Figure Drawing at Community College

This flash piece was just published in Rusty Truck.  Thanks, Scot!

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I’m getting goosebumps from a draft, though the class doesn’t notice. Most are open-mouthed, charcoal scratching paper, concentrating on the weight of my breast, curve of hip, sag of buttock. I bite my lip, think of the rigidity of a villanelle, try to compose one in my head while the old guy in a beret for god’s sake, studies the cleft, the pubic mound, then meets my eyes.

I want to yell, “I just want to earn enough to get cable,” but I look away, try to show disgust without showing disgust because the woman who will pick up kids from school at 4 is drawing my face. My arm is falling asleep. The instructor said to tell her when I need a break, but the young man by the window is so intent, I hate to interrupt him. I start to tremble, try to shift but not throw off the line. The villanelle becomes a limerick.

There once was a nude on a table
Who couldn’t afford to get cable…

Trembling. Can’t feel my arm at all.

She posed for a class
Where an old man was crass,

Ah, the instructor is announcing a break. I raise my body off my arm and feel electric shocks as blood starts to flow. I reach for my kimono. The old guy sidles up to me.

“Coffee later if you are able?” he asks. Shit, he’s finished my limerick. I walk away rubbing my arm. “Maybe tomorrow?” he calls.

– Sarah Russell
Photo courtesy of Blot Magazine

Rust Belt

“. . .empty factories and gutted storefronts. . .”

My friend Steve Deutsch has a poem in the Goodreads contest this month.  If you’re a member of the Goodreads Poetry group, you can read all the poems here.  And if you feel, like I do, that Steve’s poem is worthy, I hope you’ll vote for it.

Here’s Steve’s poem.

Rust Belt

Sure, we loved the hats and hoopla
the rhythmic chants of lock her up,
but we are not a stupid people.
We know full well this patchy place
between the slag heaps
and the scrub pine–
these crumbling houses perched behind
the padlocked plant once known
for truck tires,
will never be great—
or even good.

You say rust belt
and mean the measure
of empty factories
and gutted storefronts.
The jobs bled out.
The eyesores left behind to moulder.
But the rust is mostly in us.
Too many years of children
born to little hope.
Too many years of promises
from windbags in dingy union halls
and air-conditioned buses
painted red, white, and blue.

This afternoon, I take my maul
to the wood pile
by the rusted chain link fence.
Crisp and clear,
It is a fine day to bust things up–
And the making
of that splintered shattered kindling
with a body that burns
is as near as I will ever come to joy.

– Steven Deutsch
First published in New Verse News
Photo courtesy of Bankruptcy-USA.com 

 

Chancing Love

Not a dive’s precision arc.
Instead a lemming run and plunge,
oblivious to depth,
temperature, whether
water’s in the pool.

Cynics shake their heads.
“Only a fool…” they say.
“Yes, yes!” I answer,
and drop my towel.

-Sarah Russell
First published in Shot Glass Journal
Photo: “Splash” by Upsplash

P.S.  Celebrating 200+ followers.  Thanks, Everybody!!

July 4th Memories

My friend John Ziegler posted this nostalgic look back at July 4th celebrations on Facebook.  Hope you all enjoy it.

As kids we were keenly aware that the Fourth of July, had been federally designated to celebrate our nation’s independence so first thing that morning we put on our  shorts, white tee shirts and Keds, ready to run fast, make noise and eat ice cream. Teddy and Frankie came to the back porch with green carbide canons, tubes of Bangsite, and strings of fire crackers Teddy smuggled from Canada during a fishing trip. We had sparklers and candy. There was always candy involved. Mr. Mallory’s Corner Grocery had glass cases dazzling with penny candy, so our pockets were sticky with sweet, colorful wads.

The next door neighbor had a vintage ice cream maker, with rotating wooden barrel, chain driven, filled with ice and rock salt that surrounded the steel canister of ingredients, cream, sugar, cherries or strawberries. The process started in the morning with the ice cream finally ready at dusk.

Eagerly awaited, this was a day of adventure. After a bike ride to the vacant field behind the Masonic Temple we lay in the warm grass watching clouds evolve. Out of curiosity and a rasher of bravado, Frankie laid a fire cracker across his sneaker and lit it with an Ohio Blue Tip. The fuse sparked, grew short, disappeared and when the little red tube exploded, Frankie jumped three feet and bellowed like a mule. He walked with a limp the next few hours but recovered by the time foot races began with Albert Cassone.

Albert Cassone was an odd man of sixty something who lived in a brick row house a couple of blocks down Franklin Street. Black business pants, pressed white shirt open at the collar and wing tip dress shoes he arrived in our back alley with a pocket full of coins to challenge any and all in a foot race to the third black tar line, for a dime. Everyone got in line, everyone ran faster than wind. Everyone got dimes.

Late in the day the parents whistled the family signal to come home for the picnic. We easily ate three or four loaded hot dogs from the charcoal grill, along with macaroni salad, baked beans, carrot strips, black olives followed by a couple of kinds of cake and finally the home made ice cream. We hardly ever threw up.

