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Issue 12.4

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Welcome to issue 12.4 of Forge!

Now on tap: A fresh infusion of zeroes and ones for your reading enjoyment.

~Leif Milliken

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Forge 12.4

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CONTENTS

—Prose—

Ron Singer: Gift of God

—Poetry—

Simon Perchik: Twelve Selected Poems

Mark Belair: Culling Keepsakes

August West: Three Poems

Three Poems – Spring 2019

By August West

*

Arms rise: tongues

in dark

 

voice night

rooms, song broke

 

from ground

so quick, what

 

we said of fear—

your hands, each

 

bone, soft

warm counting.

 

 

 

 

*

as he handed me a drink, he began to hum a song
and all the boys there at the bar began to sing along
—Lowell George

 

 

…I feed sparrows and

I feed hawks

 

 

in mist dark

bloom

azalea, spin

 

vine, almost

not quite

sideways, that

 

concrete

 

*

paint, tar, no soap:

clouds know—

 

drums first, click

the roof

 

of your mouth—dance

blue water

 

*

end stage :first day

of school

 

got you crying

—a drop of

 

morphine for

your tongue, swallow

 

air, see you there

 

*

…tan pants blue

jacket white shirt

 

little blue, mother

shopped for you

 

*

in advance, can’t

tell which

 

you get—scrub

the cellar late

 

night, bitter

stalk discarded

 

animal fat, red pepper

we eat.

 

 

 

 

*

Spoon don’t

know what

mouth, bee

say where

the flower at

 

ghosts: too

damn many

Don’t snuff

that wick!

want smoke

 

a crush of

marigold

tomato stalk

rain sweet

the shell

 

and bone

dog bring

big medicine

Oh, Mary

there’s a baby

 

on the stone.

 

___

Nothing, beyond folklore, is known about August West.

 

Twelve Selected Poems – Spring 2019

By Simon Perchik

*

Lost and you watch the sun worsen

already falling as the nights

too weak to warm your shadow

 

though you read only in the afternoon

crouched under this kitchen table

with nothing on it that could sag

 

and without a sound weigh too much

let you open the mail, return to life

the window left in this small room

 

–you can tell from the stamp

it’s easy to fear

–so frail is its darkness

 

only your hands can be seen

holding your forehead, pushing it back in

to remember where you live.

 

 

 

 

*

By yourself though the sun

still needs more water –all that land

dried for just one afternoon

 

sent back alone and every morning now

you let the coffee try, boil

the way this table is spreading out

 

become the dirt for what’s in store

ready made as that small mouthful

that swallows you whole

 

to look for thirst inside a cup

side by side this one kept full

as if it was at home.

 

 

 

 

*

And though this pillow is enough

you still come by at night

safe from sand and salt

 

–with both elbows on the bed

your clothes in a heap

–what you can’t say

 

is soaking in sea grass

and her clothes too

no longer moving, piled close

 

for encouragement, lift your head

–on a dark bed, stroking an empty dress

Mickie, Mickie, Mickie

 

as far as it can reach

with her hand over your mouth

one sleeve at a time.

 

 

 

 

*

You no longer dig for shadows

as if this hillside depends on you

for water –what you hear

 

is trapped between two suns

one circling the other till nothing’s left

but the afternoon and beneath

 

letting its pieces fall off –you dead

are always listening for the gesture

the lowering that sweeps in

 

those pebbles mourners leave

as words, overflowing, certain

now is the time –it’s not the time

 

this dirt is afraid to open

become a rain again, be a sky

let it speak by throwing the Earth

 

and over your shoulder, eyes closed

though there is no grass

and your arms a Weber, Miller, Marie.

 

 

 

 

*

Even as silence you dead

favor knots, brought here

the way each grave is tightened

 

counts on constant gathering

and the arm over arm

that hold the skies together

 

as if some nesting bird

would fly out from this hillside

and leave behind its wings

 

spread-eagle, letting go

those small rocks mourners bring

for your shoulders –you want rope

 

not for its name but the weight

still taking shape inside, kept empty

and all around you the lowering.

 

 

 

 

*

Wobbling on rocks and salt

scented with little goodbyes

–you’re drowning in wood

 

–don’t fool yourself, this door

can’t save you now, it’s filled

with corners still into the turn

 

already seawater and on the way down

a warm face though talk won’t come

is hiding in back your mouth

 

naked, afraid your lips will move

as the silence the dead adore

without leaving the room.

 

 

 

 

*

It was a brook, had names

though these bottom stones

are still draining, passing you by

 

before letting go the silence

that stays after each hand opens

–you dead are always reaching out

 

–end over end unfolding your arms

the way each star ends its life alone

in the darkness it needs to move closer

 

become the light in every stone

as the morning that never turns back

keeps falling without any mourners.

 

 

 

 

*

It’s grass growing on the mirror

and every Spring more smoke

blacking your teeth –the dress

 

looks like hers, tossed off

piece by favorite piece and death

not yet shoulders and hips

 

–without a fuss she is touching you

though you are moving closer

as the lips that wait inside

 

and smoldering –it’s half a mirror

hardly enough for its kisses to fall out

look at each other and the afternoons.

 

 

 

 

*

You lace one shoe with thread, the other

as if this wooden spool could be held

spin end over end and hold you

 

by the hand, let you feel her body

no longer moving as the careless tug

in all directions at once –you learn

 

to limp, to hear dirt struggle

and the step by step as if it could escape

not yet leaching in your hands.

 

 

 

 

*

You gargle the way each morning

trusts the soft rustle from a dress

becoming dirt, set out on foot

 

looking for her in shadows

that no longer move though the sink

is covered with something weak

 

making believe it’s learned where

your fingers are holding the bottle

in a place not even it will remember

 

how empty your mouth is, lost

day after day spitting into the Earth

that still opens when you whisper to it.

