Issue 11.3

Issue 11.3

Welcome to, the online iteration of Forge.

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

-Robert of Cricklade

Happy New Year!  Welcome to the latest issue of Forge to warm you mid-winter (or cool you in the antipodean midsummer).

If you prefer paper to pixels, you can order a hard copy here.

~Melissa Venables

Uber-editor, Forge 11.3

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!



Richard Compean – Yesterday and Today
Jory Pomeranz – The Fractalist
Sam Smith – A Warm Welcome


Charles Elin – Orange Fanta
Eric Greinke – Alberta Clipper | Fire Man | Informality | John The Booster | Novel T
Simon Perchik – 10 Selected Poems — Winter 2018


Janet Coontz-Stoneman – Palm Tree Silhouettes, Sunset


Suchoon Mo – Largo in G Minor | Dance of Swallows No. 2

Yesterday and Today

By Richard Compean

e will be gone in two weeks—gone not just away on retreat, or business, not to visit family, not to the almost comatose sleep he has been going to increasingly for the past two months, but forever, to Hamlet’s “undiscovered country,” as he himself would say, to the death that will us finally part.

All this I know because I just met yesterday with his hospice nurse, who has told me this, as she explained, for my own sake, not his, to get me beyond denial and anger.

And, yes, I have been angry at him ever since he told me a few months back that suicide might make things easier, especially on me. We both laughed when I threatened to kill him if he so much as even tried.

The hospice nurse also told me that his periods of consciousness and lucidity will continue to diminish, both in frequency and length, until they stop completely. Yesterday there were three, and all were less than an hour. Last night we talked for only about forty-five minutes, and he once again reminded me to be sure that his daughter Lucy gets that original Beatles Yesterday and Today album (the one with the broken dolls and meat) when she comes to visit today.

This request reminded me of the first gift he gave me—a two-part CD collection, one part red and one part blue, of all the Beatles’ greatest songs from 1962 to 1970. Then I was less than half his age, and he promised as he courted me that he would make sure that when we married—something he was much more interested in than I was—he would be less than twice my age.

This was one of several important promises he made me, and—dammit—he managed to keep them all, even though I grew to want more. I was halfway past twenty-four when we married; he was not yet forty-nine. And on my twenty-fifth birthday he promised that I would catch up with him in age. He anticipated the question on my mind, and the puzzled look on my face, by telling me that for ten years now he had remained the same age, an age that I, too, would reach. Each year on his birthday he would celebrate being, once again—as he is even now, with less than two weeks to live—“between thirty-nine and death.” This is how I caught up with him, in a matter of only fourteen years.

He also promised me on our honeymoon that in appreciation for my marrying someone so much older, he would give me at least twenty good years (a “score,” as Abraham Lincoln counted them). They have not always been perfect, but as of this morning our nearly twenty-one years together have indeed been good, even though he will not quite make it to the biblical three score years and ten.

When we talked last night, he also told me that he had a gift for me that I was not to open until he was gone, and that he would say more about it tomorrow. I already know what it is—something that he had his closest friend, David, help him prepare.

I not only know what it is, but also where it is, and I have even opened it, or at least a part of it. I overheard some of his conversation with David and saw David give him a large envelope, wrapped with gold ribbon. David had followed his instructions to write on the outside—just as Marshal Will Kane did in High Noon, with a quill pen—“To Be Opened in the Event of My Death.” Then I saw David, following his instructions, put the envelope underneath his mattress on the far side of the bed, close to the window.

Earlier this week, after I was sure he had gone into one of his more and more frequent nearly catatonic sleeps, I could no longer resist the temptation to pull out the envelope and bring it out to my room to look inside. But because I was sure he would know if it was gone, I took out and only looked at a part of the contents.

The first thing I noticed was that everything was in teal blue—his favorite color and the same color as the dress he bought me for our second anniversary, the dress that I wore out with him only three times, and which I wore out wearing for him at home with, as he had demanded (reminding me that Je demande in French meant only “I ask” or “I request” in English), absolutely nothing underneath. For a couple of years I had worn it as a prelude to our lovemaking, and I remember that it became so threadbare that the last time I wore it, he tore it off of me.

In the envelope was a sheet of parchment on which he had written (I, of course, recognized the handwriting), in dark ink, “I gave you the twenty years I promised, and I had hoped to give more, but then came the cancer that I did not anticipate. I thought our love would go into extra innings, but I’m now behind and it’s the bottom of the 9th, with two out and two strikes on me. And to top that off, Death has one hell of a curveball that’s almost unhittable and of which he is justifiably proud, even though one guy named Jack Donne hit it for a home run in that remarkable ‘Death Be Not Proud’ sonnet you know I love.

