The B’K August 2017 Issue

The B'K August 2017 CoverFeaturing

Art by: Michelle Brooks, Giada Cattaneo, Fabrice Poussin, Emily Rose Schanowski, Olivier Schopfer, Rebecka Skogg

Fiction by: Miles Ryan Fisher, Conor O’Sullivan

Poetry by: TS Hidalgo, Clara B. Jones, Meg Kelting, Sara McClory, David Thompson, Jordan Upshaw, Dr. Mel Waldman, Jim Zola

Read the issue.

Rumors and All the Things They Say

Weekly feature by: Sara McClory

We laugh, now, about the time
we were almost murdered on Christmas Eve,
the night the sky barely wept any snow
as the T.V. soothed with the hum and glow
of its moving parts,
the sound of reruns drowning out
tipsy but heavy steps moving into the room.
The fuzzy colors illuminated his features,
but were absent in deep forever running wrinkles
hoarded on his untanned skin.

And you, my mother, leapt from the tattered
goodwill couch in a speed that defined science;
your torso a mountain and pool-noodle arms flailing
at the sight of a sharp dagger nestled tightly in his fist,
eyes as vacant as a hole.

All three of us careened to that place —
face against face against face,
spit sputtered in all directions like acid rain,
heat radiating from skin as lips receded
to show animal like teeth.

It fizzled, and in the morning we sat,
in the tepid leather seats of his Lincoln,
engine warmed but didn’t move,
as exchanged looks and apologies
reflected in the mirrors.
And then, as we pulled on the black road
gifts tumbling against my shaken body,
cold sores tingling on my lips,
I knew the measurement of a rumor,
untamed and raw
and that what they say about parents
is true:

They brought you into this world.
They can certainly take you out.

Decompensation

Weekly feature by: Sissy Buckles

It starts with the
little things.
Your dog’s ear
infection
no matter how
diligent
well meaning
relentless
as Sisyphus or
how much
gentian purple mix
you pour into that
swollen canal
but the white
smelly stuff
keeps on
pouring out
or take a simple thing
like cockroaches
you try everything
traps
fog
spraying
cleaning like a maniac
and every morning
you continue to see the
bitsy bugs scattering
madly on the
desolate counter
like Kerouac’s carcass
of a mouse at Big Sur
his first kill — “it looked
at me with ‘human’
fearful eyes” and
all this gets you
meditating on
real Self-Reliance
and Emerson’s edict
that we must take
ourselves for better
for worse
(as his/her portion)
like this woman my sister
met in Austin an
original Arcadian lived
across from the crazy
hot rodder’s place
in a big old rambler
away back out in the
hill country
she’d had food saved
for four years
along with a 500 gallon
water tank
on the property
just in case the Zombie
Apocalypse really
comes down
and get this, she keeps
AK’s in every room
of her ancient
turn of the century
rambler, even in the
bathroom for reals,
I guess she had
some issues
with the Government
at one point but of course
not really polite
to ask the details
my mama didn’t teach
me much but
she sure taught
me manners
like the nice family
who lives
down the block
from me now in a
two story frame house.
The mother vacuums
the beige shag
merino wool rug
every day
she gets down
on her knees and
pulls at the nap
with her fingers
so it’s perfectly
standing up.
Every day.
Of course they
never wear shoes
in the house.
Their bed is
perfectly made
not a wrinkle
you could bounce
a quarter
off the spread
and at night
the mother and father
sleep on the floor
so they don’t
mess it up.

When Freedom Becomes Unbearable

Weekly feature by: Holly Day

We invite the government to read
our minds, the aliens to beam
new instructions with jagged
fingernails and broken glass

Give us a purpose! we shout
into the night sky, praying that
at least one cruise vessel bent
on world domination is heading

for Earth. We want to make wallets!
we plead, eyes on the stars in
supplication, heads matted
with drying blood, fingernails

ripping at our tin-foil hats and flinging
them into the air. One of the tiny moving
pinpricks of white above us must be
an alien spacecraft, aiming subliminal

messages into our prefrontal cortexes—we dig
into our scalps with the hope of making
mind control that much easier for our oppressors
the communications satellites circling overhead,
our hands outstretched, cracked and broken.