 

 

 

 

*

You water her grave with words

–they never dried, were written

at night, sure this stone

 

would rot inside the note

though you don’t fold your arms

–what spills has eddies, swells

 

shorelines reaching into the Earth

no longer certain –this stone

doesn’t recognize itself

 

is growing roots, sags

becomes a sea, the bottom

holds on, unable to stand

 

or come closer, cover her

without seeing your fingers

or what it’s like.

 

 

 

 

*

Hiding on this tiny rock

its light is falling arm over arm

brought down as hammer blows

 

and mountains clinging to the sun

the way mourners will gather

and aim for your forehead

 

–it’s not right for you dead

to lower your eyes once they’re empty

–they have so much darkness

 

are still looking for tears

and all around you the Earth

splitting open a single afternoon

 

up close –you are touching seawater

without anything left inside

to take the salt from your mouth.

___

Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Forge, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker and elsewhere. His most recent collection is The Osiris Poems published by boxofchalk 2017. For more information including free e-books and his essay “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com.

To view one of his interviews please follow this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSK774rtfx8

 

Culling Keepsakes

By Mark Belair

“it is complete but never finished”
W.S. Merwin, The Same River

 

writing

 

a photograph

 

A faded

magazine photograph

 

of an old man

in a torn coat

 

wrapped in a blanket

on a sheetless

 

rooming house bed

staring out

 

with Samuel Beckett eyes

was the first thing—

 

culling keepsakes at sixty-four—

I discarded.

 

Back when I cut it out,

I saw him

 

as an end-of-life

incarnation

 

of my blank, solitary, start-of-life

self.

 

I kept

that stark photograph

 

 

for forty-six years

as an icon

 

of the cost

of not changing, of not

 

writing my way out of blankness

or of

 

writing deeper into it

with bogus-Beckett eyes.

 

I had my own eyes.

 

And had to silver a page

with words

 

that would mirror them

to me.

 

writings

 

I put down text—

personal essays, screenplays, a novel—

 

that functioned, in retrospect,

as the fired up

 

bricks of my meandering

path.

 

Each brick, each time, in time,

extracted from exposure

 

and stored; bricks

now rattling around

 

a dump truck

on their way to be pulverized.

 

My path of text

set, finally, with small stone

 

poems I noticed

and dug up

 

from the hardscrabble

ground.

 

notebooks

 

Not diaries, but notes

I kept as I came of age.

 

Not thoughts of the day, but

thoughts to metabolize.

 

I made no ceremony

of their dispossession.

 

Cut me

and I bleed them.

 

drumming

 

gear

 

Of music, a supreme art, I made

a humble trade that required tools:

 

if you want to gig as a drummer,

you need gear.

 

But with my trade course run, the gear

now ties up scarce apartment space

 

and all I need to keep are a small set,

some cymbals, and a few pair of sticks.

 

 

And even the set, in time, will go,

though not the handful of sticks

 

that somehow rim-shot-survived; sticks

dented as my grandfather’s, whose sticks—

 

handed down to me by my dad—

formed me as a boy: I could

 

hold what my long-departed grandfather

held in the way only musicians playing

 

old instruments can, the past and present

collaborating in our hands.

 

The future

of my grandfather and me

 

to be entrusted

to a bag of our blended sticks

 

that will keep

what we kept

 

alone and together:

some time.

 

drum parts

 

With their performance use past, the need to

keep my annotated drum parts is past, too.

 

The printed parts are publicly available;

the markings in a code only I can use.

 

Unlike recordings, live performances—

the bulk of my career—soon become

 

history, polish up to the fading story

of one sonic movement through time;

 

one that leaves no evidence

but for relics

 

like the parts interred and decomposing

in my storage closet.

 

The hope I cling to—as I fill

bag after bag for recycling—

 

the wishful one

that when it counted, when

 

the demands

of each musical passage

 

were presented—

above all, the demand

 

to make its spirit

unforgettable

 

even when I knew

its body

 

(the night, the place, the players)

would be forgotten—

 

I did

my part.

 

transitioning

 

calendars

 

I keep them for reference—

my old calendars and address books—

 

though I never open their storage box

but to place another one in.

 

So I keep them, I guess, for sentiment;

keep them because

 

all the gone days

of my adult life

 

have a little square

in the calendars

 

and all the gone people

have a number

 

I once used

to reach them.

 

Keep them to

free me

 

from keeping

within me

 

a vanishing

past

 

of growing

weight.

 

a log

 

It was a life log

I kept

 

of dates and facts,

notes

 

heralding

the beginning

 

of promising

things

 

whose end

dates

 

went

unrecorded

 

because

their promise

 

drifted

off,

 

while middles

of things

 

appeared

without the context

 

of a start

and finish,

 

and some

endings

 

earned

notation

 

but their starts

and middles

 

stayed

unmarked

 

because

unremarkable at the time—

 

entries

of hard dates

 

soft on truth,

a log

 

that failed

to tell my life stories

 

though telling the story

of how I lived.

 

paintings

 

It was summer, we were newlyweds, and

stoked by this plunge into adulthood (we

 

were both twenty-one) I stood painting

in the yard outside our first apartment.

 

My wife came out and stood behind me.

“What do you think?” I casually asked.

 

After a gracious pause, she chirped,

“Think of all the things you can do!”

 

I laughed, and that was that: easel, paints,

brushes—all donated or thrown away.

 

But the paintings—though inept—

I kept.

 

Not as art, but as symbols of the start of

what turned out to be a lifetime’s search

 

for the mode of rewarding work

most mine.

 

Now those paintings

are gone.

 

Because after an ever-embarking, faith-and-doubt-dancing,

curlicue quest

 

I finally

took my wife’s advice

 

and did—

as best I could—

 

what

I could.

