Father’s pigeons. Fiction by Sherzod Artikov

Sherzod Artikov

Father’s pigeons

Translated from Uzbek into English by Nigora Dedamirzayeva

“This is the place that you told,” the driver said.

The taxi came to a halt near the edge of the road. I looked around from inside the car. The view – the edifice with two green cupolas and myriad pigeons around them appeared in front of me. Coming closer I found the yard full of pigeons which were eating birdseed scattered by people.

“Back in the day, it’s called « Pigeon cemetery»”, indicated the driver. “It’s become the shrine of a renowned holy man who lived in the city. The building at the corner used to be his praying room in the dim and distant past.

Plenty of people in front of that building were coming in and out turn by turn.

“Hundreds of people go on a pilgrimage every day,” he continued. “Here, people pray for the dead, patients for healing, childless couples for babies. They make imam* give the blessing and recite the Koran** asking for invocation. Walking in the yard they strew seeds and make a pilgrimage to the holy men’s grave.”

I was keeping my eyes peeled for a flock of pigeons flying in the sky even as I was listening to him, honestly. They were just the same as described in my father’s album: bluish grey, white, and black, more gentle and softer than each other as if giving a meaningful look.

“Dear guest, I’ll be in the car,” the driver said after some time as he prepared to get in it. “If I didn’t have an allergy to autumn air, I would escort you, unfortunately staying outside a lot makes me sneeze.”

Blowing his nose, he walked towards his car. I came closer to the pigeons busy pecking seeds. They were fighting over food as a few grains were left on the ground. In this case, the same as with humans, the weaker group will be sidelined, luck is only on the side of the more agile.

There was an old thin woman selling grains on one side of the shrine. I didn’t see her at first.  People were fetching grains in a cellophane bag from her. When I clapped eyes on it, I bought some. Seeing me scatter seeds on the ground, the pigeons surrounded me. Those flying in the sky also descended and joined the flock. In an instant, I was amongst countless pigeons. Forgetting fear, some of them pecked at my grain, as well as my hand, while others tried to climb up my shoes.

Soon, the bag in my hand was emptied. I sat down as I was getting tired. There was a cemetery behind me. The shrine and cemetery were separated by a long wall and it were clearly visible through a fenced chink in the midst of the brick walls. I guess there was a mosque next to it because the image of a soon-to-be-crescent moon made of copper on a high dome was inclined eastward.

As I sat on the bench watching the pigeons, I took my camera and photographed them several times. Then I opened my briefcase and took father’s album from inside it. I compared the pigeons around me with the ones drawn in the album. I looked through the notes and the dates written under the pictures there. Below each picture was a note and date. For example, next to the picture of a grey pigeon with the date «04.06.1995» was written «My darling, my child went to the first grade today.» Underneath was a picture of a white dove with the date «02.11.2001» and the words «Yesterday, I looked at the firmament through the window. I felt as if I was seeing you, Snow White.» Among them, the one that attracted the most attention was the picture of a black and white, plump pigeon. Father had dated it «07.06.2006» and written beneath it: «I bought chocolate from the store today, it has a picture of a dove on a package, just like you, Fluffy.»

When there was no one left in front of the scholar’s praying room which had been mentioned by the driver, I got up and went there. Inside, an imam with a turban on his head and white beard was sitting in the room, the Koran and the worry beads were on a table covered with blue velvet in front of him.

“Come on, sir,” the imam said giving me a warm welcome

“I want you to recite the Koran for my father’s spirit,” I said when I saw his inquiring look.

He began to recite the Koran. Listening to him I visualized my father: I called to mind his last days at the oncology department of Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Back then I often stayed with my father who was lying on the bed for the last few days of his life with brain cancer and had lost his hair completely. He was emaciated and his eyes were sunken.  He always lay holding my hands; when I fed a spoon of water or soup to him, he looked at me smacking his lips and blinking his eyes. He always wanted to say something, but couldn’t speak as he became speechless, he was only wheezing.

One day, his condition worsened. As I didn’t move away from him, I took the remote control of the TV set on the wall and changed channels to distract myself. At one point, father wheezed in a low voice putting up his right hand as if screaming. Pigeons were being shown on television. At first, I understood that his grunting was for me to change to another channel.  When I did this, he got nervous, and his hands started to shake.

“Bring back the channel showing pigeons,” Mum said and approached father trying to quieten him.

After returning to that channel, father immediately calmed down watching pigeons. But his hands were still shaking, his trembling jaw seemed to be hanging when my mother wasn’t holding it.

“Ramadan, did you miss your pigeons?” asked Mum gripping his jaw tightly as if to read his mind.

