by Alexis Truetle

My mother calls on Wednesdays. Wednesdays because that’s the day she can pencil me in, neatly, across an empty white page of her file-o-fax. When I’m home, we go to lunch on Wednesdays. I always wear something nice and comb my hair, put on the flowery earrings she likes so much. But since I’m 3000 miles away from home, Wednesday afternoon lunches have sort of evolved into complicated phone calls that eerily remind us of lunch dates back at home.

“Hiiii!” she sings into the receiver. My mother has one of those incredibly melodic voices, rich and commanding. My mother wanted to be an Opera singer. I tell her ‘hi’ back, not even bothering to make my voice as lovely as hers. We tried before. It doesn’t work.

“So how is everything?” Everything’s fine.

“Are you having fun?” My mother is convinced everyone on the face of the Earth is having more fun than me. She diagnoses me with depression when she sees me at home, alone, shut off in my room on a Friday night. I don’t think it’s possible for my mother, who reigned as the head cheerleader/ homecoming queen/ valedictorian when she was my age, to understand that being at home on a Friday night, alone is what makes me happy. It must be a hard thing to comprehend in my mother’s head, a Friday night alone. “Are you making friends?” Lots of fun. Lots of friends, Mom.

“I want to hear all about it!” My mother is one of those people who says they want to hear about it and actually means it. I don’t know. What do you want me to tell you, Mom?

“Shit! You’re in New Fucking York! You’ve got to have something exciting to tell me!” My mother has a mouth like a truck driver. It always shocks my friends at first, who then go on to think this is an incredibly cool trait my mother possesses. Like the time in junior high my mother had gotten stuck driving a car load of my 13 year old friends when a nun pulled out in front of my mother’s van, who then took it upon herself to yet out the window, “GOD DAMMIT! WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?” She was a nun! I cringed. My friends laughed the entire car ride. My mother, the confirmed Catholic.

My mother keeps asking me questions. I don’t know what it is, but I’m convinced there is something about the phone, that makes it incredibly easy to tell my mother about my days here. Or maybe it’s not the phone at all. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m 3000 miles away or that it’s been scientifically proven the bad track lighting in this 6×10 dorm room has mind numbing effects. Or maybe there are some things about Wednesdays that make it easier for my mother and I to relate to one another. Either way, I’m suddenly telling my mother more about my life and my plans than I probably care to.

And she listens. And I know she is taking this all in, word for word, storing it like a computer, in that huge incriminating evidence file of her maternal brain, I know she’ll find ways to use against me one of these days.

ItÕs weird because I acknowledge this fact, but I still ignore it. This amazes me, the way that I’m eagerly replying to the same questions my mother asks on a day to day basis that normally are enough to send me into raging fits of annoyance inside my head.

But tonight I am incredibly grateful towards my mother for asking these questions, for replying to everything with such enthusiasm. It’s nice to know, that at least on Wednesdays, she still cares. And for once I enjoy listening to her daily affirmations, gossip, talk about her work. Things I normally wouldn’t care about.

“And oh shit, I locked the keys in my car again today.” My mother has a knack for locking the keys in her car. She’s the kind of person who presses the power lock button when she comes to a stop sign. My mother is the most paranoid person I know.

“You’re not gaining weight are you?” My mother always told me, “Sometimes you have to suffer to be beautiful.” Like the time she taught me how to buy an expensive dress one size too small so that starving yourself to fit into it would seem actually worth it. My mother is a very practical person.

I’m not offended by her questions, I’m used to them by now. My mother with her pear-shaped body. I did not inherit my mother’s small-on-top-big-onbottom figure. I do not resemble my mother with her average height and average weight. She says I take after my father.

I stare at a picture of my family we brought with me, focusing in on my mother’s smiling face while she talks about fat grams and Thighs of Steel work out videos. I wonder why I haven’t before realized how truly beautiful she is. How unfortunate it is for me, both of us probably, that I do not have her pink angelic face and rare green eyes, I think. Nobody has ever accused me of looking like my mother. I suddenly have a need to be very close to her. I get this empty feeling, thinking that if only I could stare into a mirror and recognize my mother’s face I wouldn’t feel so horridly far away from her.

“We made you an appointment.” My mother’s confident voice breaks in again and settles with me even though I have no idea what she’s talking about. My mother is always making me appointments that I somehow seem to always miss. Okay. I say ‘okay’ to my mother’s appointments a lot. ‘Okay’ always pisses her off. She wants me to take appointments as seriously as she does.

