Some Memories from My Time at Uni | Thomas Morgan

I remember sitting in a
classroom
all by myself watching
Catfish
on the big screen.

I remember going to the library café
after my seminars
and shooting the shit with my
friend Ross.

I remember getting a
chicken parm from The
Deli
and taking it over to
Jubilee.

I remember having brunch with
the guys and the girls and then
walking along
the beach, throwing stones into
the sea.

All of this, I remember fondly.

But I’ll never be able to get it back.

There is nothing crueller than the
passage
of time.

 


Thomas Morgan is a writer from Worthing in West Sussex. His short story Promises was published in the 2019 Leicester Writes Short Story Prize Anthology, and his story Encounter was published online on Visual Verse.

Way Station | Douglas Cole

When I came down into the eastern valley, I drove for a long time completely alone on the road. Everything was far away. Then I came upon a little roadside station. It appeared out of nowhere like something from the past, run-down with faded advertising painted on the slat walls. I could make out the word Durham and what looked like a bull’s head. I pulled over and stopped. An old guy came out wearing overall grease pants and a baseball cap with an emblem worn away to obscurity. He stood there in the shade under the front door awning, squinting at me and wiping his hands with a black rag.

“What can I do you for?” he asked as I got out of my car.

“Hey, good morning. I’m just picking up a few supplies,” I said, walking towards him. Why did I feel like an intruder? He certainly wasn’t giving me a welcoming vibe. He nodded once, looked me up and down and then took a long hard look at my car. I had the feeling no one ever stopped here.

“Had many customers today?” I asked.

“Nope.”

I glanced back at the road and thought that I may have made a mistake stopping there. If asked, he would certainly remember me. It was like he was studying me.

“You got a bathroom?” I asked.

“Round back.” He pointed with his eyes.

I went around the side of the station and found a sloping hillside junkyard surrounded by a wood fence covered with hubcaps. The lot was filled with old car carcasses rusting in rows. They had shattered bloody windshields and smashed up fenders and side panels. Some were stacked on top of each other. And along the back slope was a clustered tower of oil drums and vehicle parts in barrels and wheels and engine blocks sitting on sawhorses. It was a glorious graveyard of the road.

The bathroom was an outhouse there by the corner of the station, and when I went inside it smelled like the foul depths of perdition. I breathed short, quick breaths through my teeth, taking in as little air as possible inside there. When I came out, I noticed a bumper lying tilted against a smashed car, and on that bumper a license plate dangled by one rusty bolt. I looked around, didn’t see the old man, and kicked the license plate off. It was bent, and I stomped it flat and slipped it under my shirt behind my back.

I went up to the shop and pushed through the bell-ring of the door into an ancient mercantile store with stuffed fox and beaver pelts up on the wall and a big jar with amber liquid and a rattle snake floating in it. I half expected to see some old prospector emerge from the pulpy fabric of the hot air. I wandered down the rows of shelves looking at faded magazines and canned foods and dried foods and racks of sunglasses, thinking, what do I need? I grabbed a few snacks from the food aisle, some peanuts and beef jerky and beer, and I put them on the counter. The old guy stood there working that dirty rag around his grease-black fingers, squinting at me like he knew something.

“How much I owe you?” I asked.

“Lemme see here,” he said, and he rang it up. Then he looked at me with an odd expression and kind of worked his mouth like he was chewing on something and said, “What you done?”

“What’s that?”

“I said what you done, ya takin my license plate like that? You’re up to something.”

“Nothing,” I said. “I just wanted it for a souvenir.”

“Ain’t worth nothin.”

“Then it’s no loss.”

“Take it. I don’t care. Just seems like a strange thing to want for no reason.”

“You ever do anything for no reason?”

He smiled a bit, but he didn’t give me the impression he was on my side. He was figurin.’ Then he said, “S’pose so.”

“I’ll pay you for it.”

“Don’t want your money. Like I said. It ain’t worth nothin’ to me.”

“Well, then, thanks I suppose.”

