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.

Counting Pennies

Christopher Schwartz

it was her idea to count the pennies
the promise of a piggy bank
the sorrow of shattered porcelain
red copper bleeding onto the bedsheet
Lincoln staring down history
again, again, again, again

it wasn’t my idea to count pennies
rot brown of paper coin wrappers
her cinnamon scent, so so close
destiny stacked 50¢ by 50¢
Lincoln lowered into his grave
again, again, again, again

counting pennies was how she loved me
carefully but with all her heart
sitting beside me in the vault
fortunes sealed behind ten inches of steel
Lincoln enters the opera house
again, again, again, againChristopher Schwartz is a contributing author for the Philadelphia City Paper. He writes memorials for local soldiers slain in the Iraq War. He is also co-founder and co-editor of Thinking-East (www.thinking-east.net)
and New Eurasia (www.neweurasia.net. He has lived and worked in Philadelphia, London, and Jerusalem.

Distilled Spirits

Erin Gautsche

What we’ve become after
the sweet fruit lost first blush, left to

rot at the jar base (glass house, open
world) darkened and heady with invisible

gases, decomposition breathing hot.
Sour mash, newly mixed, strained twice,

thrice until all particles (reminders of
previous life) disappear. Now,

just a taste, thick and turned,
will remind us.

Erin Gautsche lives in West Philadelphia where she is completing her Masters degree in 20th Century Poetics, textuality, and fiction at the University of Pennsylvania. She is delighted to be the Program Coordinator at the Kelly Writers House.

Harrisburg

Paul-Victor Winters

Say I’m easily lost. Say it’s mid-June, Harrisburg. The man will leave as he came, hazy spot on the proverbial horizon, speck on an otherwise relatively clean record. Why record this? And why love? Say the man is a shy songwriter gone addicted. Or, skip the introduction and cut to the chase. Say there are three men where there ought to be two. Say one is a kid on his way home to a backwoods father with liver disease. Say the kid leaves early one morning without leaving a note. Bless mid-June nonetheless. And bless Harrisburg . Why menthol cigarettes? Or Oldsmobile love-making? Call it indirect characterization. Call it plot development. Call it a crying shame. Bless the tremor in the left hand. Why Xanax kisses in the rainy Pennsylvanian moonlight? Why guitar picks floating in the toilet bowl? What, now, is left? The man getting ready to leave. And me, already forgetting the details, already ready to quit Harrisburg cold. One man where once there were two, three. And a tremor in the left hand, lost keys in the songwriter’s Oldsmobile. A spilt-open steamer trunk full of spiral-bound notebooks. And a highly-flawed narrative structure.

Paul-Victor Winters is a high school teacher and adjunct professor of writing living in Southern New Jersey; his poems have appeared in a number of literary journals.