Tears welled up in my father’s eyes, he tried to say something, but he didn’t go beyond gasping for breath again.

“I think your father misses the pigeons,” my mother said, turning her face to me. “In Marghilan, where we were born, there was a place called «Pigeon cemetery». Your father’s childhood was spent there. Even his youth.  There were countless pigeons. Your father adored and passed much time with them. He took me there a lot, too. When we went, we always fed the pigeons sprinkling grains and sat dreaming for hours.

My father was lying quietly listening to my mother. One moment he was staring at her mouthing, the next at the pigeons on TV. Listening to her words, he more or less understood what she was saying, and perhaps that was why he wept bitterly and tried to get up, wrinkling his border of bed.

After finishing reciting, the imam opened his hands in supplication. I did the same.

“There’s nothing wrong with asking,” the imam said glancing at me. “Son, you look like a foreigner.”

“I’m from The United States,” I said introducing myself to him. “But I’m Uzbek. My parents were born here. They lived in Marghilan for some time and immigrated during the “reconstruction years”***.

“They moved away before gaining independence, did they?” he asked.

The sky was dark, and the clouds were floating in blue. The yellow leaves of a plane tree in front of the praying room were falling over the ground in the breeze. I reminisced about my childhood in Chicago stepping on the leaves. My father said that I wasn’t born when they moved to the USA. Father had a deep affection for me as he was raised in an orphanage.  Every weekend we used to go either to matches of basketball team called “Chicago Bulls” or the nature museum. We also went to the cinema a lot. At night, I always passed into a slumber listening stories and tales. Whenever he was free from work, he used to call me to his room and teach me Uzbek and how to play chess. At that time, he impressed me as a blithe and pleased person. On top this, he was very jokey. 

Even after growing up, I didn’t notice any common human feelings such as woe, longing or grief in him. True, sometimes when we came back on foot after watching the “Chicago Bulls” match or drank tea on the porch in the summertime, his heart sank seeing a flock of birds in the sky. It would happen so quickly that he fell silent as if he had lost his tongue at that point where he was telling a joke or an interesting story, and sudden change in his soul continued for several days. Sometimes I saw my father opening the window wide and his eyes had a distant faraway look. Even then, the birds would be flying in the sky, and my father watched their movements hearing their cries.

He worked for a diamond trading company. Even worked at home because of his busy schedule. Sometimes I watched him from the doorpost of his room and sympathized seeing him working, wiping the sweat from his face. He worked overmuch, but in the meantime, he took a break, and wrote in the album that I now have, putting his hand on his chin. Then I realized that he had drawn the pictures of pigeons at that time.

After his passing, I flipped through this album every night.  Seeing the light in my room hadn’t gone out yet, my mother often entered the room and we looked at the album together, her eyes filling with tears. The inscriptions and dates under each picture were more heartbreaking than the picture of pigeons there. The more I read them, the more I felt like I was bent over the flow of memories.

“I think your father wanted to go back to his homeland,” my mother said in such woebegone moments. “He wanted to see pigeons.”

A light drizzle started to fall. October here is just like Chicago’s, it’s kind of cloudy and rainy. As it started to rain, the people who came to the shrine began to disperse.  Seeing them go, the pigeons seemed to be sad. They looked at each other as if they didn’t understand anything and stared thoughtfully at the people’s backs who had sprinkled them with grains.  Just then, the heavens opened and I walked to the car parked on the east side of the shrine to avoid catching a cold. The driver was dozing in the car waiting for me. He woke up when I opened the door suddenly. 

“Were you here?” he said rubbing his eyes.

On the way, it was pouring even more heavily. The car’s windshield wiper was unable to wipe off the raindrops hitting it. Seeing the sheets of rain, I thought of the pigeons with concern. I thought they got caught in the rain. After a while, I reassured myself that there was a place for them to keep inside. I couldn’t stop myself thinking. Another thought, if there would be a shelter for those countless pigeons began to flicker through my mind.

“Did you forget something there?”–the driver asked when I asked him to please turn back.

When I got back to the shrine, I got out of the car quickly. I hurried to the yard which had become a haven for pigeons.  But there were no pigeons, neither on earth,  nor in the heavens, as if they had vanished somewhere without a trace. I stood in the rain for a while not knowing what to do.

“Did you forget something?”

The imam who was closing the door of the praying room gave the same question.

“Where did the pigeons go?” I asked turning to him.

The imam looked around as if he did not understand.

“They went nowhere,” he said in a calm voice.  “Look at the roof. They have nests here.”

