. No ambulance. Find her a pair of dry panties. Fetch blouse with
buttons. The one with blue tulips. Bring her water and an aspirin. Her behavior is familiar. She intentionally delays on completing certain tasks. She refuses to speak to me if I dare argue.
I remember unpleasant things from my childhood, my mother humming to herself, not noticing when I need help. You are a big girl, my mother had said when I’d accidentally pooped in my bathing suit. Clean it up yourself.
I must have been three years old. Old enough to climb the stairs, enter the bathroom, and carefully dump my turd into the toilet. I’d felt unworthy. Ashamed, I’d hid in my room.
During my teenage years, she didn’t criticize the time I spent applying make-up to my face, but she’d noticed my lack of a bra. I began wearing a jacket leaving the house.
But I remember good times too. A mother daughter duo who dare one another to try out new recipes. Triumphantly we serve: cheesecake topped with blueberries, Maryland rockfish with a crabmeat dressing, Portuguese kale and cabbage soup.
Afternoons, perched on the couch we read poems to each other from Mother’s college textbooks. Listen to the repetition, the beats, the words like music. Curious to discover her favorites, I’d struggle to read her cramped notes in the margins.
And then one day, I refuse to help at a dinner party and her punishment is silence. I decide to attend a large university instead of a small prestigious college, her choice for me. More silence.
Each time I took an alternate path, the silence grows longer and longer.
Hands trembling, I call her doctor and tell him how she was barely able to say my name when she’d telephoned me to come, but at least now I understand her. How many minutes did it take her to work her way towards the telephone and pull it down? My mother is persistent. Once,
when we missed an airplane flight, I remember her calling every ticket agent until she found another route. Always ask for the person in charge, she’d said.
No one is invincible, her doctor explains, you need to go to the hospital. It was then that she allows me to call 911.
If only she was smaller, I could cradle her in my arms. Rock back and forth in the night, humming songs of comfort.
Downstairs, the paramedics are knocking at the door. They’re bringing oxygen and a chair to hoist her down the stairs. I reach for my purse to find my lipstick. My shade is darker than hers, deep burgundy.
Martha by Ronan Hart
“Always wanted an Alsatian.”
“That’s not an Alsatian.”
“I think they have brown fur as well as black.”
“What is it then?”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh. Well.” He sips his coffee, Styrofoam squeaking between cracked fingers. “Sure it’s not an Alsatian?” He looks down at the cup, licks his lips.
“If you say so. Still, nice dog.”
Are we looking at the same animal? The dog is a terror. It’s been dragging its owner around the park for the last fifteen minutes while the man has shouted at, pleaded with, and hurled abuse toward it. If this is a daily routine, they’re doomed.
“Andrew, mum is worried about you.”
The park bench creaks as my uncle turns to me, one eyebrow raised. “Eh? Worried about what?”
Despite the grey veil of clouds, he’s squinting.
“We both think...” A line appears between his eyebrows as the squint deepens to a frown. “We’re worried about you, Andrew.”
He regards me before turning back to face the green, bursting into child-like laughter upon seeing the owner almost fall on his face as the dog yanks him toward something unseen.
“That dog is taking him for a walk, eh?” he mutters, chuckling. He sniffs, swigs from his takeaway coffee cup, laughter melting into a meandering smile. He runs his free hand over his breast pocket, pausing around something flat and square. Bags under his eyes, unshaven. His
buzzed hair is a DIY effort. He hawks, spits out a glob of mucus.
“Andrew, are you all right?”
His head snaps round, eyes huge and dilated, jaw set. He stares, blinks, the fury dissipating. “Fine. Never better.”
I tried to tell Mum a passing grade in an elective psychology module didn’t qualify my acting as counsellor to my uncle Andrew, but she said it was that or she was washing her hands of him. I sip my coffee and regroup. He’s transfixed by the man and the black dog. His mouth is slack now, eyes glassy, his breathing too heavy for someone at rest. Across the grass, the man calls the dog by name, as if that will intercede with ingrained instinct.