We are running out of things to say.

My mother takes it upon herself to change the subject. “I couldn’t wear a sleeveless shirt today. I have this damn bruise on my arm. It looks like shit.” My mother bruises easily. At least physically. I’ve inherited this from her, maybe the only physical trait that has been passed down to me by means of her.

Our phone call is lingering. Both of us trying to hold on to whatever it is about this Wednesday tradition that allows us to relate to one another. It isn’t working. Once, during one of our Wednesday lunches, I asked my mother what she thought about a relationship I was in. She had just looked at me and said, “You’re just trying to salvage what’s left of nothing.” It wasn’t what I’d wanted her to say.

Do you remember that Mom? Do you remember when you told me? I ask her.

She’s quiet for minute. “I don’t think so…” Pause. “You’re making that up. I never said that.” Whatever Mom. Whatever.

My mother gives it one last chance.

“I saw that Chris boy you used to bring to the house at McDonalds with some other girl. Did you know about that?” Yes. I want to tell her. I do. I want to tell her all about my teenage boy problems. I’d like to be 4 years old again, sitting in my mother’s lap, hair twirling around my finger, having her tell me that everything is going to be all right. I want to say I really messed this one up, Mom. He was smart and kind and gentle. He was the one. I want her to tell me it will all work out. I want to tell her. I do.

“To tell you the truth, I’m actually glad you got rid of that one. He seemed like such a loser,” I don’t tell her.

There’s more I should tell her. Important parts I’m leaving out. Partly on purpose, partly because I can’t find the words to say them. But mainly because the novelty of this Wednesday is wearing off.

“So I guess I should let you go. It doesn’t sound like you want to be reminded any more of home. It sounds as if you really do need to get away from here.” Yeah. I guess so Mom. I’m glad I left out the part about missing home. All those years of complaining would seem pretty hypocritical I think.

“I’ll talk to you Wednesday.”

I bite my lip. Twirl a strand of hair around my finger. I’ll be the first to say it I think. I tell myself it would mean so much more to her if I said it first. I think about it, practice saying it in my head before I go through with it. I smile thinking how wonderful it will be.

“I love you.” She beats me to it.

I love you too.

by C. Cryf

I look in the mirror sometimes, and self-esteem stares back! I look in my underwear sometimes and gain self esteem from the size of my penis! Sometimes I do something so vulgar and disgusting, it makes me happy that I could, and this gives me self esteem! Sometimes my hair just has that special gleam! Sometimes I sit, and look at the muscles in my arm! So developed! So beautiful! My race, the human race, that is, gives me self esteem. Not the race as in our values and actions, but our amazing form and what we are! Muscles working! We grow and excite! We act in perfect harmony with our bones and muscles! How did it all start? I stare at this arm, so succulent, so sweet to me! I am ready to eat if it was just acceptable in our society! My physique gives me self esteem! I look in the mirror and flex my chest muscles, my beautiful pecs! My rock hard nipples stare back like the headlights on a 57 chevy! Oh so pretty and sweet in their own way! So tasty that if flesh was an edible truth I would steal little children and eat them! Even what I just combobuluted on this paper gave me esteem! My writing style is far better than any of those who think that their’s is good! When I walk down the street and see all the honeys check out my tight buttocks, their warm, wet, succulent, mouth-watering stares give me self-esteem! Then I think about how I could please them! I would be the one who would really bring them to climax! I would give a whippin’ to that G-spot! They’d be proud to tell all of their friends that I was the mac-dad! The one who gave a hittin’ and kept on tickin’ ! Every time I would see them after that, would think to myself about how pleased they were, and my esteem would come back once again! I go to school, and my grades give me esteem! I say, “Wow! A 59, I think that I’ll go home and kill myself! I will write a note telling all you asses who ruined my self esteem, how much I hate you! The nights that I sat in bed and cried! The nights that thought I was good in the afternoon, and by school’s end, how much of a lop of fleshy shit was! You hurt my self-esteem! You scarred it! You ate it like my arm and then you spit it out! You spit it out like a fat, juicy loogy! I could never forgive you all! My esteem is the god flesh of my thoughts! It paces waiting for the new breed to hatch from the collective uterus of the milky way! So milky like the arm of my eye!” Mustard and cheese is what I desire! It will rid my mouth of the aftertaste of something that I had thought would give me self-esteem! It just left a fishy taste in my dirty mouth!

by E. R. Murray

I can still remember the last time he was pushing me. Those big, soft hands on the small of my back giving me just a little more momentum each time. Not too much, not too little.

