The Maple | Emily Wakeman Cyr

The low growl of an engine followed by the slam of a truck door: these are the first sounds that herald my impending death. They are sounds I’ve heard nearly every day of my life, though the years have altered them slightly, making engines quieter, truck doors more of a solid clunk rather than the rattle of metal on metal. They’ve always been little more than white noise, of no consequence to me. Until today, that is. But I’m too distracted by the joyful chorus of late spring to notice. The cheerful chirrups of chickadees, the faint hum of tractors turning the soil in faraway fields, the tinkling of wind chimes on the breeze, the skitter of squirrels as they chase one another through the dry leaves at my feet: this is the music I wait for all year. The promise of its return gives me the strength to endure the monotonous days of winter, with their feeble sunlight and bitter gusts of wind and unrelenting coats of thick ice.

Trees Around Us
©2023 Miroslava Panayotova

On days like today, I’m always transported back to my youth. Back to Millie, my first friend. My only real friend. The feeling of the sun’s golden rays beating down on me always brings me back to the June days when Millie would steal away with a glass of lemonade and a tattered leather-bound journal, how she’d lie beside me in the shade spilling her secrets until her mother would call out that it was time to milk the cows or feed the chickens or whatever other chore needed doing. She’d always look back at me with longing and regret, as if there was nothing in the world she’d rather be doing than spending time with me. There were so many of us back then, but I know I was her favorite. I was much smaller than I am now, willowy and vulnerable, and I like to think that she chose me because she saw in me the same things she saw in herself.

It’s Millie I’m thinking about when the truck pulls up, the engine and the door slam sounding far too innocuous to be anything sinister. I watch a man get out of the truck and cross the lawn to the front steps, where he shakes the hand of the man from the house— the new house, massive, with its stone face and solar-paneled roof, standing so tall and so solid it’s like the little old farmhouse with its yellowed clapboard siding and tired front porch never existed. To them, it hasn’t, I suppose. The only place it exists now is in my memory.

I watch the man from the truck and the man from the house disappear into the backyard and drift back to memories of Millie. Now, she’s older, taller, and so am I. It’s late, almost midnight, the nearly full moon drenching the thick carpet of summer grass in pale blue light, the bellow of frogs and clicking of insects and occasional hoot of an owl saturating the night air with life. Millie is sitting beside me, her breathing shallow, her body unnaturally still, waiting. She occasionally stands, paces back and forth along the cattle fence, then returns to sit by my side. Finally, she sees him. Samuel. He’s walking down the dusty lane, the tiny flickering flame of his lantern casting golden light on his face, which breaks into an unbridled grin when he catches sight of her. She stands to greet him, kisses him, grabs him by the hand and pulls him toward me. They lie in the grass by my feet, whispering, giggling, tumbling, murmuring, sighing. Revisiting this memory always brings me so much joy. Millie’s happiness is my happiness.

From there, other memories tumble like a handful of snapshots swept up in a breeze. Samuel, broad shouldered and square jawed in his moss-colored uniform, holding Millie in a tearful embrace, whispered promises of waiting and of returning. Millie skipping to the mailbox in a gingham dress and bare feet, or walking in wellies and a rain slicker, or trudging in a heavy coat and snow boots, how I’d hold my breath until she released hers each time she slipped her finger beneath the seal of the envelope. The days on end when she’d leave the mailbox empty-handed, how she’d pause beside me until the tears passed. Millie in a gown of ivory lace holding a bouquet of larkspur and daisies, or in a housedress singing lullabies to a cooing infant in a pram, or in a wool sweater reading from a worn copy of Alice in Wonderland while her children sat cross-legged around her, or in dungarees pulling up soil-crusted carrots and beets from the sun warmed garden.

Maple Leaves
©2019 Michael Dickel

The kaleidoscope of memory is interrupted by the two men, who are heading toward the front yard, closer to me, the tenor of their voices stiff and businesslike but the words too far away to make out. The man from the house scans the yard, his eyes passing over me without actually seeing me, just as they did the day he first came here, back when the ground was still marked by the deep grooves of excavator tires hastily covered with grass seed, the smells of sawdust and polyurethane still hanging in the air. The lawn was always filled with people in those days—real estate agents with shiny cars talking to fathers in pressed khaki pants and weary mothers sorting through brochures while their children roamed the yard, hanging from my limbs or smacking me with sticks to pass the time. The disinterest with which the man from the house regards me reminds me of another man, in another time, and that brings my thoughts back to Millie.

She’s older now—much older—as am I. Only I’ve continued to grow taller and stronger, while she’s begun to wither like a flower at the end of its season. Her back is hunched, her voice a bit warbly as she sings “Amazing Grace” while her leathery hands toil in the garden, pulling the weeds that have sprouted among the tomato and cucumber vines. A man pulls up in a sleek black car, strolls over to her with an air of authority. “Grandmother,” I hear him say, his voice cold like the traveling salesmen I’ve seen visit over the years rather than warm like family. “We’ve found the most wonderful retirement home for you. You’re going to love it. There’s even a bus that will take you to the farmer’s market. You’ll never have to work in the garden again.” It’s not until he gets back into his expensive car that she leans against me and the tears fall, her frail frame supported by my sturdy one. She runs her hand over me as she has so many times, the tears falling harder as her fingers trace the grooves where M + S is carved, surrounded by a heart, just over my heart. Her sobs continue to echo in my ears for the months that follow, until they’re drowned out by the mechanical whine of excavators and the constant thuds of wood and concrete and plaster landing in the dumpster.

Now, the two men are getting closer, the man from the truck jotting notes on a pad of paper, the man from the house occasionally looking down at his phone. The man from the house looks up at me, finally seeing me, and gestures in my direction. “What are your thoughts about this one?”

The man from the truck looks me up and down, appraising me. “She’s very healthy,” he replies, and I feel myself stand a bit prouder as I always do when I receive a compliment, though it seems to happen less often now despite the fact that I’ve only grown more magnificent with age.

“A little too close to the house, though, don’t you think?” He strokes his clean-shaven chin, looking from me to the house and back again. “I’d hate to see the damage it could do in a storm. It could take out my whole master suite.”

The man from the truck shrugs. “It’s your call,” he says. “She’s a beauty, though. Has to be at least a hundred years old. A rare thing these days, especially in this neighborhood.”

The man from the house shrugs, unimpressed. “Tag this one, too.”

The man from the truck hesitates for just a moment, his eyes traveling up my full height again and back down, a glimmer of reverence and admiration in his eyes that reminds me of the way Millie used to look at me. “If you say so,” he says. He removes an aerosol can from his belt and holds it to my heart, two swipes of his wrist marking an X in fluorescent pink.

The Maple
Digital landscape
from photographs & digital art
©2023 Michael Dickel

I have withstood a great deal over the years. I’ve been chilled to the bone by bleak, sunless winters that felt like they’d never end. Droughts have left me parched, beseeching the sky to provide. Nor’easters have brought violent winds that have divorced me from some of my appendages. I’ve watched my brothers and sisters and cousins ravaged and disfigured by disease, fallen by lightning strikes, devoured alive by a scourge of caterpillars. My flesh has been bored into by woodpeckers and beetles, my extremities weighed down by heavy snows and hawks nests and the occasional barn cat.

Not to mention the things that have been done to me by people. The times I’ve been grazed with pellets by neighborhood kids with BB guns, covered in toilet paper by mischievous teens on moonless October nights. The times my chest has been pierced by nails, made to hold signs about yard sales and lost dogs and advertisements for landscaping companies. The late winter days when a metal tap has been driven into my spine, left for weeks to drain my life-blood drop by drop.

If I could survive all that—thrive, even, in the face of such adversity—then surely it meant I’d live forever.

Once, back in the days of real estate agents and fathers in khaki pants and mothers with brochures, a woman in a black blazer and high-heeled pumps gestured to the new house and said, “This one is called The Maple. It is our largest model at almost 4,000 square feet. Great layout for entertaining.”

“The Maple?” a man had chortled. He was wearing jeans, not khaki pants. “The Oak, The Spruce, The Birch, The Magnolia. That’s the American way, isn’t it? Cutting down trees and naming McMansions after them.”

I hadn’t truly understood then. Just like I hadn’t truly understood Millie’s tears the day her grandson came, though I thought I had. After all, her happiness was my happiness. And her sadness was mine as well. 

It isn’t until this moment, the day-glow pink paint drying on my chest, its noxious fumes diffusing with each passing breeze, that I know what it means to be deemed obsolete.

©2023 Emily Wakeman Cyr
All rights reserved

Emily Wakeman Cyr…

…studied English and education at Quinnipiac University and the University of Connecticut. She worked as an English teacher and reading interventionist before shifting her focus to writing. A lifelong New Englander, she currently lives in Connecticut with her husband and three children, where she is working on her first novel and serving on the board of her local library.


What the Tree Knew | Patricia Furstenberg

The tree who knew that a church would one day stand on this piece of land, where his roots kissed the earth, that tree stood tall and grew just about here, where the church tower now rises, legend says.

When Iliora was born, the tree was as tall as a sapling. Still wrestling the summer storms. When Iliora started growing taller the tree, challenged, shot up and his branches nearly touched the sky. It certainly looked that way whenever Iliora lay under his green shade. Whenever Iliora climbed to its top branch on which she nestled, safe, her eyes cast far away. The world certainly looked grand from up here. And it was hers. The tree had gifted it to her.

But when Iliora married and moved over the hill and built a home, the tree grew taller so he could keep an eye on our girl, how the people of his hamlet called her.

Then one day…he’d nearly cut him down, Iliora’s husband, for they needed wood, good wood. But Iliora stopped him, grabbed his wrist so the shiny ax blade danced through the air, and sliced a strand of her long hair…A cloud moved over the sun and shadowed his brow. So they built their home underneath a rock instead. And a cosy place it was. And happy, unlike any other dwelling the villagers had ever seen. So they called it Chilioara, Iliora’s cave.

Soon more families settled there. And soon a church was needed.

Iliora was not around anymore to protect her tree. Other men, younger, cut it down, carried it on their strong backs over the hill, shaped it into planks, and used the planks here and there, where it was needed, for the altar, for the door frame, for the roof, and one plank even made it into the tower. A small tower, for it was a tiny wooden church. Chilioara’s church.

Now blessed with a church the community grew. And it grew. Eventually a bigger church was needed, a stone church built.

Many moons later, perhaps by the way the trees grew and the wind blew, or by the way the stars dripped across the heavens, another girl spotted her future on the other side of a hill. Where greener pasture grew, and an azure sky. And she moved, then he moved. They built, they lived, they grew another family together, happy ’til the day a church was needed. For there was space, just right. There in the clearing, see?

The tiny wooden church from Chilioara was brought over the hill to Doba, piece by piece on the men’s strong backs. And rebuilt here: the altar, the door frame, the roof, the tower…

Legend says that the tree had known. He’d known from the beginning that one day a church would stand in its place.

©2023 Patricia Furstenberg
All rights reserved

Patricia Furstenberg…

…is a novelist and poet with a degree in Dentistry. She is the author of 18 books including Dreamland: Banat, Crişana, Maramureş, Transylvania, 100-Word Stories; Transylvania’s History A to Z; Silent Heroes—chosen “One of the Five Books Everyone Should Read in Their Lifetime”; and Joyful Trouble—an Amazon Bestseller. Patricia Furstenberg’s writing focuses on people, on how history surprised them, and on the footprints they left, memories that should not be forgotten.


