Where Souls Are Sold

by Matt Panfil

 

Deep within the still-beating heart of my bloodless city

black suited bankers kneel before a throne of gold: their God—

pay sacrifice in blood that’s olive green and slippery black

the blood of products!-

products they produce in endless rows that

smoothly roll off black conveyor belts,

greasy with the slime of slickened dollar bills.

 

The worn hands of men and women tremble,

fresh from Chinese cancer villages,

their babies dead and shriveled,

tainted infant formula, toxic children’s toys—

 

while, half a world away, those who can afford it

apply synthesized oils to their naked flesh,

consume processed packaged goods,

guzzle bottled water laced with petrochemicals,

nibble shiny poison-polished oranges,

chew chicken fresh from ammonia baths.

 

It’s in this place where souls are sold

and —black with mold—

whole libraries burned in a bonfire,

blazing since the revolution,

consuming ancient wisdom,

blackened to a crisp.

 

Now,

lost shamans dip into the potent snuff,

the earthy stuff that deconstructs existence,

or, reality consensus,

 

prophets loose like mad men search for words along the plastic shore,

crushed pills like grains of sand beneath their naked feet,

while in demand instead

are talking heads which smile pleasantly, eyes lost,

and tell us everything they think we need.

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Misery is Real

by Matt Panfil

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Kali Yuga Blues*

by Matt Panfil

 

Kali Yuga blues burn brightest in the midnight hour,

teeming dark with mortal woe and terror,

rumors seeding troubled minds, haunted

by nightmare epileptic visions, flashing undaunted.

 

We’ve all been weaned on TV’s neon nipple,

 

poisoning the blood in highway veins,

seeping electric coded knowledge,

 

nourishing cerebrums soaked in overwhelming

gobs of information,

processing the stream of psychic data.

Overloaded,

we are overloaded,

immersed in toxic stimulation.

 

Minds are all but burnt out husks of tissue,

flashing dully in the skullhouse,

driving men to boredom, blind to

glory.

 

Oh beautiful forgotten world!

Science and the law of man

does such disgrace to mystery and magic,

blind eyes turned callously

from beauty,

permeating all.

 

*Kali Yuga (“the age of the male demon Kali,” or “age of vice,”) is the last of the four stages that the world goes through as part of the cycle of yugas described in the Indian scriptures. Hindus believe that human civilization degenerates spiritually during the Kali Yuga,which is referred to as the Dark Age because in it people are as far removed as possible from God. Most interpreters of Hindu scriptures believe that earth is currently in Kali Yuga.

* * *

 

Matt Panfil is a poet and experimental filmmaker from Indianapolis, IN. He considers poetry and film to be powerful forces of communication, through which he seeks to visually transport his audience to what Aldous Huxley dubbed “the mind’s antipodes”: subconscious realms of bliss and emotional states of pure awareness. He loves poetry’s unique magic, believing in its strange transporting power due to “lingual transformation of rhythm and syntax, or otherworldly diction through which primordial sensory data can be transmitted to the viewer.” The communicative goal of his poem videos, which combine music, language and imagery, is to over-stimulate the viewer, thereby inducing a psychedelic experience,  a sensory overload resulting in a newborn relationship between subject and observer.

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At Both Ends

by Susan DeFreitas

You burned candles all night while the house slept. You burned candles in the empty room with the checkerboard floor. You burned candles with your cracked-out teenage girlfriend with the tour-kid bedhead and patched overalls. One night coming home from the bar, we found the front door jammed. You’d pushed all the furniture up against it, so we climbed in a window instead. We found the room with the checkerboard linoleum covered in candlewax, like the drip castles of our youth.

You mumbled when you spoke, shaking your head. Sometimes it almost made sense. “I’m straight, I’m straight, I’m straight.” You only were after you weren’t.

You broke glass, knickknacks, and saucers. There were times when I couldn’t find a plate. Goddammit, I thought, eating eggs out of a coffee mug, yet again.

You burned candles all night, every night, and that one time, lit the shag carpet on fire. Dave said you were a good person, deep down. Rich spent most nights with his girlfriend. Mike was moving out anyway.

