by Rebecca Tompkins

Our Lady has appeared on the back of a road sign near Lakesville. What
better way to reach the
masses! Grottos are unlikely places for crowds these days, since the
advent of indoor plumbing. Anyway, no one believes a solitary prophet.
Those hanging around a grotto must be backwoods hippies or red neck
yahoos. At least on the highway you might get someone who can provide
an intelligent sound bite for CNN.

Someone eye-pleasing with the correct ratio of polite deference and
street savvy to be embraced by the teaming masses. A little better
than most but not so good that they might be viewed as looking down on
others. They would need to possess no secrets, be open but not crass
in the way that so many talkative people are. No saint and no redeemed
sinner, they tend to be too sanctimonious. No drugs in their past, but
maybe a friend or family member with a drug problem. Empathy is good.
Heaven forbid they see a therapist or take some Prozac, there is no
credibility after that kind of weak willed cop out.

She needs kind, faithful, sexy spokesmodels. Barring that She knows it
is better to go for quantity not quality because, as everyone knows you
can please some of the people…. It’s difficult to argue with
volume. Popular opinion rules. But it just isn’t special if everyone
has the vision. It doesn’t seem bestowed on us by the divine. That’s
why She appears on the back of the sign. It is a test to find the true
seekers–only those willing to look back or make a U-turn.

by Martin Bennett

(Kaduna/ Riyadh, 1979-1999)

Funny how an illness that turns urine
To black tea, eyeballs to last year’s eggs,
And the thorax to some beige-veiled basket
Should now bring back pleasant memories:

However far inland, the sanitarium
Creaked like a ship on a smooth wide sea,
Me still somewhat queasy on its upper deck,
Walkway outside echoing nurses’ footsteps.

Like the propeller of a Sopwith Camel
A fan whirred overhead, from tropical heat
Conjuring short-range zephyrs. Hard by,
A Shanks Diplomat with its wooden seat;

Beyond the sun-peeled, half-opened shutters
Bluish-leafed flametrees ablaze by day.
Come nightfall, sweet thick scent of frangipani
Stoking feverish visions of Mata Hari,

Ava Gardner, my dear Marie Ngo Kobla.
And no more classes for weeks, maybe months,
Lesson-bells and time-tables in abeyance -
Prescribed idleness! Lethargy by order!

Then when things got too unadventurous
Or boring, the French patient in the next bed
And his intrepid wife smuggling me away
For an illicit Chinese dinner;

Sneaking back in past the starch-white backs
Of fierce duty nurse, watch-medalled matron -
A myriad different-coloured tablets
Left standing, grim prognosis up-ended.

by Scott C. Holstad

When they sent me out to do my
community service, the first two
places wouldn’t take me.
I was a dangerous criminal.
The third place, a thrift store,
took me, no questions asked.
I thought to myself, great,
sit back and handle a few customers.

they almost broke me. I worked in
the back with people whose names
were Gomez and Garcia and who
could barely understand me. I
unloaded sofas, washing machines,
a cast iron stove for God’s sake.

Nearly broke me.

I looked forward to a cigarette
break with a madman’s glee,
and I was joined by the others,
the cigarette the communal language.
When I finally finished my
community service, they gave
me my paperwork to take back
to court, and on it, they wrote
great worker, thanks,

and I felt more satisfaction out
of that than nearly all of my
poemsies I’ve ever had published.

by Joel Spencer

You stand there with your feet flat planted on cool cement,
Like you’re looking for some kind of key.

The full shift of day-space
The lost hair found,
Stretched between two
Pinched fingers.
We always need to stretch it out,
Its diameter the width of a blink.

A handful of minutes
Scattered beyond re-ordering,
Like so many dice
In some drunk’s memory.

You go, resting your smile
Against me.

by Joy Reid

She comes to the counter
Smiling sweetly, nodding meaningfully.
She holds out the purchase,
Mimes it is broken.
How hard it is to say what she means.
The words won’t come in this foreign speech.

She steps back from the counter,
Her lips disappearing in lines of disapproval.
Another bloody wog with an unreasonable gripe,
Waving her arms about like a wind mill in a cyclone.
How hard it is to suffer their stupidity.
They should be made to learn the right words.

Turning to me, she appeals to my confederacy,
Her eyes an invitation to join in silent ridicule.

Turning to me, she appeals for help,
Her eyes an expressive plea for intervention.

Facing them both,
I consider my allegiance,
Make my decision,
And step to Mum’s side.

by Maryvonne Martin

Alaska, the very core
Of the last untouched frontier.
A wild and snowy land,
Northern lights
Dancing across the sky,
Ponderous polar bears
Shuffling across the ice.