“Hey, dad. Dad!” I would call. “Push me higher!” My hands squeezed the chains as I swooped down to the bottom and glided back up to the top. I loved the motion and I loved watching everything move. Everything flew around me, the trees, the buildings, the people. Down, down toward the ground and then the quick takeoff toward the sky. There was that moment when everything stopped, and then I fell backwards, back to earth, back to him, back to us.

I guess it was boring for him, standing there in the late afternoon sun, pushing and waiting, pushing and waiting. I’d hear him mumbling behind me sometimes. “Ridiculous”, he would say. “Grown man with better things to do.” Or sometimes he would walk away and let the swing slow almost to a stop, then without a word start pushing again.

Sometimes at home he just seemed to be asleep. Mom would talk to him and he would just say ‘yeah’, or ‘no’, or ‘I don’t know’, or sometimes not even answer. Other times when he would talk, non-stop. He would tell me everything he saw, everything that happened to him that day, everything that went through his mind. “This guy called and said he wanted to place and order and I said ‘wait ’til I get my form’ and he said ‘don’t you think you should have them ready when people call?” and I said do you want to place an order or do you want to tell me my business. Some people always think they can tell you how to live your life. Don’t ever let anyone tell you how to live your life.”

I tried hard to be interested, too. “Really?” I would say. Or, “How about that.”

But I always wanted to go to the swings. “Hey, dad. Dad!” I would call. “Push me higher!”

So he pushed. He lay his hands gently on my back and at the absolute peak of my momentum in one direction he started me off in another. I hung, absolutely still for a moment, and when that moment bled into another, I moved again. The swing made a perfect arc, like a big pendulum ticking off minutes.

“They’re just mood swings,” my mother would tell when he wasn’t around. “Just something he goes through.” She had a funny, sad look on her face, and she started to keep her back to me a lot. “He really loves us a lot….”

I thought that learning to pump might help. It would give him a rest, and maybe make him proud of me. So, when he wasn’t with me, I’d climb on, kick my legs and eventually get a little movement going. Feet out, head back, hold on tight going forward. Head up, knees in on the return. Kick those feet going back up again. Soon I was moving smoothly and independently. I wanted to show him, but I waited for a bad day, a mumbling day, thinking it might make him feel better.

That muggy afternoon in the park I could feel his anger. The morning had been a talker, and the afternoon was becoming a mumbler.

“Just too stupid,” I heard him say behind me as he gave the first push. I felt nothing on the next two passes, but then the reassuring and gentle hands resumed and I was soaring. ‘Now is the time’, I thought. After the next push I kicked my legs out and threw my head back. On the way back down I felt him move out of the way. Again and again I thrust myself forward and kicked backwards. I was really pumping now. Higher and higher, faster and faster, in control of my flight.

“Hey, dad. Dad!” I called. “Look! I can pump.” At the top of the arc I managed to turn just enough to see behind me.

But he was gone.

And now I push. Not too much, not too little. He looks a little like me, but more like him. I think maybe the nose skipped a generation.

“Daddy!” he shrieks in delight. “Push me higher!” And I do. I check to see that he’s holding on tight and that he’s not slipping off the seat, and watch his little rear end coming toward me. I step back a bit so his feet don’t kick me, and just at the top of the arc, when all forces of nature are balanced for an instant, I push. Not too much, not too little.

“Daddy,” he calls again. “Push me higher!”

by Benjamin Jacob Blattberg

“So, what do you think?” she finished her speech. Her voice and her manner were just as sweet as they were in real life. The speech she had just finished had a definite theme to it: she had a crush on someone, and it wasn’t me. This person was a friend of mine, and that was what had won me the honor of this phone call. She didn’t even know him, but she had liked him for years. She asked me if he likes girls, which I had to answer truthfully:

“No.”

But I had to explain that, damn my conscience.

“I mean, like, he does, but not in a practical way. Like, he doesn’t want a relationship, or anything even close. Sorry.”

“Well that’s okay.” Doubtful that she meant that. “It’s just that I wanted to see if I should give up.”