The night before I left, you kept me up, talking to someone, laughing, but in the morning, you were alone. A living ghost, pale as a flame by day. I left you there to haunt the house.

* * *

Susan DeFreitas’ creative work has appeared in The Bear Deluxe, Third Wednesday, and Southwestern American Literature, and is forthcoming from Sin Fronteras; her nonfiction has been published in Yes! Magazine, E: the Environmental Magazine, and The Utne Reader, and appears regularly on The Huffington Post. She is an MFA candidate at Pacific University, and lives in Portland, Oregon, where she works as an independent editor with Indigo Editing and Publications.

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The Ten

by Cassie Ridgway

 

Figures remain anonymous

not people but types

each with a secret

sneaky ten percent.

 

10% subtlety. Ten percent aloof.

When you’re super sexy

you can be missing your front tooth

flipping pint glasses

in low lighting

and the girls are likin’ all of it.

 

I know you, faceless blotch.

You’re that paint stroke

in the precipitating audience

moving to and fro

like a field of flowers with their faces

pointed at the sun

eating free sun beams.

 

We, all, matching in little bits:

You with your low brow

second hand ol’ diamond in the rough.

The common interest is forming

a tribe.

 

But

Your 10%

a filigree form that shutters inside constant

and pulsates a hum electric

Your ten percent speaks German

and thinks that the screwdriver

is to a screw a molester.

 

Ten % is kept in that letter

you have. I have.

Hidden and preserved with the careful, clammy drawer

that keeps so few things

so commonly used.

 

No, a mass of bodies here.

Not identities but types.

 

And the 10% hovers above the room.

 

 

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An Explanation of Mag-Big, Second Attempt:

by Cassie Ridgway

 

Luster so      yellow sweet

dripping peachy.

Soil down, and up

white silhouettes—bugs dart beams.

2.   Whispering, “please, oh please” to air

oh thing that fear cannot unbind

if it hears a desperate plea, it is at least listening.

3.    Intoxication because in the moments before

hitting the water

Icarus smiles at the sun.

4.    Animal love.

5.    Song that understands; how it seduces

over and over;

it is a lover we cannot be with

any longer.

6.    A lighthouse casting a shivering slice

through undulating fog;

the mariner catching it in a glass sphere.

7.    Pages and pages of crumbling yellowed words

my grandmother at eighteen

believes in crackling radio broadcasts.

8.    The lover, how he stretches, and in his slumber

rests his hand upon the breast.

Now is slipping into the chill of morning

Still, his dreams, a Grecian urn preserving her.

9.     When dying words are unselfish,

such as,

“try to be happy,” or “smile, my love.”

10.   When trees creak

like whale songs,

without ears

the forest philharmonic.

11.    Awaking to snow

it covers churning streets with impenetrable silence

and we play, in the stillness, and its been years.

12.    The painter, how he cannot stop

with birds and feathers

plumage plucked from the wing of an osprey.

He considers himself from birds eye view.

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Home

by Cassie Ridgway

 

Your hat all hung

a drop of laudanum,

a tendril dangling on the brink

of a shallow glass:

 

sight budding,

open me up how I want to see.

 

The narrative calls itself home.

 

Home,

the house that gave birth

to coevals: stories securely boxed up

inside its humming walls;

we leave her when what is unwritten

seems to hang on the wind

ringing chimes outside the window–

 

bells that resound always home.

 

Home,

separated bodies of water

the growth of vegetation

pulled from warm soil.

This verdant earth is ours

it’s worth dying for, but we can’t just stay here.

 

Home,

That standing on the water’s edge, we look on at the far reaches of our

letters

our tiny prayers adrift like a gas above

home.

 

That home is the distance between us and our occurrence.