A Whale’s Perspective | Janet Mason

Swimming Around a Plastic Island

It is peaceful swimming with my pod back toward the open sea where things should be safer for us. The saltwater zips around us as we anticipate lunch and swim through beauty. It is magnificent here with the pod tranquilly cutting through the blue sea as we anticipate lunch. We are swimming up to the surface now so we can each take a big breath to prepare for diving down to the depths to catch giant squids. It’s so beautiful being in the pod. I imagine admiring our synchronicity from above. Our swimming strokes are exactly matched. We look as graceful as we are. For a moment I feel so much a part of the group—as if the other whales are attached to me–that I almost forget I am a separate whale with my own thoughts and opinions.

A wave blocks my blowhole momentarily reminding me there are threats everywhere and that I must be vigilant. But it was so peaceful when I felt as one with my pod. If it wasn’t for the terrifying but true story Grandmother told me and, let’s face it, that depressing novel that I found in the ocean and put in my large brain, I could easily overlook the fact that I must remain on the alert. I remind myself that although I may not have told the pod, my secret name is Dick Moby, and I am fierce enough to handle anything.

We swim on some more in the pristine blue water, before I start to hear excited clicking and commotion in the pod.

Variations on the Rose Theme
Digital art
©2023 Miroslava Panayotova

“We are taking a detour. Something must have happened up ahead,” clicks my young cousin. She dropped back a bit after swimming upside down but has nosed her way up. I heard her saying “Excuse me, excuse me, I have to get to the front,” earlier as we swam.

Before you know it, she’ll be right behind my Great Aunt who always leads the pod.

I am so mad at my young cousin for skipping ahead, that for the moment I ignore the other clicks around me.

Then I decide to change my mind.

What do I care? I ask myself. So, my young cousin is pushing her way to the front. It shouldn’t bother me since I am not comfortable with being in charge and have never made that my goal.

One of these days, my young cousin will tell me what to do and I’ll either go ahead and do it or not–depending on what kind of mood that I’m in.

I reflect that bossy people are rarely happy even when they are in their element and telling others what to do.

I’ve seen my Great Aunt being bossy—almost all the time. But I have never seen her happy, except for the time earlier today when she was communing with the Human who was among the pod in the water. Maybe that is why she wanted to take us to find the Humans–even if it meant that we might be beached–after the Human left. Her experience was so good that she wanted to recreate it.

I keep swimming—gently parting the water with my pod—and thinking how nice that it was that we saw the kelp forest and the sea meadow where I imagine a Seahorse lived. Maybe it is the life growing inside of me, but I do feel more peaceful than usual. I haven’t told my pod yet that I am with calf because they will make too much of a commotion. Besides, I think telling them—since it is still early—may be bad luck.

Then a wave smacks me alongside my head which is halfway exposed above the water line so that I can breathe freely. The slap of the wave jolts me into paying attention to what is happening in the present moment. I listen to the clicks of my pod members who are chatting excitedly.

“We are making a wide circle around an island,” explains one of my sisters who is now swimming next to me.

“It’s not just any island,” clicks a whale, whose voice pattern I don’t recognize, on the other side of her. “It’s a Human-made Island, and it doesn’t have any sand or dirt.”

“I’ve heard of these islands,” replies my sister. “They’re all over the place and they are made entirely of plastic bottles and nylon fishing nets and other things. In fact, they are made entirely of plastic—which I hear never goes away.”

Marine debris in Hawaii as seen from below. (Source)

“I’ve heard that some of the seabirds mistake the plastic for small fish because it’s shiny and eat what they can. Then they get sick and die,” clicks the other whale.

“That’s right, and some of the whales eat the plastic too, my sister responds. “They seem to especially like the nylon fishing nets that are everywhere these days. Maybe the whales mistake them for squid. Then the whales die and sink to the depths where they decay and are eaten by sharks, or they are washed ashore.”

“That’s awful,” I grumble. “So, what do you think of your darling Humans now?”

“What!?” the whale on the other side of my sister clicks back. “I didn’t even see you there. I guess you heard what we were talking about?”

“Of course,” I say. “The plastic island sounds awful. I was out swimming earlier and when I came back the pod was communing around a Human diver. I was just wondering what you think of Humans now that we are forced to go around the plastic island that was caused by their bad behavior.”

I am holding back. I didn’t tell my sister what I think of Humans. She may have inferred that I would never trust them, but I didn’t say that. I just asked her what she thought. It was an honest question.

She is quiet for a moment. Then she begins clicking.

“I was in the pod when we were communing around the human,” she says pointedly. “You don’t have to tell me what you saw because I was there. We don’t know that it’s the Human’s fault—the one who came to visit us. Maybe some of the Humans are upset about the plastic islands, too. Maybe they are sad when we wash up on the beaches with plastic inside of us. Maybe the plastic is bad for them also.”

A father and son on a makeshift boat paddle through garbage as they collect plastic bottles that they can sell in junkshops in Manila, Philippines. (Source).

My jaw drops. I had asked her what she thought of the Humans. I didn’t tell her what I thought based on Grandmother’s stories and that thick book in my head. My sister had never wanted to hear Grandmother’s stories. Even when she was a calf, she’d get a look on her face and swim away. I, on the other hand, would stay with Grandmother and happily listen to her stories over and again.

Now, I see the results of my sister not listening to the story of our late Great Aunt (another Great Aunt from the one who is living) who had wanted to see her calf again, so she rammed the boat and the ship of those who tried to destroy her with their harpoons.

My sister had an entirely different take on Humans than I did. Not only did she like them, she also had no problem giving them the benefit of the doubt in saying essentially that Humans are not all alike. I know that not all Humans are our enemies. I know that some worship us and I’ve heard that some help us. But it’s complicated because we often need help since the Humans created the conditions that are making us suffer.

For instance, it’s the Humans who leave their nylon fishing nets around in the first place and that’s why we are at their mercy. And the Humans bring the ships to the area that make the loud noises that end up being so frightening to us that we swim away often to dangerously shallow waters and sometimes get beached and die. I know it’s the stories of the bad Human behavior in my head and in the past that make me wary of Humans.

That’s why when I saw my pod trusting a Human, I became extra skeptical.

But now I am forced to reconsider. Maybe some Humans aren’t all that bad.

My sister had spoken thoughtfully and eloquently. She was sure of what she said, and she left me speechless. I don’t know what to click in reply.

So, I swim ahead a little bit to where there is an opening and squint my left eye so I can see better. The island of plastic stretched on forever and was less than seventy-five feet away. That would only be about two lengths if I turned forward and swam straight toward the island. Of course, I wasn’t going to do that. For one thing, I had no intention of washing up on a beach with a belly full of plastic. I also didn’t know how deep and wide the island was, and I did not plan on suffocating because I could not come up for air.

As we swam past the island, we were on the surface. My sister and the other whales around me were silent. We gazed at the plastic island as if we were seeing a premonition of the future when all the sea might be filled with plastic debris. Even my young cousin was silent. This was her future. I couldn’t see her eyes since she was ahead of me. But I imagined a single tear sliding out of her eye.

The island stretched on and on as far as my eye could see. We would be swimming around it for a long time before we would feel free enough in the open sea to dive down deep and catch lunch. As I stared at it, I saw the plastic island glittering under the sun. If I didn’t know that it represented death, I might think it was beautiful.

I could see how a bird could mistake the plastic for a fish and eat the wrong thing. After all, the sun glitters on fish jumping out of the waves too.

©2023 Janet Mason
All rights reserved

Janet Mason…

…has a memoir, Tea Leaves, a memoir of mothers and daughters, published by Bella Books in 2012.  Her novels THEY, a biblical tale of secret genders and The Unicorn, The Mystery  were published by Adelaide Books in 2018 and 2020.Her novel Loving Artemis. an endearing tale of revolution, love, and marriage was published by Thorned Heart Press in 2022.

Who Cries for Icarus? | Joseph Hesch

Another ReCollection from the first issue of The BeZine. This one also addresses peace, from a fictional perspective and related to mythology. Joseph Hesch continues to contribute to The BeZine as a Core Team Member.

The Lament for Icarus
Tate Museum, exhibited 1898
Herbert Draper 1863-1920
Presented by the Trustees of the Chantrey Bequest 1898
Photo ©Tate CC-BY-NC-ND 3.0 (Unported)

Spiral cloud mountains build in the sky, towering to 20,000 feet, I’d guess. Below, is the town of Douai, where we know Bloody Richtofen’s Jasta 11 calls home this month.

The golden disk to the west is setting and the Albatros scout planes rise to meet us. This is going to be a ripping scrap, I can tell. And then we are in a whirlwind of brown machines and red machines, red-white-blue cockades and black Iron Crosses all flashing by so fast that sometimes you can hardly keep your bearings. Like so many of these recent fights, everyone gets scattered across the sky. But I can’t look out for everyone when I have to do my other job, kill Germans and come home to Flora.

A red aeroplane with a yellow nose and tail whips past Cecil Lewis, and I take chase. I will get to 50 victories. I will get to 50. I must get to 50. He twists and dives and heads into the clouds and I know he can’t shake me. My attention is solely on his tail. I recognize the flash of the setting sun on his goggles as he glances fearfully over his shoulder at me, as I’ve seen that look hundreds of times before. I know it as sure as I know the booming of my own heartbeat in times like this.

I fire burst after burst into him, a drum of bullets from the Lewis on the top wing and 60 or 70 rounds from the Vickers gun in front of me.

I see him drop below me and I know he’s done. I see it all so plainly. The craziness and blood lust that overtakes me at such times ebbs away. And I think of my Flora, my Bobs again.

Then I break through the clouds, seeing from my altimeter that we’ve dove to only 200 feet. But the clouds are in the wrong place.

“Flora,” I cough,“ why are the clouds below me and the church steeple above me?”

“Rest, Albert, lay back and rest.”

I fight the urge to rest, I have to get back to the squadron, get back to England, get back to Bobbsy. The glowing disk in front of me fades away. It’s not the disk of the sun, or my identity badge, it’s my spinning propeller. It stops and then I only see its top, hanging vertically like that stalactite church steeple in front of me.

And then that great noise.

“What’s going on, Bobs? Can I come home to you now? General Trenchard promised me I could come home now.”

“Yes, Albert, you can come home. You don’t have to hurry, though. We’re waiting.”

I see her face above me again, so beautiful, so young. Even now when I see her I can barely catch my breath. Yet her eyes are so very sad as I lay my head back in her lap. I feel raindrops on my face.

“Don’t cry Bobs,” I say.

Fifteen year-old Cecille Deloffre had lived amid the sounds of war for a quarter of her life. She’d learned to sleep to the thunder of the big guns as if they were a summer rainstorm. She ignored the buzzing drone of the aeroplanes as they flew west-to-east and east-to-west each day, often punctuating their passage with the very unmilitary staccato drumbeat of their machine guns.

Cecille had seen some of these machines fall from the sky, glowing and tumbling like a cigarette tossed by one of those German soldiers hidden in the steeple of the nearby church in the village of Annoeulin.

This evening during dinner she had heard the fight above her home, sounding so much like someone had struck a hornet nest and the swarms spreading across the sky.

Then Cecille heard the sound of what could have been two aeroplanes directly above. Her mother crossed herself and tried dragging Cecille from the table to the root cellar beneath the kitchen floor.