 

cursive

 

As if having been

crunched, stretched, then twisted

 

beyond recognition—

therefore impenetrable

 

to others, and, after

twenty seconds or so,

 

to me—

my handwriting, creeping

 

into its later life,

seemed well past keeping.

 

But through trial and (mostly)

error,

 

it ended up remediable

by assuming the look

 

of later life itself: smaller,

but more legible.

 

 

attire

 

Dumped into a donation

bin: bags

 

of barely worn clothes

but for a stash of blandness—

 

t-shirts and jeans—

that makes me disappear.

 

These I keep.

 

Best not to be of note

if a poet

 

who wants to note

and make note.

 

the cardboard box

 

The cardboard box—its contents (if memory serves)

random as a memory bank—has been shut for years.

 

This box of keepsakes—from my childhood

and beyond—collected by my mother.

 

This inherited box whose flip top, since her death,

has been impossible for me to open.

 

I know it holds a red-checkered cowboy shirt and some

grammar school report cards; I don’t recall what else.

 

Mementos that, if self-chosen, I could edit with ease.

But these were my mother’s selections.

 

Yet with all my other keepsake culling done—a chore I don’t want,

some future day, to impose upon others—the time has clearly come.

 

So I take the box down from the high shelf

in the storage closet and open the top to see

 

memorabilia from my music career, artifacts closest to when she died:

concert programs, tour itineraries, posters, other random souvenirs.

 

Then come clippings from earlier years: yellowed newspaper or magazine

articles, photographs, advertisements, reviews.

 

Plus a newspaper with its banner headline reporting Richard Nixon’s

resignation, news right up there, at the time, with a man on the moon.

 

Next my youth and childhood appear: graduation diplomas, those unimpressive

report cards; then Confirmation, First Communion, and Baptismal certificates.

 

And a posting, in the local paper, announcing that I—and many others—

had been discharged from the hospital that day; I’d had my appendix out.

 

Small town life.

My mother even saved a hospital menu with my name penciled on it.

 

Then comes the list of boys, in her handwriting, who made up the two teams

that played baseball at my ninth birthday party—Yanks and Pirates—and

 

every name stops me: Dicky Sody, Freddy Machuga, Linny Carey, Bruce Echigary,

Eddie MacDonald, Joey Greco, Kevin Sullivan, David Keepin, Phil Nibeolo, James Hayes.

 

And each boy’s bright face returns; and even their taut bodies since we boxed, wrestled,

and played sports most every day.

 

Getting toward the bottom, another list appears, this of my kindergarten roster.

No name rings a bell.

 

But the first crayon drawing I brought home, so marked by my mother, is

here: a bold, colorful flower captioned in scrawling, childish letters with:

 

“FOR THE BEST MOMMY IN THE WORLD.”

Then a shock.

 

I don’t remember dropping this in when I got the box, but slipped down

to beside my red-checkered cowboy shirt—indeed it is there—appears

 

my mother’s smiling face

above her obituary.

 

And my tears burst forth, tears boxed up for years,

tears for this woman whose overwhelming presence

 

dominated my early life and kept me

bonded to her up to this difficult day.

 

Then next to that, on the cowboy shirt, sits

something I had forgotten about, something

 

she placed, perhaps, as a way to reach out

on this inevitable day of keepsake culling:

 

the toy handcuffs—dulled from use—

I’d attach—after mock-arresting her—

 

to each

our wrist.

 

a continent

 

It feels as if I’ve landed, for the first time, in Paris—the sky cloudy,

the cafes inviting, the language not strange, but not one I’m fluent in.

 

The past

an ocean away.

 

Feels as if I’ve arrived to

find myself drawn to

 

cobblestone streets, old churches, weathered bridges, mossy monuments.

The newer brilliancies I hardly see; they hardly see me.

 

Feels as if I’ve alighted as a foreign tourist in this country

of my own later years, disoriented, yet pressed to use this

 

scant time with its wealth of hours

to learn the local ways

 

and to reflect upon—

so dream-keep—

 

my homeland continent,

one that seemed

 

unspectacularly—

even subtly—

 

to break off and—

with no passage

 

back to it—

drift away.

___

Mark Belair’s poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Alabama Literary Review, Atlanta Review, The Cincinnati Review, Harvard Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, Poetry East and The South Carolina Review. His latest collection is Watching Ourselves (Unsolicited Press, 2017). Previous collections include Breathing Room (Aldrich Press, 2015); Night Watch (Finishing Line Press, 2013); While We’re Waiting (Aldrich Press, 2013); and Walk With Me (Parallel Press of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, 2012). He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize multiple times. Please visit www.markbelair.com

Gift of God

By Ron Singer

At thirty-four, I’ve hit the jackpot, a five-figure advance for my first book! “Five?” you sneer. Hey, I’m not a serial writer of serial-killer thrillers. Nor am I about to quit my day job as a Special Ed. teacher. And who knows? This job could become the basis for Book #2. But, as my own H.S. Latin teacher would quip, “That’s putting Descartes before Horace.”

Not only was the amount of the advance inadequate – 10K – the terms were sobering. As my agent put it in a text (translated):

 

Hey, Bob.

Good news (fairly), a 10K advance from Carnivore, one of the 27 publishers I pitched your book to. Remember them? The small outfit in Omaha? “No Fat, No Gristle. Just Books!”

Before you run out and spend the money, however, you should read the fine print (contract attached). The gist is that, after Carnivore covers costs, including the 10K, you get 15% of sales. As I said when I took the book on, “This could sell, in which case you could make some real money.” But, if I were you, I wouldn’t count those chickens yet!