 

* * *

Cassie Ridgway is a poet living in Portland, OR. She received her degree from Portland State University in 2010 along with the Kellogg Award for Poetry. Thus far, all of her published works are from her collection, “Mag-Big,” which is also the name of the retail shop she owns and operates on Hawthorne Blvd. Though poetry and music are her first loves, she makes her living as an apparel designer and store owner. Her shop, Mag-Big, features the largest array of Portland designers in the NW. The phrase and namesake, “Mag-Big,” is a kenning that she has been working with for a number of years and hoping to make sense of. Efficaciously, it is a study of her own sense of smallness amid an ever-expansive sense of time and place. To be aware of Mag-Big is that moment in which we are perfectly located in an unfathomably large picture.

 

 

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The He and the She of It

(Experts from the novelette of the same name, now available as an e-book on Vagabondage Press)

by Barry Spacks

SEVERAL TIMES I played rough with Andrew, but this was the worst.

“Take off that robe,” I insisted, clenching my eyes.

“What?”

Movie-level talk takes over in a crisis. “You heard what I said.”

“I’m to remove my robe?’

“You got it, Buster.”

“Exactly what did you have in mind?”

At those words, Gloria let out a snort of laughter, struggling to  shrug on her peasant skirt while I wrestled the ridiculous robe from Andrew’s concave-chested, ribby body. Below he wore only blue briefs. The style’s now called “Speedo.” Within Andrew’s Speedo came a rumbling, a bulging. “Off with the shorts,” I commanded. I wasn’t about to make this happen with my own hands. “Do it, Andrew!” I bulked up at my most threatening. I’ve sometimes been compared, in my hairiness and menace, to a bear, and, truth is, I wasn’t much of an admirable guy back then, not the sort of person I’d enjoy running into today. We’re involved here, Reader, with a shameless confession masquerading as a piece of fiction.

[…]

I’d been besotted with Gloria Zissic since the year before, but lo, anyone could see that she already felt libidinally drawn toward A.N.’s Nottingham accent as smoothened by his Cantab years. She literally veered toward the boy physically there between us against the office  wall in the middle wooden chair. Gloria liked to say her ambition was to be Emma Bovary without the arsenic. She projected a force — perverse, maddening, opinionated — by which I couldn’t fail to be mesmerized. I’d yearned from childhood with all the lust within me to avoid the bourgeois fate of an overfed timidity, so rebels like Gloria, dead set against convention, couldn’t help but leave me enthralled. Did I love her? Isn’t obsession just as good? I held to her with an attitude of heart-crushing awe.  I always loved the risk of being with a Crazy Girl…

[…]

The sex at that early stage in my involvement with Gloria was, to put it exactingly, water-buffalo.

“Whoa!” she said when we concluded for the first time in her wonderful bed and fell apart. “Whoa,” the very exclamation she was to blurt after first hearing Andrew’s poems the following September…

(To purchase and download the rest of this 49 page e-novelette for $1.99, click here)

* * *

Barry Spacks is the First Poet Laureate of Santa Barbara, California. The author of nine poetry collections (most extensive: SPACKS STREET: NEW & SELECTED POEMS,) with poems in 18 anthologies, he is the winner of The Commonwealth Club of California’s Poetry Medal, the Cherry Grove Collections Prize and St. Botolph’s Arts Award. A man of many hats, he is also a singer-songwriter, actor and Literature professor, plus the Senior Vajrayana (Tibetan Buddhism) student of H.E. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche. For more details, and to follow his blog, Poetry Matters, go to www.barryspacks.net

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Brother Rhino

by John Carr Walker

I knocked over the barbecue and ruined it, the party, and the summer. The propane tank rolled off its cradle and lay on its side, like the exposed belly of a rare rhino, hissing an ominous death note. Burger patties and hot dogs and the blackened grill lay scattered, smoking from the lawn. My father’s employees gathered around to look at what I’d done, and Father screwed down the propane valve so we didn’t all explode. He looked at me and didn’t say anything, as if there were no words to sum up my mistake.

“If we were a briquettes family,” my mother said, kneeling with a plastic sack to pick up the meat before the dog did, “you’d have burned down the house.”

She was trying to speak jovially.

“I was playing blind man’s bluff,” I explained.

“By yourself?” Father said. “Who plays that by themselves?”

