Why Love Doesn’t Conquer All

Bonnie McMeans

Love is aimless, wants direction, wants to feel important.
So he walks into a recruiting station, looks at pamphlets
that read: “Be All You Can Be” and “Army of One.”

Love does pushups in boot camp and shoots Arabs
pretending to be terrorists. He writes a cheerleader he kissed
after a football game. (They were both drunk at the time.)

Love is deployed and told to check his gear. He checks his helmet,
his goggles, his ammo, his mess kit and his MREs. He checks
his grenades. He checks the letter from the cheerleader.

Love calls the cheerleader. He has three minutes. “I liked
your poem,” he tells her. She says, “It was about our first kiss.”
Love’s pal says, “Get the fuck off now!” Love gets off.

Love mans a checkpoint, sees a white sedan approaching, fires
warning shots. Love’s pal shoots out the windshield. The car swerves
off the road and stops. Inside is an old couple with bloody faces.

Love’s tank prowls Tikrit for insurgents behind buildings and on
rooftops. Love’s pal tells him roaches will survive a nuclear holocaust.
Love fires and watches the roaches scatter. Some fall.

Love’s pal takes one in the abdomen. Love yells, “Medic!” and
opens up his first aid kit. He unrolls military-issue number 4572
gauze and stuffs the hole. Blood pumps out over Love’s hands.

Love neatly stacks the children in three rows. He stands guard
while he waits for body bags. On the ground are wailing women
and slivers of candy wrappers. And dead soldiers.

Love’s tour ends. He returns home, takes down all the yellow ribbons.
The cheerleader stops by, and they get high. He shows her all
the poems he saved. They buy an engagement ring at Wal-Mart.

Love is going to be a father. He picks up a six-pack on his way home
to celebrate. Love’s parents kick his unemployed ass out of the house.
He moves in with the cheerleader. They put the ultrasound on the fridge.

Love tells the cheerleader she is crowding him. He needs space,
not pressure. She pours whiskey down the drain. Love breaks the bottle
on the counter and cuts her arm. She scratches Love, screams.

Love hears sirens, so he busts through the back screen door and runs
through the yard and down the alley to the corner gas station. He sees a
recruitment poster on the dirty glass, then pretends to look at motor oil. Bonnie McMeans has fond memories of growing up in Northeast Philadelphia and attending the Philadelphia High School for Girls. In addition to being a freelance writer and an English professor for a local community college, she is married, has three children and lives in Havertown, Pennsylvania. Her most recent publication is a children’s book titled Mysterious Encounters with Vampires (Thompson Gale).

Waiting For Test Results in the Kitchen

Laura Spagnoli

But the kitchen doesn’t know
what you don’t know.
It keeps its knives in a drawer.

No signs from the veined cabbage head
left out on the counter,
pale and dumb as the moon.

No telling which bell pepper cut apart
will bear a smaller self, stuck to the core,
hopeful, embryonic, near green.

No, no knowing in the dark
which egg
holds the furtive spot of blood.

 


Laura Spagnoli teaches French at Temple University.

Pine Street

Leonard Kress

Behind the bar the ex-all-pro defensive
back draws mug after mug of Rolling Rock.
It’s late and still a crowd, three deep at the counter.
He is not badly out of shape, only a few afternoon
regulars recall his interceptions, the two-point safety
that almost led to super bowl. He is quick and agile and good-natured.

Near the darts a group of younger men and women
who could care less about his earlier career
or his failed restaurant venture, order difficult drinks,
brands not always stocked. The females are regulars—
one is a free-lance designer, one supports herself
by modeling at the Academy, the third gets by mysteriously.

A man draping his worked-out arms across their shoulders
drinks seriously. That is, until the model
begins to lick the designer’s ear. There she goes again,
cracks the third. The man smiles, lowering his jaw,
nodding his head like a carousel pony.
He is no longer happy being married.