 

I took her advice, even to the point of not spending $100 to replace my worn-out shoes. To give you an idea of the kind of person I am, these are the shoes worn by many restaurant and hospital workers, people who, like me, are on their feet all day. I believe the most common epithet for them (the shoes) is “sensible.”

As for the book, the title says it all: GO TO THE HEAD OF THE CLASS, A SLACKER’S PROGRESS. “Oh no, not another memoir!” Let me try to disarm that gibe by quoting from the Preface:

 

This is a story of unmerited redemption. As a sixteen-year-old, to cite one among many mortifying experiences, I was escorted, falling down drunk, from the premises of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My ejection was caused by having glugged the entire contents of a pint bottle of bourbon while simultaneously contemplating the Rembrandt masterpiece, “Aristotle Contemplating the Bust of Homer.”…

 

Nowadays, cold sober, I am a Language Arts teacher in a four-person team at a middle school in the south Bronx. In addition to their special learning needs, my thirty-two wards labor under handicaps that include second-language interference, and the psychological burdens inflicted by our current political leader’s relentless attack on the foreign born (which almost all of my students are)…

 

How, you ask, did I get from Point A to Point B? This is not the story of a heartwarming conversion experience. None of my friends died, none emerged from our youthful excesses as hopeless wrecks. Nor did I get religion, or dry out in Alcoholics Anonymous. No, my own reform was triggered by a sequence of events much less predictable and yet, in its own way, at least as dramatic as any of the above…

 

In the weeks after receiving my agent’s text, although I only shared the good news with a few of my closest friends, it seemed as if the whole world knew. For instance, a few days after returning the signed contract (and not buying the shoes), I got a note from the Managing Agent of my building, informing me that they would not be reimbursing me for a leak in my apartment which I had had fixed. To quote his pithy explanation, “To qualify for re-imbursement, you would need to have employed a licensed plumber, which you did not. Therefore…” That’s what I get for trying to save my fellow shareholders a few dollars! Doesn’t the M.A. know what “co-op” means?

Of course, that note may just have been a coincidence, but other communications were more obviously the fruits of my sudden access to fortune. These included offers from sharks who prey on lottery and lawsuit winners; appeals in a newly fawning tone from charities and political orgs; letters from people I could not remember ever having known, calling in favors I could not remember ever having incurred; heartbreaking solicitations from long-lost friends and relatives; threatening notices from collection agencies; offers from banks and credit-card providers that were too good to refuse; and semi-literate solicitations from fictitious entities in the poor world, to the effect that I would be guaranteed a windfall, simply by remitting the sum of …

Worst of all, I received a dire appeal from the brother of one of my own students. This came in the form of a long, handwritten letter, sent by snail mail to my school address. Anticipating that the letter’s many errors might make me sound like a racist, I silently correct them:

 

Dear Mr. “Bob” Shepard,

I believe you are the teacher of my brother, Raimundo Suarez. I am Emiliano, age seventeen. The reason I am writing this letter is that my parents don’t know English, and Ray would be too embarrassed. Yes, this is a letter requesting monetary assistance. Please don’t throw it away, it is very important to us, even a life-and-death matter!

Could you find it in your kind heart (as Raimundo has told us you have) to grant to my family a loan of a certain sum? This sum is $500.00, which I know is a lot of money, but which we will work very hard to re-pay you.

The money will be used to engage the services of a lawyer to fight the deportation proceedings that the government has begun against Raimundo! The notice they sent us says that the reason (as far as I can understand it) is that he was not born not in this country, but in the Dominican Republic (“D.R.”), and that my parents have lived here for a long time without doing what is necessary to make the family’s status legal. I did not really understand the details of this letter, but it also said something about the difference between what they referred to as the “DACA” and something called “The Dream Act.”

The lawyer, whom we met through our cousin, Jaime Sosa, himself a U.S. citizen, said we could beat the deportation, but the cost would be $500, the sum already mentioned. This lawyer also said the money must be delivered in cash to his office, which is 74-11 82nd Street, Jackson Heights, Queens.

If you can find it in your heart to advance this sum to us, we will be forever grateful. Please reply asap, because Ray is due in court in less than one month’s time. If you can bring the $500, I will meet you in front of the lawyer’s office, at a time convenient for you, possibly in the evening. His office is very close to a stop on the #7 subway train.

Bless you, sir, even for reading this lengthy letter! I hope to receive your reply a.s.a.p.

Your faithful student’s brother,

Emiliano Z. Suarez

 

One reason I found the letter touching is that Raimundo is one of my favorite students. A good-natured thirteen year-old, he typically responds to a question by throwing his cowlick back off his eyes, licking his pencil, and producing, in tentative, broken English, what is usually a correct answer. He calls me “Sir.”

The letter also evoked an episode from my own past. Fifteen years ago, when I was a nineteen year-old sophomore at a small, second-tier liberal arts school in New England, I engineered what may have been the most outrageous of the many pranks for which I was notorious. It involved moving the grand piano of a prestigious fraternity – they had not invited me to join – onto the lawn behind their building, via large French doors, and then filling the piano with chicken manure, purchased at a local farm-supply store.

This was obviously not a solo prank. Also involved in lugging the piano and manure bags onto the lawn, at 3 a.m. Friday morning of Homecoming Weekend, were five other students, including a combined Pre-Med/Liberal Arts major from Nigeria named Jeremiah Ogochukwu. “Ogochukwu” means “Gift of God” in Igbo, Jerry’s first language.

Despite our inebriated state, we had to do this job silently, neither stumbling nor laughing. Even so, the long and short of it was that we were caught. A presumably insomniac professor, out walking his pooch, spotted us and called Security. After we had been apprehended and separately interrogated, punishment was meted out.

