Sunday, 22 October 2017

Celebration

by Lilian Cohen


Stunning in black
from top to toe
she checks in the mirror
her grooved mottled skin
the cap of red curls unevenly dyed
and now somewhat thin
rehearses her smile
to show her crowned teeth
and drapes her red scarf
to hide the wattles of age

but in her mind’s eye
she slips all her old lovers
into each artful fold
struts the tango eternal
and smolders at time
with a shiver of beads
in the moonlight


* * * * *


© Lilian Cohen 2005
Solace from Lake Superior

by Francesca West


The Great Lakes, 
on the rocky shore.

Couches arranged 
from large stones.

Calm, tranquil water 
as far as the eye can see.

Agates color the water 
and tumble smooth and clean.

Your judgments cannot reach me here.
Your speculations stay suspended in the air.

The dusk hugs my eyes, 
and the dark waters removed of light 

reflect the limitless sky
purified of what you think,

how you live, 
and how you’ll die.

I keep you suspended up 
while I hunker down.

Lay parallel with the ground.
I see the flaws of thinking 

swirl and mix 
with the orange and pinks,

and I let my toes 
slip into the water

and seek to keep 
my spirit clean,

Pure,
free of contaminants.

To keep myself
from rising up as raindrop dust

in the clouds 
that misery inhabits.



Saturday, 21 October 2017

Please Don't Bruise the Fruit

by Francesca West


Please don't 
bruise the fruit.
Rubbing up against us.
Pushing hard into our soft spots.
Picking us off the branch prematurely.
We are meant to ripen,
Free fall, land on our own. 
Chosen by hands that attract us
To want to be eaten completely.
You throw stones in the tree.
Play a game of targeting.
Leaving nothing nourishing 
left to be seen. 
I wouldn't even want you 
to pick the bugs off me!
Just let me be!
I'm free,
When you don't bruise the fruit.
When you let me choose. 
When will you let me choose? 
Nobody would choose
To appear so bruised.


Friday, 20 October 2017

A Woman Scorned

by Devon Balwit


            “Reports that a woman was arrested after training squirrels to attack          
            her ex-boyfriend are false. No such incident occurred…” (Business2Community)

Nowhere now safe for you. If I could train
the ground itself to flinch at your step,

you would plummet to magma. The wind
would slap at you, dry leaves flensing.

Instead, I’ve recruited the small things,
the wire walkers, the nut gatherers.

Their chittering coded, they alert
the canopy: you with your new love

on a picnic blanket. Hitchcockian,
they come in phalanx, tails lifted like

pennants. Think of me with each bite,
a rancor that leaves you faceless.


* * * * *

Devon Balwit writes in Portland, OR. She has five chapbooks out or forthcoming: How the Blessed Travel (Maverick Duck Press); Forms Most Marvelous (dancing girl press); In Front of the Elements (Grey Borders Books), Where You Were Going Never Was (Grey Borders Books); and The Bow Must Bear the Brunt (Red Flag Poetry). Her individual poems can be found in The Cincinnati Review, The Stillwater Review, Red Earth Review, The Fourth River; Glass: A Journal of Poetry; Noble Gas Quarterly; Muse A/Journal, and more.





Thursday, 19 October 2017

Half the Hurricanes

by Evie Groch


Born a female, I was handed
a manual of low expectations,
and warned to adhere to them.
A bullseye of shame on my back
marked me a target for arrows of
insults, regrets, obedience, demands.

I was offered tools of my trades,
choices they called them:
            a typewriter and steno pad
            a starched white hat and thermometer
            a blackboard and a ruler

But the manual didn’t list them all. It never warned me about
            my appearance
            my dry cleaning costs
            my ignored voice
            my few publishing options
            my diminished reproductive rights
                                                                                                                       
Here I stand and wait.

Half the hurricanes bear our names,
a step up from having them all blamed on us,
but that is where equality ends.
Resentment planted a seed in me.
It fed on bitter nourishment
and thoughts of wrongs replayed.
Justice is a victim of inequity
and vengeance is its mate.

I’m still here and waiting.

When you try to mansplain to me
the stench of double-talk rises
and wakes me out of love.
We’re overdue for new
Thou Shalts and Shalt Nots.
Laments sent up to heaven’s door
evaporated on the way.
Are you with me? Not yet?

I’m still here and waiting.

You’re being addressed.
Don’t look away.
Face me, tell me why this is,
and then tell your mothers, wives,
sisters, daughters, nieces, granddaughters.
Answer carefully as you squeeze out
what is left of your words from an almost
empty vocabulary tube.

But I am still here and waiting.

You know what’s coming.
A look of mortification kidnaps your face
as you reach to cover the chinks in your armor
bracing for a joust.