She broke from her mother’s grasp and ran into the small fenced yard in front of their farmhouse just as one machine spit a tongue of fire back from its yellow shark-like nose, engine sputtering, gliding to a crash landing on the other side of the village.

She heard another aeroplane’s engine sputter and stop, just as it whooshed, upside-down, from the low storm clouds not 300 metres up the road. Its pilot wore no helmet and she could see his eyes but not his face in the growing dark.

Then the aeroplane just fell, like a an old leather-bound book dropped from a table.

Cecille stood frozen for a second to see if this machine would catch fire. But it only lay crushed on its side like a coffee-colored bird knocked from the sky by a kestrel. The pilot’s head move and she ran toward the aeroplane, unsure why, with her mother screaming after her.

As she came up to the crash site, the young man within the broken machine released his buckle and fell from the cockpit with a thud, a moan, and a faint rasping wheeze.

Cecille reached for the boy and pulled him a few metres away from his machine. She rested his head in her lap and he slowly opened his eyes, looking up at her with such longing that she couldn’t keep from crying.

“Don’t cry Bobs, Bobs, Bosshh…” she heard him barely whisper. Then stillness.

From behind them came the pounding sound of the jackbooted German soldiers from the steeple. They jabbered with delight, so sure they shot down a British flyer. But they hadn’t. Cecille noticed the boy had no wounds on his body.

Her eyes red with tears, Cecille looked down at the boy again and saw but a small bruise beneath his eye where his goggles had been. In her lap, the face of 20 year-old Capt. Albert Ball, MC, DSO, VC lay in silent repose. The sooty stain on it was variegated in white by the tracks of tears, like the half-smiling black marble bust of a saint. They were his tears and that of a beautiful young girl he briefly saw and was sure was the one he loved.

Cecille looked up at the surrounding soldiers and spat out, “Il est mort, Boche. C’est fini.”

But Albert couldn’t hear her. He had just won his 50th victory and he was flying home.

I guess this story shows when even a “hero” dies in war, he dies alone just like any other soldier. And who cries for him?

©2014 Joseph Hesch
All rights reserved

Joseph Hesch…

…is a writer and poet from Albany, New York. His work appears or is forthcoming in over a dozen venues, including Cossack Review, Frontier Tales Magazine, Pine Hills Review, the 2017 Indies Unlimited Flash Fiction Anthology, as well as the anthologies Petrichor Rising and For the Love of Christmas. His poetry collections, “Penumbra: The Space Between” and “One Hundred Beats a Minute” are available on He’s currently working on his first collection of stories, all based on his fascination with the American frontier, whether it’s upstate New York in the 17th and 18th Centuries or the Nebraska plains and Arizona deserts of the 19th.


Dreamtime | Mehreen Ahmed

In the folds of thick fog, down by the curved Bay of Moon, a stillness descended on the ocean after a swift storm had passed. As the fog slowly lifted, a boat was unveiled; it was adrift. It swerved off course. I was right under, singing a primordial tune—a blue song. A man slid off the deck and fell into the ocean. It was a leaking boat. 

I watched him plop. Into the ocean, he plunged that very moment like a dollop of cream into a coffee cup—floundering. I surfaced and wagged my fin in front of him. He caught it. It slipped first, then he held it firmly in a grip. I sailed in the current’s slipstream some nautical lengths until sunset in search of land. Was there any land nearby? Any show of land at all, in all the world, besides these vast stretches of the seawaters? Hope piqued, a sandy shore emerged along the Emerald Bay. I rushed towards it and reached its sandy shores within minutes. I rolled him over onto the beach in the midst of knotted weeds, oyster shells, and ponded waters cupped in footprints.

The tired man looked at me. I expelled a fountain of delight and saw how he curled up in a fetal position. In the meantime, his vessel nose-dived into the ocean as the ocean swallowed its parts in bits until all was galvanised under. His mates on the vessel were scattered on the waves like little debris as though they didn’t matter. 

Fate had it that I rescued this dunking man from a sunken vessel. He looked at me, and he wondered how such a miracle ride was even possible? What are you—God? Who are you? He mumbled. I smiled, somersaulted in the air, and submarined, like a vanishing blink from the stars. I resumed singing; he heard it far from the ocean’s depth. Exotic to him, the tune haunted him for days on end—the blue song, he called it. Mysterious it sure was. 

But the mysteries of the universe were locked in the layers of the lyrics which were decipherable through the Aboriginal dreamtime—inter-relation of all people and things—workings of nature and humanity—land and spirit. The deep connections which elude the eye—spirits more powerful which connected every life on earth such as the creatures of this blue soul.

The man waited for the saviour dolphin to return. But it never did. But it continued to convey the existential connections through its lyrics. Connections of abstraction communicated through the senses alone—through dreamtime—far beyond any human language.

©2022 Mehreen Ahmed
All rights reserved

Mehreen Ahmed…

…is an Australian novelist born in Bangladesh. Her historical fiction,The Pacifist, is a Drunken Druid’s Editor’s Choice and an Amazon Audible bestseller. Gatherings,is nominated for the James Tait Black Prize for fiction. Her short fiction has won in The Waterloo Festival Competition, Academy of the Heart and Mind contest, A Cabinet-Of-Heed Stream-Of-Consciousness Challenge, shortlisted, finalist, nominated for the 3xbotN, Pushcart, Publication of the Month, and Honourable Mention. Also, critically acclaimed by Midwest Book Review, DD Magazine, The Wild Atlantic Book Club to name a few. She is a juror to the KM Anthru Award, Litterateur RW Magazine, and featured writer on Flash Fiction North and Connotation Press. She has published books, articles, essays, and short fiction in international magazines, online, and in anthologies. Her works have been translated into German, Greek and Bangla.

Ping Pong | Mehreen Ahmed

Ping Pong

The mother sliced an aubergine through its elongated side like the sole of her shoes. She tossed an onion onto the same cutting board. Unlike the aubergine, the onion rolled a little and then stopped on the board’s edge. She lifted the knife and cut the onion straight through its broad middle. Her eyes ponded with stingy tears as they dropped. A few drops down her cheeks, she sensed and wiped them off with shoulder rubs on her cheeks. Her eyes stung as long as she sliced through the onions. No big deal with the aubergines.

Ukrainian Family
Marc Chagall c. 1942

The radio was on. It announced how many soldiers died in the war—her boy was barely sixteen. The freckles on their rosy cheeks hadn’t fully faded; his arms were smooth. At the frontier, a war was raging. It didn’t matter whose wars they fought and who won or who lost. What mattered most to this mother was her loss which was paramount.

She made some deeper cuts into the onion, thinning the half-rounded rings. The fifteen-year-old was on the cusp of turning sixteen. Which she had once, too. Afraid to let him go to war, let alone understand the logic of it all? But conscription took (made) him (join the forces)… delete what’s in parentheses?

One day the mother had gone out to the well to fetch a pail of water. The door of the thatched house had almost fallen off its hinge as soldiers barged in. They pulled this petrified child hiding under the ratty bed. He had to go with them. His mother was at the well, he couldn’t bid her goodbye. Not even the last hug or a kiss, the boy was dragged to the frontier. The mother returned with her pail full of water. The boy was gone. The pail fell from her hands. She slipped and she sat in the pool of water. Her eyes were the same. The winds howled, she howled too. It could not reach the ears of the war-mongers—far too much clamour out there, the politicians were boasting one victory after another. Whose expansion knew no limits?

Who won and who lost in this game—what did it matter? It was a game of Ping Pong to the expansionists. But to the mothers on both sides—friend or foe—stingy onion tears or none at all in the case of the purple aubergine; the grief was a boundless and borderless blend. Purpled just the same.

©2022 Mehreen Ahmed
All rights reserved

Mehreen Ahmed…

…is an Australian novelist born in Bangladesh. Her historical fiction,The Pacifist, is a Drunken Druid’s Editor’s Choice and an Amazon Audible bestseller. Gatherings,is nominated for the James Tait Black Prize for fiction. Her short fiction has won in The Waterloo Festival Competition, Academy of the Heart and Mind contest, A Cabinet-Of-Heed Stream-Of-Consciousness Challenge, shortlisted, finalist, nominated for the 3xbotN, Pushcart, Publication of the Month, and Honourable Mention. Also, critically acclaimed by Midwest Book Review, DD Magazine, The Wild Atlantic Book Club to name a few. She is a juror to the KM Anthru Award, Litterateur RW Magazine, and featured writer on Flash Fiction North and Connotation Press. She has published books, articles, essays, and short fiction in international magazines, online, and in anthologies. Her works have been translated into German, Greek and Bangla.

Silent Bleat | Mehreen Ahmed

Silent Bleat

The sheep floated on the blue, etched on the cloud’s sphere. In the short time that I wrote my story in the sky, they had reshaped into vapour, then pelted down. The rain fell over a garbage dump of a used plastic pond. Children of the narrow alley played in the rain as they crossed it precariously over the wavering surface. The only way to decipher a pond underneath, was by the liquid walks of the nimble feet. 

Eight, seven, and nine, the children tiptoed. Only their parents knew their names. They were headed towards a destination—a balloon factory. Hired to make party balloons of many colours, blue, yellow, pink, and red, they made a rainbow of balloons and stacked them up in a corner. Balloons, to be used for birthday parties.

They held the rainbow in their palms, but never had the opportunity to use any for birthday parties of their own. After a grueling shift of making balloons all day, they returned home with a few in their hands. But they flew away. They chased them but they went too high, lost in the sky. Walking the same liquid walk, over the pond, they came back to the alley. Each day, abundant balloons were made to last a hundred parties. They gave hope and joy to the many thousands who were born with a rainbow band around their heads.

The children were soaked in the rain. They crossed the hazardous pond balancing themselves on plastic. The last of the rains withered the lambs away from the blue—a balloon in its own right. The children ran along the alley under this blue balloon. This was a good day, they thought. Because their mothers were home and they could smell the cooking. The four lambs bleated at their respective ratty doors. They cried out—we are home. The mothers let them inside. Their dry mouths spread to hungry grins. Sons and mothers greeted one another.

“How was the day?” mums asked.

“We almost held the rainbow right here in the middle of our palms,” they said.

“Meaning?” mums asked.

“We chased some balloons at the plastic pond. But we lost them in the sky, along the way.”

“You couldn’t bring any home?” the mums asked.

“No. But it doesn’t matter,” they said.

“Why not?” mums asked.

“Quite simple. We went. We returned. We see you. You see us. What more can you ask for?”

The lambs were back, dissipating once again. This time, they left their signature in the silent bleat of a contrail across the serene blue sky.

Psalm 24
Ester Karen Aida ©2022

Text ©2022 Mehreen Ahmed
All rights reserved

Mehreen Ahmed…

…is an Australian novelist born in Bangladesh. Her historical fiction,The Pacifist, is a Drunken Druid’s Editor’s Choice and an Amazon Audible bestseller. Gatherings,is nominated for the James Tait Black Prize for fiction. Her short fiction has won in The Waterloo Festival Competition, Academy of the Heart and Mind contest, A Cabinet-Of-Heed Stream-Of-Consciousness Challenge, shortlisted, finalist, nominated for the 3xbotN, Pushcart, Publication of the Month, and Honourable Mention. Also, critically acclaimed by Midwest Book Review, DD Magazine, The Wild Atlantic Book Club to name a few. She is a juror to the KM Anthru Award, Litterateur RW Magazine, and featured writer on Flash Fiction North and Connotation Press. She has published books, articles, essays, and short fiction in international magazines, online, and in anthologies. Her works have been translated into German, Greek and Bangla.

