- Big Table Publishing
Chaw Rob Dinsmoor
I’m on a converted school bus carrying us from our living quarters—essentially a Super 8 Motel—to the drug and alcohol rehab facility where we learn about coping with cravings and “triggers.” We pass a stretch of strip malls, drive-in clinics, liquor stores, and check-cashing joints. In the seat in front of me is a very attractive young couple in their early twenties.
There’s a rule against the men and women sitting together on the bus, but it is rarely enforced. There are many younger people at the rehab facility and, unlike old drunks like me, most of them are in for things like heroin, oxycontin, and crystal meth.
The man is chewing tobacco and it gives me bad memories about being back on the high school bus with the tough kids in Indiana.
“Can I try it?” the woman asks.
“Sure,” says the man, handing her a plug of Skoal. “Just put it between your cheek and your gums and let it dissolve. Don’t chew it—and whatever you do, don’t swallow it.”
There is something vaguely sweet about his patient instruction on the art of chewing. She puts a wad on her mouth and her cheek and jaw stick out so far she looks like a cowboy. I try to image her with brown teeth and gums. I find it depressing that a pretty girl like that will eagerly try out such a nasty new habit, but then again, here we all are.
Rob Dinsmoor is a freelance writer who has published dozens of short stories, as well as scripts for Nickelodeon and MTV. His collection of short stories, Toxic Cookout, was published by Big Table Publishing Company in October, 2019.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
Michael C. Keith
I’m thinking maybe my dog is acting strangely because she knows I’m losing my mind. She senses my breakdown and is frightened for both of us. If I end up in the looney bin, where will she end up? There’s no one who’ll take her in. She has intuited our disaster. What a burden, her perception.
Michael C. Keith is the author of 20 books of fiction.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
We each drink a warm beer and talk
the world into being.
Tanks roll into the city, we scurry
across the rooftop,
wait for choppers to fly us
to an offshore carrier, wait to go home,
though I fear home has been misplaced.
I ride the bus to Dallas.
You head for Seattle, where you intend
to ride the ferry there back and forth
to and from Bainbridge Island.
I walk to Dealey Plaza
and sit on the grass.
At night sometimes, I speak to you
as if we were still young,
as if angels had wings.
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.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
Brick bowl of City Hall Plaza
brim-filled with trans-folk draped
in pink, white and blue, shouldering
together in this foul political season
so as not to be erased, and onstage
at one rim, a six-foot trans-woman
in immaculate eyeshadow is belting
her song “I’m a Queen,” while lifting
her heart under leaden skies, and
across the bowl, a scrappy knot
of counter demonstrators with cheap
megaphones are whipping up
something derogatory, but their words
are drowned down by a cordon chanting,
“Trans Rights are Human Rights!” and I’m
just a solemn ally, but I can surely
tell the sonic grating of hateful howls
from iridescent waves of love and hope
and hard-won resiliency that swell
to envelop this toxic irritant,
the way an oyster accepts
a gritty shard, and layers it
into something precious.
Robbie Gamble's poems have appeared in Scoundrel Time, Solstice, RHINO, Cutthroat, and Poet Lore. He was the winner of the 2017 Carve Poetry prize, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net. He works as a nurse practitioner caring for homeless people in Boston.
Listen to it!
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
You invited him
behind lilacs, naked in early snow.
You sidled ahead
glanced back, lifted your chin.
You let him press
his wet nose into hind fur,
lean long into the lure of you
you had him—six-point buck
ever so daintily, a back-leg curtsey
& as gently, as if to test his bulk
against your petite,
his force against your feminine,
he half-mounted & dismounted.
the way thunder shatters sleep,
he climbed on top
with the certainty of a god
seeded you in three packed thrusts
withdrew, stepped back—waited
while you flicked your fully-fluffed white tail
as if waving a victory boa, or
fanning cool air into a hot canal.