“Get out of there! Come on now, Martha, that’s enough!”
Martha lurches forward, driven by something we can’t see or understand, yanking the owner to his knees. “Martha, please,” he says, voice quavering. It’s not that she doesn’t care.
Caring doesn’t even come into it for Martha. I doubt even she understands the force impelling her.
Andrew remains silent. He’s leaning forward, elbows on his knees, his hands bouncing a mad jig as he taps his right heel incessantly. There’s something white and sticky at the corners of his lips.
“Andrew, are you—”
He twitches, clamps my arm in a vice grip, a manic grin on his face. His mouth opens, but not for laughter, only a wheezing whine. Martha has pulled free of the owner, now sprawled on all fours, spluttering, moaning, like some bewildered caveman.
Andrew leans back, hands on his lap, fingers writhing, a confused half-smile dancing across his ruddy face, eyes flitting between the defeated man and the wild dog prancing around him.
After a while, my uncle licks his lips. He won’t look at me. When he speaks, his voice is papery. “Listen, I’ve to meet a friend, so...” The bench creaks as he stands.
“Andrew.” He zips up his jacket. It’s so loose on him.
“Thanks for the coffee.” He runs a hand over the breast pocket again; a metallic clink, a tiny, unmistakable sloshing.
From across the green, a final desperate plea from the owner. “Martha.”
“Strange name for a dog.” He licks his lips. “Martha.”
“Dad says you’ve stopped coming to bridge night.”
“Always wanted an Alsatian.”
“Andrew.” Suddenly, I’m standing too, legs shaking, fists balled to keep them halfway steady. Finally, he looks at me, arms limp, shoulders hunched, a naughty child forced to reckon with a teacher’s fury.
We both turn at a shout from across the green. The man has crawled to the dog, grabbed the lead again, but he can barely cling on; Martha keeps dragging him forward. Andrew squints, stares, licks his lips.
Lucy by Hyun Woo Kim
It always has to be a Wednesday. 10:15 in the morning sharp. You unlock the door leading into your shabby studio, leaving a hint of citrus and lemon there. The after-shower ritual of letting the cheap eau de cologne trickle down from the top of your head has turned into a habit. Cheap, nonetheless, it is what Lucy likes.
You cannot manage to grow a decent beard yet but put on a button-down shirt. You want to impress Lucy. You want to present yourself as a man to her. Her husband, about twenty years older than you, would be in his fancy suit now. He is doing whatever important people do, stroking his mature beard. His beard was very well-kempt in the picture Lucy showed you. He even knows how to wear a tie properly.
You throw your wrinkled uniform polo shirt under the bed. Sometimes that shirt feels way too big for you.
The door creaks, as if trying to hide a certain ecstasy in its undertone. Lucy walks in. She is wearing a sweatshirt as always. She is supposed to be at the gym after dropping her daughter off. You say hi. Lucy does not care to compliment your shirt or cologne anymore.
You and Lucy collapse into the bed. She fucks you without many words or groans. You are still wearing the button-down shirt. Then she goes, leaving the butt of a cigarette on the ashtray you bought a few weeks ago. You do not smoke. You also bought matches for her.
Lucy has just left. You still have many hours till you hit the retail shop where you work. You do not want to wear that uniform yet. Now you are thinking, for a second. Maybe it is not about fucking for fuck’s sake. Maybe there are some feelings, some longings lingering within you and Lucy. Lucy will drive to the gym, take a shower, pick her daughter up, and then go back home. You storm out. You almost forgot to put your pants back on.
Lucy is in your sight. That is odd. Anyways, you can spot Lucy right away. Pretty far, nevertheless, she is not driving. Lucy is walking somewhere. She did not bring her car. You follow Lucy, not knowing what to tell her if you do catch up with her. You feel uneasy and end up walking behind her for half an hour, in secret.
A pack of cigarettes drops out of her hip pocket. You rush. Lucy makes a sudden turn and enters a building. You stop running at the facade of the building. You look up, catching your breath. You can tell, that the inside of it would be even shittier than your studio.