“Before I strike out, I want to leave you with something that will help in the game of your own life. I don’t mean it to be precious or sentimental, but something that will help you carry on without me—not that you’ve ever needed me to help live your life. That something is this small set of cards that I want you to carry with you, at least for the first year after my death. They are not in any order of priority or importance, so they can be shuffled or rearranged. And after you read them, you may decide to toss them as the demented blubberings of an old man whom you should not have let talk you into marrying when you were so young. At least consult them once and, as a last request (‘Je demande’) from me, give them a year.

“By the way, I think David did a good job in matching the paper stock on which they are written to that teal-blue dress I bought you a long time ago—yes, that one.”

Inside the parchment sheet on which he had written were ten—make that eleven—cards. To cover up my surreptitious theft, I grabbed the first three, then put the remaining cards back inside the parchment and the parchment sheet back inside the envelope, then put the whole envelope back under the mattress where I “found” it.

The first card, like the others to follow, was actually laminated. And it consisted of simple advice. I think he wanted this card to be first, even though he had written that they were put together in random order.

That first card only had three words: FORGET ABOUT ME. I liked its simplicity, but its message, like his earlier suggestion about suicide, made me angry! What do you mean, “forget about you”? Goddammit, you are the only one in my life that I will not ever be able to forget. You yourself made certain of that, you and all your fulfilled promises, all your loving gifts and days, your compassion and your calmness that got us through so much, and yes, even your humor, which I think underlies the advice on this card.

The second card was easier to accept: KEEP WALKING. Before the cancer, and even up until a few months ago, we walked nearly every day, through the park, around the lake, even just to Safeway and back. Those walks were a part of him that I am already missing, and a contradiction to that first card.

The third card was downright weird, not because of its advice, but because that advice was circled in red and had a line through it (like a No Smoking sign), meaning DO NOT. It said, inside the circle and line: WATCH BASEBALL. And I knew that it was meant as a joke. In fact, I casually flipped it over and found writing on the other side, writing that said, “Never mind. This one was for me.”

Then I thought to flip the other cards over, and sure enough, there was more on the other side of them as well. On the back of the first he had thanked me for twenty great years and assured me that I was a wonderful, life-affirming human being and that I never did need him before and certainly would not need him now. I never could get him to acknowledge that it was not a matter of need but want. And now that he is almost gone, I want him more than ever. The back of the second card advised me to walk slow; to walk for exercise of my mind, not of my (“great,” he had added) body.

Having read these cards, I went back for more, putting the first three back.

On Wednesday night I read two other cards, truly random: EAT RAW VEGETABLES AND FRUIT and WATCH MOVIES. On the back, the first simply said not to get cancer, as he had, growing up the son of a cook and eating all that meat and cheese. The back of the second one quoted the T-shirt he still sometimes wore on our walks: Si on aime la vie, on va au cinema.

Next morning I looked at the other two: READ DANTE and DON’T LET THE DUKKHA GET YOU DOWN. One advised, on the back, “not just Inferno and Purgatorio, which are the greatest depictions ever of human suffering, but also Paradiso, where you will find compassion and joy.” The back of the other told me to see the “Dante” card.

I have saved the remaining four cards for now, as I wait for Lucy to arrive to see her father for most likely the last time and to receive the Yesterday and Today vinyl album he repeatedly made me promise to deliver to her personally. As I look at the songs on this album, I hear him stirring and know that he will soon be ready to say goodbye to Lucy. I still want to know, as the Beatles themselves asked, why he is saying goodbye when I want to say hello.

I say hello to Lucy when she arrives, then check to see if he is ready for her. When she goes in for her farewell, I take out the final four cards.

One card says PRAY; on the back it reminds me to wish wellness and happiness to everyone, even my enemies. Has he become an enemy for deserting me?

The second card says TALK TO ANIMALS and adds, on the back, that I will be amazed at how much they have to teach me.

The third card advises me to GIVE TO OTHERS and reminds me of what he has already taught me, how much great pleasure and joy there is in giving.

The final card says LISTEN TO THE BEATLES. I think I already know what will be on the back of this card.



Richard Compean grew up listening to The Beatles and has passed his love for them on to both his children and student at City College of San Francisco where he teaches English. In his spare time he enjoys hanging out on the corner of pop culture and spirituality, admiring the work of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and John Lennon as much as that of John Donne, William Shakespeare, and Andrew Marvell.

