a hunger that
will split a hair—
then hunger till
the head is gone—
Laura Wendorff is professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville. She has been published in several journals, most recently Spillway and Schuylkill Valley Journal. Wendorff’s essay “Worth The Risk: Writing Poetry About Children With Special Needs” was nominated for a Best of the Net Award and the Pushcart Prize.
Endika Sangroniz is a 21-year-old singer/songwriter and poet from the Basque Country, Spain. Last year, he wrote his first full-length collection of poems entitled ‘Songs That Can’t Be Sung’, which is still to be published. Endika’s poems tend to be much rawer and darker than his songs, shattering the classic structures.
Being white and having attended a few
racial justice meetings where the talk
is of cultivating authentic relationships
with people of color, I asked a black co-worker
if he’d like to come over for dinner. He answered
my question with a question of his own: “Why?
I mean, it’s not like we’re friends or anything.”
“Well, I’m trying to cultivate,” I recited,
“more authentic relationships with people
of color.” He made a face. “Cultivate?
As in, your garden? As in, you want some more
purple eggplants, some more token negritude
in the pale, pathetic, privileged patch that is
your life?” Ouch. He wasn’t going to make this
easy. Lean into the discomfort, I remembered
them saying at the racial justice meetings
in the suburb where I live, where a person of color
is as rare as a white eggplant among the aubergines.
“Not token,” I said, smiling and wincing
at the same time. “For real.” And it felt a little like
asking someone out on a date, someone
a little out of my league. “The real question,” he said,
stroking his chin in a pensive attitude, then twirling
his imaginary mustache while sizing up my imaginary
chef’s hat, “is what’s for dinner? Something
toothsome, I hope.” And he gave me his beautiful teeth.
Paul Hostovsky‘s tenth book of poetry, LATE FOR THE GRATITUDE MEETING, is forthcoming from Kelsay Books. His poems have won a Pushcart Prize, two Best of the Net awards, and have been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer’s Almanac. Website: paulhostovsky.com
I am sitting at McSorley’s
alone. He is late.
Raining, and cabs are scarce,
Notes GIs left before
embarking for Europe,
1917, still stuck behind the bar.
GIs, who never came back
I am sure he’ll show up
Candles dying slowly,
The beer is straw-colored,
I am on the second one,
thinking of his 6th Ave. poem,
Then leaving, wandering,
stopping at Pete’s by O’Henry’s table.
Then Union Square Market,
inspecting gladioli from LI nurseries.
Another drink at Algonquin,
Chelsea, thinking of those greats
ended up flying from their windows
to the pavement of the 14th Street.
All the way down to Cornelia.
Red-faced Robin, raconteuring
at the bar after tasting
new delivery of Sancerre.
nursing his cold cigar,
his quiet, sad smile lives by itself
in time and space.
But Kurt is not there,
hasn’t come yet, getting dark.
And then I realize—
he is also looking for me
in some other domains.
Andrey Gritsman, a native of Moscow, immigrated to the United States in 1981. He is a physician, a poet and essayist and has published several volumes of poetry and essays in both languages. Poems, essays, and short stories in English have appeared in over ninety literary journals and were anthologized. Andrey Gritsman edits the international poetry magazine in Russian Interpoezia.
Maybe the glare is why she scowls as she turns,
the shutter convulsing in the handheld camera
her husband keeps between his open eye and her,
but I’d wager my life that he said something cruel,
focused tight on her nape with its gossamer curls,
then tapped the button, not noticing her pursed brow,
her downturned mouth, only the fluid way the strap
of her bathing suit rounds her back, spans the hollow
from shoulder to collar bone. Buckling shakes and stucco
bake in the summer light beyond her. This is half
of the split-frame photo. To the overcast sky
that burns out the other, his left hand holds aloft,
as if for sacrifice, some orphaned animal,
a puppy or kitten, its details mostly lost
to the brilliance above (nothing automatic
back then) and below too, where the sun strikes his watch.