To quote the Assistant Dean of Students, himself a recent graduate of the College, “Since none of you clowns is smart enough to cough up the name of the joker whose brilliant idea this was, you’re all getting the same punishment.” This was suspension, without a pro-rated tuition refund, for the remaining semester-and-a-half of the school year. Not to mention that we had to pay the costs of having the piano cleaned and fumigated.

That was fine with me and, I imagine, with my four American fellow-slackers. But it was not fine with poor Jerry Ogochukwu, who, soon after the suspensions took effect, lost his student visa and was deported. As he said when we were shamefacedly seeing him off at Logan Airport, in Boston, “At least, now, I get to enjoy my mother’s pounded yam again.”

As it happened, Jerry’s homecoming took place in 2003, six months after Nigeria attempted to resolve its endemic unrest through a Presidential election. As usual, the voting triggered an outbreak of protracted ethnic violence. Whether or not Jerry somehow fell victim, I never learned, because he never replied to my communications, and later, in the Internet era, I was unable to identify anyone on social media who sounded like him.

In other words, by the time I received the plea from Raimundo Suarez’s brother, I had harbored for fifteen years a sharp sense of guilt over the deportation and – who knows, possible death – of another innocent victim. This episode was a turning point in my life (and Chapter Four, in my book).

 

After wasting the weekend pondering Emiliano’s plea, I arranged to have coffee with Sarah Blau, the Social Studies teacher on our team. Sarah is also a volunteer for the National Sanctuary Coalition, an organization that assists immigrants. (Like me, she is in her thirties, but married, with two children. I am still unmarried, and currently without a partner. I explain all this to forestall any idea that the story is about to take a romantic turn.)

After school on Tuesday, when we were settled at a back-corner table of a local café with our coffees at the ready, I thanked Sarah for meeting me and showed her the letter. A furrow crossed her brow.

“Well, Bob,” she said, with a sigh, “this is complicated.” Sarah’s speech is measured, even slow. “First of all, DACA is not the same as The Dream Act. DACA defers deportation of children illegally brought to the U.S. The Dream Act permanently legalizes their status. Both laws are now in limbo, because the current administration is doing its damnedest to thwart them.”

While I fidgeted with my spoon, she scanned the rest of the letter. “Hmm! Very interesting. Assuming you’re willing to pony up, can you really afford the $500?” I told her about my advance, and she congratulated me. “Even so,” she said, her brow furrowing again, “if I were you, I’d be very careful. I mean, I like Raimundo, too. He’s a sweet boy, tries really hard. But, as I’m sure you know, there are lots of clever scams out there.”

I thanked her again and said I would try to follow her advice. When we had finished our coffees, I grabbed the check. As we parted on the sidewalk, she said, “Let me know what you decide to do, Bob. I’m really curious.”

After a restless night and a hard day’s teaching, on Wednesday evening I replied to the letter –in the affirmative. I sent my reply to the return address on the envelope, which I knew was the Suarez residence. In another back-and-forth, also by letter, Emiliano and I agreed to meet at the lawyer’s office, at 8:30 the following Thursday evening. I did not inform Sarah.

 

After climbing down from the subway platform, the first thing I noticed was that the storefront office was shuttered. Then, seemingly out of the shadows, came a tall, slender young man who I assumed was Emiliano. I was surprised by the fact that he wore much flashier and more expensive-looking clothes than any I had ever seen on Ray. A little shamefaced about my act of charity, I did not want to prolong the transaction. So, after we had introduced ourselves, shaken hands, and agreed that the office was obviously closed for the night, at his suggestion I wordlessly handed over an envelope containing five $100 bills. Without counting the money, he thanked me profusely. We shook hands again and walked off in opposite directions.

 

After spending most of the ensuing weekend second-guessing myself, on Monday I ate lunch with Joan Ligori, a mid-level administrator at the school. (Like Sarah, Joan is married. I don’t know whether she has children.)

“Oh, no, Bob!” she said, when I told her what I had done. “Not you, too!” She took a deep breath. “Fasten your seatbelt! Emiliano Suarez is an eighteen year-old serial scam artist who has served time in a juvenile detention facility. I found this out last year after he pulled exactly the same scam on me! Same amount, even! Like you, too, I fell for it because I knew and admired Ray and the rest of his hard-working, law-abiding family. Emiliano turned out to be the glaring exception. (Is ‘black sheep’ still politically correct?)”

“Did you report the scam to the police?”

“Well . . . I decided not to. I mean, I could afford the loss, and I didn’t want to hurt the family. I did try to get Emiliano to meet me again, so I could demand a refund. Ha! I left several vaguely threatening messages on the Suarez’s answering machine, but he never called back.”

 

Lunch with Joan took place the day before yesterday. (The school lunch on Mondays is chicken potpie – not bad.) It was time to decide what to do. Should I go to the police? Tell the parents? Ask Raimundo? I imagined a conversation in the classroom during passing time, when the room is normally empty.

“Uh, Ray, I need to ask you something.”

“Sir?” He would look nervous.

“Has your family received a letter lately from the Immigration authorities?”

He would look alarmed. “No, no one has mentioned such a letter. Why do you ask?”

“Has Emiliano mentioned anything about hiring a lawyer?”

The boy’s puzzled expression would be sufficient response. I did wonder if Emiliano’s lie would hold up. If the parents noticed that he had a lot of extra money, I suppose he could tell them he had won the lottery, or something.

After more handwringing, I decided to follow Joan’s example, for the same reason: fear of hurting the family. Sarah had mentioned a case in which an undocumented immigrant had been stopped for a routine traffic check. Since he was using a friend’s license, the police reported the stop to the Immigration authorities, and the poor guy wound up being deported.

No, I would swallow my loss and hope that, at least, it would repair my karma for the deportation I had caused. Come to think of it, maybe Emiliano had read about that episode in the manuscript of my book, which Ray had borrowed after I boasted to his class about the advance.