When the sky finally grew dusky, fireworks lit up the fairgrounds, loud and bright, concussions shook the air, clouds of smoke softly disappeared in the dark, the whole world drifted in a dream and the country was secured in independence for another year.

 John Ziegler

December Moon by Robert Okaji (translation)

A beautiful poem by Robert Okaji, translated into Chinese and recorded by Mary Tang.  Robert’s poem in English follows Mary’s translation.

Life is But This 命

Robert speaks in an universal language that I find easy to translate into Chinese (with permission by the poet).  My recording is in Cantonese.

歲終月 (一九九九年)。丘明 (Robert Okaji)

若寂寞有生命,

那雨是它的心,

總落至最深低處

才退。水萬般恩賜

千面天恩-最慢的

點滴,牆上的冰線,

你的氣息,在寒夜

那麼穩定那麼柔和。

但無人,無事能填那

離別的空虛。你轉身

背著我,呼出的氣息

像空手擁抱著你留下

的空間。每次你離去

每日此感。四十一歲的我

半世的相知,但愛比千歲

之前之後之終止更連綿

未來的一百個明月之中

最亮的也僅是你的陰影

(c) Mary Tang 2017

December Moon (1999) by Robert Okaji

If loneliness breathes,

then rain is its heart,

always falling to its lowest point

before receding. Water graces us

daily in all its forms – the slowest

drop, the line of ice on the wall,

your breath, so soft and even

in the cool night. But no one,

no thing, can fill the void of

departure. You exhale and turn

away, and the air, with its empty

arms, embraces the space

you’ve left. I feel this daily,

whenever we part. At forty-one

I’ve known you half my life

but have loved you even longer,

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A Search with Words

“His walking stick stands in my cupboard…”

Rajani Radhakrishnan is one of my favorite poets.  This prose poem was published today in The Quiet Letter.  Read more of Rajani’s stunning work on her site ThotPurge.

 

The idiom of childhood seeps into this borrowed lexicon, like the leaky roof drawing patches on the wall smelling of another rain, smelling of grandfather’s only black coat that he wore like a second skin;

When it hung on the nail behind the door, he was shrunken, diminished, swallowed by loud kitchen voices, rambunctious brass and copper pots, their warm bottoms patterned with soot;

His walking stick stands in my cupboard, older than me, than him, head bent in a way his never was, even the night by grandma’s body, preparing her, preparing himself;

I search for him with words in a language he never spoke, that can state he laughed out loud watching cartoons with me that last summer, but cannot translate the way his whole body shook, the way the sea trickled out of one eye, his face contorted into something that I now call joy.

 

Rajani Radhakrishnan is a poet from Bangalore, India.  Photo courtesy of The Huffington Post.

A Gospel of Birds

“They mate for life, she’d say.”

 

My thanks to Dayna Patterson and the crew at Psaltery and Lyre for publishing my poem this morning.  Check out their beautiful website.

She wasn’t sure about heaven,
but she believed in birds.
On walks she’d stop to watch
a skein of geese, wondered
where they came from,
where they were heading.
They mate for life, she’d say.
Crows do too. And swans
and storks. She must have said that
a hundred times, with a kind of wonder
at the impossibility.

She kept five feeders on the deck,
had a book of backyard birds
to identify newcomers at the feast.
She cried when a neighbor’s cat
killed a mourning dove. They mate
for life too, she said. Listen,
her mate is sad. That’s just their call,
I told her. No, it’s different, she said.
You can tell when birds are sad.

She died a month ago.
I keep the feeders filled.

– Sarah Russell
Picture courtesy of The Spruce

 

Petrichor

Start with a kiln-dry summer day,
when the earth cracks with longing,
and sweat makes tracks between your breasts.

The air’s so still you hear a beetle scuttle
on the screen, the sun dims in a sullen sky,
and crickets stop chirping. Maybe they know
what’s coming, or they’re tired of asking.

Then it starts – the first lazy drops –
and when the wooden porch step’s dappled,
you go out and lift your face to the embrace
and breathe in the mix of dust and rain
like a lover’s musk.

– Sarah Russell
First published in The Houseboat
Painting by  Rafaelll90 Digital Art

A Retirement

My friend Steve Deutsch writes narratives that always dig below the surface of their words. He also writes a delicious satirical political blog.  Enjoy!

tree-19957_1920

By stevieslaw

It leafed out absent-mindedly
this year, our junk maple.
A street planting from the fifties,
its branches bald and barren here and there,
though not alarmingly so—
just enough that you would notice,
if you were the kind who’d notice.
It will weather this year, I imagine,
and most likely the next,
but I worry about
our foreseeable future.
On this spot, a twig of a thing,
staked out against the bare breeze,
stands in the unshadowed sun
while from this old house, some
other someone will watch it grow.


Bio: Steve Deutsch’s work has appeared in Eclectica Magazine, The Ekphrastic Review, New Verse News, Silver Birch Press, and Misfit Magazine.

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