I looked at the roof. At first, I didn’t notice the shelter. After some time, I saw a long, narrow passage. The passage was enclosed and there were several openings to allow light inside.  The pigeons were close together and watching the rain fall outside, sticking their heads out from the windows.

“Do they all fit in there?” I said looking at him for clarity while my concern disappeared.

“Of course,” he said wiping his rain-soaked face with a handkerchief. “They  have been living there as a family for many years.”

When I returned to the hotel, my clothes were absolutely sopping. Seeing me enter through the main door, one of the servants there handed me a towel. While toweling, I ordered the manager to place a call for me to America. He immediately dialed the numbers I told and connected my mother.

“Mum,” I said when my mother’s familiar voice came from the receiver. “I went and saw my father’s pigeons. They are the same as the pictures depicted in the album.”

Mother wanted to say something, but her voice didn’t come out. Only the sound of her crying could be heard from the receiver.

2019, October

Comments:

*Imam – a Muslim religious leader

*The Koran – the holy book of the Muslims

* Reconstruction years- years between 1988-1990 in the Soviet Union.

Author: Sherzod Artikov

Translated from Uzbek into English by Nigora Dedamirzayeva

Sherzod Artikov was born in 1985 in the city of Marghilan of Uzbekistan. He graduated from Fergana Polytechnic institute in 2005. He was one of the winners of the national literary contest “My Pearl Region” in the direction of prose in 2019. In 2020, his first authorship book “The Autumn’s Symphony” was published in Uzbekistan by publishing house Yangi Asr Avlodi. In 2021, his works were published in the anthology books called World Writers in Bangladesh, Asia sings and Mediterranean Waves in Egypt in the English language. In 2021, he participated in the International Writers Congress organized in Argentina, the international literature conference under the name “Mundial insurgencial cultura” dedicated to Federico Garcia Lorca’s life and work, the International Poetry Festival in Tunisia, the International Poetry Carnival in Singapoore. This year he was honoured as “Global Peace Ambassador” by the Iqra Foundation, “International Peace Ambassador” by the World Literary Forum for Peace and Human Rights and awarded “Certificate of friendship” and other certifications by “Revista Cardenal” in Mexico. Currently, he is the literary consultant of the cultural website of Pakistan “Sindh courier”, the representative and delegate in Uzbekistan of the literature magazine of Mexico Revista Cardenal and the literature and art magazine of Chile Casa Bukowski.

His works have been published in several magazines and newspapers of Uzbekistan. Then translated into Russian, English, Turkish, Serbian, Slovenian, Macedonian, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Albanian, Romanian, French, Greek, Hebrew, Portuguese, Bengali, Arabic, Chinese, Indonesian, Persian and Urdu languages.

Besides, his works have been published in the literary magazines, newspapers and websites of Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, England, Germany, Greece, Italy, Spain, Romania, Poland, Israel, Belgium, Albania, Macedonia, Kazakhstan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iran, Egypt, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala and Nicaragua .

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Histograms. A poem by Dr. Rubeena Anjum

Rubina

Histograms
   
histograms show city mounted on a graph 
stormy grey clouds perched on skyscrapers
pillars of isolation stand at 90 degrees
friendless patios braving bipolar weather 
elevators pass through the curtained glass 
 
penthouses to down below are inmates
barely talking, not even to themselves
towering flat-chest avenues, yawning
at night, quadrilateral lights watch
looming shadows befriending ghosts    
 
brown bags binned; tv screened black
unpaid bills stacked; cell phones de-stressed
whacked bundles put to bed, logged off  
so schooled are dogs inside our bodies_
unleashed, they howl, run wild in dreams
 
filled with gravel and steel, in the bars
of connectivity is wired isolation, condos 
converted airtight vaults are not homes 
in hives piled one on another, bees 
never complain; they embrace hierarchies
 
on skewers of compliance, every day
pushed against the columns of linearity  
baby dolls, dandy boys, hooked on dating apps
uptown spas, diesel gyms, hop-daddy getaways
life stays vertical, lonely, unloved and sad

Dr. Rubeena Anjum is an educator and a psychologist. Now retired, she pursues her passion for reading and writing poetry. She is a member of the Dallas Poets Community and the Richardson Poets Group. Her recent work has appeared in The Ekphrastic Review, The Bosphorus Review of Books, Artistic Antidote UMN Clinical Affairs, and Corona Virus Anthology by Austin International Poetry Festival.

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WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.

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The Torch That We Never Saw. A poem by Mansour Noorbakhsh

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is canada-persia.jpg

The Torch That We Never Saw

(A prayer for Afghans and Afghanistan after brutal Taliban advance while American soldiers and diplomats are leaving Afghanistan.)

