Updated: Jan 26, 2021
To My Relatives Who Died Before COVID
My father who loved the distance. Loved being far from things. From us.
My other-city sister, who slumped sudden over a flip phone and wouldn’t be able to mute.
My mother, always lipstick, always powder. A mask would not have stopped her, because, she’d say, people know.
My grandmother, flu of ’18, who knitted and baked and ended up vision loss and hearing loss and that was her shelter in place.
My free-spirit aunt, who wouldn’t have stayed home nohow and rather she’d slip out to one of those bars with takeout only, her in the alley with her son’s best friend, the two of them not hearing my uncle’s muffled footsteps.
All of them not believing. We can’t see it. This couldn’t happen.
And yet I remember the time we all stood on the beach and looked at the horizon. We thought it swallowed everything. Look! one of us even said, A whole boat hidden behind my thumb!
Francine Witte’s poetry and fiction have appeared in Smokelong Quarterly, Wigleaf, Mid-American Review, Passages North, and many others. Her latest books are Dressed All Wrong for This (Blue Light Press,) The Way of the Wind (AdHoc fiction,) and (The Theory of Flesh.) Her chapbook, The Cake, The Smoke, The Moon (flash fiction) will be published by ELJ September, 2021. She lives in NYC.
~*~*~*~ Just A Few Facts
Everyone always wants to remember, every head is full of facts: phone numbers, addresses, birthdays, anniversaries, the date of VE Day and 9/11.
“Remember when,” she’d say and of course I always nodded, even if I didn’t; no one ever admits not remembering.
I’ve decided to not remember three new facts a day. Yesterday I surrendered the name of the stuff that comes from cows, the color of the sky and the land mass next to New Zealand. Today it’s the taste of lemons, the smell of a camp fire on a fall day and the sound of a flute. I feel lighter already.
The doctor said you are likelier to get hit by lightning twice than to have two such fatalities. I’m sure he means to be helpful, consoling, demonstrating his best bedside manner. I remember our visits to his office and the first ultrasound with the pounding heartbeat. I remember the way Evelyn clutched my hand. I remember our drive to the hospital and the sweat on her forehead, her eardrum-shattering moans and me whisper-screaming, “Breathe, breathe, breathe.”
I remember the nurse’s yell, the doctor’s snapping, the Code Blue, a white coat taking me by the elbow, “You have to leave the OR now, give the doctors room.”
I remember knowing, even before the words came from the doctor’s mouth.
Tomorrow I will forget the baby’s name, my wife’s name, the past month.
Andrew Stancek describes his vocation as dreaming – clutching onto hope, even in turbulent times. He has been published widely, in SmokeLong Quarterly, FRiGG, Green Mountains Review, New World Writing, New Flash Fiction Review, Jellyfish Review and Peacock Journal, among others, and he continues to be astonished.
On a Cold Day
My father walked out on the roof
looking at the pale morning moon.
My mother called me for breakfast,
but I slipped out the back door and ran
with my friends to school.
It had snowed and we had to carry
a little sister over the drifts.
When we got there, the teachers screamed at us.
“Why did you come today in the snow?”
We thought we were heroes, especially
the way we saved the little girl’s boots.
Her cheeks were plump and red
from cold, but the teachers didn’t care.
They put us in the auditorium, gave us
a thousand math problems, then burned
our papers in a garbage can.
At lunch time they sent us home
with nasty notes. We took the long way
past the library and soccer field,
where the big kids were having a snowball war.
An ambulance arrived and there were cops
in the street zipped into dark blue coats.
We climbed the fence, slipped into the basement,
followed the tunnels home.
My father had fallen from the roof
and was buried in the snow to his chin.
We shoveled him out and he paid us each a dime,
made us coffee, put a shot of Irish Cream in each cup.
Dinner was Wiener schnitzel with dumplings
and a Sacher torte for dessert, with whipped cream.
My father ate his schnitzel but wouldn’t touch the cake.
“Too dry” he said. “It makes the dust come out of my ears.”
Steve Klepetar lives in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. His work has appeared widely in the U.S. and abroad and has received several nominations for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. He is the author of fourteen poetry collections, including Family Reunion, from Big Table Publishing.
