Delivering Christmas Dinner to My Daughter, Second Shift Charge Nurse on the Alzheimer Floor

By  John Bargowski

There’s no easy way in, or out,
warned the LPN who buzzed us past
the locked double doors,
led me and my wife down the corridor
to the nurses’ station
where a handsome man, tall,
and maybe sixty, wrung
his hands while he stood over
our daughter’s desk
repeating her name—
the way we had at her birth
when we were listening in it
for the ring of a bell—
begging her to walk him back
to school because he feared
the bullies who’d tripped him
and washed his face with snow
when he’d delivered papers
on his Ferry Street route,
and before our daughter uncovered
the steaming dish we’d brought,
she took his hand,
walked him around the floor
past wandering patients
and whirring machines
then back to his room
to help him search for his galoshes
and gather his school books
while his wife stood outside his door
reading the little wishes
in the greeting cards
taped to his tinseled
and holiday-lighted door frame,
the hem of her velvet pants
dripping and salt-stained
from the parking lot slop,
her Gloria hair-clip
with streaking star
and tarnished angel’s trumpet
blowing silvery notes
sideways through the frizz
coming loose from her perm.

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Up on Blocks

By Jim Daniels

Featured Art: Winter Scene in Moonlight by Henry Farrer

His father limping
from his stroke,
throwing his lunch pail
into the back of his pickup
like some stubborn, gimpy
shot putter, then driving off
to the job they gave him
after his rehab: steering
a hi-lo through the greasy plant

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The House

By Brian Swann

Featured Art: The House on the Edge of the Village by Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen

Leaves twitch. A wren flits. A rope between trees sags. By the well-head a few stranded dandelions.

Rain opens stones so they shine. A crow calls with the voice of a hammer. The rain stops. The sun enters with the voice of a crow. Heat turns day to distraction and the trapped mind wilts. A hawk calls and small mammals dive for cover. Sky goes carillon, dwindles, cooling off until the moon fills windows and stains rooms. A door swings and things go strange as if they had to. If you hear a voice you hear a voice. I walk through the empty house, carefully, a cat’s whisker. When I get to the top floor, over the moonlit roofs I can see the prison and the small zoo. They must be able to see me here where I’m training the self to lose itself, the way the stream ignores the stream.

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The Novel

By Brian Swann

Featured Art: Icebound by John Henry Twachtman

In the novel I’m writing there are no people, no “characters.” And if you expect a plot you’ll be sorely disappointed. There’s little to count on and precious little to critique. Beautiful language is absent; there is almost no language of any sort so you won’t see any reviews praising its style or humanity.

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All Eyes

By Billy Collins

Featured Art: Moonlight on Mount Lafayette, New Hampshire by William Trost Richards

Just because I’m dead now doesn’t mean
I don’t exist any more.
All those eulogies and the obituary
in the corner of the newspaper
made me feel more vibrant than ever.

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Divinity

By Billy Collins

Featured Art: The Cock Sparrow by George Edwards

Up to this point
I had assumed that He and I
had little or nothing in common

but one morning as I sat
in a blue Adirondack chair
in the middle of an expanse of lawn

though I seemed only
to be staring into space,
I realized that I, too,

had my eye on a sparrow,
who hopped around a little
in the grass then hurriedly flew away.


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Close Call

By Tamara Dean

Featured Art: Willows and White Poplars by Jean Baptiste Camille Corot

In the shower she takes a swig of beer, sets the bottle on the edge of the tub, and begins prying leeches, flat and large as house keys, from her cold toes, the top of her foot, her ankle. She places three in a line next to the bottle, where they lie motionless, though alive. Thinned blood threads over her feet. When she and Neil moved to the country four years ago, miles downriver from his family’s farm, he taught her to peel off leeches rather than douse them with salt, which he said might make them vomit and spread disease.

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What Forever Means

By Maria Nazos

For some lovers, it’s two parallel lines inked smoothly through time
by God’s hand, until he can’t keep his wrist steady,

or his pen dries up, so one of you runs out of color. One partner tries to pencil
the other back to life,

reads a story from her youth while she lies half-awake, as
a somber hospice hovers.

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Memo

By Todd Hearon

Featured Art: Northeaster by Winslow Homer

We have to remember the stakes are merciless.
It takes more to get out of this life than what you
          put into it.

That didn’t come out right. It takes more
to get out of this life more than—

It takes a goddamned lot to get out of this life.