Floating the stillness
in wildness, he waited—tending you,
his lightning eyes set beneath his crown
& set on you
while you waited for all to settle
into next season’s fawn.
Catherine Arra is the author of (Women in Parentheses) (Kelsay Books, 2019), Writing in the Ether (Dos Madres Press, 2018), and three chapbooks. Her poetry and prose have appeared in numerous journals online and in print, and in several anthologies. Forthcoming in 2020 from Finishing Line Press is a new chapbook, Her Landscape, Poems Based on the Life of Mileva Marić Einstein. Arra is a native of the Hudson Valley in upstate New York, where she teaches part-time and facilitates local writing groups.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
If Time Heals Old Wounds
If time heals old wounds I still think of mine as a red scar an interim of ghostly life and ghastly death, the death of a loved one not quite gone.
The Chinese say it takes three years three years to not notice the scar, one that
has become so much a part of you you'd never want it to disappear.
I'm coming up on the third year. The scar burns when I dream of her the one who raised me the one who tended my wounds. I have so many old wounds it would be difficult to name them all.
Mark Saba’s work has appeared in many literary magazines and anthologies around the U.S. and abroad. His most recent book publications are Ghost Tracks: Stories of Pittsburgh Past (Big Table Publishing) and Calling the Names (poetry, David Robert Books).
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
I was hoping we’d all see the end of days
before I died, so I wouldn’t have to travel
to the afterlife by myself. I wanted the sky
flashing over our past-the-expiration-date
republic like the little bulb coming on
when you’ve opened the refrigerator door
for a midnight snack, so I could be sure
the name of everyone I knew would appear
on the product recall list. Post-apocalypse,
waiting in the rubble for transportation
to wherever God warehouses all the souls,
we could talk sports shit and say screw you
to the bosses and the jobs that we hated.
It’d be like taking vacation time together.
I don’t want to be that kid sitting alone
on the bench at the bus station, his ticket
pinned to his jacket, ignored by the other
travelers, who find him sort of pathetic,
except maybe for some pasty-faced guy
asking him if he’d like a chocolate kiss.
If you say that it’s a much better place
I’m headed for, shouldn’t you come, too?
I know we’ve got the right tools to make
our extinction happen: drugs, plutonium,
etc. Corporate guys, it’d be so “proactive”
for us all to punch out at the same time.
Besides, why would anyone hang around
after I’m gone? It’s going to be so boring.
Chris Bullard is a native Floridian who lives in Philadelphia, PA. He received his B.A. in English from the University of Pennsylvania and his M.F.A. from Wilkes University. Finishing Line Press published his poetry chapbook, Leviathan, in 2016, and Kattywompus Press published High Pulp, a collection of his flash fiction, in 2017. Fear was published by Big Table Publishing Company in 2017. His work has appeared in recent issues of Leveler, Muse/A Journal, The Woven Tale, Nimrod, Cutthroat and The Offbeat.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
Remember This Day
Outside, rain thickening. Warm on the bus,
but we are nearing the hills, where snow
has begun to stick on the branches of pines.
We are entering the land of shadows and drifts.
A woman rests her head against her arm.
She may be asleep, or trying to rest her eyes
from the harsh light.
We have left the city behind.
Soon we will stop at a café where people
sit on hard chairs staring at menus
with photographs of food, huge portions
of pancakes, sandwiches with melted cheese.
A waitress flits by offering coffee,
holding out the pot as our cups steam and fill.
The woman is speaking softly on the phone.
She slips it in her purse, lifts out a small bottle,
shakes two red pills into her palm.
She has asked someone to go away and now
she gulps water from a large glass filled with ice.
Somebody’s daughter, somebody’s battered girl.
Again and again you see those shadowed eyes,
the distant look that will never connect.
A long time from now you will remember this day,
the headache and long hours, windshield wipers
clicking as the driver peers through streaks of ice,
the woman’s forehead leaning against cold glass.