Even When We Didn’t Have Anything, We Had Something

Weekly feature by: Shirley Jones-Luke

Hardwood floor, stained, edges charred black
years of praying, of playing, of crying

Cobwebs in the windows, roaches on the walls, mice commuting
between rooms, remnants of their travels cover our feet

Wild cats commune in the backyard, meowing at the moon,
stray dogs lurk nearby, growling, hungry for dinner

The kitchen is quiet except for the steady hum of the refrigerator,
loaded with government cheese, hard as a brick, giving us belly aches

as we stand in the bathroom, staring at the cracked plaster, dirty tub and dingy toilet, mom was too tired to clean today, or any day

A spider captures a fly in its web home, an old lamp shade,
the fly’s struggles are futile, but it still struggles, so do we

My lap is a desk as I write a story, a narrative of poverty
my young mind seeking meaning, it’s elusive

Books surround my body as the TV blares in my brother’s room
our mother sings hymns from a church we no longer attend

I am the center of their universe and they are the center of mine
we revolve around each other like planets around a sun

The Prognosis

Weekly feature by: Steve Slavin

1

When we’re dying, we can’t pack a suitcase. As they say, “You can’t take it with you.”

Let’s consider a somewhat less drastic decision. If you had to give up every person or thing in your life but one, who or what would that be? For me, the answer to that question was a no-brainer.

2

When we got home from the doctor’s office, Robert needed to lie down for a while. I made some tea, but Robert didn’t want any. I sat at the edge of the bed, and reflexively placed his hand on his forehead.

“You know, Craig, you don’t get a fever just from visiting the doctor.”

I smiled. “Well, I’m certainly glad to see that you haven’t lost your sense of humor.”

“No, not at all! They say you keep it right up to the end.”

“Please, Robert. Spare me the melodramatics.”

“Fine!”

“Can we have a serious conversation?”

“So talk!”

“You heard what the doctor said. If the lump is malignant, she’ll operate, and then she’ll do more tests. That’s not exactly a death sentence.”

“No, but then, in a couple of weeks, we’ll be back in her office, and she’ll tell us a few cells were found in my lymph nodes. And then ….”

“Yeah, I know. You’ll need chemo and radiation.”

I waited, but Robert didn’t reply. He had a far-off look. Finally, he rolled over to one side to face me more directly. “I don’t think I can go through that again.”

“Are you saying that that wasn’t as much fun for you as it was for me?”

This got a smile.

“I know I’m over-reacting. Maybe they can just cut out the tumor and that will be the end of it. But this time I’m expecting the worst.”

“No, the worst – the absolute worst, was the third time.”

“Agreed. But in retrospect, had I known how awful the treatment would be, I think I would have chosen to die instead.”

“Maybe. But that was before they prescribed medical marijuana.”

That got a chuckle out of him.

“Seriously, Robert – and I am being selfish about this …”

“Yeah, I know: You never want to lose me.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear that even you listen some of the time.”

Robert didn’t answer. When I noticed his regular breathing, I got up, tiptoed out of the room, and shut the door.

3

An hour later, I found myself lying on a couch in the living room, a book on my chest. It had grown dark outside, and I could hear the rush hour traffic.

I thought about how Robert and I had met at a ridiculous dinner party in Brooklyn Heights. I could not remember who invited me, but after a few glasses of wine, it felt like we all had become great friends. We decided to drive across the bridge into Manhattan. There was a piano bar on Grove Street in the Village. It was called The Five Oaks.

Anyone could go in there and sing his heart out. No matter how good or bad you were, everyone generously applauded. You could walk in alone, with another guy, or maybe with a whole party of friendly people – and you would quickly feel right at home.

Robert was with someone else, but he and I had been eying each other all evening. When his date went to the bathroom, he slipped me his phone number. As I took it, I squeezed his hand and he blew me a kiss.

That was thirty-seven years ago. Who knows? We might have saved each other lives. We had met just when AIDS was beginning to reach epidemic proportions. We lost dozens of friends, but like other monogamous couples, we were spared.

We had our fights, but who didn’t? Since the early nineties, we’ve been living in Chelsea, where the you-know-who have practically taken over. I guess you know that’s happened when no one notices you strolling around the neighborhood.

I wondered if Robert intuited something – something that even the doctor couldn’t know. Maybe this time he would not be able to dodge the bullet. Perhaps he was just tired of trying.