Squinting at me as if I weren’t her grandson,
she stares through the greater part of a century,
distrustful, but not used to feeling such disdain,
bracing herself as if for necessary pain.
Eric Berlin’s poems have won the University of Canberra Vice-Chancellor’s International Poetry Prize, Bradford on the Avon Poetry Prize, National Poetry Prize, and The Ledge Poetry Prize. Currently, he’s researching various genres of oral literature and teaches online for The Poetry School.
A Snapshot of My Grandmother’s Life
Brownie’s on horseback. The ratta-tat-tat of a seaplane spooks her mare, causing them to charge into roadside kiawe. Brownie pulls back hard on the reins. She chose Bella over the jeep because riding makes her feel mighty. She’s a hair over five feet but up here on her thoroughbred she’s the queen. Today brings memories of Chipper’s cattle drives and summertime rides with her boy, Buddy. Chip called him keiki manuahi. Now Bud fights in the South Pacific. Brownie remembers a Zero low-flying taro patches and Chip pulling his .219. He fired at the Rising Sun.
She’s riding west to check the First Aid station at Puko’o. She feels bad it’s a shanty, with walls of termite-riddled lumber, bamboo flooring, and a single window facing the outhouse. Still, there’s a stack of emergency cots and a cabinet filled with bandages, rolls of gauze, sutures, aspirin, syringes, and vials of penicillin. The haole doctor from the Red Cross approved it, along with nine other stations Brownie helped build the month after Pearl Harbor. Rumors of paratroopers and an invasion by sea triggered a patriotic frenzy on Moloka’i, from joining the Armed Forces to volunteer nursing to building barbed wire blockades on beachfronts. She joined the USO and became District Manager for the Red Cross. She knows the appointment came only because she looks more haole than Hawaiian.
She stands offstage at Kaunakakai Community Center wearing rouge, pink lipstick, and a string of pearls. Brownie doubles as the USO’s event coordinator. She taps a victory roll in her Betty Grable hairdo watching girls kick in unison to Benny Goodman’s “In the Mood.” Soldiers hoot and holler as waiters hustle by balancing trays. When the song ends, the girls blow kisses to whistles and catcalls. They exit the stage to applause that rattles the floodlights.
Brownie joins her troupe backstage. These wahines are mostly piha kanaka maoli, but two have a smattering of French blood. Keiko, the girl from Okinawa, is the best hands down. Brownie tells them, if they keep practicing, they’ll give the Rockettes a run for their money. Puanani hugs her. She loves Puanani like a daughter, despite catching her sister in bed with Chip. Her girls slip into denim and tug on boots. She smells pikake perfume. Soon they’ll be prancing to “Home on the Range.”
She finds the table of mothers. “My Mona stay ready fo’ Hollywood,” brags Ruth Kamakeaina. “Rita goin’ Broadway straight off,” Marvely Naki says. Brownie knows the stage brings hope during this time of rationing, living off the aina, and waiting for news of husbands and sons fighting overseas. She wanted the girls to be at their best so their mothers would have tonight. She made them rehearse for months, teaching them the two-step, tap, and the Lindy Hop. She showed them how to link up and kick as a team. She studied fashion magazines sent by the USO and spent weeks with Ruth and Marvely sewing Rockette-style skirts. They even stitched sequins and feathers for the pillbox hats.
She spots a man in a khaki uniform seated at a table, his cap slanting at an angle off his temple down to an eye. He lifts his glass. He seems comfortable as a lone wolf. Their eyes meet. He lowers his gaze to light a cigarette. He wears a chain bracelet and has a ruddy complexion. He’s younger than her. Not much, but she can tell. The ends of his tie are tucked in the breast of his shirt. He looks up, blowing smoke through his nose. She looks away. She shifts her chair so Ruth blocks him. She listens to gossip until curiosity forces her to peer over Ruth’s pompadour. She watches him order another drink.