A few weeks passed. Then, the other day, I received a text from Adebayo Ashiwaju, another Nigerian from College days. ‘Bayo, who had not been a participant in the piano escapade, now lived with his family outside Harrisburg, PA, and worked as Regional Sales Rep for a big-pharm company. His text was a response to the question I had asked him repeatedly over the years, whether he knew what had become of Jerry. Again, I translate:

 

Dear Shepard,

Greetings to you, my friend! Through the Old Boys’ network, I have finally obtained an answer to your question, “What ever became of our erstwhile fellow-student, Jerry Ogochukwu?” I will summarize this interesting story:

It seems that a family rift during the 2003 troubles led to a name change. “Jeremiah Ogochukwu” became “Jeremiah Olubunmi,” which, in my own Yoruba tongue, has a similar meaning to the original: “Gift of God.”

When conditions were finally normalized, Jerry was able to complete his medical studies at the University of Ibadan, in our home country. He has since risen to become Managing Director of a Catholic teaching hospital in Aba, an important city in his own eastern sector. By now, Dr. Jeremiah Olubunmi is what we Nigerians call “An Important Somebody.”

 

After all those years! What a relief! Even so, I’m not sure the good news means I should try to resume contact with Dr. Ogochukwu/Olubunmi. Maybe, he still resents what happened. Or maybe, by now, he has completely forgotten me.

Never mind! The rush of recent events has produced at least a few good results:

 

1. I just ordered the shoes,

 

2. leaving me with $9,400 of my advance,

 

3. plus the idea for a new book, after all – or, at least, a story,

 

4. for which I may soon have additional material, since midterm reports and parent conferences are coming up,

 

5. and, finally, I am about to text Katie Khokhar, an attractive, unmarried colleague (Math & Science), to ask her out.

___

“Gift of God” is one in a series of poems and stories that Ron Singer (www.ronsinger.net) has recently written in response to the current global wave of xenophobia. Singer also volunteers for the New Sanctuary Coalition, a group that helps immigrants. His fiction has previously appeared, e.g., in The Brooklyn Rail, diagram, Evergreen Review, Home Planet News, and Word Riot. (Four Pushcart nominations.) His 11th & 12th books are due from Unsolicited Press. The Promised End (2019) is a story collection; Gravy (2020), a mixture of genres. An earlier book, Uhuru Revisited: Interviews with Pro-Democracy Leaders (Africa World Press/Red Sea Press, 2015) is available in libraries across the world

Issue 12.4

Welcome to forgejournal.com, the online iteration of Forge.

Nunc lego qui nunc scribunt – I read now those who write now

-Robert of Cricklade

Welcome to the October issue of Forge!

If you want a copy of this issue for your very own, check back here soon for details on how to order. Meanwhile, enjoy!

~Melissa Venables

Uber-editor, Forge 12.1

 

Forge is an independent endeavor. We do not receive money from any institutional patrons – we are completely reader supported. If you enjoy what you find here, consider buying a hard copy of a journal issue, or submitting a donation by clicking on the button below. Thanks!

Drop on by!

 

 

 

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See what’s new!

 

 

 

CONTENTS

—Prose—

Fred McGavran: The Landfill

Sarah A. Odishoo: Training

Rosalia Scalia: Static Electricity

—Poetry—

Simon Perchik: Selected Poems—Fall 2018

Edward Butscher (New book preview!): Astrology | Caravaggio | Chaos | Déjà Vu | Dementia | Echoes | Heart | La Petite Morte | Paranoia | Seasonal | Zero

Selected Poems—Fall 2018

By Simon Perchik

*

You are quieted the way this dirt

no longer steps forward

is slipping through as silence

 

though there’s no other side

only these few gravestones

trying to piece the Earth together

 

where the flower between your lips

is heated for the afternoon

not yet the small stones

 

falling into your mouth

as bitter phrases broken apart

to say out loud the word

 

for eating alone :a name

curled up inside and pulls you

under the lettering and your finger.

 

 

 

*

You never get used to it

left and right –moonlight

all that’s left on your grave

 

each night heavier, bitter

with no place to fall

sometimes as snow, sometimes

 

counting on pebbles from others

all night bringing stars

to strike the ground over and over

 

covering you with shadows

and still you’re cold

come here as paths and distances.

 

 

 

*

To live like that, listening

as the sudden dive to the bottom

and though your mouth longs for a sea

 

death happens wherever water goes

–you hear the rain passing by

with shells and salt flaking off

 

from a dress that is still new

covered with moss and grieving

–you slip your hand through

 

as if each sleeve over and over

is filled with moss not yet blossoming

where the branches at the top

 

dig themselves in, opening the Earth

and the small stones that are your lips

filled with falling and thirst.

 

 

 

*

And your throat circles down

the way every kiss is emptied

though not all lips have this power

 

–pressed against a hole in the Earth

you begin where each hillside gets its start

–women know this, decorate their breasts

 

with kisses that never leave

grow those feathers that water from ice

remembers as the sound smoke makes

 

and you sing along till a small bird

flies from your mouth, louder and louder

not yet grass or at your side.

 

 

 

*

What you hear is your chest –with each crackle

more rain tearing holes in the sky

still struggling to open –your heart

 

sloshes around, growing salt from grass

kept wet the way dirt takes the shape

you use for shadows when there’s no water

 

–you stretch out naked as the ocean

on and on without stopping to breathe

or dry or arm over arm become the last

 

the slow climbing turn still missing

circling to calm a nothing beach fire

going mouth to mouth to burn itself out.

 

 

 

*

Slowly the glass, half filled, half

melting down for a slipper

not yet hardened into light

 

is flickering the way a moon

still sets itself on fire

then changes into taking its time

 

and you become an old woman

with a cane, around and around

as if this rim at last remembers

 

overflows and from a single wave

you grasp for air, for a warm hand

and step by step covered with ashes.

