Scot Young, editor

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Brautigan and the Plastic Buddha by Scot Young

We stumbled around the corner and found ourselves in Chinatown. This stretch of street was experimental poetry with Peking duck hanging in the window. The rain had stopped and the naïve world was washed clean by green tea and paper dragons.

We were on a mission for dim sum. We wandered down an alley with the sweet fragrance of opium hanging in the air. We settled in at Hang Ah, one of the oldest dim sum restaurants in the city. I pointed at the noodle rolls, tarts, and dumplings as the carts rolled by.

“Smell that coming in?” I asked.

“Opium. The Chinese smoke opium in their bathrooms,” Brautigan said.

“Put that on a postcard and send it home,” I said. “Hey, try this noodle roll.”

“The old people sit in the tub,” he said taking the last swallow of his beer.

“That’s just bizarre, man—the bathtub?”

When we got up to pay the ticket, Richard said something to the busboy in Chinese and we were nodded and motioned to the kitchen area. In a darkened storage room off the kitchen a clay pipe was passed around. It was a dream scene set in a Chinatown fog. Old Chinese were sitting in the tub and young children gathered around on the floor. Paper lanterns were stretched across the ceiling on fishing line and bobbed to the sound of an Erhu breeze coming from the alley. A plastic Buddha sat winking on the window sill. I listened to the ping, ting, sing, for minutes, hours or days. Time did not move when the Erhu played.

Finally, inching our way out of the alley, we saw a Chinese princesses riding a lotus flower to the sun weaving down Grant Street in a slow motion display of waving silk. This image stopped us along with a head of cabbage being yo-yo’d down on a string from a balcony above. Smiling elders grinned and waved at us on from above. It splattered at our feet and plastered bits of damp cabbage on our jeans. The old Chinese celebrated from their loft—smiling, nodding, and clapping.

“Ah, man–look at my jeans” I said. “Now what?”

“I need to find a paper, he said.”

Brautigan put the coin in my hand and disappeared behind the paper dragons.

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Breaking Wood by Jenny Pinkas

I’m an episode of reality TV, audience one hundred strong.  Standing alone in the center of the gymnasium, feet bare, blue belt tight against my taekwondo uniform, I am ready to give evidence that aging has not diminished me.  With furrowed brow, I shape my foot into a knife’s blade and kick.  The block stubbornly remains whole.

The room is a gloomy chamber, burdened with the weight of my failure.  A moan breaks the silence.  It’s my young son, head buried in hands.  When I laugh out loud, I feel a new brand of strength emerging from my declining form.

Incredulous by Michael C. Keith

The woman struck by the speeding pickup truck while crossing Route 1 stared back at her severed legs as if looking in an aquarium filled with iridescent jellyfish.

OLD McDONALD PARK By Mark Barkawitz

My little brother Bruce and I were renowned as Speedy and Swifty in the tackle football games at McDonald Park in the early-to-mid ’60s.  I don’t recall who of us was which—Speedy or Swifty?—but I do remember that I learned to swear like a barroom brawler, while playing in those games.

If you go to McDonald Park today, you’ll find a square-block of grass fields for youth soccer and football, lots of park toys for the younger kids, basketball, handball, and volleyball courts.  But back in the ’60s, the geography was quite different.  The northernmost area of the block bordered by Bell Street was actually a fenced-off, covered reservoir, which of course had to be totally flat to accommodate water storage.  That created a steep drop-off on the southern half of the block, which was then the accessible park.  A few swings and a small merry-go-round, benches, and the concrete bathroom were at the top of the evergreen-lined hill.  But the largest part of McDonald Park in those days was its grass-covered hillside on Mountain Street on which we waged merciless tackle football games on weekends and after school in the football season.  I say merciless because we played without helmets or shoulder pads and the out-of-bounds line on the downhill side of the field was the sidewalk—and there were no referees—which made for brutal, high-speed tackles onto concrete, plenty of unnecessary roughness, and the accompanying profanities.

“Get off me, you mother *#x#/*!”

I broke my left wrist there and was in a cast for six weeks.  So I switched to offensive lineman and used my mortared forearm to block.
I still remember the de-cleating tackle I put on my seventh-grade classmate and good friend Gary Mercado, which separated him from the football when he landed upside-down on his head.   He was a big guy at tight end but I hit him just right from behind while he was still in the air after catching a pass.  Luckily, he didn’t break his neck.
“Oh-h-h, *#x#!” he swore.