I tried to picture life without him. Would I expect him to be there when I got home? Would I imagine crawling into bed with him — and waking up in the morning expecting to see his face?

Just then, I heard the toilet flush, and then Robert’s feet padding down the hall. He looked a lot better. He was even smiling.

4

A week later his doctor operated. After she finished, and Robert’s chest was stitched up, she asked me to join them in the recovery room. She explained that because he was coming out of sedation, he might not remember everything she said.

The entire tumor did not need to be removed – just the malignant part. So, while Robert lay on the operating table, slices of tissue were sent to the hospital’s pathology lab. That’s why the operation took almost four hours.

While she was confident that they had gotten everything, the lymph node test would be crucial. If no cancer cells were found, we would be home free.

5

A few weeks later, it was time for the test. That morning, I had a revelation. Did it really matter how the test came out? Would Robert get a new lease on life, or perhaps a conditional death sentence? Would we be able to go back to how things were, or would we see our life together coming to an end?

It was just then that I realized an important truth. You know those “crazy people” holding signs proclaiming, “The end is coming”? Well, they’ve got that right!

One day, the end will come. But in the here and now, while we still have each other, we have everything that life could offer.

Dielectric Summer

Weekly feature by: Susan Monaghan

The temperature of Charlotte’s bedroom averaged in the high 90s on most days. It was an add-on, disconnected from the protective reach of the house’s heater and air conditioner. Giant windows wrapped two of its four walls, giving it a sense of intimacy with the vulnerable desert outside, and the mountains beyond that. Her grandparents had called it the sunroom.

A long-defunct hot tub, crowded by house plants of all sizes, filled the window side of the room. The other side was carpeted in vivid turquoise, its purity of color owed to the fact that it hadn’t been thoroughly lived on since it was fitted. Charlotte had five fans running at all times, but the room’s lack of insulation prevented them from doing much more than generate a dull roar. At night, the stars had been unobscured by clouds for a long time, and Charlotte could imagine that she was on top of one of those mountains just beyond her backyard, listening to the roar of freezing high-altitude wind.

The bedroom connected directly to the house by way of a sliding-glass door. Before the add-on, it had been the door to the backyard, and therefore did not lock from the inside. Charlotte was at least grateful she had a curtain, but it did little to dissuade anyone from entering at will.

“Charlotte, remember to water those plants, they’re sitting right in the sun. Honey how can you stand it in here, I’m already sweating.”

“Ok mom.”

“Come into the living room, it’s cool in here. Bring Hera.”

“She hates it in there. The dogs make her nervous.”

Charlotte watched her cat creep across the carpet from her couch, the only mildly cool thing in the room. Hera was a sleek, golden animal, but lately she was looking a little too slim. Charlotte noticed that when she walked, the tips of her hip bones jutted softly against her skin. She rolled off the couch and crawled across the carpet to inspect the cat’s wet food, wondering if the heat had spoiled it. Without her contacts in, Charlotte could not see the problem until she’d picked up the infected dish: the food was swarming with ants.

“I’m sorry you didn’t get into Berkeley. But Willow actually isn’t that bad, you know? And now you won’t have to take out any student loans.”

Charlotte’s friend Marissa lie on the couch with one foot planted on the carpet. From her vantage point on the ground, Charlotte watched a bead of sweat drop from the back of Marissa’s knee to her ankle. Finally she answered:

“It’s fine, I’m pretty much over it.”

Marissa exhaled in response and stretched her legs out further, bending her head back until she could see the hot tub across the room.

“Does that work?”

“Not really.”

“I have a weird thing I’ve been meaning to try. Or at least, I think you should try it. It’s called sensory deprivation.”

“Uh huh.”

“Do you have a pool thermometer?”

“I haven’t seen one.”

“Nevermind, I’ll be right back.”

Charlotte watched Marissa gut and pour fifteen bags of epsom salt into the lukewarm water in the tub, awkwardly stirring in the clumps with a puny wooden ladle. Charlotte stuck the thermometer in the water to gage its temperature as instructed, and read the numbers aloud: 99 degrees. The sun was halfway set.

“That’s close enough I think.” Marissa threw aside the last dripping bag and stirred in wide, fast circles. “Are you nervous at all?”

“No, I mean I don’t think I will be. But I don’t think I’ve ever been in that tight of space.”