I am here still and waiting.

Your stale advice of “give it time,”
“it’s God’s way,” and “look how far
you’ve come” attracts sneers like
decomposing clich├ęs. It’s mean-spirited
and deserves to shrivel up like a slug in salt.

Yet I’m still here and waiting.
Are you ready yet?

Heed my words. They crescendo
from a whistle to a roar
and become deafening when unheeded.
Take them not in vain.
They are my legacy.

Stop battering me with your fists
dipped in self-righteous confidence
of knowing what’s best for me.
I invite you to stand by my side
and call me friend, sister, peer, equal,
names you would want the women
in your family called.

I’m still here and waiting. 
I’ll come round again whether
you are ready or not,
like the hurricanes which bear our names




Wednesday, 18 October 2017

ROCK ’N ROLL IS HERE TO STAY
by Mary J. Breen

            When I’m old and demented and someone thinks to make me a Music and Memory playlist, I know exactly what I want—the same music I listened to as a teenager, and the same music I listen to now on long car trips: Rock ’n Roll, Gospel, and Motown, plus a few Mozart symphonies to show I’m not completely unsophisticated. I will want to hear the music I loved as a kid, the music that helped shape me, the music I still feel connected to all these years later.
            Now at 71, when I look back at how I got hooked on that music, I picture myself in Grade 9 in 1958. I see a cautious, much-too-tall girl with thick glasses and dreary clothes at the edges of a school dance. And, since I know her well, I know she has three more strikes against her: she’s new to town; she’s a top student, and she’s the daughter of one of the school’s more forbidding teachers. It’s no wonder she’s there with the other ‘wallflowers’ as we’d already learned to call ourselves: the unfit, the unchosen, the unwanted, marooned on the sidelines of a smelly gym and pretending not to mind.
            School dances were very popular. We all seemed to accept without question the premise that if you were a real teenager, you went to school dances. A big part of the appeal of these dances was the chance to be immersed in the music of the day. In those dim and distant days before we could carry 1000 songs of our choice on our cellphones, it wasn’t easy to get to hear the songs we wanted to hear. My parents’ radio buzzed with static, and its small dial made precise tuning almost impossible. If I did find a station I wanted, it would usually fade in and out, whistling and hissing and swooshing like ocean surf in the movies until another station drowned it out, and on the rare occasions when I did find a station that was clear for a while, I was never allowed to leave it on for long. The radio stood on the bookcase in the living room, and my parents weren’t having it playing any kind of music, especially rock ‘n roll, when they wanted to read or watch TV.
            Then in my first year in high school, I won a radio in a fund-raising contest for selling the most magazine subscriptions—an easy win because, besides the several subscriptions my parents already ordered every year for themselves, they gave subscriptions as Christmas gifts to most of their friends and relatives: Reader’s Digest or Time for the men, and Chatelaine or Ladies Home Journal for the women. First prize was a little transistor radio. Everyone was impressed with how small and portable it was, but in truth, its sound was tinny and its reception undependable except late at night when, under the covers, it could pick up a station in Buffalo that played really good music. The only reliable radios I knew of were in cars, and a few years later, after my friends and I turned sixteen and were able to drive, we would borrow someone’s parents’ car and drive around, with no particular place to go, just waiting, hoping, listening, almost praying for our favourite song to be played on one of the Hit Parade shows.
            None of my friends had enough money to buy records regularly—my friend’s solitary Chuck Berry album got a lot of play on her portable record player—but we could always go and hear music at the restaurant where we gathered on Saturdays to drink lime-Cokes and eat French fries. They had a juke box, one of those classic Wurlitzers the size of a small fridge, round on top with flashing lights, little mirrors, and bubble tubes, the kind where you could watch the little 45s being pulled out and set spinning before the needle dropped. Every booth had its selector box with lists on little metal cards you could flip through, and buttons to push for your choice. This was all good, but it cost money—something none of us had much of—and the latest hits took several weeks to arrive and be slotted in, and if you did find the one you were dying to hear again, there might be ten songs lined up ahead of yours.
            My most important source of music was American Bandstand. Every chance I got in Grades Eight and Nine, I’d dash home to watch it after school on our brand-new-though-sometimes-fuzzy, black-and-white TV with finicky bunny ears on top. Later we got a rotor that sat on the TV and was used to aim the antenna as much as possible towards the origin of the TV station, in this case, Rochester NY, directly south across the lake. As I lay on the couch and drank ginger ale I didn’t just watch the show: I studied it: the girls’ smooth hair styles, and their cool American clothes: plaid pleated skirts and long straight skirts, white blouses with Peter Pan collars, pullovers and cardigans, thick white bobby socks and white bucks, saddle shoes, or T-straps. I memorized the lyrics and melodies of the songs—I still know most of them—and I studied and practised the new jive steps, especially the Stroll and the Twist, that the kids performed in their sober, unsmiling way. I learned the names of the performers so I’d be in the know, but I paid almost no attention to their musical skills, never even noticing that they lip-synched their “live” appearances. Except for Elvis whom we’d seen on Ed Sullivan and who was irresistible because of his voice and his smile and his hair and his “gyrations,” I didn’t care about any other pop stars. I didn’t send off for signed photographs, and I didn’t read about their favourite milk shakes at their favourite “malt shop” in teen magazines; I just wanted their music.