My little brother and I were small for our age.  But we were both quick-as-a-puma ball-carriers, who could reverse course at will, running thirty yards—up and down that hill—to gain ten yards from the line of scrimmage, thus wearing down our larger opponents.  We earned our nicknames as two impossible-to-tackle halfbacks—Speedy and Swifty.   Thirty years later, a guy named Cal Yocum—who reads scripts for the studios now and still lives on Mar Vista Avenue just up the block from my mother and the park—recognized me as Speedy.   “Or was it Swifty?” he asked.  I couldn’t tell him.

We played pick-up games with Bobby Hatch and his Michigan Avenue buddies, the fraternal twins Alvin and Melvin Johnson, who lived on Bell Street, and Chris Swayne and Michael F_____, who was a few years older.  Tall and strong-armed, Mike played quarterback, launching field-long, end-zone bombs.  He later changed his name to Michael L__ because the FBI was after him for draft evasion.   He sang in a rock band called Dust and played lead guitar—a Jimi Hendrix wanna-be—with Swayne on the keyboard.  They were pretty good, too.  And though they always bragged of a pending record deal, it never materialized.  Hard drugs and alcohol did.  The last time I bumped into Mike was at Memorial Park.  He was homeless—an alcoholic-crack head wrapped in a dirty blanket—and didn’t even recognize me.

“Remember—McDonald Park?  Speedy?  Swifty?”

He just shook his downcast head slowly—no.  “You gotta unnerstan’,” he said, barely above a whisper.  “I’m not right no more.”
I heard he died a few months later.

CANNONBALL EXPRESS by F.N. Wright

He traveled the globe with the world’s most famous circus. His specialty being shot from a cannon. The night before they were to open at Madison Square garden his lover, The Bearded Lady ended their relationship.

Opening night he primed the cannon with enough black powder to fire a 16 incher from the U.S.S. Missouri. He had the cannon’s barrel pointed in such a way his body would peak near the top of the tent, center ring.

His blood and body parts and bone splattered the entire audience who cried in unison for an encore as the gore dripped from their skyward looking faces.

Life Among the Mangled by RD Armstrong


Click on the beard

The Ghost in Cell #6 by DB Cox

I sit in this monochrome room, nodding into the dusty half-light that filters through air holes in the ceiling. My mind is wrapped in defective daydreams that have become one with the dreamer. My fists are down to the bone from pointless pounding against stone. My heart is wasting away, one burnt-out cell at a time. It continues to beat, only because it can.

Nothing in this gray box is real. Not the bench where I sit. Not the filthy, sweat-stained mattress on the floor. Not the meaningless words of defiance scratched into concrete walls. Rallying cries that once burned blood red—now as cold as the rebels who breathed them.
____

Somewhere, close by, a steel door slams. The “laughing man” makes his way down the corridor with his “tools of persuasion.”

The revolt has been crushed. My brother has been found and executed. I have nothing else of value to give up. I have become a “lab animal” for the imagineers of torture—twisted men in white collars who stand with the guards and watch as the fat man in the tan uniform puts the puppet through his paces.
_____

When the beam of light is turned on my face, they expect a show. I will not let them down. There are no longer any limits to my capacity for pain.

I have learned to play out the implications of my sacred role in this comedy of suffering. Every inquiry and response from the repetitious interrogation has been burned by time into my brain. When prodded with the electric baton, I ask the standard questions and reply with my usual denying answers. I am both the “inquisitor” and the “accused.”

To carry on with this insanity, I must convince myself that the cause is real. To survive, I have to believe that my brother is still alive. To prove that I exist, I must feel the sting—I must hear the sound of my voice…

“Jose de Rivera, where is your brother, Miguel, the anarchist?”

“I don’t know.”

“Have you hidden him in the past?”

“No.”

“We will free you if you tell us where he is.”

“I do not know where he is.”

Another searing jolt—I do not scream. I begin to cry the idiot tears of a madman. The audience is amused. The fat man howls with derisive laughter.
_____

I am a ghost in revolt, abiding inside a forever-hungry leviathan—a bone-cold manhole where no rebels march—no banners fly—no drums roll—no fires blaze.

There are no dying cries from the martyr. No holy names to invoke.

Sometimes, hurt is just hurt.