“Don’t thank me. It’s between you and God.” I looked at him for a moment with an urge to explain, but what was I going to tell him? He was reading it just right. Then I wanted to ask him exactly which God he was talking about, but he turned away and went back into the shadows, which was a kind of answer, so I took my things and left.

 


Douglas Cole has published six collections of poetry and a novella. His work has appeared in several anthologies as well as The Chicago Quarterly Review, The Galway Review, Bitter Oleander, Louisiana Literature and Slipstream. He has been nominated twice for a Pushcart and Best of the Net and received the Leslie Hunt Memorial Prize in Poetry. He lives and teaches in Seattle. His website is douglastcole.com.

in a flung festoon | Rekha Valliappan

looking for the ornament-studded bride under
gilt edged vermilion-red, her skin heavy-hued
in age old crimson maroon -stained coy-blush;
polished aunties frilled in pomegranate-red, be-
decked in finest silks, – rush, brush, in heavy
stampede to chase the jasmine-curtained groom,
-mounted, he on princely white charger, pale as
the sweet-scented flowers half shy-shrouded –
drum-beat drowsed -charge to the wedding party;
bangles gold-gleaming, tinkle-, panting, clicking,
singing, screaming, profusely streaming, fine-
natured jeweled crowds, encircle the auspicious
roundabout – to gaze one small glimpse of the
glare-encrusted queen.

i spin with the rest, rich rites resurged, red satin
dancing, wild to the beat, fired with the festooned
glow of age-old flow enjoined in seasoned splendor;
for how can one diverge from the old channeled
road, take the unknown one not taken, blade
ancient rituals embowered in runnels of time?

 


Writer’s Commentary

Puja (prayer), rituals, feeding fire with oblations like ghee, grains has been an important
part of my life. ‘in a flung festoon’ was written after contemplating these aspects through
dozens of marriages of family and friends. Looking at the evolutionary interplay between Meera Nanda’s bestseller The God Market (2011) where she tackles the growing
resurgence of re-ritualization so to speak among urban, educated and largely middle
classes in India and Axel Michaels’s Homo Ritualis (2016) which explains the fascinating
rites of passage traced to its original Sanskrit Vedic roots I was inspired by a where to
now moment in the mysticism and ancient practices.

 


Rekha Valliappan is a multi-genre writer of prose and poetry. She earned her MA and BA in English Literature from Madras University and her LLB (Hons) from the University of London. She has won awards and been nominated for her work and is featured in literary journals and anthologies including The Sandy River Review Online, Aaduna Literary Review, Ann Arbor Review, Dime Show Review, The Cabinet of Heed, Mason Street Review, Artifact Nouveau, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Foliate Oak Literary Review, X-R-A-Y Lit Mag, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @silicasun.

Kate Mulvaney Leaves Her Handprint in the Mud | Jack B. Bedell

Whenever she crosses the swamp,
she stops every quarter mile
to press her palm into the mud

at the base of palmettos. She knows
the swamp’s dead will rise up
toward the warmth she leaves,

the fan of her fingers glowing
in their dark heaven. Whatever there is
to learn from these depths

she draws toward the surface,
prays for it to follow her home
and spill itself out of the nets

she casts in her dreams, all open-eyed
and mouthing the sharp air.

 


Jack B. Bedell is Professor of English and Coordinator of Creative Writing at Southeastern Louisiana University where he also edits Louisiana Literature and directs the Louisiana Literature Press. Jack’s work has appeared in Southern ReviewBirmingham Poetry ReviewPidgeonholesThe ShoreCotton XenomorphOkay DonkeyEcoTheoThe HopperTerrainsaltfront, and other journals. His latest collection is No Brother, This Storm (Mercer University Press, 2018). He served as Louisiana Poet Laureate 2017-2019.

Kate Mulvaney, Shrivening | Jack B. Bedell

Sometimes women from town tie up
to her dock with fish still fresh
from the water. Before they can tell her

what they need, she slices the fish
from jaw to tail, pulls its organs out
through the gash, and squeezes

its heart. There’s usually enough blood
to draw crosses on all the women’s
brows, enough twitch left

in the fish to last through her prayers.
Garfish are best for this, their blood
old and patient from waiting

in the deepest waters, its stain
thick enough to stay the night.

