"Tone vs. Pitch" - Alex Johns
The wind is a symphony
when there are dunes or leaves
to pass through
and you listening:
the huge tapestry of the world,
its predictable cycles rendered
myth when unpredictable events occurred,
might capture what it meant,
might script the storm in its movement, remember
spirit and flesh are words as well:
weather vanes of knowing
what the wind can tell.
"Tone vs. Pitch" originally appeared in the Spring 2015 edition of Town Creek Poetry.
"AND SUDDENLY" - Charley Seagraves
It is 6:57 on a fine April morning....
I finish my inside chores
and step outside to greet the new day.
In the gentle morning breeze
the treetops are slow dancing
to the music of birds singing songs
they haven't sung since last year.
The agony of winter has expired
in one last desperate gasp.
And suddenly all the earth is green!
And suddenly everywhere it is spring!
© 2016 Charley Seagraves
"BRAIN RETAINER" - Stephen Wack
Home. This is the place that Mom and Greg call home.
Squeezed between the identical one hundred and seventy-something stucco clones inhabiting this suburb, each family identifies their home by the same intrinsic knack possessed by new mothers who can enter a hospital’s nursery and pick out their offspring from a cribbed line-up of standardized, paper white, slippery, blank-eyed babies solely by the sound of their cry or the smell of their shit. I identify ours by starting at the third STOP sign and counting down twenty-six houses on the right, and when we pull into the driveway suddenly I remember why I’m here:
Home is where I go when my brain goes bad. Sour. Acidic.
I dared Mom. I dared her to open up my head, to take a tentative whiff and see if I don’t smell exactly like that shoebox of old, leaking batteries left forgotten on the top shelf in the garage.
And she did. So here I am.
I want to say I’m used to it. I want to carry on this faulty analogy and say that my bad brain reeks of black pepper and vinegar in the same way my balls do after a therapeutic, eight-mile run. A smell I’ve grown okay with, more or less habituated to over time, because it’s mine:
“It’s my bitter odor. It’s my sour-milk farts.”
And so the true bitterness of it all doesn’t really become apparent until someone else comes in contact with your headspace, cups their mouth and grows teary-eyed, tells you in the politest way possible:
“You need fucking help.”
Mom has been smelling my foul attitude for the whole car-ride home. She advises me to take a hot shower to clear my head. I use their guest bathroom because to use any other bathroom doesn’t feel right.
Beneath the bathroom sink I find enough complimentary hotel soaps, lotions, shampoos, conditioners stashed away to trade out in exchange for another one-night’s stay at a Holiday Inn., one with an indoor pool and continental breakfast buffet of powdered eggs and sausage disks reminiscent of what I was once served in a Cobb County holding cell among thirty other men, young and drunk and still of a brain fresh enough to consider myself as someone above jail food because I am a level-headed, college-educated, white kid from the suburbs, judging this older black dude who’s just shamelessly pissed all over the toilet seat in the same cramped room that everyone else is eating, this dude who points to this plastic cafeteria tray at my feet and asks me if I’m through with that, my smart ass wanting nothing more than to ask him if he’s going to wash his hands first, but instead I just smile a toothy, white-guilt smile and can’t resist the subconscious, self-righteous pat on the back as I slide my tray of mandarin oranges and simulation eggs across the concrete floor over to him, wondering whether this right here might constitute as some yearly tax write-off under an act of charity...
Likewise beneath the sink stuffed in the back corner, I find my old retainer. Black, plastic, jagged as alligator skin. And, for whatever reason, I decide to press it back up into my mouth, force it in just to see how fucked up over these past few years my once-perfect teeth have become, and it’s bad. Really, really bad.
