• Big Table Publishing

JANUARY, 2020


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.


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Beastly Thoughts

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.


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The Ferry

Brady Peterson


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.


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Pearls

Robbie Gamble


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!





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Estrus

Catherine Arra

You invited him

to follow

behind lilacs, naked in early snow.


You sidled ahead

paused, coy

glanced back, lifted your chin.


You let him press

his wet nose into hind fur,

lean long into the lure of you


& then

you had him—six-point buck

all intent.


You crouched

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.


But then

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.


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If Time Heals Old Wounds

 Mark Saba


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).


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Buddy System

Chris Bullard


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.


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Remember This Day

Steve Klepetar


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

Rick Blum


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.



* ~ * ~ * ~ *


Winter Highway

paul Bluestein


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.



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The First Time I Watched a Friday the 13th

Brian Fanelli


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 TimesWorld Literature TodayPaterson Literary Review, and elsewhere. Brian has also written about horror movies for Signal HorizonHorror Homeroom, and The Schuylkill Valley Journal. Jason Voorhees will always be his favorite slasher.


* ~ * ~ * ~ *


Drive

Howie Good


1

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