Steve Klepetar lives in the Berkshires in Massachusetts. His work has received several nominations for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. He is the author of The Li Bo Poems and Family Reunion.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
Searching for Serenity
I’m starting to sweat, shifting from one foot to the other,
unsure if I should go right or left, or even back
whence I came. Racks and stacks of clothes,
fanning out in an endless ocean of personal primping,
obfuscate my primal destination.
To my left: splotched jeans meticulously ripped
to broadcast indifference to good grooming –
a state that costs a minor fortune to achieve.
To my right: mounds of sweat shirts proclaiming
allegiance to all stripes of schools, sports teams
and personal lifestyles, none of which I ascribe to.
Beyond them jackets for days when water droplets fall
like bunker busters, or just mist mindlessly dawn to dusk.
For snowy days or blustery days. For days when a slight
chill in the air cries out for seriously chic adornment.
And everywhere signs flaunting designer names
like Ralph Lauren, a nom de guerre carefully created
to evoke a cross between manliness and preppiness,
because Ralph Lipschitz duds would be a marketing dud.
Finally my eyes spot a non-descript sign on the far wall,
just below a gargantuan poster of a half-naked,
totally ripped model sporting a look of total boredom,
as if lingering in front of the camera was the last thing
he wanted to do that day.
Quickly I plot the shortest course to the opening
just to the right of the sign: First jog left past the jeans,
then right before the Dockers. Zig around the Polo shirts;
zag after Calvin Klein’s underwear.
Completing this cryptic course, I elbow the door open
and position myself at the first empty stall.
Ah, sweet pee. You bring an aging man joy –
if only for a few hours, ’til another frantic
search for serenity begins anew.
Rick Blum has been chronicling life’s vagaries through essays and poetry for more than 30 years during stints as a nightclub owner, high-tech manager, market research mogul, and, most recently, old geezer. His writings have appeared in The Literary Hatchet, The Satirist, and WINK magazine, among others. He is also a frequent contributor to The Humor Times, and has been published in numerous poetry anthologies. Mr. Blum is a three-time winner of the annual Carlisle Poetry Contest. His poem, “Tomfoolery,” received honorable mention in The Boston Globe Deflategate poetry challenge.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
The eastern sun shines
through a tattered blanket of clouds
thrown carelessly on the bed of the sky.
As I drive north, the shadow of my car stretches into the oncoming traffic. A ghost car,
speeding in the wrong lane,
colliding with southbound cars,
but the only sound is the wind and the miles
rolling away beneath my wheels.
The hills, rising up in the west,
have shed their leaf-soft June fur
and grown a spiky coat of bare trees
whose leaves now lie
dead and brown beside the highway,
victims of their own collision
with immovable December.
paul Bluestein is a physician (done practicing), a blues musician (still practicing) and a dedicated Scrabble player (yes, ZAX is a word). He lives in Connecticut with his wife and the two dogs who rescued him. If the Poetry Muse calls, he answers, even if it’s during dinner.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
The First Time I Watched a Friday the 13th
My mom kept watch on the sunflower recliner,
her brown eyes peering over pages of a paperback,
while I leaned towards the TV, inserted a VHS—
Friday the 13th Pt. 4.
I ran my hands over the sleeve—
the black holes of Jason’s hockey mask,
the silver knife that gleamed like moonlight
over Camp Crystal Lake.
I clapped at the first appearance of hulking Jason
power walking through the woods, stalking
first victims, camp counselors that guzzled beers,
traded joints back and forth like secret notes.
My mother said nothing about first kills—
a machete to the head, an arrow between the eyes,
the gasps of victims before the camera pulled away
and Jason dragged their bodies to the woods.
It wasn’t until two counselors disrobed,
reached for the buttons of each other's shorts
that mom rose from her chair, stormed towards the TV,
seized the tape, clicked her tongue in disgust.
For months I searched for the VHS, like goods
thieved from me I wanted to reclaim. I never finished
that scene, the kill that always follows sex in slasher flicks.