“Yeah, but you know you won’t. I could tell you there was no hope, no chance, but there’d still be a part of you that said there was hope.” Experience told me this was true. “You want me to tell you that there’s nothing you can do, s o you won’t feel bad when you do nothing. ‘Cause whenever you see him, there’s gonna be this yelling voice that’s like screaming at you to do something, to walk up to him, to talk to him, to do anything.” Why did I say this? Why? “But there’s always t his equal and opposite reaction, fear, that’s like telling you not to because it won’t work, be cause you’ll make a fool of yourself, because something won’t go perfect. You want me to tell you there’s nothing there so you won’t feel bad. But it doesn’t matter. Every time you see him you’ll go through that. And every night, before you go to sleep, and after you go to bed, you’ll have these dreams, these daydreams, not real, like, subconsciously fashioned dreams, but hope dreams, the things you want. Those dreams where he’s lying next to you in your big, empty bed, and he’s holding you or he’s kissing you, or he’s touching you, and maybe more. Or maybe you’re just thinking about tomorrow-maybe you’ll see him, and you’re thinking that he’ll drop a bo ok, and you’ll pick it up, he’ll smile and introduce himself-like you don’t know his name already-and you’ll start talking and he’ll reveal that he dropped the book on purpose, so he could talk to you, because secretly he’s liked you forever and then even tually you’ll end up in each other’s arms. Or maybe you’re reviewing today, thinking what if I had done this or this. But this is just a dream. It’s all like that.” I paused, reviewing all I had said. “Sorry.”

The other end of the phone line was quiet for a time. And I knew everything I said was true, not only for her, but for me. And tonight I would dream of her soft, warm skin, but that was as close as I would ever get.

by Rusty Fischer

i guess i should have checked but i
believed you all those other times and
ended up looking stupid i guess i got sick of it
when i heard the sirens i knew exactly what it
was dropped my microwave popcorn
no one else on our street was such a
psycho except the guy with the train set
it was almost a relief by then except
i’ll never admit that now
tried to tell them i was related
to get a better look the
cops got mad like it was my fault i let you
do that when if they’d ever even met you
once they’d have known better
not just seen you lying there all bloody and
pale and innocent looking like some kind of
victim not the super freak you’d
always been were currently being and certainly
would have been forever if you’d made it

by A.Y. Tanaka

But she wasn’t meant for me anyway,
one of the too many girls who cliqued and huddled
after school
and clicked their heels and conclaved their homework
and whispered about us and hid our file.

Lots of Italian girls, lots –
sharp, rounded, eyes full of fire.
Even the wine-scented roses
from Pius IX Prep had something to offer,
if they wanted to offer.
But they knew me too well, or pretended –

those quick strong tongues that whipped me apart,
why would they lie?
I was them — they were me,
the chrisms and scapulars and first communions,
the long hard pews of St. Mike’s Emergency,
the long hard pews of the precinct’s coffee room,
the showdowns, the rollcalls to dust off your pride,
cushion the eight-ball rolling in your gut,
the nudge, the whisper who to turn to.

You can’t escape from a world full of sisters,
warm roses pretending to be sisters.

by Richard Fein

Old anthology, fourth edition, not a rare book,
binding almost gone, many loose pages,
a dusty outline on the shelf
when I first lift the book.
One Cathy Brady owned it once
sixty years ago, she dated it.
Her signature is neat; her letters
are smoothly curved with no sharp angles.
I thumb through the pages.
Every poem I’d bother to read again,
she had already circled.
Every line I might memorize,
she had underlined.
Were she twenty then she might yet be living,
white hair, her hand shaky,
but maybe her letters would still posses
something of those gentle slopes.
I bought the book for eighty cents.

by Rusty Fischer

tells stories about
wars mostly sometimes
cars or taxes
count quarters to avoid his yellow rheumy
eyes trying to impress the girlies
in their short shorts and
heels from the massage
parlor next door bent
over green folding tables
chewing gum above smoking tin
ash trays they laugh
call him names behind his back i
like him better
they laugh at anyone who’s not
paying them

by Andrew William Manoff

And then the pagans proclaimed me as their king
How could I refuse?
The next 10 years of bondage were tough
But I never felt like I was being used

The shackles on my throne chaffed
So I gnawed off my hands
My nation grew rich
Because we dealt exclusively in contraband

They gave me a gold watch
And let me go back to the mailroom
I swore I’d never again enter
The company’s executive washroom

by Holly Day

calm, these places we dance
horizontal to the ceiling
to each other’s chasms yawn
wide in the egg-shell enamel
the walls of our bedroom opening
to yet another world

and why, why is this special to me
places we go together without
moving, places we are always welcome
known as creators, messiahn, gods
teach me back these things I taught you
don’t leave me lying here, stupid
alone

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