You turn around, and go back. You notice Lucy’s car on the way. Tree leaves are on it, many of them dry and brown, some closer to grey. The pack of cigarettes is next to it, on the ground. You thought Lucy was attractive. Now you are reminded of her odd body odor, broken nails, pale lips, and dull hair. You feel betrayed.
But would you have been interested in Lucy, had she not lied about her husband and kid?
You come back home. You light up a cigarette of Lucy’s. It tastes terribly bitter. You cough and cough and cough, till you cry.
You, all of a sudden, feel like a grown-up man.
Mother Sparrow by Ayshe Dengtash
She rested her back against the tree’s coarse bark, her breath a ragged rumble in her throat. It had been hours since she’d lost her mother.
A sparrow flew low past her ear, its wing flicking the curve of her lobe. Had it whispered in her ear? A passing breeze of sounds, a hum, a screech, a calling. And then she heard it again, coming from somewhere above her and she glanced up into the thick branches of the olive tree, and amongst the glistening black olives oozing with oil, she saw the sparrow, a mangled moth clasped in its beak. It looked down at the shrieking thing sitting in the cluster of hay and sticks. Crumbs of moth-wing swayed down, caught in between the tiniest beak. The shrieking stopped and the landscape was granted some silence. Mum, she thought, gazing out eager to spot a sign of her mother who she’d long-lost. “Mum,” she whispered, scared to disturb Mother Sparrow and Baby Sparrow. She recalled her mum dropping pearls of pink pomegranate into her mouth, promising health and pupils the color of the fruit. “Don’t chew too much,” her mother would tell her, “the seeds will turn a wooden pulp in your mouth. Just swallow.” A train rumbled past somewhere in the distance, its horn a deafening blare in her ears. But she knew there were no trains in this country that she lived in, just cars covered in thick layers of dust and seats too hot to sit on. The sun burned here, its rays searing at flesh.
She could feel it beating at her temple, and she glided her sleeve across it, wiping away the sweat. Why has mum left me like this? she thought to herself, looking up at the spot they’d been standing at together only about half an hour ago.
They’d been gazing at the purple wildflowers she’d bent down to pick, visualizing them in the China vase she’d painted herself. She’d cut a few and she now clutched at them, their stems oozing a green liquid like a burst pen within her palm. Where had she gone? How had she disappeared so quick? She gazed up into the tree again, at the Sparrow’s home made of twigs and leaves, dry and brittle. She imagined her own home—where was it? How far away?— with its fragile exterior of mud and white stone blocks extracted from a set of hills they’d once found a cave in from 3000 years ago. “That’s how old our village is, how deep its history goes,” her mother had said. She looked around to see if her mother was somewhere nearby, in the spot she’d left her, but there were only the purple wildflowers swaying in the wind. She remembered the brown shutters of her home, peeling off paint which stabbed at her hands when her mother summoned her to open them on those hot summer days when there was no breeze at all, when nothing ever shook. She had never understood why her mother had asked her to open them. Mother Sparrow chirped above her, a wail like something had died, a death call.
When she glanced up she saw its yellow beak wide open, a tiny pathetic tongue protruding from within. She held onto one of the branches and pulled herself up, the wood piercing at her hand like the paint on her mother’s shutters. She glared into the nest, wanting to see death, a reason for this pained cry. Mother Sparrow closed its beak, locked eyes with her, and flapped its wings, covering its pink baby which screamed for more moth-crumb. It managed to make its hairless head visible, and she saw veins, thin, purple, meandering, like those under her mother’s pearl-white skin, so thin that she bruised even with a tiny tap. Through the branches she saw a whole village in the distance; small, cubed houses placed on a hill opposite to the one she was standing on. Looking over the tree’s thick dark-green leaves she wondered what lay between the two hills and she jumped down, raising a cloud of soil as her foot pressed into the ground. She waded through the field before her, crushing red and purple and orange wildflowers under her soles. The sun had started lowering before her and she recalled her mother telling her not to stare directly at a setting sun, that it would do something to her pupils. She looked at it. Its rays obscured her vision into a giant black circle that kept
growing, but she still walked, hearing insects buzzing in her ears. And when the circle disappeared from within her eyes she noticed she was near the edge of the hill, the village so close, but so far with the empty space between them.