When I unhinge its grip, the roof of my mouth is so bruised I can taste its bloody skin caving in like a waterlogged tent, wondering if the roof might then spring a leak to drip down little drops of bitter brain onto my tongue, wondering what sort of person I might be now if, back when I was still young, I’d been given a retainer for my brain--something to preserve that innocent, pre-adolescent headspace I possessed back when I still thought the world was big and the mall was cool and Applebee’s chicken fingers were good, back before I learned that every food is a poison and every store is a sweatshop and every person is simultaneously hurting and suburban adults don’t really watch reality T.V. and drink beer because they like the taste, they do this to self-medicate, to systemically detach themselves from the dreads of day-to-day living, otherwise Mom and Greg would still eat and talk at the dinner table and the mini fridge in their garage would be stocked with malted milkshakes and pouches of Capri Sun...
The showerhead starts to scream after I’ve been in here for too long, which I have no excuse for. Ever since my last psychotic episode when I awoke at 2 A.M. and shaved my body down, head-to-toe, there’s really no more hair left to lather, rinse, repeat. But I’ve been in here for about twenty minutes now, and while an alternative me--one insightful enough to have worn his brain retainer since before hitting puberty knocked loose all former sanity--might still be lingering in the shower amongst the most vile and vivid of all childish imaginations, seated on the shower floor, crisscross applesauce, extracting out viscous globules of sticky, forsaken progeny that refuse to float nor circle the drain, there is now the paranoid-parent prospect that this bad brain of mine has gone worse, and has macgyvered that curled metal wire of my retainer into some janky weapon of self-destruction as Mom and Greg stand outside the bathroom door in quite the conundrum of whether or not to pick the lock and risk coming in to find their son either naked and depraved or otherwise dead...
But I haven’t jerked off in months.
When I turn the shower off, water droplets bead along my hairless body like I’m made entirely of wax. I skirt a towel around my waist and move into the guestroom where the evidence of my last intimate one-on-one affair, way back in December, still exists as an inscrutable stain atop the wood finish of the guest dresser, its origins on Christmas morning when my brain aroused me in the dead of holy night and refused to fall back asleep, prompting me to eventually get out of bed and stand barefoot amongst boxes and Scotch tape and rolls of gift wrap shining in moonlight to jerk off before this dresser onto a Kohl’s receipt for a crockpot that Mom would later have to return for store credit, only to wake up hours later to find the receipt paper and my jizz now fused to the dresser’s wood, picking off with my nails as much as I could, my fingers stinking of sour, rotting progeny all throughout unwrapping presents...
And even now, however many months later, this receipt is still visible. Preserved like a fossil beneath a yellow, hardened tar pit of cum, it exhibits a barcode that you might scan to learn the price to pay for having a bad brain you’ll most likely pass onto your future children, and the price scanner reads:
“Not fucking worth it.”
"Just So" - Eugene C. Bianchi
Tall bamboo in afternoon sun
shimmers green and gold.
No plans for tomorrow,
I listen to birds and freeway hum.
Bugs and butterflies visit,
as I watch a squirrel
pitch chestnut pieces
down the steep roof.
No empires to conquer,
no fans to impress,
not anxious about enlightenment,
just here, just now, just so.
"28" - Joe Milford
no one does that themselves. if anyone wipes your tears, it is only because you have no arms,
until the equipment. others have done much worse. crackpipes in $35000 cars. i just snuck beers.
i can’t beat Duchamp at chess. “I have come to the conclusion that while all chess players are artists, not all artists are chess players;” it was extremely pleasurable to nekked type this.
i am more afraid of ghost sharks than real sharks. if you have seen a ghost shark, and you drop your nail-file, then you know. the ghost sharks are the worst. they name constellations.
my sandcastle was made of severed arms. it was so sticky. i was covered with gore. when you are covered with gore, and you are the quarterback, they clean you off real good. photo-ops ensue.
the entire universe tried to fit a bikini on the infinite. it came up with an anorexic being bomb photographed into DNA. what if the bikini was a wind that blew by us and all of us thought of
flesh and freedom? there’s nothing left but to father many girls in my Lear fashion. i have no
kingdom, and so, they will thrive. there was once a snow-cone stand in my Alabama hometown.
when i drove through i saw a hammock hanging in my dead grandpa’s lean-to. no wampum.
a steady stream of ice-blue seahorses from the grate on the floor harvest dust motes and traverse the house and its littered museum. i opened the p.o. box and an arm reached through from the other side its fingers trying to grab my shirt my mail dropping to the floor. out of the burning house the ashes of our words floating across our lips making us say them again as frames.
chicken bones when we came home were arranged inexplicably in the name of our murderer.
can’t afford to cut grass lion’s heads of daffodils bring bees & snakes to us from neighbors’ yards.
the economists’ grids incinerating under flames of billowing magma; we set forth from the core.