The water hit us like the hard rocks. The darkness engulfed us by the violent waves when we heard the boat breaking and we saw the light of the bullets towards our boat. The waves that we had never seen before and had not known how powerful they are to smash our weak body and the boards of our boat, had hit us. We had been taught the water is for liveliness. We were not familiar with the deadly waves, nor with dying in the wandering waters. With the first whistle of a bullet and with the first shake of the boat that broke, we left ourselves in the stormy waves. As we had been told.  We had nowhere but the embrace of deadly waves. And we had learned nothing but that. And only then did we realize what they had taught us was to die and dying only. Not how to survive. On the beach, no hand was shaking any torch for us. Because no one neither expected nor believed that we could reach the shore from such violent waves.

Mansour Noorbakhsh writes and translates poems in both English and Farsi, his first language. He tries to be a voice for freedom, human rights and environment in his writings. He believes a dialog between people around the world is an essential need for developing a peaceful world, and poetry helps this dialog echoes the human rights. Currently he is featuring The Contemporary Canadian Poets in a weekly Persian radio program https://persianradio.net/. The poet’s bio and poems are translated into Farsi and read to the Persian-Canadian audiences. Both English (by the poets) and Farsi (by him) readings are on air. This is a project of his to build bridges between the Persian-Canadian communities by way of introducing them to contemporary Canadian poets. His book about the life and work of Sohrab Sepehri entitled, “Be Soragh e Man Agar Miaeed” (trans. “If you come to visit me”) is published in 1997 in Iran. And his English book length poem; “In Search of Shared Wishes” is published in 2017 in Canada. His English poems are published in “WordCity monthly” and “Infinite Passages” (anthology 2020 by The Ontario Poetry Society). He is a member of The Ontario Poetry Society and he is an Electrical Engineer, P.Eng. He lives with his wife, his daughter and his son in Toronto, Canada.

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Sloshing sound of a flowing river. A poem by Bhuwan Thapaliya

bhuwanthapaliya

Sloshing sound of a flowing river

Through my window, 
filthy clouds of dust reel in 
from the graveled lanes
of an offended city.
It distorts my sights,
soaks my shirt with filth, 
churns my stomach 
and infuriates me all the time.
It is not just 
the denseness of the air 
or the stench of
the corporate garbage 
strewn over the streets
or the lethal chemical fertilizers
that have run off
into rivers and lakes
causing horrible, 
creepy blooms of algae.
It is in knowing the part
that I too have played 
in destroying the beautiful nature;
it takes a heavy toll on me. 
It takes a heavy toll 
on my mental health.
I am missing
the persistent sloshing sound
of a flowing river, 
my youthful days
in my village, 
where I enjoyed
splashing and playing
with the little fishes 
and aquatic insects
through the waters
as my grand mum
was busy washing clothes 
by the riverbank.
I could still feel
the sensation
of the flowing waters
on my legs
and smile at the women, 
carrying freshly cut grasses
on their backs,
hurriedly walking past
the blooming hillside flowers
with spiritual essences 
in their eyes.

Nepalese poet Bhuwan Thapaliya works as an economist and is the author of four poetry collections. His poems have been widely published in international magazines and journals such as Kritya, Foundling Review, FOLLY, WordCity Monthly, Poetry and Covid: A Project funded by the UK Arts and Humanities Research Council, University of Plymouth, and Nottingham Trent University, Trouvaille Review, Journal of Expressive Writing, Pendemics Literary Journal, Pandemic Magazine, The Poet, Valient Scribe, Strong Verse, Ponder Savant, International Times, Taj Mahal Review, Poetry Life and Times, VOICES (Education Project), Longfellow Literary Project, Poets Against the War, among many others. Thapaliya has read his poetry and attended seminars in venues around the world, including South Korea, India, the United States, Thailand, Cambodia, and Nepal.

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WordCity Literary Journal is provided free to readers from all around the world, and there is no cost to writers submitting their work. Substantial time and expertise goes into each issue, and if you would like to contribute to those efforts, and the costs associated with maintaining this site, we thank you for your support.

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Yours. Fiction by Bruce Meyer

Author Photo Bruce Meyer

Yours

A salutation is gesture of sincere utterance that either says hello or offers a goodbye. The sign off defines a relationship. ‘Yours sincerely,’ is business-like, professional, cold, and objective. It offers no warmth. It leaves one with the feeling that what has come before was merely a transaction, a letter to the electric company stating payment is enclosed.

‘Yours truly,’ is even trickier. It suggests there is some faithful bond between the writer and the recipient, a lasting attachment of devotion that cannot be broken by goodbye, a kind à bientôt, until next time. The word truly carries the subtle suggestion that everything else that passed between two people was a lie, and that may have been the case. Relationships are deceptive.