A street separated the village into two and donkeys trotted both ways burdened by the weight of plump men with skin as thick as leather. A faded green cloth hanging from the branch of the tree she walked under flapped across her temple, obscuring her vision. She pushed it away with the back of her hand. Something hard swiped across her palm and she looked up to see that it was Mother Sparrow flying low over her head, a torn beetle, comprised of just limbs and torso, clenched between its sharp beak. Does it have babies elsewhere? she thought, feeling the sparrow’s wind on her crown. She thought of her sister, only three-months old, her eyes wide open as her mother, supporting her tiny back with the inside of her pale-white forearm, let her sink sink sink under the lukewarm bath water, her eyes wide open under the rainbow- tinted bubbles, her plump-red lips gurgling nonsense. “Mum?” she’d called out to her. “I think you’re drowning the baby.” And then her mother had breathed and gasped loudly as if she had woken from a deep sleep. She’d lifted the baby up and out, as it spat out soapy water. “Give me the towel,” her mother had summoned. She’d given the towel to her mother, and her mother had wrapped it around her sister’s wet soft flesh, dotted with goosebumps. She had watched her mother as she hugged her sister and decided that she’d imagined everything in her own gruesome mind.
Tweet, tweet. The sparrow flew past her, brushing the top of her head. She itched the small of her back and walked, allowing the bird to guide her.
A cold breeze blew from the west and Mother Sparrow swayed left, then flapped its tiny wings, and positioned itself dead-centre to her. She thought about Baby Sparrow laying under the heaps of branches which Mother Sparrow had laid out for it, like her own mother who tucked her in at night once upon a time, maybe five years ago when she was still a child. “Good night,” she’d say, kissing the warm flesh on her forehead with her cold lips. She wouldn’t say good night back but would smile and watch her mother walk away, gently pressing the switch to submerge her world in darkness before she closed the door behind her. Loneliness settled in quite quickly then; it was only her and her breathing. Mother Sparrow stopped; hovered in mid-air and then ducked down and was gone. She noticed she was at the edge of the hill now. Music reverberated from the distance, a jingle of an ice-cream van. Her mother never liked her buying ice-cream from vans. She remembered brutally tugging at her mother’s jacket. “Please mum. Just one.” Her mother would tell her stories about seeping snot and filthy fingernails. She always watched as children her age, bit into brittle Flake bars submerged into creamy Mr. Whippies, chocolate shavings speckling their wet lips. She stood at the edge of the hill and looked down. “Mother Sparrow,” she called out. “Mother Sparrow. Your baby will be waiting. Like me.” And then down down down, several feet below, there was something, a pale form, fur, hair, something embedded into the red soil, amongst the boulders, something small or big. She couldn’t tell from here. She found herself peering down, unable to take her eyes off this thing. Was it moving? She took a few more steps forwards, and extended her neck further down to where the sparrow had flown.
It was then that she saw her mother’s blonde hair, swaying across the dry earth, dirty with soil. She was laying on her side, like she did when she was sleeping. Her pale cheek blemished with crimson blood. Mum, she wanted to call, but nothing came out. Was she dead? Her surroundings were submerged in silence. The ice-cream van’s jingle had stopped, and she heard Mother Sparrow fly out from a crevice in the edge of the hill, tweeting, making its way to Baby Sparrow, its beak full of a shiny, slithering worm. “Mum,” she shouted, her voice echoing inside the large expanse of emptiness below her. She was sure that the hillsides had absorbed her voice, that this was why her mother lay there still, not responding.
Greener Than The Hill by James and Lauren of Trickster Figures