Our backyard was crowded with a few grandparent-types, many more aunt- and uncle-types who brought their children, little cousin-types who looked up at me from the lip of our pool, waiting for an explanation. I’d been bumping into people. Twice I’d almost stepped off into the water. I didn’t understand it myself, why no one was joining in.

Father was wagging his gray head. Hands hipped, feet apart, his legs scissors. Once upon a time my big brother and I would try to race between his legs before they closed, trapping us. Now I thought that if I tried, and he trapped me, he’d want to slice me in two.

“I don’t know what we’ll do for food,” he said. His employees were looking to him for answers. He took questions seriously. He gritted his teeth and tried not to cry.

“I’ll whip something up,” said Mother, going inside with the heavy bag of ruined lunch. “Sandwiches, or I’ll call for pizza. Crisis averted,” she told my father.

She closed the door behind her, the sunlight silver on the glass. The old dog came over and sniffed her trail before dropping himself on the concrete stoop. I had to step over him to get inside. He’d been mostly my brother’s dog. He missed my brother more than he would have missed me, I think. I bet my father and his employees sighed with relief when I left.

My mother stood before the sink, tap running. The garbage was slumped like a dead thing on the linoleum. She didn’t turn around to see who had followed her in, she just kept holding onto the edge of the counter with both hands. I passed through the kitchen. I stopped in my father’s den.

The gun cabinet was empty now. The light inside was off. It used to hold a hunting rifle, spotlighted. He’d take it out and polish the stock, disassemble and clean the chamber even though he hadn’t fired it since the last cleaning, explaining muzzle velocity to my brother and me, kick, other terms we didn’t understand but loved. I used to dream of hunting the rare white rhino with it. My father didn’t think it could bring down something so huge as a rhinoceros, not of any color. I wasn’t so sure I trusted him anymore. I knew one shot from that rifle could knock me backwards into the wall. One bullet could tear through skin and bone, releasing a hiss of blood. My brother had proved him wrong.

My mother turned on the light. She crossed the room to me, drying her hands on an apron she’d just put on. “Why do you always want to come in here? Like you just can’t help it.”

“Sorry I messed up.”

“Only a barbecue,” she said, kneeling to my level. “It didn’t hurt you any? You’re not burned?”

I told her I was fine, but she was already pushing my face into the dense, sun-smelling darkness of her hair. In there I could forget about all the accidents I’d caused. I could pretend my father would plan another barbecue before summer was out. I could close my eyes and see my brother—he rode past on the back of a white rhino, looking down at me. The rhino’s steps shook the ground. A distance away he stopped and turned. He started to charge.

***

John Carr Walker grew up on a raisin farm in California’s San Joaquin Valley and now lives in Saint Helens, Oregon, where there’s not a vineyard for miles. His writing has appeared in StringTown, Slow Trains, Prick of the Spindle, The Writer’s Dojo, Eclectica, and elsewhere. He’s the editor and founder of the literary magazine TRACHODON, which Newpages.com says “might help keep the institution of literary magazines alive.”

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The Babysitter

by Alexis Nelson

Picture me at fourteen: a small, blonde girl with chubby cheeks and braces and skin that isn’t the best, but also isn’t the worst. I am The Babysitter. I am not especially good at my job. I don’t have the endless patience for children’s games that other girls my age seem to possess. I can’t intuit the baby’s wants when he cries. I let the girl stay up late watching videos until she falls asleep. Sometimes I let her pick the videos, and sometimes I don’t. I have no patience for Barney. Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White—all those fairytales in which the princess always gets her prince—these we watch again and again.

Nonetheless, the father pays me extremely well. He is especially generous on Wednesday nights, when he and the mother return from their “appointment” looking weary and tense. The mother’s face is pinched, her movements jerky and quick, like a frightened rabbit. She bolts upstairs to check on the children while the father walks me home. Unlike the mother, he is heavy and slow—more like a moose that’s been drugged. At my door, he slides an extra twenty into my fist as a tip. Ed is his name. The mother is Susan. Ed’s eyes are red-rimmed; he could use a shave. Even as I thank him, I begin to think of all the things I might buy.