People get hurt because they read meanings into things rather than from things. Jane’s Dear John letter to me was signed with a curt ‘Yours sincerely.’ I have the feeling she really wanted to say ‘Yours truly’ because she had been lying to me about how she really felt. If there is a truly or truthful version of how she perceived us I will never know now that we have broken up. I wish her the best, but I wish I had some modicum of clarity. I’d feel better with a bit of clarity.

            I am not sure what I did to hurt Jane. Even if I had, she would never have said because truly isn’t ‘Yours with clarity.’ People never tell you how you’ve hurt them. Was it something I said? Something I did? I still don’t know. I don’t blame her for not wanting to reveal the truth to me. If someone is wounded, they rarely show where their vulnerable point was.

Jane knew I was leaving for three months overseas to work on my thesis. In the end, I stayed longer. The work was important to me. I wanted my doctorate. Jane thought education was pointless. Maybe that was the problem between us. I stayed longer because there was nothing at home for me to hurry back to. And with a broken heart, I could be just as miserable while I was doing something constructive far away as I would at home.

The international postage system in those days was remarkable. Letters moved with a speed that is now the domain of emails and text messages, though people who break up via text messages are just being tacky and I will give Jane credit for both penmanship and emotional courtesy. She wrote me a standard breaking-it-off letter. The problem, I later realized, was that we were still dating when she wrote it. It had been posted three days before my flight. That had to hurt because I felt that our final, tender hours together had been a lie. We were walking in High Park. The cherry blossoms were coming to the end of their bloom, and as the petals fell and scattered on the wind, I couldn’t help but feel that the beauty of what Jane and I shared was also being scattered to the wind.

When I arrived at my London flat, jet-lagged, and dizzy from the time change, her letter was already on the table inside the front door of the flats where the custodian lined up the letters alphabetically each day. My first reaction was no one had taught her how to write a proper personal letter. It began “Hey,” and most of her sentences were fragments that wanted to communicate what she felt but fell short grammatically. Those fragments left me wondering if there was something Jane wanted to say and could not. Perhaps English had never been her forte and possibly the reason she felt I was wasting my time pursuing my PhD in English literature. Letter writing is a lost art. At least she hadn’t texted me.

            Letter writing was drilled into me by my grandmother who wrote personal letters in a very archaic and flowing script. My Gran had practiced her art during the First World War without realizing that letters to and from the trenches were censored. She kept carbon copies of each message and in one – I was the intrusive descendant who found her cache of correspondence after her death and read each one before tucking them away with the belief they were historical artefacts – she wrote to a soldier who had been her beau telling him that his brevity, his postcard of ticked boxes where the only personal element was a check mark beside “Send more socks” left her distraught with the belief he had fallen out of love with her.

Gran probably never learned if the young man was or wasn’t still in love with her because the next piece of correspondence in the stack was a telegram from the beau’s sister in Regina informing my Gran that the young man had been killed in action. I don’t know if she even got around to buying the knitting needles or the regulation khaki wool. The letters from the beau were returned to her.

My Gran’s stationery was scented with lavender. When I was a brat to my mother, my grandmother made me learn how to write an apology letter. That letter was signed “Every faithfully, if you forgive me,” in a pleading, aulic tone. ‘Every faithfully’ means ‘you can trust me…please trust me, I won’t do whatever wrong I had committed again.’” I realized letters can be punishing as well as soothing. My father wrote love letters to my mother. I have never been permitted to read them and I don’t blame Mom for keeping them private, but when I asked her if they made her feel good about herself her reply was, “Like a million dollars.”

            I sat in my flat overlooking St. George’s Square. The landlady had been kind enough to leave a packet of coffee beside the kettle and a small pitcher of cream in the tiny refrigerator. I tilted back in my chair, looked at the residents’ garden, and wondered what should happen next. Should I reply to the letter? No. That would be awkward politeness – etiquette taken too far. She I write a letter back to her asking why she did what she did in the way she did it? No. That might end up sounding vindictive. There are two people to every piece of correspondence. Writing letters is like playing tennis. One person hits the ball and another returns the volley. When one receives a goodbye letter either from a dying relative or regarding a dying relationship the correspondence becomes a matter of talking to oneself where the recipient of thoughts and observations is reduced to silence. The best a person can do when the recipient vanishes is to vanish too.