“I’ll keep talking to you until you’re used to it.”

“Ok.”

Charlotte lowered herself into the tub one leg at a time, sitting upright as Marissa walked around the side to get a hold of the tub cover. Marissa lifted one half over the side Marissa sat adjacent to, bracing the other half to be flipped closed.

“When you’re ready, just start floating. Is there enough salt?”

Charlotte had to bend her legs at the knees to avoid touching the staggered floor of the tub, but found that her head and back were easily supported.

“I’ll stop when it’s a few inches from closing.”

Marissa swung the cover over the rest of the tub, until Charlotte could only see a sliver of Marissa’s face and the orange light of the sunset flooding through the windows. Something about the contrast between the sliver and the surrounding darkness felt Biblical.

“Are you ok?”

“Yeah.”

“Alright.” Marissa dropped the cover.

Marissa heard a great splashing sound, followed by a thud on the inside of the cover so forceful it was almost dislodged, and another deep thud from the bottom of the tub.

Charlotte’s mother laid her back on her bed and carefully untangled the strands of her hair that were twisted into her emergency room bracelet, drawing a throw blanket over her despite the formidable late night heat.

Charlotte was not, as usual, woken by the temperature spike in the late morning, or the unencumbered light of the sunrise streaming directly through the big windows. Over all other stimuli came the tingling in the atmosphere, and the dancing of bizarre lights just beyond her closed eyelids, and the adrenaline-induced anticipation of experiencing something that she had never experienced before. Her eyes opened. Six ovular patches of rainbow, big and small, hovered in the air, shimmering with a texture made of finely-woven crossing lines, and Charlotte was struck with the sick suspicion that no one in the house, nor anyone else that she knew, would be able to see them at all.

Charlotte observed with awe the largest of the ghosts, hanging in the air mere feet from her bed. Standing on shaking legs, she took one step towards the finely-textured prism, lifting her arm half the way towards making contact. She could hear someone walking through the living room, no doubt coming towards the sliding-glass door, where the curtain inside had accidentally been left open just enough for Charlotte to be seen with her arm half-bent towards the empty center of the room. In one fluid snap, she extended her arm to its full length, and for the first time Charlotte felt something meaningful.

Triptych From West to East

Weekly feature by: Anne Garwig

I

To be prepared in the eventuality of forever
we need 90 years of activities
I will delay this poem another 70
for fear of running out of occupancy
for the time for getting old
isn’t scary but it’s best to pack
some food and maybe some Sudoku
not scary but boring not knowing
how long we will have to wait
to reach with any certainty another coast
manifest west by way of
manifold rest stops

II

We crossed the street near Humboldt Park
and you told me a nickname for Chicago
as two men passed us in the crosswalk
I did not hear clearly if one sai
“Beatles” or “Foals”
“rule”
your shirt said Beatles mine Foals
but you claimed it
half selfishly half selfishly
to protect you to protect me
and the words on our chests
and the breasts behind mine
from intruder compliments

III

Once young enough
I was caught in the street
in front of a passing car
the driver stopped after
I chased the ball
into the road before them
my brother stood in the yard behind me
in memory a prime
and bright morning
ours was four houses from the top of the street
to the east
the industrial park rose with the sun
gleaming atomic-era lines
the giant nuclear furnace
chasing us from the east

Final Tally

Weekly feature by: Gary Duehr

All that is solid melts into air,
Says Marx, Karl not Groucho. Everywhere
A brand of fear
Stamps itself on faces: on the bus, in a rear-view mirror,
Poring over a café menu
Or into the ice cubes of a vodka tonic. When you
Consider all that’s happened since,
Anxiousness makes sense. Time to wince
As billionaires punch the Up button
That takes them to the Tower’s top floor. What’s been done
Can be undone, the arc of history
Can be bent backwards until it hurts, until this story
Ends unhappily: no hugs, no lessons.
Only open lesions
As the country tears itself apart.
The final tally’s done. All those in favor of an open heart
Say Nay; the Ayes
Have it. Say yes to a world where big lies
Become our daily bread.
Say yes to letting the living dead
Rise again to walk among us; we’re their feast.
We’re their host, their yeast.
A toast to the old guy, raise a glass.
For whosoever’s first among us, it’s a gas gas gas.