Opossum | Zach Murphy

Pete and Richard’s orange safety vests glowed a blinding light under the scorching sun, and their sweat dripped onto the pavement as they stood in the middle of the right lane on Highway 61, staring at an opossum lying stiffly on its side.

Richard handed Pete a dirty shovel. “Scoop it up,” he said.

Everything made Pete queasy. He once fainted at the sight of a moldy loaf of bread. Even so, he decided to take on a thankless summer job as a roadkill cleaner. At least he didn’t have to deal with many people.

Richard nudged Pete. “What are you waiting for?” he asked.

Pete squinted at the creature. “It’s not dead,” he said. “It’s just sleeping.”

“Are you sure?” Richard asked as he scratched his beard. He had one of those beards that looked like it would give a chainsaw a difficult time.

“Yes,” Pete said. “I just saw it twitch.”

Richard walked back toward the shoulder of the road and popped open the driver’s side door of a rusty pickup truck. “Alright, let’s go.”

Pete shook his head. “We can’t just leave it here.”

“It’s not our problem,” Richard said. “They tell us to do with the dead ones, but not the ones that are still alive.”

Pete crouched down and took a closer look. “We need to get it to safety,” he said.

Richard sighed and walked back toward the possum. “What if it wakes up and attacks us?” he asked. “That thing could have rabies.”

“I don’t think anything could wake it up right now,” Pete said.

Richard belched, “It’s an ugly son of a gun, isn’t it?”

“I think it’s so ugly that it’s cute,” Pete said.

“No one ever says that about me,” Richard said with a chuckle. “I guess I just haven’t crossed into that territory.”

Just then, a car sped by and swerved over into the next lane. Pete and Richard dashed out of the way.

“People drive like animals!” Richard said. “We’d better get going.”

Pete took a deep breath, slipped his gloves on, gently picked up the opossum, and carried it into the woods.

“What are you doing?” Richard asked. “Are you crazy?”

After nestling the possum into a bush, Pete smelled the scent of burning wood. He gazed out into the clearing and noticed a plume of black smoke billowing into the sky. The sparrows scattered away, and the trees stood with their limbs spread, as if they were about to be crucified.

“Jesus Christ,” Pete whispered under his breath.

Pete picked up the opossum and turned back around.

©2022 Zach Murphy
All rights reserved

Zach Murphy…

…is a Hawaii-born writer with a background in cinema. His stories appear in Reed Magazine, The Coachella Review, Maudlin House, Still Point Arts Quarterly, B O D Y, Ruminate, Wilderness House Literary Review, Flash: The International Short-Short Story Magazine, and more. His debut chapbook Tiny Universes (Selcouth Station Press, 2021) is available in paperback and e-book. He lives with his wonderful wife Kelly in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Life Insurance | Hildie S Block

Howard, who speaks slowly and with a “cured” stutterer’s affectation, asks me when I will die.

That’s not exactly what he says, it’s what he wishes to ask, but can’t.

“And your parents?  Did either of them die of a heart attack, stroke or cancer…before the age of 65?”


Of those diseases? 


They are dead though. They never turned 70. I don’t say this.

He asks the wrong questions.

He wants to hear good things. It means money for him. I know this. A commission. Continued employment. A life. A monthly check from us, against what we hope won’t happen.

It means “life insurance” for me. I know this. As much as it can be known.

The trick is only to answer what is asked.

I keep trying.

”Your height and weight?”


“Has a doctor diagnosed you with any of the following in the last 10 years?”

Wrong question again. Answer is no. Not in the last 10 years.

Keep trying, Howard.

“How much life insurance do you want?”

Long pause. Bile rises in throat. Burns. Want. Want. Not sure I want this at all.

“How much…ma’am?”


“Life insurance. How big a policy?”

“How do people usually—“

“Well, you take your income.”

“My income. That’s my value. My income. Are you sure?”

“You know—if you don’t have a job, you do things that would need to be done, you know?  So you figure out how much it would cost for someone else to do that and you multiply by—“

“I multiply?”



“Yes, you take those things—you know, child care and cleaning and things that other people could do, and you multiply it—“

“I multiply it.”

My head is reeling. My heart shatters into a million trillion gazillion little pieces. My value. Multiplied by years I’m not there. My life expectancy, by my weight. My age. When my parents died.

The wrong questions.

“Ma’am—your husband has filled a lot of this out for you.”

“He has?”

“Yes.”  My wifely duties, multiplied by sitters so he can go date and replace me?

“Do you want me to go over it?”

“No. I don’t think so. “

“Okay, then, ma’am, let’s just keep going then, we are almost done.”

“We are?”

“Yes, I think so.”


“So I need to set up an appointment for someone to come out and take your blood.”

“Of course.”

“And you’ll need to sign.”  

“Of course.”  Sign, in blood, the contract.

“And that will be it.”


“As soon as we figure out how big a policy.”

“Right.”  Pregnant pause. “That’s the trick, isn’t it?”


“That’s the trick.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am, I don’t understand.”

“How to value someone. I mean, Howard — How much for your mom?”


“How much?”

“What do you mean?  How much would you pay for when she isn’t there?”

“Ma’am, I’m not sure you get –“

“Really?  Isn’t that what you are asking me?  To prepay for? In case I’m not there?  Someone else?”

“Ma’am, this is just life insurance.”

“Howard, you are very young, aren’t you?”


“Not even 25 yet, right?  Your grandparents still alive?”

“Ma’am? Do you want to talk to my supervisor?”

“No, Howard. I don’t need your supervisor.”

I take out a paper and pencil and my calendar – start putting dollar signs next to the cramped and crowded, boxes – adding it up.

My life, my parents, dead in their 60s, the things my doctors had diagnosed me with more than 10 years ago.

My hot pink calculator works the numbers, straight to “E.”

My over sharpened pencil tip breaks (NOTE: mess with the electric pencil sharpener). I take the pencil and cleave it, break it in half, cleanly in the middle. Now I have 2 pencils. That’s power.

The evening continues. Dinner, homework, kids ready for bed.

Then the husband speaks as I settle in the couch to watch the flickering images of the TV.

“Did you talk to the guy?”

“The guy?”

“From the insurance?”

“Howard? “

“I don’t know his name.”

“Yeah, I talked to him.”


“He’s sending stuff.”

“Oh, good. Check that off.”

“I don’t want to know.”


“The policy.”


“I don’t want to know the size.”

“Oh, I just got –“

“I don’t want to know.”


“Can you get the kids off tomorrow?”

“Yeah. Why?  What’s up?”

In my head, I hear myself say my supervisor has called a meeting. But I don’t say that out loud. It isn’t true.

“I have a thing.”

“A thing?”




“You alright?”

“I have no idea.”


“No. Well, yeah, sort of. Has to be first thing. They said.”


It was that easy. The thought in my head. The supervisor  I had to get out of the house—away from this to figure it out. I could do it. I just had to leave really really early.

And I didn’t need a pencil, or a calculator. Of this I was sure.

I didn’t even need to set an alarm. I sat straight up in bed at 3am, awake. Grabbed some favorite, ancient clothes, an old geeta burner shirt, clam diggers made of the softest cotton. I didn’t need a magic bag full of emergency kid’s supplies, band aids, tissues, restaurant toys. I needed very little.

The math.

When my parents were 20, 25 years older than I was at this very minute, they were dead.

15 years ago, doctors had told me all sorts of things were wrong with me, but 

for the last 10? I’d been fine—busy, caring for small children who insisted on growing every day.

I jumped into my car, and drove. Somehow I knew if I could change things, this day, it would matter.

New math, number of miles times speed limit over a full tank.

I drive, and I drive east. To the ocean. To Rehoboth. If I could get to the beach. If I could get to the sand and the endless, rhythmic crashing of the enormous powerful ocean onto the sand, I know it would all make sense.

I had this. At this time of day there would be no traffic. I have a meeting. I smile.

As I drive, the fear falls off. I leave it by the roadside. 

The numbers that chase each other through my head, slow.

Over the enormous suspension bay bridge, I turn on music. Beach music. Seems right. The calypso steel drums.

It is still very dark, but I can sense my heart reassembling, I can feel it.

The flat land of farms speeds by me, the music draws me east like a tractor beam.

I blink, and I can barely remember why I was going to the beach, but I blink again and pull into one of the new metered spaces on Rehoboth Avenue. Time ticks down.

I get out and walk straight for the surf. Past the bandstand. Past the Dolle’s sign. Past the beach grass. The pink light is beginning to come up over the blue grey ocean.

Toss my shoes back toward the sand and away from the sea – two gulls caw in search of Boardwalk fries.

Stand before the ocean in silence, in the space between — the meditative space.

Stare out into the sea for an answer. I face the sun as it begins to peek over the horizon.

In the next minute, the sun explodes over the ocean like a kaleidoscope of fractured color that exactly matches my newly reorganized heart – as if they were both identical mosaics of Indian mirrored sequins.

Just as suddenly as my heart shines and the sky sparkles, as if in a spasm, my arms meet overhead, my left left leg lifts.

I smile.

A pod of dolphins leaps by, joyfully billowing spray. A celebration.

The ocean pounds, so much bigger and more powerful than me. 

The pounding is my heart.

I know the answer.

I am alive.

The world is still  Beautiful. The salt air felt right and restorative. It is a place I could be in forever. A moment. Held in my heart and shooting out my fingertips.

It has been over 15 years ago—but the thing that had evened out the illnesses, time, space. Breathing. Maybe even some yoga.


A rainbow kite flies over head. Bikes thump on the boardwalk. A lab chases a Frisbee into the surf.

My supervisor. Called a meeting. The message? Greet the day. Salute the sun.

Okay then.

Arms up, overhead, left leg slides up the right leg. I can hear the instructions clearly in my head. Audibly. Forward fold.

Plank. Grasshopper, cobra. Dog, child.

Come up.



This is


Life insurance.

©2021 Hildie S Block
All rights reserved

Nowadays | Melodie Corrigall

Her bulky handbag clutched to her chest, eyes darting left then right, the pale young woman scurried to catch the green light. Safely across the busy street, she reined up sharply: no sign of him. The damp browed uncertainties of the long night subsided, but Allison’s relief was short lived. It was almost 8:30; she had no time to waste.

Once inside the lobby the young woman flew around the corner, and fumbled to unbutton her coat, then slammed to a halt. There he was half-hidden at the end of the hallway like a pile of soiled clothes. Could she slip quickly past him up the stairs?

Move quickly, that was her best defense, say she hadn’t noticed if they asked. If they found out that she’d not reported seeing him, there’d be hell to pay. But when it came down to it, she couldn’t fill in the form, with the HB pencil sharp as a knife: November 28, “Seen again in the hall.”

Without even looking his way, she could visualize him in detail. She had spied him often enough as he moved along his territory or crept along the halls. He wasn’t much taller than she, no more than five foot four: thin, frail, wiry, and bent. His grey face was cut by dirty creases, his yellow teeth crooked and broken.