Mike died on Friday and by Sunday, Grief arrived like my monthly period, at the worst time possible and not giving a rat’s ass what I thought about it. As if that wasn’t enough, I could tell he wanted something in return, something good. Don’t lollygag, he scolded, I’ve got other places to go. Your kids, for example. He stayed like an unwanted guest, like that friend of a friend who was never invited, but came over nonetheless. Grief became a fly on my wall. And oh, how he loved to play games, Hide and Seek—his favorite—popping up to scare me when I least expected it. God only knows what he’d do to my children. My sweet babies. They stand, inserting quarter after quarter into The Claw machine, Mama, we’re gonna get a new toy. Grief stood by and watched it all, something he’s very good at. In the end, when the kids didn’t catch the stuffed monkey, I saw Grief snicker and snort even though he tried to hide it. That night, after dinner, Grief lingered as I did the dishes, kids already asleep. Let’s have a drink, he said. We clinked our wine glasses and slipped into a silent familiarity. After the third round, we staggered upstairs and shed our skins on the bedroom floor.
Author of Out of the Blue (Big Table Publishing, 2017) and The Face I Desire (Nixes Mate, 2019), Renuka Raghavan writes short-form prose and poetry. She serves as the fiction book reviewer at Červená Barva Press, and is a co-founder of the Poetry Sisters Collective.
This Day, This Pizza
Eating cold pizza beneath an ash-filled sky,
but better, because twixt the ashes and me,
constructed by hands now unknown, is a roof.
Who built this roof, ceiling, floor?
Who built this house?
It dates to 1937, this house.
Changes have been made,
but the core remains.
A house on a hill,
a little town near the bay.
The bay normally visible
through windows, and from the porch.
beneath a dreary sky,
the bay appears only in memory.
Sometimes I notice and appreciate.
Sometimes I don’t.
Five states and even more decades.
Who made the pizza there?
Who grew the crops, built the roads,
I don’t believe in heavenly bodies
but wouldn’t it be nice
if the creators of this house
were looking down now.
and seeing me
sitting and smiling,
despite the fire-ridden sky,
enjoying the walls, the floors, the cold pizza.
Sometimes, I notice, and appreciate.
It can take prompting,
but it happens.
Tony Acarasiddhi Press writes fiction when he has questions, and poetry when he thinks he has answers: thus, mostly fiction. His story collection, Crossing the Lines, was published in 2016 by Big Table. He claims 2 Pushcart nominations, 12 years in the same high school, and 25 criminal trials.
Brendan and Willie in ’73
In the Spring of seventy three
the last one true thing we shared
was resurrecting from its slumber
my father died
That fall at the waning of the year
our beloved Willie Mays returned to the Series.
No longer the young bronzed God
but old and bewildered in the green expanse
lost and failing as he stumbled the field.
I recall the newspaper photo of Willie kneeling near home,
arms upheld as if in prayer seeking one last day of youth
While I stared at the empty kitchen chair
and begged God for the same.
Stephen Barry is a trial lawyer living in New York City. His poetry has appeared in Boston Literary Magazine, The Magnolia Review, and a number of other print and online journals.
Rain lilies sprinkle the yard this morning:
single stem, six petal, white flowers
that pop up and bloom for a few days
after a good rain.
The wet grass and weeds are ankle deep
around his feet as he sits in a plastic chair—
watches the morning come into being.
Holds himself still in the moment.
I am a statue, he whispers,
made of soft stone. I will sit here
until the wind blows me away
or the next rain dissolves my bones.
Or until he feels the need to pour
a cup of coffee, the coffee
brewing inside in the house.
If the world would only stop.
A blue pickup passes on the road.
The driver honks and waves,
and pulls him back into the narrative.
He raises his hand to acknowledge—
In California, fires rage
up and down the state.
Here, the ground is popping
Brady Peterson lives near Belton, Texas where for twenty-nine years he worked building homes and teaching rhetoric. He is the author of Between Stations, Dust, From an Upstairs Window, and García Lorca Is Somewhere in Produce.
You Can’t Blame Her
The wounds on her legs stay open
like frozen smiles. “They show up
and just won’t leave” she says
when I visit in the hospital,
“sort of like my daughter
and her no-good boyfriend.