A day or so later, I was in Boots Pharmacy and found some stationery that I thought suitable for writing to my parents to keep them up to date on my progress. The bottom of each page was decaled, and the envelopes had ragged flaps to match the decal-edged paper with its bearded ends. I didn’t care if my mother took the time to write back to me. We had arranged for long-distance phone cards so we could talk once a week or twice if I was running short of funds for groceries and train fare to libraries in other cities. But nonetheless I wrote to my folks. I tried to put into words the places I’d seen, the books and manuscripts I’d read, and the immediacy the past has when one holds something old and rare in one’s fingers and learns from it.

I thought of going to the London Eye and sending Jane a postcard of myself against a mock backdrop of the city’s vista but decided once I was on the wheel that the gesture would be pointless. To her, the London Eye photograph would just be another picture for her to toss out either immediately or years from now (if she was sentimental) and had to clean out a drawer. I had the picture taken but I sent it to my Mom.

Even if I had sent Jane the picture postcard of me in one of the wheel’s gondolas, my arms spread to embrace a whole new experience, what would I say? “Wish you were here?” That wouldn’t be right. She had written me a Dear John letter, the kind soldiers used to get when their girlfriends or wives found someone else at home while the combatant was off serving God and Country.

For the first several weeks in London I wanted Jane because I missed her, but I didn’t want her there because she didn’t want me. If she missed me, I could experience a vicarious schadenfreude, though putting anything of that nature in a letter would be mean and even meaner if I had written it on a postcard. No. I did not wish she was there. I wished her the best, but I wished her the best from the safe distance where recovery from a broken relationship is possible. That kind of distance is what embraces a ship as it sails off into the horizon, shrinking in size and importance until it can no longer be seen. Out of sight and out of mind.

            Besides, postcards are the worst kind of letter. There are two types of postcards that I detest, and the worst is the photo Christmas card that friends with kids send me. One couple always dressed up in matching awful seasonal sweaters with the children scattered around their ankles in footy sleepers. What put me off photo cards last year was that the Christmas family gathering, now that the kids were older, had been taken on a beach in New England and a very buff guy minding his own business photobombed the corner of the image. The kids were dressed up in sleepers even though they’d outgrown that kind of gear, and every member of the family had a red snowman sweater and Santa cap on. I could tell they were sweating profusely and just wanted to get the whole thing over with. The shirtless guy was carrying a surfboard and looked like he was in a hurry to find his Christmas gear before someone pointed out he was almost next to nature.

            Several years ago, I made the mistake of dating two women at the same time, both of whom were Sarah. They were from different backgrounds, different parts of the city. They went to different universities, studied different subjects, and moved in social spheres that, as far as I could tell from their online existence, never intersected like the edges of a Ven diagram. There was no way they knew each other.

Both Sarahs announced they were going to Italy for the summer to study art – one to Florence and the other to Venice. I thought ‘Italy is a big country…what are the chances?’ and dismissed the possibility they might accidentally encounter each other. Secretly, I was counting on one or both to fall madly in love with someone they met overseas for their studies and in doing so excuse me from the duty of having to write a goodbye letter to one or both of them.

Fate is an odd beast. They met in the Coliseum in Rome, began talking about home and people they knew as they sat down at a tiny sidewalk table for espressos and gelatos. They sent me souvenir postcard of a ruined city, their middle fingers raised, and the salutation about what I should do to myself. I admired their ability to put me in my place. That’s what a good letter can do if it is meant to do that.

            Jane had my undivided attention, and our relationship still went wrong. I wanted her to be my one and only. My last day with her was spent in the park and I remember looking into her eyes as I picked cherry blossom petals from her hair. I wanted to kiss her. I was falling in love with her, but I was too much of an idiot to do anything about it. The blossoms were pink, and they reminded me of the blush in her cheeks. She’d been out in the spring sunshine all day and was sunburnt. I think I told her she looked deep pink, but I forgot to add the blossom part. If I wrote to her now and said what I had forgotten to say the message might read like a letter of unconditional surrender and I won’t give her the joy of that. Besides, the truth behind our beautiful day in the park was that she had, in her mind, already broken off our relationship. I just had to go to the other side of the Atlantic to find the letter.

            It was still early in the morning and London was alive. I went for a walk through St. George’s Square, up Denbigh Street to Tavistock, and all the way to Victoria Station. I must have passed at least ten letter boxes, all painted red, some with ERII on them and others with GRVI. The open slots looked hungry. But I passed them by and told them, sincerely and truly and with fond regards, I would feed them if I met someone who also wrote letters but didn’t need them because we had so much to share with each other.