So when the designer pinches the model’s
right breast, he leans–reaching far across
the counter (so far, in fact, that the bartender
reverses direction, buttonhooking, thinking
the man is signaling for his drink
to be refilled)–in order to pinch her left. Leonard Kress lived in and around Philadelphia for more than 35 years–Port Richmond, Fishtown, Harrowgate, Frankford, etc. Now he lives in the Great Black Swamp of Northwest Ohio. His latest collection of poetry is ORPHICS, from Kent St. U. Press.

Fishtown Betrayals

Leonard Kress

She pedals over trolley tracks and cobbles
on Allegheny Avenue, past Szypula’s bakery,
its rye line redoubled. Past Stanky’s GoGo,
where yesterday her husband stumbled,
booted out, the old baba said, who defends
the counter at Borowski’s Cleaners. She stops
at the light to let two semis chug by, and the 54 bus,
and a polka dot open-hatched hatchback, speakers
the size of baby coffins, salsa notes pounding them shut.

Before the light changes, a freighter floating
between twin towers of the grain elevator
and the cold storage warehouse catches her eye—
the ship so endless, it seems, instead, to stand still
while the whole neighborhood drifts down river,
under bridges, out into the bay. (I see it all
from the walkway of the Walt Whitman Bridge, The white
wake left by the passage, the quick tremulous whirl….)

The riptide and then back out to sea, the North,
the Baltic. The seem, though, lasting only
as long as the light, as she once again pedals,
plotting, leaning into the breeze that carries
the stench from Rohm and Hass, passing hoagie shop,
scrap metal heap, and Lithuanian Hall–before
she discovers that the red letters of the word Gdynia
stenciled on the ship’s gunwale have left
on her forehead a chalky residue.
Leonard Kress lived in and around Philadelphia for more than 35 years–Port Richmond, Fishtown, Harrowgate, Frankford, etc. Now he lives in the Great Black Swamp of Northwest Ohio. His latest collection of poetry is ORPHICS, from Kent St. U. Press.

Mounted Kalmucks on Shackamaxon Street

Leonard Kress

I’m thinking of the mounted Kalmucks
on Shackamaxon Street, how in the world
they got here, Stalin’s bodyguards, despised by him.
By here I mean Fishtown, where defunct
Domino Sugar coughs up syrup into the Delaware,
the old treaty park, wedged between ports,
the north one full of Latin grapes, the south
with its rusted cranes and pier-front courts and condos.
Its pleasure dome for bad-backed longshoremen
with mangled knees and missing digits.
I’m thinking of that one old Kalmuck.

Everyone mistakes him for a Chinaman.
He’s mounted on his pony, too small to tug
a produce cart through streets and alleys of Harrowgate
and Fishtown–chicken squawk and pigeons, scrap heap
and gabardine hawk. Absorbing the shock
of railroad shunt, trolley track, pothole,
and buckled cobble, like a newly reconditioned strut.
He travels his fourfold path to the Lamaist Temple
on Second Street, where this may or may not be
the day he opts for the Buddha’s Great Renunciation Leonard Kress lived in and around Philadelphia for more than 35 years–Port Richmond, Fishtown, Harrowgate, Frankford, etc. Now he lives in the Great Black Swamp of Northwest Ohio. His latest collection of poetry is ORPHICS, from Kent St. U. Press.

Gift

Sharon Black

Here, I brought you an orange.

You prefer tangerines?
I like tangerines too
and might have made that choice
had I not thought of your hands
which are better suited for oranges.
I get a solid feeling about your hand
holding an orange.
Tangerine is prettier to say
and limes are like having short hair
and lemons remind me umbrellas
are for sun as well as rain
and I’m sorry I didn’t think
of tangerines which are like wearing
clear bells around your ankles
I know that now
but oranges are cool too
because they make you feel
like going back to clay
even if it’s parched and cracked
in a thousand places
the way your hand is creased
cradling one more deliriously
misguided gift from me. Sharon Black is the librarian at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Her poems have appeared in The Jacaranda Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Alaska Quarterly Review, Mudfish 11, Rhino 2001 and 2004, and others.

Postmark

Scott Glassman

Green storm of light
I see when I look out of my cubicle—
it’s 9 am here
in the wake of you.