Joe Milford is tonight's featured reader at Athens Word of Mouth open mic. Sign up begins at 7 pm, readings begin at 8 pm. upstairs at The Globe, corner of Clayton and Lumpkin Streets.
"Getting Drunk at the Last Supper"- Elsa Russo
Imagine, we are time travelers
Sent to the upper room where the last supper is held
Invisible to everyone but the son of God
But he’s not really paying attention to us
Because he’s holding Judas’s hand tightly under the table
Trying to reassure him of what he will have to do
“I’m gonna buy you fuckers one last round
And then shit’s going to get real around here” he says
Of course they didn’t get it
He gave thanks
And passed out the wine and bread
Muttering some shit about
My body… my blood…
So does this make us all vampires?
We get drunk
Like a general about to head alone into one last charge
He doesn’t want them to know where he’s headed
And they don’t want to know either
He tells them anyway
And they still don’t believe him
We head out into the garden for some fresh air
Everyone falls asleep
And I wander forward in my drunken stupor
As the hands of those from every time
Try to stop me from saying something stupid
“Tell me one thing Rabbi,” I say
Surprised that I’m able to speak in full sentences at this moment
“You knew that this was it, that this was the end
You knew that everything from this moment forward was going to be hell
But you didn’t let them know
You didn’t make it clear
You let them drink, you let them eat
You said what would happen
But none of them believed you
And you knew it too
So, why did you let them all get drunk?”
“I couldn’t deny them a last hurrah,” he said.
“I couldn’t let them walk into this
Without one last moment
One last inch of happiness to hang onto
So I got them drunk
And I told them what would happen
But they’re too happy to believe it right now
It’s for the best.”
“Don’t you think you’re cheating them
They don’t know what’s to come.”
He looks at me with the eyes
That drove the money changers out of the temple with a bull whip
It’s at that moment that I remember
When saying, what would Jesus do?
Always remember that flipping tables and losing your shit
Is a viable option
“Tell me about the last time you were with those friends you drank with
The ones who made you into the adult that you are now
Remember how you didn’t tell them why you were leaving?
And tell me you don’t think of that night when you feel the worst
Then tell me I’m cheating them
By letting them have one last night
When I know that this will keep them warm on cold nights
That this night will live on in their minds if nothing else will
It’s a life line
A moment in time to hold onto
Even for him.”
He nods over my shoulder
I don’t have to look to know that Judas is standing there
I walk past him onto wood boards
Towards a copper bar
I take a drink from my favorite bartender
The one with the red hair and devastating blue eyes
“Last call for sin and debauchery,” he says
“Last call before all the world falls down around us
“Last call for your lost twenties.
“Last call, for alcohol, so what you need?”
“Just this,” I reply, turning back to face the room
And I raise my glass to them
To the soldiers grinning through blood and grime
To the intellectuals and their late night debates
To the in betweens, never to be defined
To the women with the keys to the store houses
To the bad ass bitches that brought men to their knees
To the children we were
To the men and women we are
I salute them all as they raise their glasses, tap the bar, and take the drink down
This night has to last me
I walk to the door, trading hugs and kisses
Tug the beard on a laughing warrior
Kiss the breath out of a goddess
And kneel at the feet of the old saints
This is my last call
One last time
Drink your drink
Sing your song
Hold this night close to your heart
For times it gets cold and dark
Even the apostles got a last call
And this one was mine