 


Jack B. Bedell is Professor of English and Coordinator of Creative Writing at Southeastern Louisiana University where he also edits Louisiana Literature and directs the Louisiana Literature Press. Jack’s work has appeared in Southern ReviewBirmingham Poetry ReviewPidgeonholesThe ShoreCotton XenomorphOkay DonkeyEcoTheoThe HopperTerrainsaltfront, and other journals. His latest collection is No Brother, This Storm (Mercer University Press, 2018). He served as Louisiana Poet Laureate 2017-2019.

The Castragon | Patrick M. Hare

This chimerical creature is a precursor to other North American mythical fauna such as the hodag, the squonk, and the unserious jackalope. The castorine half of the creature is universally described as having furry hindquarters, webbed feet and the flattened, scaly tail that is almost as common a shorthand for beavers as a pair of overlarge incisors; unsurprisingly, descriptions of the draconic half are highly variable. As the majority of sources describe it as continuing the beaver’s body shape and ending in a horse-like head with an elongated, saurian snout from which fire occasionally issues, the origins of the creature are assumed to be European rather than Asian (although following the Californian gold rush, descriptions of the creature bearing the more prolate body plan and wispy beard of the Chinese or Japanese dragon were common).

The earliest known mention of the creature comes from fur traders working in what would later become Minnesota. In a 1732 letter to his backers, the Englishman William Acker wrote to excuse the paltry number of furs he was sending to Fort Albany by complaining about his French guides avoiding “…a creature in this region they call a castragon, a small beast that as far as I can make out is half beaver and half dragon, but I do not credit it. They make good to tremble in fear, when I mention hunting it, but I think they are trying to deceive me and mean to return to these valleys when I am left and sell the pieces to the Muscovites instead.” Whether the creature was known to the original inhabitants of the North American continent is unknown; no one thought to inquire of them, or if they did (for a number of Chipewyan were in Acker’s party), their responses were not thought worth recording.

Sightings by Europeans piled up over the next century, primarily in the northeast, which perhaps argues for the creature’s existence, given the area’s paucity of large aquatic reptiles that could plausibly be the inspiration for the beast’s front half. As with bigfoot a hundred years later, local variants became quite common. One example, the Schilferiga Boom Eater of eastern Pennsylvania, was said to haunt the foothills of the Appalachians. Virginia lay claim to the Woodgator, while Newfoundland boasted of its Cnoiertan, scourge of homesteaders and friend to those who needed a stand of trees cleared in a hurry. Perhaps the most remarkable was the Schenectady Russian Squirrel Hound, the origins of which name are lost to time, fortuitously one suspects, as the true and likely prosaic source of the name would surely disappoint.

With this plurality of regional variations came a host of behaviors and associations. Marsh lights were said to be flames venting from barely submerged castragons, a claim that intersected with other myths that said the lights marked buried treasure and fostered new permutations of the stories. While its reptilian relative was reputed to hoard gold, in many tales of the castragon this was transmuted into a penchant for the wood of the aspen. As one might expect, a fire-breathing animal making its home in a wooden lodge is not the most harmonious of pairings; settlers would often tell of finding no evidence of a castragon save piles of charcoal next to a stream. Evidence, they would claim, of where it had accidentally burned its lodge down around itself. This unfortunate habit embedded itself in the popular imagination in an outsized manner, and for a time in the 1790’s castragon charcoal enjoyed a period of immense popularity. Bushels of it fetched twenty times the normal rate for charcoal, due to its perceived beneficial qualities, thought to have been imparted when it was formed at temperatures only achievable by dragon fire. The fad made several fortunes, but predictably also led to a flood of fake castragon charcoal entering and subsequently collapsing the market, no doubt due in part to the challenge of authenticating charcoal originating from a mythical creature.