            We craved this music, but we knew very little about it. I didn’t know about its black roots in jazz and blues. Ours was such a white world that I never noticed that there were no black kids on Bandstand and very few performers were black. The only ones I’d ever seen were Harry Belafonte and Louis Armstrong on Ed Sullivan. I’d never met one in person.
            I loved the music so much I thought maybe I could learn to play it too. At that time, I was preparing for my Grade Eight Royal Conservatory piano exam, and I knew my mother had played dance hits in her dance band in the ’30s but of course I had no idea how to sound anything like Fats Domino or Jerry Lee Lewis. I mastered In The Mood—anyone could—but I did not at all master Bumble Boogie, even though I’d spent good money on the sheet music. It was soon apparent that there was no point in trying to play my pathetic version of rock ’n roll all by myself, especially with my father radiating disapproval of the music in the background, and both of my parents radiating disapproval of my taking time away from my arpeggios.
            At school dances, however, good music was guaranteed. A few boys had dreams of putting together a band, as teenage boys seem wont to do, but they couldn’t compete with the music of real pop stars played by a “disk jockey” up on stage. I don’t know who those records belonged to, but they were loaned to the school for these events, so we got to hear stars like Neil Sedaka, Dion and the Belmonts, The Marcels, Leslie Gore, Bill Haley, and Elvis singing The Wanderer, Blue Moon, Calendar Girl, It’s My Party, Walk Don’t Run, Rock Around the Clock, It’s Now or Never, Strangers on the Shore, Save the Last Dance for Me, and Jailhouse Rock. We didn’t care that the lyrics were terrible: Who put the bomp In the bomp bah bomp bah bomp or We're gonna have some fun when the clock strikes one, and we didn’t care about the sentiment behind I kiss 'em and I love 'em 'cause to me they're all the same.
            These dances, often mysteriously called Tea Dances, started right after school, and went only until about seven, probably so they wouldn’t delay the country school buses any longer. And riotous events these were not: the only food or drink available was milk, white or chocolate, sold to us by our cautious and perhaps unimaginative Student Council. Besides both fast dances and slow, there were Spot Dances: special secret places on the dance floor that earned a prize for whomever was closest to one when the music stopped. Sometimes the dances were called Sock Hops, but we weren’t obliged to protect the gym floor by dancing “in sock feet” because our mothers would have killed us for coming home with filthy socks. We also had Hard Times dances where we were expected to wear torn or grubby clothes, and a yearly Sadie Hawkins’ Dances—a chance for the girls to invite the boys—although hardly a blow struck for equality of the genders. Sadie was a character in the Li’l Abner comic strip, a woman too toothsome, warty, and homely to ever get a man, so on one day a year, in the world of Dogpatch, she was allowed to try to hog-tie one of the town’s bachelors and drag him across a finishing line before sundown. If she succeeded, he had to marry her. Ha, ha, ha. These dances just made for further humiliation for any girl desperate enough to ask a boy.
            One thing I soon figured out was that unless you came with a date, we girls were expected to lurk along the far wall and unattached boys along the opposite one. When a song began, we could make no forays from our side to theirs, but some of the braver boys would make the long trek across the floor in our direction. I wonder how long it took me to learn not to watch as they headed towards us, but rather to stare straight ahead or to appear to be paying rapt attention to whatever a friend was telling me. If ever a boy asked me to dance, I worried about what I was supposed to do when it ended: say thanks? . . . or say thanks and wait to see if they wanted another? . . . or say thanks and scurry back to the wall of woebegones and let him escape in the other direction? If—or much more often when—no one asked us to dance, we younger girls would dance with each other, getting to spin around, making our wide skirts spin too, and perfecting our dancing steps at the same time. We all became much better dancers than the boys.
            The teachers took turns being chaperones. Presumably, their job was to keep the peace, and to keep kids from dancing too close, although Dirty Dancing hadn’t arrived at our little school anyway. Only a few of them bothered to patrol in the gloom. At least they didn’t go about with a ruler getting kids to dance far enough apart to “make room for the Holy Ghost” as my friends at Catholic schools had to endure. I don’t know why our teachers weren’t aware—or weren’t concerned—about those boys who drank stronger drink than milk outside the back door. I assume they didn’t realize that the liquor was sometimes provided by an entrepreneurial school employee.