The Fractalist

By Jory Pomeranz

n some old encyclopedias, you will find under the article on Spain, the border between Spain and Portugal is 620 miles long. In the same encyclopedia, under the article on Portugal, it says the border is 760 miles long. It’s the same border. The geometry we learned in high school—circles, squares, triangles—tells us nothing about the shapes of nature. Where the land and sea so variously lie about each other and lightly kiss is no hyperbola. If you measure in kilometers, you reach a certain length. In meters, you’d pick up more wiggles and wobbles of the coastline. Centimeters? Even longer. There is no well-defined length for a coastline; the length depends on the scale by which you choose to measure it and the scale of your perspective. This is called scale ambiguity.

Michael Crane was a mathematician studying and teaching fractal geometry at Cornell University. Fractals are great for finding simple descriptions for complicated shapes. Take Sierpinski’s gasket, for example. The gasket possesses an infinite number of triangles, and the equations of those triangles aren’t straightforward. Yet if you shrink it by a half, take another copy and shrink it by a half, then move it over by half, and then take a final copy, shrink it by a half, and move up by a half, you get the gasket. A fractal description of an object is the story of how it grows.

I learned from Michael he was dying of cancer and it was everywhere. It was inside his brain; it had taken one eye, which he hid by covering his glasses with duct tape and joking about being a pirate. It was all over his lungs and he would exclaim, “Our lungs, oh my God! There are half a billion alveoli in our lungs—it would take the whole genome just to describe the lungs! That’s why the genome just tells us how to grow instead. If we take these structures apart, study the patterns in smaller scales, anything visually complex can be decoded into something very simple.” And he’d be totally out of breath, and I could see and feel it hurt him now, every time he chose to use those lungs to speak. There are, on average, twenty-three levels of branching in the lungs, and they have a volume of five to six liters and a surface area of 130 square meters. It’s like taking an envelope and folding it up to fit inside a thimble, yet evolution discovered a way to do it by branching, and branching, and branching. Every bit of the lung looks like the whole lung. It’s a fractal and dually simple and complex.

* * *

With Michael’s disease progressing, I wondered how much of his nature, nature itself would have to destroy before his childlike curiosity for nature itself would be destroyed. He still had this gentle, vivacious curiosity in a dying body. As a child, he had wanted to understand the different shapes of clouds, or why flowers grew the way they grew, or why mud cracked the way it did when it dried out in the sun. As an adult, he wanted to be that tottering old guy ambling into class with a piece of toilet paper stuck to his shoe, still telling the same dumb jokes. And the sicker he got, the more I wanted to walk the measuring tape back on his life, giving him more time with his wife and his seven cats.

Michael taught me that science has a narrative component that we too often forget. He was a storyteller. The shape of a snowflake is the story of the pressure, temperature, and humidity it encountered on its flight through the clouds. A coastline is the story of rocks and tides and waves. A mountain range is the story about plate tectonics and erosion. A child’s face, a field of daisies, a fall of snowflakes: bilateral symmetry for the human face, translational symmetry for the field of daisies, rotational symmetry for the snowflakes. Fractals.

Near the end of his life, they took one of his arms. He used the one arm to walk with a cane. He told me, “I feel disgusted that I’m being betrayed by my body,” and I knew he understood it was by the nature he found so beautiful. Cancer cells are fractals too. He died a few days afterward at night. I sat on my porch. I cried because I felt it was unfair for a man to understand so much about the uncontrolled elements of life and still have to die. I looked up at the night. I had this very clear sense that instead of looking up into the heights, I was looking down into the depths—something flipped, and the space between the stars was just immense and empty, but there was something else to it too. And I couldn’t explain it. And I missed him already.

Jory Pomeranz is a holistic chef living in Cincinnati, OH. He teaches chess to students and veterans.

A Warm Welcome

By Sam Smith

is temples throbbed as he lurched through the undergrowth, each step tightening his chest. Stopping to catch his breath momentarily, he leaned against a tree and scanned his surroundings for any sign of sanctuary. Nothing but dense foliage rose up to barricade him on all sides.

He glanced upwards through the lattice of branches at the failing light; the last thing he wanted was still to be out here after dark.

Following a minute’s rest, he trudged on warily, listening for anything untoward. It began to rain heavily, the canopy of tree limbs providing scant cover, and it didn’t take long for him to become completely drenched.

A wet crunch from somewhere behind sent him stumbling ahead once more, boots squeaking as he slithered over downed tree trunks. An unfamiliar animal’s grunt to his left caused him to stop too quickly, and he narrowly avoided plunging blindly into a quagmire. This time he threw himself to the ground, covering his head with his hands. When he was sure the danger had passed, he got slowly to his feet and moved on, looking all around.