 

 

 

*

You feel for corners the way this rug

makes the slow turn into one day more

and though your fingers wander off

 

it’s already flying out your arms

becomes the place that is not a dress

emptied by the dim light from one hand

 

clinging to the other –this worn down rug

has no glow yet, just the darkness

with never enough sky –your each caress

 

lowers the Earth toward you –arm over arm

not yet an afternoon then a night

that lasts a life time side by side as later.

 

 

 

*

You pan for rocks though every breeze

smells from wood lying on its back

and between your fingers a stream

 

ripens as fruits and berries that fall

swallow the Earth hand over hand

the way beginner stones learn to splash

 

so nothing will float free, is melted down

as the darkness you hear spreading out

to dry and further you sift for anchors

 

and all around you the cold ripples

drip into your breath, lay there, whisper

to come up together, say it’s over.

 

 

 

*

Before it could endure its undertow your skull

hardened, was silenced with its marrow

kept calm by the half once seawater

 

and the other taking longer

though everything makes a sound

gathers you in, the way rust on all sides

 

scratches –with both hands you comb your hair

as if it still smells from a gate

that’s no longer iron down the middle

 

and there you listen to it opening

–from both sides reaching out for air

that sounds like shoreline, further and further.

 

 

 

*

Word by word the page clouding over

as if rain would wash the dirt from her face

flower though nothing will change –the sky

 

still covered with fresh dew not yet the stones

that forage forever  as the scent grass gives off

when paper is folded over and over and over

 

and each crease drains, outlasts its emptiness

taking away, making room in the Earth

for this old love note, your forehead.

 

 

 

*

Though she is covered with glass

there is no wind –it’s her sleeve

waving across the way an alpine stream

 

is pulled from a cemetery stone

for the unending free fall

over where a hole should be

 

–you never see the nail

now that the water in the photograph

has darkened, begun to drain

 

make room inside the cold wood frame

for grass, give up, disappear

and under the dust her arm.

 

 

 

*

You didn’t wave back though the leaves

still circle down, spread out, finish

as the sound a train makes waiting to leave

 

–this empty lot is their home, heated

by the scent rising from dirt

getting ready to greet its dead

 

and one by one burn the sky brown

then red then with the same smoke

take away your arms with the pile

 

–it’s a rake you’re holding, the Earth

all day opening its hand

for a cloth dress, a charred house.

 

_____

Simon Perchik is an attorney whose poems have appeared in Partisan Review, Forge, Poetry, Osiris, The New Yorker and elsewhere. His most recent collection is The Osiris Poems published by boxofchalk, 2017. For more information including free e-books and his essay “Magic, Illusion and Other Realities” please visit his website at www.simonperchik.com.

To view one of his interviews please follow this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MSK774rtfx8

 

Training

By Sarah A. Odishoo

nce you start on a journey, there is no turning back. My brother told me the story years later. Some stories get more real in the telling.

Bryan and Chuck drove off in my brother’s white convertible to Mexico on that winter day because, Chuck said, Bryan wanted warm weather—the sun was too low in the sky in Chicago. Bryan thought he was dying. The only cure—Sun.

They drove straight through, each taking turns behind the wheel, stopping only for food, gas, and pissing. Chuck said wryly later, the whole trip was a piss in the wind. The accident had made Bryan crazy.

When they got to Acapulco, they had one hundred dollars between them, so they had to find a cheap hotel. Bryan’s eyes kept watering, and he kept wiping them with the handkerchief Ma had given him—a yellow silk one—it was so wet by midday, he had to wash it out and leave it on a chair in the sun to dry.

Bryan cried at night, Chuck said. As soon as they got to Acapulco, he wanted to go back home. The room they found was in the poorest section and only prostitutes and the crippled roomed there. But crying at night helped his eyes, watered them, he said, then he could sleep.

 

One eye, his left, had been burned open in the accident, Chuck recalled. That eye open all night spooked him. He thought, “he’s watching me—not just here in this room, but in my thoughts—in my goddam soul.”

Bryan got relief by paying prostitutes to come to the room during the day. Chuck said, “I didn’t care what he did during the day. I left. But I was there at night—I didn’t want any fucking whores in my bed. And he, he couldn’t get to sleep unless he cried and fucked. He missed home.

“Then, one day he brought a goat to the room. It was a kid. He kept it in the room all day as he watched it pace and cry, running into the table next to the window, shoving it with his matted body, looking for its mother, it kept kicking its way into the empty window panes. Bryan lay on the bed drinking Tequila from the bottle, wiping his eye with the stained yellow silk handkerchief, watching the young goat.”

Bryan got the goat for Ziggy, the Arab who lived on the first floor. It was Ramadan, and Ziggy was too poor to get a goat for the dinner celebration. Bryan wanted to test himself.

Bryan hadn’t been in a war, but he had been in the Army. He had been training to go to war. But then the accident happened. His friend, his barracks’ buddy, died in the accident. Bryan thought he was responsible.

Bryan wanted to sacrifice to God, and he didn’t know what to do to make the sacrifice real. When Ziggy talked about Ramadan, Bryan figured if he sacrificed something innocent, it would show God he understood—giving back to the Source what was the Source’s. Then maybe, he thought to himself, he wouldn’t hurt so much.

When Chuck got back that night, Bryan told him what happened.