Brownie excuses herself. She hula-swings over to the bar, using that strut she perfected as a girl with Sue, her big sister. She’s glad the years of work kept her body hard and strong. She orders bourbon. She feels sexy in the red wiggle dress Sue sent last Christmas. The soldier extinguishes his cigarette. He gulps down his drink and gets up. His stride is confidant yet boyish. No wedding band. Broad shoulders. Thin waist. He sweeps off his cap, giving her a bow. “What’s your name, doll?” he asks. His jet-black hair shines like the oiled barrel of a rifle. “Julia,” she answers. “Pleasure to meet you. I’m Fletcher.” She’s glad he didn’t extend a hand—she doesn’t want him feeling her calluses from cutting and chopping. He has a good name. His lapels are pinned with captain bars. He sounds like the newsmen on the radio, the deep-voiced ones who keep her company whenever Chip takes off. She feels guilty for not using her nickname. But “Brownie” brings thoughts of swinging axes, driving cattle, and dressing like a kua’aina. “Julia” makes her feel young. Part of her wants to pretend she’s still free to love whomever she wants, even after her mother told her nothing good can come from it.
Fiddles strike up “Home on the Range.” The girls return in denim skirts twirling lassos. They square dance on a stage decorated with wagon wheels, sawhorses topped with a saddle, and pine barrels. In the background, a prairie schooner painted on butcher paper hangs off a big bamboo frame. Keiko and Puanani ride in on hobbyhorses and receive a standing ovation.
Fletcher leads the way down the stairs to the coconut tree courtyard. Brownie likes the pencil moustache and the perfect posture. He smells like gin. She has not felt like this since her days chasing haoles in Waikiki with Sue, not since the Moana Hotel Ball when the Englishman kissed her under the eyelash moon. “Married?” Fletcher asks. She wants to say no. Why shouldn’t she lie about a man who chases every skirt on the east end? She tells him about Chipper and scratching out lives on homestead land. Fletcher’s married too. Martha’s in Columbus waiting for his R & R, but he’s been ordered to report to Schofield Barracks. His steamer leaves the wharf at dawn. Fletcher pulls her close. They kiss. The coconut fronds rattle in the onshore breeze. “Spend tonight with me,” comes the radio voice, “at the Pau Hana Inn.” She doesn’t answer. But she knows by her silence that she will, even though the inn is little more than a bungalow perched on a mud flat overlooking the wharf. Will she do it to punish Chip? Brownie’s not sure. She imagines cigarettes, drinks, and geckos patrolling the walls. His uniform hangs off the bedpost, the captain bars glowing in the harsh light from a naked bulb. She sees herself lying on a narrow mattress as fingers test her bra. She believes tonight she’ll become a princess, a wahine naïve enough to believe in dreams.
keiki manuahi: bastard child
kua’aina: country bumpkin
palaka: checkered red and white
piha kanaka maoli: having 100% Hawaiian blood
pikake: Arabian jasmine
wahine: girl or woman
A Note from the author:
This creative nonfiction story is based on the World War II stories told to me by my paternal grandmother during my summer visits to her Moloka’i ranch. She wanted to write them down but had trouble composing sentences because of her third grade-only education. I promised Gramma I would write down her stories, while she was still living. I failed. I failed her, partly because the creative writing students at my college got bored and dismissive when I read anecdotes about an old woman living on a remote island. But the real reason I didn’t write her stories was because I gave in when my father when said writing was a frivolous waste of time. He stressed practicality, pointing out that only a handful of writers made a living at it. He convinced me writing was at best a hobby and that I should take a more practical path through life, such as going to law school or pursuing an MBA. Instead, I went into sales. I was good at sales but felt guilty abandoning the written word.