Spectacular landscapes,
Majestic hidden coves.
Scenic wonders of glaciers,
Sliding relentlessly
Into the frigid ocean,
Reaching far below
The wondrous depth of the sea.

Virgin wilderness,
Land of contrasts.
Glaciers and hot springs,
Ice fields and volcanoes,
Barren tundra and old trails,
Trading posts and villages.
Alaska,the apex of my heart.

by Theresa Lapensee

You once told me you only felt
Like yourself,
Pure, real,
When you were making love
As if it’s natural to be
That crazy
And involved

And remember the time
That guy called me a dyke
Because I refused
To talk to him
That one night at the bar
As if it was a surprise I
Wasn’t quivering and
Dripping from
His pick-up lines?

She once lied to her mother
About our summer parties
I was labeled a bad influence
As if it was my fault she was
A disease-seeking tramp
Who used me as a scapegoat

Once reminds me of Cinderella
Stories I used to read
When I wasn’t even old enough to
Reach the bathroom sink
Without a stool

And I’d ask why doesn’t she just
Punch her wicked stepsisters, and
Poison their mother

And what kind of girl forgets her shoe?
And if she had a fairy godmother
What the hell took her
So long?

Fairytales are lost on me
Kind of useless
Like male strippers for
Or chocolate for dogs
And even vegetables for
Cookie Monster

I kind of wish they weren’t

by Robert Loftin

Bring down this night child
Tearing shadows for sheets.
I finger words
Puddled at your feet.

Tear down this night child
And I will bind myself
Across your shoulders
And your hips.

Lie down in this night child
Let go your small sigh.
Sing back my name
And I will unwrap all of this night.

by Toni Barca

Strange, but when I called them for an interview
they asked me to come in dressed for work.
So I wore an indigo teddy trimmed in black lace,
bathed my body in Miss Dior perfume,
and wore tight black jeans and a red silk blouse.

Winter in San Francisco brought high winds and so I threw on my red and tan reversible cape.
I showed up at the office and they laid down the rules.
They got 50% on every deal and you had to call them when you showed up at the gig.
That was for my own protection, they said.
We got a call in within an hour and I was sent out.

I arrived to an old Victorian house. The fog was thick.
I rang the doorbell and a tall college guy answered.
I walked in and was assaulted by the sight of 7 other college guys
all standing around, holding beer bottles, afraid to approach me.

The host explained that this was a bachelor’s party and I was hired to fuck one of their friends in the bedroom. I told the host that I needed to call the office.
He showed me were the phone was.

On the table was a framed picture of the host’s girlfriend, nice WASP blonde staring back at me.
I told them back at the office that there were 7 other guys and they told me to get out,
that I could get gang raped, that it was against their policy to send anyone to a situation with more than one client.
They gave me the address of a posh hotel and a room number and told me to get there ASAP & to call them.

I hung up the phone and told the host that I needed to leave and to please to call me a cab. He was a nice boy, still, one never knows.
He obliged and followed me out into the damp, dark night. I could hear the fog horns as I stood shivering. He tried to coax me back in the house. “We won’t hurt you,” he promised.
“Its just for my friend who is getting married tomorrow. We wanted to get him something special and you sure are special.”
“What’s your name?” he asked “Alexis,” I lied.

He held my hand in his as if we were lovers and all I could think of was:
tall, good looking and well to do with a WASP girlfriend in a picture frame.
I got to the hotel, my red cape flying in the wild wind. The doorman held the door for me.
I wondered, “Does he know? Does he care?”

It was midnight, so the lobby was deserted, and the elevators took me straight up.
I found the room and stood examining the brass numbers on the door, then I knocked.
An average, blond man opened the door. He was Swedish. I told him that I needed to call the office. He sat on the edge of his bed and waited. When I hung up, he asked how much?
He asked if we took American Express Travelers Checks. I said yes.
He paid me.

I went to the bathroom, and buried the checks within the top of my teddy.
I peeled my jeans off and shook out of my blouse, placing everything neatly on a small chair.
I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and just stared at my eyes.

I came out and saw that he was nude beneath the hotel’s snow-white sheets.
I straddled him. I felt the traveler’s checks prick my breast.

I kissed his chest licking the furry hairs, trailing my tongue lower and lower.
“Yes,” he groaned, as I wrapped my mouth around his smallness. He came swiftly.
“God! You professional girls are so good; no one else can make me feel so good.”
The thought ran through my mind that he was my first john.
How strange that he would mistake me for a pro.
I called the office to tell them I was done. They told me to go to another address.
I went home instead. My lover tried to erase the john’s touch, but it was too late.
No amount of lovemaking could erase that night.

“The Escort Service” is copyright © 2000 by Toni Barca. All Rights Reserved.

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