Ziggy took the kid, grabbing hold of the matted fur at his neck and his backside, and dragged him into the shower. He asked Bryan, “Do you want to cut his throat?” “Yes,” he said, and took the knife as Ziggy held the goat’s head back. Bryan said he tried not to look at the kid’s eyes, full of terror and wet with fear, they rolled wildly back and forth, but Bryan couldn’t help shaking, trying to get his bearings. Bryan cut across the fur, but the goat didn’t die; bleating relentlessly; he struggled against Bryan’s arm, wresting back and forth, biting to get free. Finally, Ziggy, screaming, “kill it, goddam it, kill it,” as he tore the knife out of Bryan’s hand, and ended the goat’s last cry as it went limp in Ziggy’s hand. He dropped the goat in its own pool of blood.

Bryan had started crying at the beginning of the story, and near the end, he couldn’t talk; he was shaking, trembling convulsively, bent over, both hands over his head as if he were being struck.

“I want to go home . . . Take me home.. . . . we have to leave now.”

Chuck said they drove for five days and five nights. Bryan couldn’t drive; his eyes closed blind in pain, while the left one wept involuntarily.

Ziggy and his wife cooked the goat celebrating Ramadan the night Bryan and Chuck started home.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Bryan had been in love with death for as long as I can remember. He loved it like a boxer loves his opponent. He ran until his legs buckled under him, and he’d have to stay off his feet for a week. He’d jump off the highest window ledge of the Rogers Park Bank, the ledge none of us dared. He would walk on the train tracks until the train a few feet away from him would cut us off from him and for seconds all we heard was the whistle howling. When it passed, he would be standing on the other side of the tracks, darkly serious and hardly able to walk back home.

Whenever Chuck would tell the Mexico story, I would feel the same way I did when Bryan would step on the train tracks. My heart would start to pound harder, and trying to stop the inevitable, I would be paralyzed with fear, helplessness, and a terrible fascination. He forced us to watch something we could not stop.

In the story, when Bryan raises the knife, whenever Chuck gets to the part where Bryan raises the knife, I gasp. It is the gasp I hear when the train and Bryan are feet apart; it’s the gasp I hear when I can’t do anything but watch, it’s the gasp—taking my breath away—of impending death. And Bryan trying to get the courage to face it.

When he tried to kill the goat, he saw himself doubled in that baby goat’s eyes, holding the knife and watching the helpless terror and standing it for seconds. He missed. And not being able to kill the goat, he felt something else, something new.

Bryan cried until he got home. Then he stopped. Chuck couldn’t see him after that. He said, for him, Bryan was dead. But he would continue to tell the story as if in the retelling he would get what he couldn’t get when he was there. I suppose it became a prayer.

At first, we saw his displays of fearlessness as a way to mock us, going too far, beating us. But what I have now discovered is that he was too sublime for us to understand. What he did by going too far was a daily unremitting devotion to what he didn’t know—the terrible seeking to know—not just what was humanly knowable, but that boundary line between life and death–the inhumanly knowable. He was called to that fearsome edge, enslaved by it perhaps, but called to act on it nevertheless.

Our minds, it seems, may be nourished and invisibly repaired by a renovating presence, a pattern beyond the world, by which knowledge of that presence is enhanced by our inherent pain. And like passion, that presence struggles to lift us out of ourselves when we think we can control our destiny, and it lets us fall when we need “to see” that which we can’t control.

For me, well, I am still standing at the train tracks, not sure if this time he will suddenly appear on the other side, once the train howls past.

___

Sarah Odishoo is a writer and poet. She has published in a number of small presses, including New Letters and Berkeley Fiction Review. She has also been a finalist in competitions such as Nelson Algren Competition with judges Joyce Carol Oates, James Dickey, and Margaret Atwood. Odishoo was also selected by Who’s Who in America and Who’s Who Among American Teachers (1998–2005).

 

La Petite Morte

By Edward Butscher

Green vase on a white doily

squeezes window light

into lime juice

 

blood of a dinosaur, desert

cheeks like a caked

sea floor, cheese

smiles.

 

An infant’s skull, even if unreal,

can be x-rayed by laser eyes

to unlace a Mississippi’s

imploring

eels.

 

Danger lurks here like a locked

mind in a room that reeks

of empty wine bottles,

lipstick wounds,

perfumed

books.

 

I father an unbearable lightness.

___

Poet, critic, and literary biographer, Edward Butscher resides with his wife, Paula Trachtman, in Greenport, Long Island. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies since 1976. Collections of his poetry include Poems About SilenceAmagansett Cycle, and Child in the House. His biography Sylvia Path: Method and Madness, was the first of that poet, and Conrad Aiken: Poet of White Horse Vale won the Melville Kane Award from the Poetry Society of America.

Echoes

By Edward Butscher

If an experiment can be repeated

it proves itself, as may a name sung

by steeple bells in a mind’s Norway.

 

Language and consciousness echo

each another, a scholar reiterated.

 

I think I said I said I think I said I.

 

Edvard Munch’s sequences of lovers

and screams and self-portraits (set

between a clock and Van Gogh’s last

 

bed) retrace his global scream,

ringing out in cartoonish ripples

 

that ululate into a cosmic ocean.

 

Say it again, again and again, knees

exposed to rocks and shame in short

pants, finally shed for knickers, then

 

long pants, and a detached boyhood

of tulip trees and their visible roots

 

clawing at sky and armies of the dead.

 

Ordinary shapes paint in awareness,

walls, doors, women walking away

on high heels, repeatedly framed by

 

long slow days after broken nights

at the far end of an island and a life

 

that replicate what art once saved.

___

Poet, critic, and literary biographer, Edward Butscher resides with his wife, Paula Trachtman, in Greenport, Long Island. His poetry and essays have appeared in numerous journals and anthologies since 1976. Collections of his poetry include Poems About SilenceAmagansett Cycle, and Child in the House. His biography Sylvia Path: Method and Madness, was the first of that poet, and Conrad Aiken: Poet of White Horse Vale won the Melville Kane Award from the Poetry Society of America.