My mother, too,was a moral judge,
wanting to shield my eyes from the female form,
from the mysteries of sex a 10-year-old wanted to ask.
Brian Fanelli's latest book is Waiting for the Dead to Speak (NYQ Books), winner of the Devil's Kitchen Poetry Prize.His poetry has been featured on "The Writer's Almanac" and Verse Daily and published in The Los Angeles Times, World Literature Today, Paterson Literary Review, and elsewhere. Brian has also written about horror movies for Signal Horizon, Horror Homeroom, and The Schuylkill Valley Journal. Jason Voorhees will always be his favorite slasher.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
I was driving like I always do,
as if I were transporting a heart
packed in ice for a patient
who would die soon without it,
when – boom! – a sparrow
crashed into my windshield,
scaring the absolute shit out of me,
but what was strange (I mean,
really strange) was that there was
nothing even to see, no blood
on the glass, no feathers, nothing,
only a long, snaky road ahead
and the spreading smoke of dusk.
I was driving because
she couldn’t drive a stick,
my window half-open,
the air rushing past,
when suddenly there was
a sulfur smell as of witches
burning. She looked up
from her phone screen
and saw the dreary sky
and a homeless vet on crutches,
then the ramshackle ruins
of an abandoned factory
behind prison fencing.
“Are we lost?” she asked.
Well, yeah, maybe.
Howie Good is the author most recently of Stick Figure Opera: 99 100-word Prose Poems from Cajun Mutt Press. He co-edits the online journals Unbroken and UnLost.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
Looking Across Lake Clara
You do not have to move
to the country to see
Mallard give up
on its floating
and go clapping
into the just-waking birches
and if you were
to move to the country
you do not have to drink a glass
of the coldest maple sap
or make your child smell the air
until they know
what cedar is
and you are under no obligation
to pick one thing
or to make any gods at all.
Jaron Childs is a painter. He lives with his family on a lake near the Wisconsin River.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
Something We Held in Common
Michael Allyn Wells
Did I miss you
because you were not here
or because I only knew a concept of you?
Can you be angry at someone
you don’t really know
and love them at the same time?
Your name was all I had of you.
It was our name; something we held
in common when I didn’t even have a picture
of you to hold. So, I didn’t really have you.
I could not produce you
for parent-teacher night.
I could not explain
to friends what I did not
When mom sent me with a proxy
to Indian Guides, it was the longest night ever.
Neither of us wanted to be there,
sitting cross legged on the floor
thinking of senseless Indian names
for each other in some cute father son way.
And later, when he wanted to take your name
away from me – in exchange for his,
I would have no part of it.
Michael Allyn Wells is an alumnus of the AWP Writer 2 Writer Program, Spring 2017 session. The poet makes his home in Kansas City, with his wife and three rescue dogs. Wells is an avid San Francisco Giants fan, likes wine white and black coffee. His work has appeared in Right Hand Pointing, Montucky Review, Nude Bruce Review, Remington Review, WestWard Quarterly, Best of Boston Literary Magazine, Vol. 1 & Vol 2, and Rockhurst Fine Arts Review, as will other venues.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
Parking Lot: Bunker Hill Community College, Boston
I always feel
like I am in a movie.
The Friends of Eddie Coyle.
Cutting a deal with Robert Mitchum
our voices rumble
with the roar of the Orange Line
His beat-up Chevrolet
the omen of fuzzy dice
his rear view
as the day.
fit with the
metallic city landscape
a bird's bleak beak
sitting on a rusty wire
with fierce objectivity.
A clandestine slip
from my to his pocket,
a tentative handshake.
He looks at me
with deep, world-weary eyes:
“The world is a tough place kid--
and it’s tougher
if you are stupid.”