He was always hung in the same outfit, probably all he owned. Layers of clothes: the baggy striped shirt gaping at the front exposing grey underwear and a pale wizened chest. Over that a faded black vest and a huge jacket stained with dried food, the pockets ripped, and the buttons dripping off. The comical trousers, hoisted around his waist were squeezed tightly by a broken belt. Carelessly laced shoes protruded out of baggy unevenly rolled pant legs. He wore no socks.

The first day she had dismissed him as a drunk. Annoyed he had crept up from Vancouver’s skid row where the druggies shuffled the streets begging for money, she was angry that he was invading her street. He staggered along oblivious to the busy people pushing by him, occasionally stopping to look in shop windows. He obviously had no money; he should get a job.

Days later when she studied him more closely, Allison realized he was not as old as he had seemed, probably not over 55, not even as old as her own father, and when she considered what job he could do she knew no one would hire him. If men who looked after themselves like her father couldn’t find work, this old guy was off the radar.

She had worried about what he was up to. At any moment he would stagger into the busy street. She wanted to ask if he needed help but as she moved forward, the gaunt figure swung around towards her and she recoiled. She had better leave him alone, other people were watching: a couple across the street turned away, a young woman pulled her curious toddler out of his path.

Then, a few days later the derelict crept further into her life. She had ducked into the bakery near her office to buy an apple turnover for coffee break, an indulgence against the rain that shrouded the city. The girls at work would ask if she’d given up her diet, which she had not, but after all it was only one day, only one treat. As she waited to be served she spied him, a shadow in the brightly lit, white shop. He was hovering in front of the glass display, supported by an older guy — obviously neither a shop worker nor a friend — who urged the ragged man to choose something. Allison watched as the shop clerk filled a brown bag with buns and cookies for another customer. When the well-dressed man indicated they were still not ready to order, Allison reluctantly made her purchase and left satisfied the poor guy would have something to eat that day. Later sitting in her office, hot coffee in hand, the image of the old man drifting the streets without socks scratched her mind.

But then, it was not long since she had stood outside. Not in rags, of course, but almost penniless. Thinking only to escape her parent’s small town fate, she had thought nothing of the cost of living on her own in Vancouver. The family had cheerfully waved her goodbye, her face still grinning as the bus rumbled towards the city. But when she arrived hours later tired and hungry, she moved off the bus reluctantly, feeling abandoned in the dirty terminal.

Uncertain where to look for a room, she lugged her huge battered suitcase along the unfamiliar streets, searching for a welcome. At last she found a third floor room where she existed at the whim of a sour faced landlord, fearing eviction if she made a noise. A worn sign tacked to the paint pealed wall on the first floor landing instructed, “No visitors after 10. One bath a week.”

And then the task of finding work. Always arriving too late, looking disheveled and confused while other applicants appeared confident and happy. The whispered conversations in waiting rooms with other girls, and older women some with desperate smiles, some who had been looking much longer than she had. Her Mother scribbled her anxious letters advising her to give up and come home, but Allison held off for one more week, living on noodles, and one more week. And then finally she had landed a job.

The relief, the joy, was overwhelming. What gratitude she had felt towards the woman who told her the news, the man who showed her to her desk, her new boss. And best of all when she settled down in relief was to know that she would be helping people; working for the government health services. She, of course, would just be typing and filing but the office where she worked helped needy people. People like her father who perhaps she should have stayed with, should have supported more.

Not much money when you added up the cost of a room and food and clothing and the bus, but a start. If she were careful with her money, she’d have enough to send some home. Sometimes she could even treat herself to a coffee and donut at Tim Horton’s.

That had been the worst thing about those first weeks. Walking the streets in the rain, her wet feet aching, glancing longingly in restaurant windows, watching the women drink coffee, and carelessly ordering what they liked. How she envied them. She had longed to go inside, to the warmth, to order a coke and fries. But of course she didn’t. An extra treat could mean having to give up her search one day earlier. Having to go home and live off her family.

Watching the little man — later they always labeled him “Lurchy man” — from across the street as he lingered outside the restaurants her chest ached, for him and for all she had hoped for when she came to Vancouver. True on a sunny day with money in your purse the city was as beautiful as in the brochures. But on rainy nights, the damp creeping up the stairs, family far away, the dread of lay-offs and unpaid bills chilled the dream. After she sent some money home to her folks, she never had enough left to stop worrying.

So why had she added the dirty street man to her worries? If they knew at the office what she had done, how she had drawn him in, they’d blame her for everything. It was just that she couldn’t avoid him. She felt him behind her stumbling along searching the ground. What if he found some money? That would make him happy. Even a quarter would help; a couple of loonies and he could buy a cup of coffee. Then one morning shivering with the damp as she moved ahead of the ghostly figure, Allison had surreptitiously dropped a few coins near the wall. Later when she left for home the money was gone. She was glad; she had done something.

But then he came inside the building. She caught him in the hall. Terrified by his sudden emergence from around a gloomy corner Allison stumbled up the stairs and blurted out her fears to the receptionist. “Creepy isn’t he,” the girl said. Other staff had already complained; Allison’s response brought action.

The next day a meeting was called to discuss “potentially aggressive drop-ins.” Everybody was to attend. Not that anyone thought the distorted little man was a threat but his presence inside the building caused unease. “Better to prevent an incident,” Allison’s boss commented.

Allison was relieved there was to be a meeting. Something had to be done for the old guy; maybe he’d come into their building for help.

The meeting room was so crowded some people had to stand by the wall; even the clerical staff had been invited. The social worker, who reminded Allison of a sitcom star whose name she couldn’t recall, introduced himself and suggested everyone else do the same. The room buzzed warm and friendly. Staff members joked about seeing one another in the hall or commented they hadn’t gotten together since the Christmas party. After the introductions the social worker who insisted she call him “Ted” explained about drop-outs and distributed a faded photocopy of rules on how to deal with aggressive clients. The manager, a woman from the third floor, explained with a smile that the funny little fellow who had staked out their street had probably found the building warm and decided to camp out for the winter. The staff shuffled their annoyance. “He can’t stay here,” they rightly insisted.

A solution had been found. Staff would record the man’s appearance and if he kept returning the police would be notified.

“What will they do with him?” someone asked, curious.

“Just see he moves on, doesn’t come back in here.”

Allison wondered where he was to move on to. She wasn’t expected to ask questions she knew but she blurted, “Can’t we find him a place to go?”

The faces turned to her. The social worker smiled kindly.

“He’s not one of ours,” the man explained. “Sometimes they just like to get attention, to get noticed. If he asks for something we can provide — a glass of water, information, give it to him, but otherwise move him to the door.”

“But he has no place to sleep,” Allison cried recklessly.

“We do what we can but some people fall through the cracks.”

Allison knew the expression. She pictured a sieve teeming with wiggling people, like in the old coloured pictures of Hell in her Sunday school class. The sinners writhing and contorting as deformed devils prodded at them with spears. So this was how it happened nowadays.

A notebook for logging the man’s appearance “Or any other strangers loitering around” was passed like a chalice around the table. The murmurs in the room shimmered like bees in a hot field.

Allison wondered if her uncle Fred would fall through the cracks. He’d been out of work for two years—longer even than her dad. He didn’t bother to look anymore. Sometimes he hadn’t even shaved when she dropped by in the afternoon. But no, she wouldn’t let that happen. She’d send more money home, look after him. Someone else would have to worry about the old street guy.

Sitting amidst the comfortable buzz of the staff, joking, talking now about fire safety, a huge ball caught in Allison’s throat. Moving hot like lava through her body, it crushed her ribs, and burnt into her stomach.

“What’s the matter, Allison?” someone asked impatiently.

The desperate girl squeezed out a smile, mumbled an excuse, and hurried out the door to the washroom. Stumbling into the cubicle, Allison banged the door closed, and collapsed onto the seat squeezing her gawky body tight as a bud to suffocate the sound.

©2021 Melodie Corrigall
All rights reserved

Cold House: Root Cellar | J. D. Hurley

“Get out of the rubbish.”

She pulled the rope. The coon hound ignored her. She pulled and walked forward, using her weight to pull the dog, ninety pounds against forty. She won, and the blue tic shoulders, black ears, and brown muzzle shot forward to the next oasis of dented cans and ill-fitting lids anchored with dusty bricks, with twine-tied square paper bundles, with creek-smoothed rocks. It was rubbish day. In the pre-dawn, the dog pulled and she pulled back, making jerky progress in the dim alley.

Day old bread. That’s what she’d feed it. Use what she earned Saturday mornings, vacuuming dead skin from faded carpets for the old invalid lady next door. That would buy thirty loaves at ten cents a loaf. Enough for a small horse. A small horse could live in the garage. And it wouldn’t make much noise. The rusty two door left plenty of room, only took up half, less than half even. She’d move the bicycles. Bikes could go in the cellar. Or under a carport. Nobody would mind. The horse would be so warm. And soft. 

She saw steam rising from the underbrush the dog had burrowed into. Good. Business accomplished. Pivoting, she pulled. The dog pulled back, she pulled harder, the rope loop tightened. The dog choked, making horrible gasping noises, but would not budge. She took a step, changing the angle of the rope and put her body into it. She and the dog moved in the direction of home.

Hay and manure. She could handle that. She was strong. The flat edged shovel would be perfect for manure. And the rake —not the spring rake, the Fall leaf rake with the wide strong teeth—would be for hay. And a brush for the horse itself. The one she used for her wool school uniform ought to work. Horse hair must be like sheep hair. More or less.

A nervous squirrel darted across the alley and the dog lunged madly. She fell as the rope wrapped round her forearm tightened, burned and bruised. Her knee showed red craters, with a centerpiece of gravel like peppercorns in her pale cold skin. She brushed the gravel off, keeping her sleeve out of the beads of blood.

Warmed by a surge of relief that her grip on the rope had held, that she was spared having to chase the hound, she gathered and looped the rope around her shoulder and changed her grip. A glance at her forearm. A scarlet welt was rising. She pulled her sleeve down. Two steps toward home, the choking hound resisted heavily, now pulling up, eyes bulging, drooling, focused on the chittering high in the bare tree branches.

It will need a blanket. The thought, the enormity of the requirement, stopped her. Then she remembered the Presbyterian rummage sale. Before Thanksgiving. The last hour of the sale, it was fifty cents a bag. Each of them got a bag to fill, if five dollars could be scraped up. If you stuffed it really full, you might get enough clothes for the year ahead. Presbyterians clothes always seemed new. Clean, folded, some with dry cleaning tags. But it was smart to be thorough. Check the zippers. The buttons. Look for stains. Smell the armpits. Check the crotch. Hold it up, check the sleeve length, the torso width, the leg length. Choose carefully. Prudently. 

A blanket, a warm blanket, would fill an entire bag, but it would be worth it. What if there aren’t any blankets?She considered. Maybe six or seven scarves or sweaters pinned together would work. The Presbyterians sent whatever didn’t sell at the rummage sale off to their mission in Africa. She’d seen the neatly labeled boxes, clear block letters, wrought by a thick, indelible marker pen. Did they need sweaters in Africa? She shivered.

The dog walked in front now. It and she turned right into the yard, passing between the garage and the fence, staying dead center on the frozen dirt path, avoiding flecks of chipping paint on either side.

She opened the side door, went down four wooden steps into the cellar. The smell of wet wool hung thick as the rows of mittens and socks strung on sagging lines. The dog stood quivering while she took off the rope, then it sped upstairs, nails clicking on the kitchen linoleum, heading to a spot hugging the radiator, the only warm place in the house till next Spring.