Nobody ever said it was going to be anything better
than a round of poker on the raft of the Medusa.

It’s not who wins the game that counts.
Nobody wins. It’s who gets out least lost.

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No Try, Only Do

By Alan Rossi

Featured Art: Forêt de Compiègne by Berthe Morisot

I gave Saul a room. Two years prior, he had left me for Utah. He left me for the wild, for backcountry slopes. He wanted to be in glossy magazines and have his ponytail flowing out behind him in pictures, carving some mountain, dropping through powder. He spoke like this, dropping through powder. I tried to tell myself I couldn’t be too mad: he paid more attention to skis and skiing forums than he did to me. In Utah, he grew his hair long and beautiful and got in some of those magazines, though mainly he just put up pictures of himself on the Internet. I know, I looked at them all, wondering if he was thinking of me when he was hiking up the slopes, skis on his back, or whether he might get a distant glimpse of our life together when he was on top of one of those mountains and looked east. He was gone for two years, but to me it seemed a lot longer. I often thought about all the other girls he probably had sex with and how people probably loved him and how he was living this wild, free life, and I was still in East Tennessee with my brother and mother and the probably comparatively lame Blue Ridge. So when I found out he was coming back because he had seriously injured himself and could no longer carve or ride or hike or otherwise put his health in danger in backcountry powder, I was happy and told him he had a room waiting. I wanted him to come back in the same state he had left me in: miserable and alone.

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Reciprocal

By James Davis May

Featured Art: Woman’s Head by Albert Besnard

She says, I think you think too much
when you talk dirty.

They are, in fact,
having sex when she says this—
he’s above her and had just kissed
the inside of her ankle, which now rests
on his shoulder. He asks what she means.

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The Star of “Interstate”

By Chard deNiord

Featured Art: Afterglow by Jonas Lie

The clouds were curtains that parted onto the show
of sky above the scar of I-89.
Oh, the big blue screen of autumn days
and score that featured mainly strings.
Oh,
the epic Something, Then Nothing that opened as
a matinee but played into the night
on a single reel inside the room that housed
the machine.
I drove with one eye open and the other
closed.
I couldn’t tell if the things I was seeing—
broken line, blinking light, leaping
deer—were live or frozen frames.
Were on
the road or in my mind, into which
I’d also driven at a dangerous speed.
I was bearing down in the passing lane inside
the theater of my Chevrolet.
I was seeing
myself through the lens of a windshield in the opposite
lane.
I could smell the sky with the windows closed.
I could hear her voice from every cloud, “Come home,
my love. Come home.”
I believed there was still a way,
despite my fame as the man who flies, to return
as myself some day and give her the keys.

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Crimes of the Video Age

By Bradley Bazzle

Featured Art: Decorative Study: Satyr by Aubrey Vincent Beardsley

In the spring of 1985, Ben lived with his friend Marco in a second-floor apartment near the college where they were sophomores. For fun they watched girls sunbathe down in the small back yard across the alley. They kept a potted ficus by the window to obscure their faces.

One day, while they were staring at the girls through the ficus leaves, Marco said he had an idea. He went down the hall and came back holding the VHS camcorder Ben got for Christmas and kept beneath his bed.

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Kodachrome

By Mark Cox

Featured Art: The Madame B Album by Marie-Blanche Hennelle Fournier

We don’t show these family slides much,
in part, because the projector overheats,
but also because we miss my father’s litanies
of the dead and their diseases:
congestive heart failure; cirrhosis; even gangrene—
their ravaged, cancer-eaten, over-stressed organs
recalled in official diagnoses,
each dry account closing
while the next was ratcheted into place,
dad pressing the remote control
as if it were the release button on a bomb sight.

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Alcohol

By Mark Cox

In this faded family photo—
Horton, Kansas, ’36—
they are just two farmhands in overalls,
kept, by a bowed velvet cordon,
from some gala event. Except it’s a rattlesnake
strung between them,
five, perhaps six feet in length
and thick as my young father’s outstretched arms.
One might think his pride, that is,
anticipation of us,
would dictate looking at the camera,
but he seems to be eyeing
the slick, intricate patterns of risk
now relaxed in his hand.
Then again, given his uneasy, strained half-smile,
he could be checking my grandfather’s grip,
the snake so freshly dead,
making sure any reflex is under control—
suspecting the undulant weight of it,
that he could never really let go.

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