The beast was not merely a favorite of the common farmer and the market speculator. Thomas Jefferson included the castragon in his Notes on the State of Virginia as a minor datum in his attempted refutation of the Comte de Buffon’s contention that the fauna of America were degenerate compared to those of Eurasia. As late as 1886, Mark Twain saw a stuffed one in a town museum in Normal, Illinois, writing to fellow author William Dean Howells that he was “…disappointed by the beast. Beastly it was, if a bit threadbare, and truth be told, I was more amazed that it looked to have worn a corset for many years. The creature’s waist (where the beaver and dragon halves met) was a good handspan slimmer than the rest of the body. I would suggest it as an advertisement for a corsetier, but for the fact that it looks to have taken the extreme step of sewing its flesh together at that point to enhance its slenderness.”

While the increase in population and urbanity in the east saw the decline of the castragon there, the confluence of wood and gold in which the creature played proved enticing to prospectors and as gold rushes drew men west, tales of the castragon accompanied them. Typical among such stories is the following, from a Deer Lake newspaper:

“I had found a lucky fool who was buyin’ rounds for the house to celebrate his find, and, drinkin’ my own sorrows a bit too heavily, woke up miles from nowhere with my head fit to split and sick as a pig. I walked all day, but it wasn’t til evening came on and I started craving food and water again that I saw a puff of smoke risin’ over the next ridge. Thinkin’ I might finally be nearing a settlement, I climbed up and over the ridge, only to see not a stove pipe or a campsite, but a lone tall pine flash up in fire then fall over, leaving everything around it unburnt. ‘Ah,’ I thought to myself. ‘That’s a castragon’s work.’ Sure enough, I could see it standing on its hind legs and tail, its long arms almost touchin’ the ground. It grabbed the still-smoldering fallen tree in its whiskery jaws and dragged it off to a pond, where it dropped it in the water to extinguish the flames, then shoved it up on its dam and pounded it into place with its tail. If I could kill this creature, I would not only have the gold it hoarded in its lodge, but also it being there meant there was a rich seam nearby. Now the thing about castragons most folks don’t know is that onions is poisonous to them, on account of them counteracting the castragon’s fire. So before it got dark I found myself some wild onions, hollowed out a thick aspen branch (aspen is a particular favorite of castragons), and stuffed ‘em inside. After dark, I snuck down to the lodge, which was glowin’ from inside from the castragon’s fiery exhalations. I stood the branch on its end and let it fall right on top of the lodge, then ran and hid. Sure enough, that got the castragon’s attention, and I could see bubbles and smoke come out of the pond as the castragon crawled out and up onto its lodge. With steam pouring from its nose, it found the branch and took it back inside. All I had to do was wait. With the hunger and fatigue of my long day I must have dozed off, because a huge sneeze woke me up and I saw the lodge was all aflame. I musta picked a bit of wild garlic with the onions, on account of garlic makes castragons sneeze something fierce. As I sat there cursin’ myself, the fire spread to the dam, which shortly gave way, drainin’ the pond.”

When the sun rose the next morning I could see that nothing remained of the lodge, it all havin’ been washed away when the dam broke. But I marked a few trees with my knife, and after finding my way back to town late that night, I staked a claim to a few miles up and downstream of that place and sifted out all that castragon’s gold, though I never found its seam.”

 


Patrick M. Hare‘s work has appeared in The Wellington Street Review, The Stirling Spoon, Vestal Review, and Photochemistry and Photobiology. He lives near Cincinnati, OH, USA but can be found on twitter @nkupmh.

the Witch Cave | Aiden Heung

The tomato-field trembled as my grandma
sunk her hoe like a scalpel into the soil.
The upturned earth un-petaled
beside her feet, laying bare
the darkness that looked like fecundity.
The cut scent of the rain came wet
towards her and besmirched her hands.
Behind her, the peak towered majestically,
girdled with clouds that dissipated
in the bright sun. And a cave hid beneath.
It was the witch cave, she said.
那是巫婆洞
A place where sorrow was revved
into delight as the dead stayed
but as another form. She knew it well
the day she shoveled open the mountain slope
and buried my grandpa there, like a seed.
所以我爷爷在洞里面?I asked.
She bent to pick up a fallen tomato;
her weight oppressing the air,
then came the susurrus of leaves.
That was how I remembered her,
a woman hunched over branches and the fruit
of life in her hands, red
like the lantern on our eaves.
I didn’t know if she was crying.