Doug Holder is the founder of the Ibbetson Street Press. He teaches writing at Endicott College and Bunker Hill Community College in Boston. The Doug Holder Papers collection is in process at the University at Buffalo's Rare Books and Poetry Archive.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
It is something like breathing, the way the wind walks backward through the switchgrass, honey suckle and butterscotch lifting lightly off each blade, here in this very field where you once fought your army of tiny monsters with a gnarled tree staff. Even then you believed in the soul of imagination and the gift of summer solstice, a boy silly enough to adore and love, my son, whose voice I hear giggling in the catastrophic breeze.
Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State and the author of four books, most recently the story collection, This is Why I Need You, out now from Ravenna Press.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
Bringing in The Wood
Melissa E. Mishcon
One full breath and the air swims
into you cold as a silver fish.
Skidding on the steps, you pile
the logs first this way, then that,
weaving a wooden blanket.
Chopping, splitting, stacking,
carrying, banging your boots
to shake snow from your treads.
So much goes into building a fire.
But so much goes into many things
that come to nothing. That tree house
started last summer, the rowing machine
that never hits the imaginary lake,
The shed that needs painting, having a baby,
finishing that novel. Many things don’t get done.
And what of things that do? A four layer cake
that listed left, grown child that won’t
call back, books that were completed.
The thing about bringing in the wood
fingers dry and split as the logs
being hauled, the long muscle
on your right side tugging on you
like a like tired child, this wood
will be laid on the iron grate,
flue opened, popcorn balls of newsprint
and sticks of kindling tucked inside
the tee-pee of lumber, a match set
to the structure. And after
all of that, there will be fire.
Melissa E. Mishcon has had fiction, commentary, and/or poetry published in: The G.W. Review, Blue Unicorn (Spring 2020), Urthona, Aaduna, The Literary Nest, Girls Gone 50, The Women’s Times, The Artful Mind, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Albany Times Union, The Berkshire Edge, to name a few. Her novel, Just Between Us, won first prize from Birmingham Southern University’s Hackney Award. She has likewise been named for commendation by Serpentine (1st Prize), New Millennium, as well as other journals and periodicals. She is a practicing psychotherapist who lives in The Berkshires in Massachusetts.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
R. Ellis Shore
Rose savors her wine. His blue eyes catch hers as he enters the bistro. She turns her head, exposing her best angle. Gage was not hard to seduce. Empaths make the easiest targets. They see the good in everyone; want to convince her that she actually has that goodness inside her, as they so desperately want to believe. He was just enough of a challenge that is has been worth her while and besides, when she gazes upon his slim body, raven hair, sharply cut jawline and smile like caviar or champagne–or both together; she knows he will be her favorite conquest yet.
She is changing, he thinks, as he sits across from her. She seems more open, willing to share snippets of her past. If he shows compassion, stays steady, builds her trust, then she will be able to heal her wounds, to become the amazing person he sees trapped inside. He imagines the harm that must have caused her to be so guarded, so wounded. His heart overflows with love and concern for her; he can hardly contain it. It feels like cashmere to care so much. He won’t abandon her, like others have.
She smiles shyly, knowing it will pull him closer. He leans in, gently takes her hand, believing this comforts her. Her anger flares at the unexpected affection, at his belief that he is the strong one. She will never lose control. Pulling her hand away furiously, she waves the server over, “Bill, please.”
R. Ellis Shore is a writer, mystic and dreamer whose fiction appears regularly at the blog Terroir Dark: Shadow Writings from the Midnight Psyche. Using the blog format to create “chapters” and visual art to support the words, Shore’s stories easily roll forward through each post, giving the reader an experience of linear time and a narrative arc. Because each chapter stands alone as flash fiction or word sketches, one can also choose to jump into the deep end, anywhere, with no expectations. This is equally an exploration of time unbound, of disintegration and dissociation, of utter falling apart and re-emergence. While informed slightly by an autobiographical sensibility, Shore’s work is fictional with spatters of magical realism, fantasy and erotica throughout, giving it a sense of strangeness, an otherworldly quality that explores something akin to the dark, luscious, swank, perhaps a bit dangerous side of life. At the same time, these explorations are heavy and intensely frank: themes of abuse recovery, of power and control structures, of submission and dominance, transcend individual experience to embrace the larger issue of a culture struggling to shift away from the confines of patriarchal terror.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
Morning sings more snow,
one white note and little rhythm,
a spell of colorless eternity—
just the crystalline and the splinters
in the center of my heart,
—I keep them frozen —
to avoid feeling the sting,
throw handfuls of wishes and flakes into icy air,
watch them flutter again, less brilliant this time
than in their original flight.