Then, through the rainy haze, a square patch of light could be glimpsed. As he drew nearer, he squinted ahead and saw that it was emanating from the window of a squat, picturesque farmhouse. Just like Grandmother’s place in Little Red Riding Hood.

He attempted to hide the limp in his left leg as he walked, and ran a trembling hand over his wet face to check for any cuts or bruises. Stopping at the fence that skirted the perimeter of the dwelling, he washed his face in the water butt, before approaching the front door.

He patted his jacket pocket and felt the slight heft of the Swiss Army knife, blade already out, and was instantly reassured. Taking one last breath, he hammered a fist on the rain-splattered door. A muffled sound from within, and it was opened to reveal a bloodshot eye, which looked him up and down.

“Well?” barked the owner of the eye.

The stranger cleared his throat before replying.

“I got separated from my rambling party and I just need a place to ride out the storm”, came the well-rehearsed reply.

The door opened a little more and an elderly man’s head emerged, like a turtle’s from its shell.

“It’s barely even coming down out there”, he sniffed.

From somewhere behind him came a sing-song voice.

“Who is it, Alfred?”

The sound of approaching footsteps followed, and then the door was opened fully to reveal a plump woman wiping her hands on a chequered apron.

“Don’t stand on ceremony young man, come in!”

She shoved her indignant husband aside and ushered their guest in, before spinning to face him.

“Were you giving him the full inquest, you old goat?”

The old man didn’t reply, instead choosing to slope into the front room. He growled over his shoulder at the interloper to “close the damn door”, then was gone.

“Never mind him”, the pinafored lady said as she removed the stranger’s coat, “It’s the cold affecting his mood, not you.”

As she secreted it in a bustling pantry, he remembered the knife in the pocket and silently cursed himself for being so complacent. Looked as though he’d have to…improvise. He hovered awkwardly on the threshold for a few more seconds before wiping his muddy boots on the mat and stepping into the kitchen.

The woman busied herself near the sink, and the stranger took the opportunity to scan the large table that occupied the majority of the room. Three place settings, which included three plates, three forks…and three steak knives. Just one would do.

In one smooth movement he grasped the handle of the nearest one and held it low by his side. He glided into the living room and glimpsed the top of the old man’s head over the back of the armchair. It was reflecting the eerie glow from the television and sending it around the darkened room as the old man swayed his head.

The stranger crept forward, raising his knife in readiness, and ran a tongue over his dry lips.

Snick! He felt something enter his spine, and his limbs went limp. The steak knife clattered to the floor a few seconds before he did, a large cloud of dust sighing from the carpet as he landed.

“Ahh, the impetuousness of youth”, whispered the old man, rising stiffly from his chair. He stepped over to where the stranger had fallen, and picked up the steak knife between thumb and forefinger.

“This’ll need a wash”, he said to his wife, who was standing directly behind the stranger. As she stepped into his eye line, he used the last of his strength to turn and look at her, and immediately wished he hadn’t.

From the neck down, she still resembled the same sweet, slightly doddery old lady as before, but her face had…changed. It was now a monstrous black protuberance from the misshapen and deformed head, easily double the size it had been. Two compound eyes, made up of hundreds of glistening red orbs fixated on the stranger’s helpless body. Instead of a nose, there was now a long, flexible appendage that extended slowly from the face, twitching horribly. It must have been what he felt enter his back earlier.

But by far the worst of all were the jaws, which the stranger felt compelled to gaze at, even though he would rather be blinded than to ever see anything quite so terrible again. To describe them would be to go mad, but describe them he must. They were large black mandibles, slick with mucus, and they clicked and quivered whenever she (it?) made any movement. The mucus shone in the light, and ran along the mandible’s razor sharp edge before splattering and pooling on the cottage’s wooden floor. The stranger saw that the creature was clutching something by its side that resembled a used rag, only realising after a few moments that it was the old woman’s face that the creature had been wearing like a mask.

The old man now appeared by her side, having taken on the same appearance, and put a hand on her shoulder. Finally, the woman spoke. When she did so, the mandibles opened and closed in a grotesque imitation of a human mouth speaking.

“We’re ever so sorry it had to end like this, love, but I’m sure you understand that we can’t let you go. Now, shall we make a start on dinner?”

The creatures shuffled towards the stranger, and the last sound he heard was that of the proboscii unfurling from their alien faces.


Sam Smith is a former Creative Writing and Scriptwriting student. His preferred genres of writing are sci-fi, horror and comedy. Among his influences are George Orwell, H.G.Wells, Charlie Brooker, Terry Pratchett and Stephen King. His stories have been featured in Maudlin House, Lit Cat, Visitant Lit, Two Words For and Baphash.