I do love the children, in a way. The girl, Hannah, is spoiled and bossy. She owns more clothes and shoes than I do, though she is only four; all of them are pink. When she doesn’t get her way, she screams. But she has big green eyes and a glossy brown bob and chubby pink cheeks, like a doll. And the baby, Zachary, is mellow and sweet. He sits slumped on the black leather couch, smiling and burbling, at peace with the world.

I never have a boy over after the children go to sleep, but I would like to. Late at night, I flip through the channels, hoping to catch a sex scene. One channel comes in fuzzy, but through the Technicolor snow I can trace the outlines of bodies, of men and women moving together. Beneath the whirring static, I can hear them moan. I watch this channel on mute, with my hand on the clicker, just in case the parents come home early from their appointment.

What does sex have to do with love? What do fairytales have to do with real life? And where do Ed and Susan go on Wednesday nights? I would like to know the answers to these questions, and to so many others I have barely begun to form.

One night, I am rocking Zack in his room, trying to get him to go back to sleep, when I have a peculiar urge. I rest the baby in my lap as I pull my shirt off over my head. The lights in the nursery are off, but pearly moonlight streams in through the window. I lean Zachary’s little head against my bare chest and stare down at him and at me in wonder. He rests, his dark hair silky-soft against my skin, his smell like sweetened milk. I am a woman, I think. I could have a baby of my own right now, if I wanted to. I would hold it close, like this, feed it out of my own body.

But what if I am no better at being a mother than I am at being a babysitter? What if my children bore me as these other people’s children often do? Will some big secret be revealed to me, once I have a baby of my own? Will I suddenly become better, stronger, wiser, less afraid? Or will all my shortcomings and failures be not just my burden to bear, but also my children’s?

Zachary has fallen asleep. I lay him down in his crib and then quickly put my shirt back on. I feel moved by the sight of him, lying there so peacefully, his tiny hands bunched up into tiny fists. But I also feel bewildered by myself—which is how I feel most of the time, these days. Worse, I have no reason to believe this feeling of bewilderment will ever go away. Which it won’t, not entirely.

Before I finish high school, Ed and Susan and Hannah and Zachary move away. I am no longer The Babysitter. I go to college. I fall in love, get my heart broken, fall in love again. Eventually, I become engaged. My future husband and I talk dreamily of our future babies. I don’t think about Hannah or Zach or their parents. Why would I?

Then one day, my mother calls and says that she has seen Ed at the grocery store. She tells me that Zachary—you remember, she says, the baby—didn’t develop right, that he turned out to have “problems.” And then she says that the mother, Susan—this you won’t believe—has hung herself.

Hung herself, she repeats, can you imagine?

Can I? I think of all the things I felt back then but didn’t understand. I think of Ed smoking a cigarette on his front porch, staring up at the stars as he waited for me to get my coat on so he could walk me home. I think of Susan’s nervous movements and frightened eyes, her wiry brown legs sticking out of her nylon jogging shorts as she ran the children around and around the old neighborhood in their bright yellow buggy. And I think of little Zach—to whom I am, if anything, merely a flicker now—leaning against my bare, adolescent chest, as the moon shone and his sister slept and his parents, somewhere, tried to find a way to make it through this life together.

After that conversation with my mother, I dreamed of Ed. In the dream, he looked at me silently with large, doleful eyes. Then he handed me his baby to take care of.  Only after he’d disappeared, I saw that it was not a baby at all, but a fish. It was grey and slippery with a flat, unblinking stare. It squirmed and flopped and struggled to breathe, as you’d expect. And I just tried to hold it tenderly, this being from another world, though I knew I was not fit to care for it.

* * *

Alexis Nelson was born and raised in San Francisco, later lived in Hungary and France, and now resides in Portland, Oregon. Among other odd jobs, she teaches creative writing classes at Portland State University and co-writes an educational soap opera for English language learners worldwide. Her work has appeared in various publications including Tin HouseThe Iowa Review, and Manoa. She is currently toiling over her first book, a memoir.

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