Shoes left on newspaper spread to catch the alley filth, she went upstairs in stocking feet. Breakfast in bowls round the packed kitchen table. She squeezed in at the end of the bench, said grace quietly, crossed herself and picked up a spoon.

“What happened to your knee?” Hissed into her right ear. Nothing, her faint elbow jab said.

“It would live in the garage,” she said to him, knowing it was not a good time.

Unshaven, smelling of stale nicotine and night sweat, he did not sit at the table. He wasn’t eating. Coffee, black two sugars.

“I have it all figured. Food and all. I can pay for the bread. Day old. Ten cents a loaf.”

Spoons scraped the bowl bottoms. Hurried grace …and may the souls of the faithfully departed Rest in peace. Amen. Dishes clattered into the kitchen sink. From the bathroom a tangle of splashy wet tooth brushing sounds. But not her. Not yet.

“The garage is big enough.”  Her spoon was down.

“Can’t.” He shook his head as if it might fall off, as if his neck were almost cut through.  “Zoning.” 

Her breath stopped. It felt like another name read from the altar. The Italians from Saint Clare’s, the Irish from Saint James’, the Poles from Saint Mary’s—every Sunday, week after week, all reading names of the lost, the missing, the taken. She put her bowl and spoon in the sink, pulled her knee sock up over the dried blood.

Over her shoulder she saw him reach down and stroke the hound.

©2021 J. D. Hurley
All rights reserved

Losing Battles, Lighting Candles | T. L. Sherwood

Admitting defeat and saying yes, I need help to feed my children wasn’t hard enough. There were forms to fill out which needed to be taken to an office located inside an intimidating building. The ribald man I asked for directions pointed the wrong way – possibly on purpose. Following a narrow hallway, I pushed open a door and found myself in the parking lot. I gazed around, looking for some back entrance. The potent heat and stench from the blacktop overwhelmed me; my grip on the handle loosened. I had to walk all the way around to reenter through the front, to be rescreened, requestioned, and once more have the wand waved over me because of the pins in my leg.  

My shift at the Waffle House started in an hour. I considered giving up, trying a different day, but the hunger tears running down the pale brown skin of Isabel and Miquel’s cheeks that morning guided me. I had to try. Meinko wasn’t supposed to work that day, could have taken her entire lunch hour; retired three years ago. Instead, she waved me in and asked, “How can I help?”

Relieved at finding someone to listen, I blubbered like a frat boy caught trying to dine and ditch. Once she calmed me, I explained how I’d been waiting on my husband’s return, then any word from him. How I accepted the obvious truth, that he’d been disappeared. Meinko’s voice was a comfort though her questions were probing. She typed until her computer said I qualified for SNAP, HEAP, and other assistance. I looked at the clock; I’d make it to work on time. 

My gratitude was effusive. 

“Come to my house,” she said, handing me a bus schedule with an address on the back. As if reading my mind, she opened her desk drawer and slid me a twenty. “Bring your babies.”

The dust was finer, lighter on her farm than the soot of the city. Cara, her daughter, watched my angels while Meinko and I walked the perimeter of her fields. She’d fought the state to keep a bypass from being built. She’d lobbied for thick trees to be planted as a buffer between her property and the Monsanto killing chemicals her neighbors insisted on using. “A strong back,” she said, tapping my spine. “A good vocabulary and belief in a just God. You’ll need those to make it here.” I clung to those words as I rose up, vertebrae by vertebrae — not just for myself, but for my children. 

She and I visited often, shared nourishment from her vegetables, apples, blueberry bushes she covered in netting so fine it resembled a spider’s vast web. I learned to tend tomatoes on the square of patio of our apartment, studied the definitions included on the word-a-day calendar she presented to me for one Christmas. She corrected my occasional misuse and misunderstanding of a cultural reference I’d heard. Meinko encouraged me to take the free classes whenever I could, for both knowledge and making connections.    

Like the snake oil preachers before them, natural gas drillers infiltrated our tiny corner of a large state. Greed took over most of her neighbors and they succumbed to deals saner men would balk at. Meinko was the lone holdout. Her place was surrounded by vacated homes. She still said no.

The day they started to drill, she and I held hands, watched the rough boys with tanned necks and red forearms burrow under the earth’s skin. A foreman walked up, said there was nothing to fear. We all felt the shivers under our feet.

Cara came to my apartment a week later, her face as pale as the icing I swirled onto cupcakes at my new job.

“What happened?” I drew in my breath. It took her a long time to say. 

Meinko had gotten up to get a drink. The faucet screamed. The well casing had cracked. On tap was gassy oil. It was too much.

“There’s only so many battles — ” Cara cupped her hands over her face. 

I hugged her close and something aural occurred, but in my heart. It was my turn. I needed to take up Meinko’s fight. Spread my knowledge. Petition. Pray a different disaster might be prevented. 

©2021 T. L. Sherwood
All rights reserved

Imperfect Willow Why — Darrell Petska

Imperfect Tense

Peace is an action word.

The yogi lying in savasana,
the meditater, the worshiper,
the nature lover know quietude,
but theirs is imperfect peace.

In our world of countries
saddled with bitterness and hate,
imperfect peace is the best
peaceable countries can know.

Peace is an action word
calming others’ fears,
seeking solutions to strife,
furthering the common good.

Only by peacing together
our one human family
can we finally say
peace nears, peace is at hand.

Like the Willow

What must be done
when venomous discord
coils about the branches
of one’s family tree?

Little help perjuring belief,
insisting it’s merely wind’s hiss
or leafy innuendos we hear,
not contention’s noxious voice.

And what good pruning limbs?
Discord’s poison planted,
all limbs are stricken:
the whole tree suffers.

Look to love, most patient love,
that chemistry of shared blood,
to reclaim lost harmonies,
grant the tree its growth—

Like the willow, family is resilient:
its members may toss and weep,
assailed by stormy weather,
yet love’s roots will to prevail.

Why Had We Fought?

My enemy and I, grappling among weeds, failed to see a pit into which we plunged. Hurting from our fall, we kept to opposite sides in that dark, dank hole, glaring hatefully at each other. Overhead, the surface loomed beyond our combined height. Beside us lay the remains of a deer that must have crashed through the pit’s flimsy cover rotting in pieces about us. Our breaths returning, we called out. No one answered. Our only hope rested with each other.
The pit likely had served as an ancient cistern. Eroded bricks jutted from its sides. Seeing the task before us, we began sullenly to fashion a platform from which one of us might loft the other skyward. Unspoken went the question: who would be lofted? We worked with distrust, checking our anger.

As the first day passed into the second, and our bodies weakened from lack of food or water, we began guardedly to speak—first, how best to bolster our crude platform, then about our families. Time and our waning strength worked against us as we clawed bricks from the cistern wall and mounded them with dirt to increase our platform’s height. Even in the night’s darkness, we worked by feel, our bodies bumping against each other as we furthered our plan.
On the third day we made our attempt. The question weighed heavily between us: who first would rise toward freedom? We sat quietly, staring in the gloom at each other. Finally, we drew a circle in the dirt. My enemy’s pebble landed closest to the center. I would do the lifting. He vowed to return.

I knelt on our makeshift platform, and he climbed atop my shoulders. Slowly I struggled to standing, raising him up. Though I couldn’t see his progress, I heard him straining to reach a handhold, felt his weight slowly lift from my shoulders—and I knew he’d gone over the top.
I waited, fearing I’d been left to die. Would I have returned? But at last a knotted rope trailed down to me—he’d kept his word

Once we stood together at the surface, we peered down into the prison from which we’d raised each other. We shook hands, our eyes meeting. Why had we fought? Parting without rancor, we returned to our families, never to fight again.

©2021 Darrell Petska
All rights reserved

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Letter to God — Mbizo Chirasha

Somewhere beside Zvagona hills, near Zvamapere ‘kopje of hyenas’, adjacent to the foothills of Dayataya mountain lies bones and spirits of my great grandfathers and their descendants. I loved this land. Every rain season, Zvagona hills were village brides fitted in green dresses and floral doek’s over their heads. Their lush skin shimmered blue from a distance in the hazy of December sun. Usually, autumn arrived with god’s gifts of multi- colored costumes of blooming flowers, their petals nodding erotically to the hesitant sun, the sun winked back secretly to the smiling flowers. Bees and cicadas haunting them like delinquent boys to village damsel’s. This time, the earth becomes a beautiful princess scented with natural perfume and clad in floral gowns of pink, yellow, white, peach and ox blood red.

June is a vicious dog, it brought howling winds and winter’s canines grazed deep into our lives. The earth is undressed into utter nudity. Elephant grass saluted to the passing wind like grandfathers surrendering life. Our hills spotted jailbird’s bald shave as they nodded to the winter’s sirens: whirlwind and dust ripples. Forests stood shell shocked in their torn overalls. Flowers are tightlipped, their cousins rot into extinction waiting for rain when the earth is born again. The cold bruised sun is a patch on the undergarments of grey horizons. This time, the moon is a hesitant bride. It is winter and nights are ink black and unfriendly. Hyenas wail in pain of winter’s bite, regular face- booking of monkeys is on hold. Cicadas are silent like birds. Sometimes hills wept to each other under the veil of mist and the shivering moon lulled our somber souls into sleep until the next morning. When morning comes, the baldheaded hills are ready for a fight, standing proud in anticipation of sunshine or rain, alas the biting winds persisted and the hills are resilient too and similar to the undying spirits of peasants eking out life from tracks of hard red earth on the fringes of Zvagona hills. At night hills were draped in robes of white mist and towards dawn, they fit onto skirts of grey and top gear of blue. We were told ancestors walked alongside the mist at nights and in mornings they would go into deep sleep. The mystery of Zvagona hills, hills of home. During that season, we stacked loads of firewood for warmth, cooking meals and brewing traditional beer. We lived off the forests.

When Gods are angry, the earth is clad in rags like an imbecile. It wears a black torn monkey hat over itself like a pick pocketter. The air is taunt with foul smell of decaying lives. Baboon’s sermons are placed in God’s wardrobe. Our creased faces told sorry tales of poverty and hunger gnawing the pits of our bellies.

When the red glow of heat persisted like in hell. Silence and barrenness are weaved together onto red earth. While rivers become white washed skeletons of dry sand. Elders spoke in tongues to the wind, we lost their words in the pleats of their elderly language. After some days they traverse to the end of the earth to supplicate Zame, the spirit of rain. Njelele, Zame’s disciple would direct them to Nyami Nyami, the goddess of water. They are told to wash their feet and dance to Gods. They were punished for replacing forests with concrete jungles. Birds and spirits of the land were now vagabonds. They are told the earth is simmering in abomination and Gods are angry and choked with carbon laced fumes. They are warned of the coming of devil’s triplets: hunger, heat waves and cyclones. They paid their ornaments, applauded the gods and returned to their hovels underneath the fringes of Zvagona hills.