The intersection at 38th & I recall (Market)
busy with breeze, standing
after an ovation aimed at
no one in particular.

My mornings, I want to tell you,
begin with the deep breath
of forgetting
and I hold it in until I begin typing

nonsense / mirage (com ‘ere) / thought
weighs, they weigh
more than both of us,
but who am I  

to say the sun doesn’t
gasp when it flinches / strikes
your skin— it could be roped off by yellow tape
and say what

we’ve said:
no, go around
go around  

(I know this happens to me)

There is a wind that follows me
home.  An intersection huddling
among broken tail lights, windshield
specks of blue.

Then I step diagonally
across the sunlight
into a more perfect
kind of damage. Scott Glassman lives in South Jersey and works in the medical education field. His poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Iowa Review, Sentence, and others. He also curates the INVERSE Reading Series in Philly.

Night Sweats

Joseph Lombo

You’re twelve and you can’t remember
the last time you slept through the night.
If their raging voices don’t wake you
the tension beneath their smoldering silence will.

Tonight your dad claims he’ll shoot your mom
but she says he hasn’t got
the balls or a gun.

He says it’s only a matter of time.

So you creep over to your bedroom door
and you shove a chair up against it
and hope they won’t decide
to make you their common enemy.

But their voices reach you anyway.
He screams that when he gets that gun
He’s going to shoot her here, here,
here, here, here

Here and finally here!
And from somewhere deep under the covers
you laugh because the asshole
never stopped to reload

But the joke’s on you
When the clock strikes another hour
And you’re awake, dreaming yet again
About leaving one way or another.Joe Lombo is a graduate student in the Creative Writing Program at Rowan. The essay and poems that appear in this issue are the first items he has published. He was born and raised in Northeast Philly and currently resides in Turnersville New Jersey.

Fathers and Sons

Joseph Lombo

You don’t know I’m watching you,
watching those hands made rough by bending iron in shops;
watching hands so easily clenched into fists
gently strum the strings of
an out of tune guitar.

You’re sitting on the patio
pencil stub tucked behind your ear,
sheet music scattered across a wrought iron table;
six cans of Bud
serving as inspiration and paperweights.

I know what it feels like
to watch someone else’s dream
when I recognize the same part
of the same song
you’ve been trying to write for years.

If I stay you’ll wave me over
and ask me if you ever told me
about that song you wrote;
the one that sounded like a hit some other guy had.

I’ll nod like I always do
but I’ll hear the one about the guy
who knows he blew his chance
to be somebody
but who still wants
to be somebody anyway.

You’ll punch me in the arm,
then ask me how the girls
are treating me
before telling me
they used to treat you better.

I’ll say I don’t want to arm wrestle
But you’ll talk me into it.
As that vein in your neck bulges
And your bloodshot eyes plead,
I’ll have to decide
if I’m going to let you win.Joe Lombo is a graduate student in the Creative Writing Program at Rowan. The essay and poems that appear in this issue are the first items he has published. He was born and raised in Northeast Philly and currently resides in Turnersville New Jersey.

After a Shift at the Catch of the Day

Nancy Gwynne Hickman

End of night’s work,
I walk the boards,
descend to beach.
Take off my shoes,
stretch my toes,
think of fall.

I slip my hand
into the pocket
of my waitress skirt,
black nylon, slick as eel skin,
for the pack of Kools
my last table left behind
with the dirty plates,
emptied Heinekens,
paltry tip.

I kneel in cool sand,
late, black August night,
slender curve of moon,
sound of waves,
and light a cigarette,
for the first time.

The mint stabs
like winter air to the lungs,
but the red ember
seems to me
like a ring on my finger,
or the period
at the end of the last sentence
of a long story. Nancy Hickman grew up on a farm in southern Delaware, came to Philadelphia for college, and has been here ever since. She’s worked as a teacher, book store manager, hospice case manager, and grief counselor. Presently, she is a parish secretary and teaches English to non-native speakers. She writes when she can.