I know what Gramma said was true because she’d repeat stories verbatim, including scraps of dialogue and how she felt. She loved horses. Six mares roamed the once forest-dense pastures she helped clear with her husband Chipper. Her name was Julia Gilman. She was nicknamed “Brownie” by the locals after a boy saw her likeness to a cartoon character on his Brownie camera box. In 1942, the Red Cross appointed her District Manager from Kainalu River east to Puko’o Harbor. A year later, she became Show Coordinator for the USO in Kaunakakai. She wanted military men and women on R & R to forget about the war, if only for a night. As a girl she loved to dance and attended the various balls in all the big Waikiki Hotels, such as the Moana and the Pink Palace. She organized extravagant dance numbers for GIs, Marines, and sailors who’d taken steamers over to Moloka’i from Oahu. And, yes, Julia did fall for Fletcher, even though she was only with him that one night at the Pau Hana Inn. She carried those few bright hours she spent with him without shame or guilt, a summer night in 1943 as shiny as the chrome bars on a young captain’s lapel.
Kirby Michael Wright‘s new book is THE QUEEN OF MOLOKAI, which is a prequel to the story by the same name published by Two Cities Review. He won the 2018 Redwood Empire Mensa Award for Creative Nonfiction.
At Marshall Fields that year
When I was eight,
They took a photograph to make
A doll with my face,
My wavy auburn hair.
I unwrapped that doll
On Christmas day. She had
A wardrobe of clothes
Just like mine. A green wool coat
Trimmed with muskrat fur,
A taffeta skirt and lace collared blouse,
A skating outfit and small white skates,
Flannel pajamas and scratchy underwear,
All sewn by my mother
Late at night on the Singer.
The doll was eerie, my
Doppelganger. A better child
Than I would ever be.
She had a pimpled leather prayer book
Fit for a believer,
She sat in my bedroom
On a quilted chair
Before the vanity mirror
Where we were both reflected.
Her hair brushed to shine,
Her smile impassive,
Her complexion putty-colored
Minus my freckles, her brown eyes kind
My mother named her Dolores, her choice
For me vetoed by my father who said
It meant sorrow.
Dolores’ legs bent
So she could kneel
With her little rosary
In her little fingers.
Joan Colby’s Selected Poems received the 2013 FutureCycle Prize and Ribcage was awarded the 2015 Kithara Book Prize. Her recent books include Carnival from FutureCycle Press and The Seven Heavenly Virtues from Kelsay Books. Her latest book Her Heartstrings was published by Presa Press in 2018.
I saw your shadow pass in the high window near La Rue Moufftard. You, his first wife, the baby in your arms waiting, not knowing. I penned run! as the rain drizzled and turned cobblestones to fish scales. Sealed the envelope and slipped it under the door. You didn’t read it.
It isn’t then. It’s now. You already got out of there, eventually. Left him after he left you. More than once. Stopped leaving your baby in the care of the cat to follow him to café or salon or bar. The baby grew up, which takes decades. He wanted the short, straight line. Avoided the curve of comma, the complication of semi-colon. Though his dogma stretched fifty years past his lived life like a petulant poltergeist banging out periods on a typewriter. He claimed to love you. He claimed to love. A short sentence. He wrote about you, looking back through winter drizzle, through film of age, romanticized you, but did not see the bruise healing; green, purple, rust, in cobblestone. The soft wound beneath his feet.
He was good at the sharp, the blunt. Limited in his ability to appreciate the subtle, many colored circuity. Blind to the beauty of tangle. It’s why he left her, Paris, and his other women. Just part of his collection. Lovely severed heads to mount on his memory wall.
His only true love the fast thought. The shotgun sentence.
Twila Newey graduated from The Jack Kerouac Disembodied School of Poetics in 2003. She has completed her first novel and is currently querying agents. A portion of that manuscript won publication in Exponent II Midrash contest. Her poetry has also appeared on Poetry Breakfast and in Rust + Moth. She lives in the mountains west of Denver with her husband and four children.