Bruce Meyer is the author of 67 books of poetry, short stories, flash fiction, and literary non-fiction. His most recent collections of short stories are Down in the Ground (Guernica Editions, 2020) and The Hours: Stories from a Pandemic (Ace of Swords, 2021). His stories have won or been shortlisted for numerous international prizes. He lives in Barrie, Ontario. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Meyer

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All Shook Up. Non-fiction by Paul Germano

Paul Germano WordCity pix

All Shook Up

Ring, ring, ring, ring. Roughly 44 years ago (August 16, 1977, to be exact), my landline rang and Nancy was on the other end. Nancy didn’t even bother to say hello. Instead she blurted out, “Elvis is dead.” I was, and still am, a big fan of Elvis Costello, so I immediately thought she meant my Elvis. When she clarified that it was Presley, not Costello, I felt slightly relieved, but still quite stunned and saddened. My brother Tony and sister Kathy, both roughly a decade older than me, were true-blue Elvis Presley fans, especially my brother who was a super fan. So growing up in the 1960s, I was exposed to Elvis Presley’s music as well as a plethora of singers and bands making names for themselves in Rock and Pop, as well as California Beach music. I had even earned the trust of my big brother and big sister, who willingly let me, their little kid brother, listen to their albums and 45s on my own, including Presley’s music, with the caveat that I handled the vinyl with care, which of course I did. By the time I was eight years old (in 1966—please, don’t do the math), I was already a diehard music fan and discovering a slew of my own rock stars to idolize. These are the blessings of having an older brother and older sister to show one the way.

When Elvis died on that sad summer day in the middle of August in 1977, my hometown of Syracuse, smack dab in the center of New York State, was already in an Elvis state of mind. Fans were excited, some of them downright giddy, that his concert tour was making a stop in Syracuse, scheduled for later in August. My brother Tony and his wife Jeanne had tickets to see Elvis, but sadly that concert never took place. I imagine there are a lot of people here in Syracuse who still have their concert tickets tucked away somewhere in a memory box.

Now, back to that phone call. Nancy was on the line wondering whether our crew would still be doing our weekly thing or whether it would just feel too strange to go out and have a good time. There were roughly fifteen of us in our so-called crew, most of us college kids. We had a standing mid-week tradition throughout the summer of going to a disco on Erie Boulevard called Uncle Sam’s. Yes, I said disco; it was 1977 after all. Some of the crew skipped a week or two here and there, but there was a core of regulars who showed up week after week. My girlfriend Sandra and I were at the center of that core, along with the aforementioned Nancy, plus Cindy, Doug, Elaine, Artie and Beth. After a whole lot of phone calls back and forth amongst the crew, we ultimately decided we’d stick to our plans and go to the club. We danced to the boom boom boom of Disco music, drank cheap mixed drinks, and talked in shouted conversations in order to be heard over the loud music, same as always. The club had a long narrow raised dance floor with bright colorful lighting underneath to go along with the flashing lights from up above. It was a catwalk of sorts, where we could show off our best, and sometimes worst, dance moves. (Remember the Bump? Or the Hustle? Or shaking your groove thing?) So even though there was an odd feeling in the air that night, it was still business as usual: music played, people danced. Men and women flirted. Drinkers drank—some in moderation, others excessively.

Abruptly, the boom boom boom of the Disco beat came to a halt, and the deejay broke with the club’s steadfast policy of only playing Disco to play an Elvis Presley song. I cannot remember what song it was, but I do remember the uproar of cheers. People who weren’t already dancing, rushed in, overcrowding the space, with some being forced to dance along the sides of the raised dance floor. Sandra and I were on that crowded dance floor, crammed in like gyrating sardines, all of us dancing to an Elvis Presley song on the night the angels took away Rock ‘n’ Roll’s original King. Yeah, that was roughly 44 years ago.

 

Paul Germano lives in Syracuse, smack dab in the center of New York State, with his dog April, a beautiful, strong and lovable Pit Bull mix. Germano’s fiction has been published or is forthcoming in roughly 40 print and online magazines, including Boston Literary Magazine, Bright Flash Literary Review, The Drabble, The Fictional Café, Flash in a Flash, Free Flash Fiction, Microfiction Monday Magazine, Sledgehammer Literary Journal and VIA: Voices in Italian Americana. In his nonfiction adventures, Germano has worked as an editor/writer for Le Moyne College, Syracuse University and The Catholic Sun. As well, he freelanced for Syracuse New Times, The Post-Standard and Stars Magazine.

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Standing Like That. A poem by Michał Choiński

Michal

Standing Like That

The stone is small and irregular.
It feels like a growth 
on the inside of the palm. 
The muscles flex as you clutch it.
Glimpsing sideways, you realize
that you probably don’t have the aim 
like the others. 
So, standing like that,
you just want to eject 
that thing you’re holding
at the first possible moment.
You fail to bring the gloves,
and the limestone absorbs 
the drops of sweat from the hand.
It angers you, 
as you don’t want it
to carry your sweat signature.
But, of course, you know
that one cannot trace the stones 
back to anyone. 
They belong to all.