Later, when heavens get overexcited. Gods washed our sins with tears of their joy, rains washed and blessed our land. The earth is born again and is dressed to kill in its usual green gowns and floral doek’s. We danced to the clap of thunder and camera flashes of lightening winked at us. Our poverty marinated, yellow maize teeth grinned to sudden glows of lightening. Sometimes lightening jolts sank our tender hearts into our rib -boxes. Zvagona hills also gyrated under the grip of thunder. We danced still for the blessing of rain and rebirth. Our planting fields were patches of alluvial earth between the hems of the hills and the banks of Mamvuramachena “river of white waters”. Sooner pumpkins bred like rabbits, veldts wore a silver cap of water and new dark green military combat of sprouting elephant grass. Smells of fresh dung and the scent of fresh udder milk were our morning brew. The new grass fattened our cows, their oily skins shimmered under God’s obedient sun.

Our mothers traversed from hill to hill harvesting mushroom, nhedzi, zvihombiro, nzeveyambuya nezhouchuru ‘names of different kind of mushrooms’. Wild mushroom is an African delicacy, a delicacy that raised us from mucus drooling kindergartens into goat bearded grown-ups. Wild fruits of maroro, nhengeni and nhunguru were showered to us by the excited Gods. Bushes became our second homes. We dried fruits and mushroom for the future with the aid of our loving grandmothers. We salivated to the rich fart of roasting meat and baking bread emitted from kitchen huts. Grass beautifies the earth as food beautifies lives. We enjoyed to see our goats getting fat. Bush honey was abundant. We fought successful battles with ferocious red bees for the mouthwatering delicacy, dendende sweet red honey. We accompanied the red honey hunt with a song

Sunga musoro wedendende
Sunga wakanaka dendedende
Sunga musoro wededende,  
Sunga wakanaka dendende
Sunga wakanaka dendende
Sunga wakanaka dendende

 The rhythm had returned.

 When cockerels announced the new days, eastern hills were beautifully capped with the glow of orange hats from the sparkling sunrays. Baboons cuddled each other in the wake of dawn romance. Rock rabbits jived to the acoustics of cicada tunes and to the discord of village sounds. Mother monkeys rebuked their babies from over eating. Down the stream, fish and toads bathed in smoking falls of fresh water. They are home again. Shezu ‘honey bird’ spoiled the festival by singing a warning hymn, maybe for another drought to come or death of a reputable person. Nights are stitched with thread of hyena’s laughter’s and the syntactic hymns of owls.

Our elders sang in contented choruses, nhaka inhara meaning ‘the year is blessed with rains’.

We sang to the silver white moon that was fresh from God’s mouth as it sat on its throne, over the fontanels of Zvagona hills, Mwedzi wagara ndira uyo tigo tigo ndira –and later with time the moon was ripe to go we bade her farewell mwedzi waora ndira tigo tigo ndira.

Now many years had passed since I left for the city, two decades away from years of dance and abundance. The land is now a wretched vagabond. I am sitting underneath the ragged skirts of mystery hills, pondering if my great ancestor’s bones and spirits are still lying here. I see the luxury of rotating seasons is long lost in the abrupt silence of this land. The tenor of birdsongs and baritones of baboons on the mountain zenith is no more. Birds and baboons are long gone, maybe to blessed climes. The joyous scream of hyenas and jackals at dawns was cut short. The joy of reeds dancing to the soprano of mighty streams was remote silenced. A deadly silence.

The sun’s heat is menacing as if tongs of red hot charcoal are floating in the air. The heavens are rude and clear blue. Waves of heat turned the earth into a baking oven. Fields are chunks of dried and burnt bread. Trees are strips of roasted biltong. Cyclones passed through and carried away my ancestor’s bones to faraway seas. Skeletal dunes of sand replaced our mighty Mamvuramachena ‘river of white waters’

Hills are bald headed and wearing a herpes zoster belt around their bellies. They are sweating under the grip of heat caused eczema. I suppose we are cursed. Nyami nyami once warned of hunger, cyclones and heat waves, the menacing triplets.

 Behold my earth is naked.

Dear beloved God are we cursed?

JJ Stick
©2021 All Rights Reserved

©2021 Mbizo Chirasha
All rights reserved

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Pilgrims of Zame — Mbizo Chirasha

Hybrid African-Spiritual-Cultural Narrative

A harsh heave of shrine incense combined with the stink of ancient snuff and herbal concoctions choked our lungs. The smell was new and strange. The evening was pleated with defiant black shadows and mismatched silhouettes of small hills. Everything was stitched together by instructive spiritual incantations and strange guttural bellows. Angels warmed drums on live embers. Mediums roared in synchronized incantations—

Heyi hii hoo
Heyi hii hoo
Heyi hii hoo

They unstoppably shook their heads and trembled their shoulders from one trance into another. Dust swirls aroused from their dances carried our blessings. The mist that shrouded the grey hills carried the anointing of the land. They guzzled the millet brew in their order of seniority. Worshippers had brought large pots of millet beer from our villages. The ceremonial beer was brewed and brought to the shrine gallery by pre-pubescent and post-menopausal women. That was to ensure that the shrine’s sacredness is maintained.

Matonjeni hills were shrouded in silence and draped in long gowns of grey mist at dawn. During evenings, hills were hugged by apostolic like plain white robes of mist again. Zame is known of bone chilling spits of drizzle year in and year out. We arrived before shadows fully quilted the earth. We didn’t bring modern utensils and blankets into the hills. We walked with our barefoot. Men sat on leopard skin mats and women sat on sheepskin.

Drapes of mist grew the hills into a shrine of black shadows. The moon set like a silver arc over the rim of the mystic Malindidzimu “the seat of gods”. It was gorgeous. It winked to us behind a veil of fluffy, white and smoky drizzling clouds. Soft rains caressed our day long sun-drained skins.

Malindidzimu is the zenith of Zame, the place where gods sit to watch the earth underneath them. When night is ripe the silver moon winks to the gods to take rest. Mermaids are said to wash gods’s feet in Mavulamachena, the gorge of white waters situated at the fontanel of Malindidzimu. The waters are ever silver moon white. The mist rises from Mavulamachena “white waters” to dress the sacred mountains with white skirts and grey doeks towards dawn. When the world is trapped in the web of sleep, gods are said to float along with mist draping’s to meet with their earthly ambassadors. The mystery of Matonjeni, shrine of gods.

 The Matonjeni gallery sits somewhere on a mountain range that runs from east to west. The shrine entrances wind up and down among overhung granite boulders into the gallery. We washed our feet upon entering the shrine to do away with dust and bad omen. Every visitor was blessed with portion of ancient snuff before entering the shrine. The scent of snuff was strange. I sneezed and drooled like a wild pig. That was the same with my fellow congregants. The snuff was strong. After the ritual, eunuchs and nuns led us into the shrine. The shrine is an art gallery with a unique spiritual presence. Gallery walls were beautifully decorated with red and black clay earth extracted from the nearby termite mounds, the lush and green combat that dressed the anthills added ambiance to this astounding earthly but spiritual wonderment. A plethora of ornaments that included animal horns, bone-made trinkets, grass-made beads and ancient-spears made up the Matonjeni gallery collection. The exhibition was diligently curated. The gallery walls were stripped with white, red, black clay patterns. After our maiden tour, we then supplicated to God with a thunderous chorus of applause and heart-rending, mountain-cave echoing, ululations. We thanked gods and spirits for guiding us from evil during our long day journey to the holy land.

The Hallowed eunuch of the shrine, Nyamasviswa with his band of Matonjeni disciples welcomed us with that verve of spiritual merriment. The dignifying gesture uplifted our sun burnt, day long trip tired souls. We brought large pots frothing with millet beer. It was abundant, plenty more than what other clansmen had brought. The traditional millet brew smelt like freshly baked bread. Mediums salivated with that greedily gusto, waiting impatiently to feast from the mouth—watering pots frothing the ancient delicacy. It was intelligently brewed by earth scratching, peasantry lifestyle hardened hands, thus combined with the verve of ancestral wisdom passed from one matriarchal epoch to more and more other matriarchal generations. The welcoming merriment was remote-paused by a blood-splashing hymn, divinely echoed from a swarm of beautiful nuns as it passionately coiled into our groping hearts. We got spiritually connected to the land that carried the bones, breath and promise of our fathers. The wild dove-hen crowing like alto voices pleated our static black silhouettes, the tinkering tenor of throbbing drums, discordant snores of sleeping waters and the vibe of human mass together onto the hems of mystic hills—

Dzinomwa kuna runde
Mhondoro dzinomwa a a
Dzinomwa kunaSave
Mhondoro Dzinomwa…a…a a a
Dzinomwa kuna rundee
Mhondoro dzinomwa AAA

The shrine suddenly slid into an abrupt frenzy of traditional dance-songs and a poetic trance of ancestral praise. The scantily dressed nuns danced until their slim frames soaked in sweat. Their rotund figures were clad in different regalia made of goatskin, leopard and lion skins and other beautifying paraphernalia. They received their costumes in accordance with their levels of seniority and nature of duties. These maidservants were all beautiful but well trained to charge their duties with due diligence and requisite zeal. It was like they were born from one big womb, we found it difficult to distinguish them, and they looked alike as black-eyed peas and they carried themselves with that high calibre of moral consciousness and hyperbolised dignity. Their body frames were a real fulfilment of god’s unmatched creativity. Their breasts were taunt and straight like porcupine quills ready to spike, as they quivered like turgid, fresh ripe mangoes ready to fall from their mother tree. Our untamed hearts skipped to suffocate us, the amazing beauty that blinded both brave hunters and seasoned dancers among other revellers. Male congregants had to tame their manhood because the temptations were extreme, beyond human reasoning and above sexual-emotional control. We uncontrollably salivated at the rawness of that unspoilt human dignity. The wonder-angels were all virgins, they had under gone a traditional initiation including sacrificial oaths to be maid servants of the holy land. That, they would never become wives, mothers or indulge into any intercourse of sexual nature until the time of their demise. They carried their chores with profound zeal and well calculated precision. Their service varied according to age, clan of origin, talent, teachings, practice and seniority.

The appearance of Dungwiza, the rainmaking medium interrupted the current mood. His elephantine frame was draped in an unusual all black apparel. The baritone gifted man boasted of his gigantic frame and ever darting eyes that never blinked to anything. A sign of bravery. He waved and yawned thrice, the drumming, the chanting and dancing stopped abruptly. The night was still young. Dungwiza was the leader of main rituals including rainmaking occasions at Matonjeni. The gallery slid into an abrupt silence like at graveyard. Dungwiza made a rushed stride towards the epicenter of the shrine. Maidservants ululated like cooing doves praise and worshipping the last rays of setting sun.

Dungwiza blew three full finger pinches of ancient snuff and then wiped black snort with the back of his aged and weather-toughened hands. The rustling sound of stubborn winds was drowned by the beat of his poetic incantations—

Imwi mhondoro dzenyika
Varidzi vepasi nemuronga wenyu
Ndauya kuzosuma pwere dzenyu
Nyika yapinda munzamusha
Musha waparara nehosha
Musha wovava segavaka
Pasi ronhuwhwa segutukutu
Vana vayaura, pasi raoma roda veta
Vana vofa nenyota vodzungaira
Dzorai moyo, musasunga moyo
Nyika yoda donhodzo vana vagute
Vanayaura, vafamba mitunhu kuzochema kwamuri
Mukai muone misodzi yavo netarisiro.
Vana vasingachemi vanofira mumbereko

The spirited supplications were punctuated by yawns, bellows and sneezing from shrine disciples and other mediums. Plumes of burning incense and whiffs of black snuff conquered the shrine the scent was both suffocating and beautiful. The rainmaking prayer was capped by an electric echo of ululations from the band of Matonjeni nuns. The shrine was lit with spiritual blaze and human rhythm. Dungwiza tossed his Muhacha rod upwards. He ordered drummers to beat the Shangana neShumba drum. Drums were cracked and their throb vibrated the land. The tense rhythm beat, unmatched. Behold the land was holy.