To declare logical sovereignty
over my unreasonable heart,
I gather together all of the ways I loved him,
put them in a snow globe,
keep them safely contained.
I will not shake it again.
I won’t remember his jawline;
tight when his tears come, his elegant gestures,
the shape of his hands.
I will forget,
just as I always fail to recall,
the facade inside his sedative voice
that tempers the smart of his half-truths and lies.
I was a fool. but now
let all of the little loves I secretly held
fall to the bottom
— settle and land —
my feet are my heart now,
I won’t misstep on solid ground.
Renee Podunovich is a licensed professional counselor and freelance writer living in southwest Colorado. She has two chapbooks of poems: Let the Scaffolding Collapse (Finalist of the New Women’s Voices Chapbook Competition by Finishing Line Press, 2012) and If There Is a Center No One Knows Where It Begins (Art Juice Press, 2008). She is the 2019 Cantor Award winner for the best poem by a Coloradoan in the Fischer Prize awarded by the Telluride Literary Festival. Her poems were nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2010 and 2011. Renee believes that poetry is a language that encourages us to transcend our constricted sense of self and connect to our essential nature within and the intelligence of the world around us. Poetry can help us express the rich inner life and bring deeper insight and meaning into the mundane. Renee facilitates poetry Well Writing: Wordcraft for Discovery, Wholeness & Connection workshops that are designed to use creative writing as a tool for centering, reflecting and for personal growth.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
A Dime’s Worth
Zvi A. Sesling
The way Jack tells it he is in his first job out of the service, back from Vietnam with two bullet holes still healing. It is late 1960s and he is glad to be out of the military because he cannot stand taking orders or having the enemy pump bullets into him. He searches the Help Wanted pages and lands a job with Carter Omega Advertising and Public Relations. His boss Herbert gives him two small accounts with which he does so well that Herbert gives him Odyssey Computers a $100,000 account from which he makes about ten percent, a lot more than he was paid by the military.
Anyway, as Jack tells it, Odyssey wants to increase its advertising and public relations budget to one million dollars and invites Carter Omega and five other companies to develop the next level strategy and campaign.
As Jack tells it he is paid fifteen grand a year and his boss drives a forty thousand dollar car with all the bells and whistles. Herbert tells him to draw up an outstanding strategy and campaign. Jack says he does it but Herbert does not like it so he creates a new one. They go to the presentation and lose out to Mason, Cork & Villa. Back at the office Herbert calls everyone into his office and screams that they are idiots and should all be fired and singles out Jack by saying guys like him come a dime a dozen.
As Jack tells it he reaches into his pocket, pulls out a dime which he flips on Herbert’s desk and tells him to go buy a dozen. Then he turns and walks out.
Zvi A. Sesling is the Brookline, MA Poet Laureate and a prize winning poet.. He has published poetry, short stories and flash fiction online and in hardcopy. He edits Muddy River Poetry Review and is author of The Lynching of Leo Frank (Big Table Publishing, 2017), Love Poems From Hell (Flutter Press, 2017), Fire Tongue (Cervena Barva, 2016), Across Stones of Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva, 2011) and King of the Jungle (Ibbetson Street, 2010). He is a four-time Pushcart nominee and has won several awards.
* ~ * ~ * ~ *
I have before me a span of days
with today being the first one.
While I am unsure how many are yet to come,
their nascent potential is beyond my scope,
with only this first, perfect day