Michał Choiński teaches literature at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland. He has written two books on the history of American literature: Rhetoric of the Revival (V&R, 2016) and Southern Hyperboles (Louisiana State University Press, 2020). His pamphlet, Gifts Without Wrapping came out with the Hedgehog Press in 2019, as a winter of a poetry competition. In 2022, he’ll be a Fulbright Fellow at Yale University, writing his next book.

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On Reading Travel Documents. A Poem by Monica Manolachi

On Reading Travel Documents

My full name means I am still alive.
This photograph means I’ve crossed a desert and a sea to get here. 
This date of birth means beginnings are usually scary.
This place of birth means fear is always looking for a nest.
This number is someone forced to abandon their home 
and wander from country to country in search of peace. 
My occupation as a software engineer 
means I wanted a modern job, to forget about the past.
This little box means my past is not a source of inspiration.
This dot means someone was killed by a bomb.
This line means someone else inhaled toxic gas.
This microchip means my daughter is gluing a tail of crepe papier 
to form a pink rabbit at a workshop for children.
The expiration date means the school bus was halted 
and some of the pupils disappeared. 
This blanc space means I have no other wish but to feel safe.
These slashes mean birds have different names in different languages. 
These angle brackets mean these birds are reluctant to migrate.
My signature means my home is my heart. 
These stamps mean there is still a long way to go.

Monica Manolachi lives in Bucharest, Romania, where she teaches English and Spanish at the University of Bucharest. She is a literary translator and a poet. She has published numerous articles on contemporary poetry and prose, and is the author of Performative Identities in Contemporary Caribbean British Poetry (2017).

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The Right to Privacy. A poem by Elizabeth Poliner

Liz Poliner 2479 Color - Copy

The Right to Privacy
“We have had many controversies over these penumbral rights of ‘privacy and repose.’” 
Justice Douglas, Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965)

Winter, years ago, at a Washington D.C. gala—
  a celebration for a friend—and who else is there
    but Sandra Day O’Connor, swinging

with her husband on the dance floor.
  Her dress, black and belted, is knee-length,
    her hair, that bob we’ve come to know,

vestige of the fifties, when she was new to the law,
  among the first women graduates of Stanford.
    No one would hire her then. So forbidding

was her sex, so mysterious, we might liken her
  to Eve, who’s had the book thrown at her
    for bearing all that feminine baggage. But tonight

she wears her history lightly, yes,
  she is light on her feet, her arms wrapped gently
    around a man she loves, she is slim

in that black dress, a shorter more shapely version
  of that familiar black robe. Tonight, she shows
    leg, supple and strong, she shows, albeit judiciously,

sex appeal as he twirls her and she smiles,
  supremely happy. Though she’s maintained
    a woman’s right to privacy, it’s hard not to conceive
	
how later, home, she might very well disrobe,
  make love, her mind free of the day’s
    weighty decisions, her body safe

in the arms of her love, her head turned briefly
  to the window beside her, to the moon’s penumbra,
    illuminating this intimate domain with its spare glow.

Elizabeth Poliner’s books include the poetry collection, What You Know in Your Hands (David Robert Books), a Beltway Poetry Quarterly Best Book selection for 2015, and the novel, As Close to Us as Breathing (Little, Brown & Co.), winner of the 2017 Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize in Fiction, finalist for the Ribalow Prize for Jewish fiction and the Library of Virginia’s People’s Choice Award in Fiction, and an Amazon Best Book of 2016.  Her poetry has appeared in the Sun, the Southern Review, the Hopkins Review, Ilanot Review, Seneca Review, and many other journals. She teaches at Hollins University where she holds the Susan Gager Jackson Chair in Creative Writing.

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How Do Rainbows Fall, exactly? A poem by Rhonda Melanson

Rhonda

How Do Rainbows Fall, exactly?

(In Memory of the Afzaal Family in London, Ontario)

When we contemplate 
the felling of rainbows

how they balloon
above boulevards

collapse in tragic layers

we fade 
to Kristellnacht by the traffic lights

a cut scene
where colorful victims

bleed out
thin bands of mayday

from their broken window spirits

and we remember
how we thought we all bled.

We forget
about the ghouls
that shrink
while others
levitate

wearing cloaks
that aren't even a real colour.

Rhonda Melanson is a poet and teacher living in Sarnia, Ontario.  She has been published in many online and print journals. She co-edits a literary blog Uproar.

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