Years later
we buried grandma in a different city;
we didn’t know better,
we could’ve placed her in the cave,
But adults never believed children.

Now as I place the framed photo
of my grandparents on the wall,
the same mountain sun comes
almost twenty years late to my room,
so bright and dazzling

I have to close my eyes.

 


Aiden Heung is a poet born and raised on the edge of Tibetan Plateau. He holds an MA in literature from Tongji University in Shanghai. His poems have been published or are forthcoming in numerous online and print magazines including Cha: An Asian Literary JournalLiterary ShanghaiVoice & Verse, The Shanghai Literary ReviewNew English ReviewMekong ReviewThe Raw Art Review among many other places. He was shortlisted for the 2020 Doug Draime Poetry Prize and he was also awarded the 2019 Hong Kong Proverse Poetry Prize.

He can be found on twitter @AidenHeung.

Augur of Winter at Home | Keith Moul

Bones lie in mud; tendons strap their decay.
Live wings crowd gray skies with beats,
punishing crests of the dominant species.

The scrap for food occurs under trees
as rings accrete inside protective bark.
Cloudy-eyed insects burrow into leaf mold.

Curtain drains vein away under mounds.
Raindrops freshen shrubs like eyelashes
creating utter relief for a heated mind.

 


Keith Moul writes poems and takes photos, doing both for more than 50 years. He concentrates on empirical moments in time, recognizing that the world will be somewhat different at the same place that today inspires him. His work appears around the world. Besides this reprint of his 2012 book Beautiful Agitation, also scheduled for 2020 release is New and Selected Poems: Bones Molder, Words Hold.

Extinction | J.L. Lapinel

Frost tree tips huddle, shoulders touching
and tiny lights slip between sleeping branches while
nature’s silken body reclines in icy sleep
Gritted paths swerve to catch feet of
ancient dirt, crawfish stone and mud
the haunting rocks of fern and dust
flat, fill hollow spores with slanted thoughts

The locusts and hillside are dense with forgetting
We grip the blood of earth to see what more
we can push between our fingers
Light follows us into damp and quiet places
Under rays of darkness that stick
Under our nails
and lead to doors that pound with that threat
of danger coming through feet of
wanton anger

The hollow echo of a pipe bounces
somewhere
Scraping and dragging along pavement
as a jet exhausts
through the sky
a needle sewing
through the clouds, trailing silt ashy signatures

That damp air pushes dead leaves
along the brown grass patchwork of mud and dead percussions
and in the streets of orange musk
bipeds lift their lashes to eat the memory of tomorrow
a myopic buffet
While a quiet whispers the forgetting
to eyes and lips and teeth that part to
callously remember the forgotten words and
understand them anew

 


J.L. Lapinel is a poet and educator. Her work appears in Minnie’s Diary Anthology, Impressions: A Collection of Poetry, Quill Books, Front Runner Quarterly, Wide Open Magazine, The Cambridge Collection, The North American Poetry Review, Odessa Poetry Review, Minetta Review, The Tin Penny. Her poem Little People was nominated for 2019 Pushcart Prize.

She is an MFA candidate at UMass Amherst and is very much enjoying living in New England after having lived half of her life in and around New York.

too late | Michael Estabrook

I’m back in the Northfield Avenue house
in the driveway
no one’s here it’s dark
but the doors are open
I go in the side door and call out
turn on lights stick
my head in Kerry’s room
but of course he’s not in there
at his desk or ironing
and the dining room is a clutter
living room too
there’s a barbell in the kitchen
that’s odd
the old dial phone still on the wall
by the hallway
no door leading upstairs
where’s Kerry dammit
not the same
nothing’s the same
without my brother Kerry
he took an alternate path in life
could’ve been happier
if he finished college, married Pam
but too late for that now
too late

 


Michael Estabrook has been publishing his poetry in the small press since the 1980s. Hopefully with each passing decade the poems have become more clear and concise, succinct and precise, more appealing and “universal.” He has published over 20 collections, a recent one being The Poet’s Curse, A Miscellany (The Poetry Box, 2019).