Suddenly, spats of drizzle grew fat, heavens opened their floodgates, and heavy rain soaked the earth. Drums tinkered still. The night was now aging and was clad in a dark grey gown preparing to surrender Matonjeni shrine to the angels of dawn. Dawn proudly winked its twilight for the elephants to rise from slumber and take an early morning bath, Nguva dzamashambanzou. Mediums sneezed from one trance to another. We chanted still, we sang still and danced still. The rhythm of our dance and song traversed to the lands faraway and reached onto the holy ears of gods.

The eastern hills wore an orange monkey hat and ochre—red blood robe, wiping off mist from the rain—thickened eyelids of our hills. We were served with food, goat meat stew alongside stiff millet porridge sadza remapfunde. We washed down the delicacies with calabashes filled with traditional mhunga brew both alcoholic (mhamba) and non-alcoholic (maheu) beverages. We ate until our bellies stretched; we couldn’t afford a fart or a belch. It was difficult. Dungwiza jumped from his sitting position and an unexpected lightening jolt sparked the semi-dark gallery. It was followed by another unusual lightening wink and a thunderclap. The gallery trembled as if the caves were falling apart. The rainmaker ordered us to be silent and to be stationery.

The gods of this land have heard our concerns; our tears have wetted the mats of heaven. The gods are confirming their and concern and their presence, Dungwiza boasted with his big eyes fixed onto the gallery entrance.

A solitary baboon barked from a distance, a ferocious roar of a lioness ensued, it shook the granite boulders of the shrine and then a strong jolt of lightening blazed again like tongs of fire. There was a deathly silence. We could only hear calculated farts, faint whispers, sighs of awe and feeble breaths from a battalion of congregants packed like sardines against gallery walls. The shrine was seized by the discord of fear.

A frail, thin and uncombed young woman limped lackadaisically into the quiet gallery. Dungwiza, Nyamasviswa, shrine desciples and nuns rose in salutation to the unexpected guest amid fish eagle like—cackling ululations, praise incantations and bellows. A song was pod-cracked from amongst the disciples

It was again a familiar song but many of us were still in utter shock—

Tovela, mudzimu dzoka
Ha heyihe mudzimu dzoka
Aee yiye Mudzimu dzoka
Vana Vanogwara mudzimu dzoka
Kwaziwai Tovela

It was a song to welcome the spirits of the land.

The frail woman spirit shook her head unstoppably, belched and sneezed incessantly. Her fumbling’s were stitched together by continuous handclapping and song from the shrine disciples. She hung her dreadlocked head languidly twice or thrice and then fumbled for an apparel to cover her beautiful bosom. She sneezed hetsu hits hetsu uncontrollably. She roared again like a lioness chasing after a prey. It was an ear-shattering roar. A ferocious roar.

She began to speak in a frightening baritone-laced voice. She spoke deep kalanga tongues—

Ndini Tovela
Mutumwa wedenga nepasi
Ndatumwa naMurenga
Muridzi wapasi nedenga
Matama enyu asvika munzeve dzedenga
Ndauya nemisodzi yedenga
Muchamwa mvura, mucharima, muchaguta
Murenga vanotenda nezvipo zvamauya nazvo.

The frail woman spirit was Tovela, the supreme messenger of gods. She was ordained to become supreme when she was still a fetus in her mother’s womb. She is the princess of Matonjeni of the patriarch of Murenga. She had brought the message of rain, healing of the land and good life for pilgrims. Tovela Kalanga was the remaining lioness of the land. Her service was dipped in sanctity, honesty, dignity and spirituality. A pot of frothing millet beer was offered to her as a gift, she guzzled the beer and blew a wide smile into the awed but obedient congregation. A sign of merriment. We chuckled with the relief that our supplications were received.

Drinking, dance and song persisted. Delinquent disciples imbibed until they crawled like skunks. The sun-rose with its old-aged forehead creased with paradox of the rainbow and metaphors of rain. Its rays winked to the fait nightly shadows with a calculated rhythm, tearing apart grey and white gowns of mist off our hills. Fingers of dawn caressed the snore-congested gorges and mist-clad mountains of home. Mourning doves with their melodious hymns deleted owls all-night poetry slam. The nightly rainmaking ritual and Matonjeni vibe were quickly scribbled onto the godly wind slates.

Tovela and Dungwiza disappeared alongside the grey and white veil of the clearing mist. Song and dance continued. Rains persisted. This is the Mystery of Zame, the holy land of rain, ancestral spirits and gods.

©2021 Mbizo Chirasha
All rights reserved

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The View from Here — Howie Good

I’m dusting the indoor plants when the doorbell rings. It’s you, and you’re bleeding from an ear. “What happened to your ear?” I ask. You touch it. Your fingers come away with blood. “Steely Dan on the headphones,” you say. I don’t move, don’t even nod. Now that an estimated 150 species go extinct every day, I try not to rush through my days. And if, as sometimes happens, it feels like everything is speeding up, I’ll lie down on the floor and stare at the ceiling or out the window, my view a small thing but my own.

©2021 Howie Good
All rights reserved

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The Dance — Joseph Hesch

In the conversation we never had, you didn’t say, “Life’s subjective. One person’s joy could trigger another’s despair. Like someone else’s woe could bring another cheer.”

“We’ve lived each,” I would’ve said. “You, often, the latter,” my eyes would blink in code.

But we weren’t really talking about Life (like I said, we weren’t really talking at all), unless you consider just getting out of bed Life. Really about living, opening those eyes, taking that big inhale, letting it go, sometimes with words strung thereto, just to get to the next gulp of existence.

“You know, there was a time I didn’t care if my last exhalation, whether preceded by a sob or a snore, was indeed my last. Go to sleep. Wake not. I wouldn’t have considered that failure. THAT might’ve brought someone solace.” I could’ve revealed.

“That’s what I’m saying,” you didn’t say.

“I wish you would’ve talked to me about it,” I wish I’d said.

“There was no point. I wanted to talk to very few people and you weren’t one of them.”

Ergo, the non-conversation we weren’t having.

“Would you like to come talk now?” I might say.

“No. I’m not going anywhere with you.”

“Yeah (or is it ‘No’), we’ve each made that clear,” I might whisper.

“What didn’t you say?” You’d probably ask.

There was so, so much.

“I’m not going anywhere with you, either,” I’d say.

It’d always been a one-step-toward-and-one-back thing with us, symbiotically going nowhere, needy dance partners with no sense of rhythm.

©2021 Joseph Hesch
All rights reserved

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Fall 2020

September is an extra special month over here at the BeZine. This year, our theme for September is “Social Justice,” in an effort to call awareness to global poverty, homelessness, and inequality. And we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of 100 Thousand Poets for Change (100TPC). The BeZine will hold a virtual 100 Thousand Poets for Change (100TPC) Reading / Music / Art Event on September 26th, 2020 and co-host a live-streaming All Africa Symposium of Poetry Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of 100TPC. In the words of one of the Co-founders for 100TPC—

The need for positive change is greater than ever and we must not let our spirits diminish in the task of speaking up for change.

Michael Rothenberg, 100 Thousand Poets for Change

Below is my humble offering to the movement. Please come share with us and check out some of the others as we dare to make a real difference for those in need.

—Corina Ravenscraft, core team member

Matthew 25:40 by Cameron John Robbins

“And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” ~ Matthew 25:40 KJV Bible

~ Under ~

Homeless Joe, has nowhere
to go. He lives under a bridge;
not a troll, just poor.
(Not in some third-world country, no).
Crazy Jane lives under
a delusion—from voices
of people not here anymore.
(In the land of the free and the home of the brave).
Carmen, a single mother of five,
lives under the stigma
of using food stamps to eat.
(In America, the poor are victimized, you know).
Speed-freak Charlie lives under
the influence of the drugs
which keep him wandering the streets.
(How many poor would that daily latte save?)
All of them, under poverty’s yoke.
Under society’s up-turned nose.
Homeless, hungry and in many ways “broke,”
Do you really think this is the life that they chose?
(How about walking a mile in their…feet?)
What they truly need is understanding,
To help them get back to dignity’s door.
Out from under all the senseless branding,
Back to being visible people once more.
(Please help the less fortunate people you meet!)

C.L.R. © 2015

Photo © 2013 Corina L. Ravenscraft Quote by Ram Dass

100 Thousand Poets for Change—10 Years

In September 2011, Michael Rothenberg and Terri Carrion saw their idea and month of work come to fruition—the first 100 Thousand Poets for Change (100TPC) worldwide poetry events, held on the last Saturday in September. Little could they imagine back then that it would continue and grow for the next ten years!

The organization has over the years focused on three general areas globally: Peace, Sustainability, and Social Justice. Around the world, organizers and groups focus on these issues as they fit in local contexts plus other local issues that require attention to bring about positive change. In 2015, Michael and Terri worked with 100TPC organizers in Italy to put together the first 100TPC World Conference in Salerno, Italy.

100TPC World Conference Banner
100TPC World Conference Banner

Save the Date for this Year!

We will hold our annual online 100TPC at The BeZine again this year, on the “official” date for 100TPC: 26 September, 2020. So, save that date! In addition, we will be co-sponsoring All Africa Poetry Symposium in Celebration of 100 Thousand Poets for Change 10-Year Anniversary at 8 AM US East Coast, early afternoon in the Africa time zones. Read more here (including times in Africa). With this new mix of live-stream poetry, we hope to provide an exciting 100TPC virtual BeZine event. We plan to live-stream in The BeZine Facebook groups and on YouTube…stay tuned for more information.

Saturday, 26 September, 2020!

—Michael Dickel, managing editor

Table of Contents

New BeZine Banner — Corina Ravenscraft

Social Justice

Anti-dystopoem — John Anstie
Hundreds and Thousands — John Anstie
Sisi’s Song — Jessica Bordelon
Two Poems — Kat Brodie — Kat Brodie
Lanterns and Other Poems — Lorraine Caputo
My Country and Other Poems — Mbizo Chirasha
Bigots—poems from Linda Chown — Linda Chown
Self-Analysis by a Moth — Anjum Wasim Dar
Anticipation — Judy DeCroce
The Little Goat — Andrew Grant
OMG — Callista Mark
Breath of Fresh Air — Robert Schoelkopf
Cicadas for Change — poems by Mike Stone — Mike Stone


The 19th Amendment — Surina Venkat

Refugees / Homeless

Snow Dog — John Anstie
Tonight it could be you — John Anstie
Water from the Moon—poems by Mahnaz Badihian — Mahnaz Badihian
Displaced Homeless — Anjum Wasim Dar
Homeless Without — Anjum Wasim Dar
Oh! To Be Homeless… — Anjum Wasim Dar
The Lost Children — poems by Nancy Huxtable Mohr — Nancy Huxtable Mohr
Christopher Woods — Photographs and Words — Christopher Woods

Time of Coronavirus

Corona Dogs and How Noble—poems by Karen Alkalay-Gut — Karen Alkalay-Gut
Alive in the Moment — Naomi Baltuck
Wuhan Meditation 武汉沉思 — Wang Ping