~
            Even though I was seldom asked to dance, and even though I was keenly aware of how many strikes I had against me, and even though I knew I couldn’t compete with girls who were prettier and had better clothes and probably gave off less of an aura of desperation, I still went to most of those dances, carrying with me a little glimmer of excitement, optimist that I am, and more than a little dread, realist that I am. It would have been so much easier to stay home and eat popcorn and watch Highway Patrol and Peter Gunn and M Squad with my mother.
            And now, fifty-five years later, I do wonder why I kept going to those dances, though of course teenagers do things for tangled, overlapping reasons, reasons both complicated and simple, critical and shallow, and most of all, for reasons deeply unclear to themselves. Back then, wanting to be in a certain place at a certain time with certain people felt like it had life-or-death consequences. So, yes, I felt I had to keep going to those dances.
            I went for the music, but not just for the music. Like most teenagers, I very much wanted to belong within the world of the teenager—something easier said than done. In the Lutheran/Mennonite town we’d just moved from I’d been a misfit because my parents were Catholic outsiders who ran the unwholesome movie theatre. Now my father had been transformed into a proper citizen, someone who taught right here at our high school, and this, I hoped, might make me more acceptable. That hope was fading, however, when I discovered that he was so strict that everyone was afraid of him, and so, I figured, no one would ever visit me for fear of encountering him.
            I also went because I saw school dances as a necessary though painful step towards becoming a real live teenager, which meant I was partway to becoming a real live adult, which meant I’d soon be an independent person who could buy herself a ticket out of Dodge. I was certain life happened somewhere other than small towns, and I was very keen to go to the only city I knew, Toronto, where I’d go to university and be very, very sophisticated and very, very suave. And escape my mother.
            It wasn’t hormones compelling me either, since I was a late bloomer, and I didn’t have a crush on any of the Grade 9 boys—mere children that they were. I did think some of the older boys were cute, but I knew they wouldn’t have noticed me if I’d shown up wearing nothing but feathers. Even though, in those days, all girls were expected to marry (and pitied if they couldn’t catch a man), I never thought I would. I hadn’t grown up with fantasies of white dresses and flower girls as my mother had made me aware of my many fatal flaws. Besides, my parents’ unspoken but loudly declared wish was that I become a nun. My mother also repeatedly told me that if some boy or man ever paid me attention, I must exercise great caution and reserve, and assume it was just a phase that would soon pass. She very much wanted me to know that she and my father were living proof of the wisdom of waiting to be sure since they didn’t marry until 16 years after they’d met! Marry in haste, repent at leisure. Even so, I think I was still child enough to hope for a kind of Cinderella miracle, the Ugly Duckling girl who, after her super makeover, is discovered and rescued by Prince Charming—and at a ball. Teenagers are caught in a strange transitional time somewhere between the make believe world of childhood and the dreary realities ahead that they’d often rather not face.
            What I really knew deep down was that these dances mattered a lot, and mattered in an intense way that I had no words for. I didn’t know that an awful lot of people throughout the ages have felt that dancing mattered an awful lot because dancing is part of the mating game: the stylized practices of displaying, judging, choosing, touching, and pairing—and rhythm. I suppose I knew dancing was about sex—mysterious subject that that was—but if, at fourteen, I’d heard George Bernard Shaw’s clever words that dancing was "The vertical expression of a horizontal desire legalized by music,” I wouldn’t have even known what he meant.
            When people asked young people the late ‘50s and early ‘60s what they loved about the music they always gave the exact same answer as the adults gave when they were asked why they so disapproved of it: “the beat.” And it was the true answer; I, and a few million other teenagers, felt it and loved and craved its physical, driving energy. Even though there is nothing new about singing the blues, we too were drawn to the narrative of loss and heartbreak in those songs. They made us feel very grown-up; we thought we already knew about broken promises and unrequited crushes and forbidden loves and the pain of being ignored at a dance by the very boy you had helped with his homework every day after school. And then there was the intoxicating certainty that this powerful music was our music—not our parents’. They could still listen to that stupid How much is that doggy in the window?, but we had You ain’t nothing but a hound dog. And the more the adults—priests, teachers, politicians, and parents—declared the music decadent, vulgar, full of Communist influences, and certain to make delinquents of all of us—the more we defiantly adored it.

* * * * *
“Rock ‘N Roll Is Here To Stay” was first published as “School Dances, Sadie Hawkins, and Rock ‘N Roll: Looking Back” in The Toast. April 2016.
Mary J. Breen is the author of two books about women's health. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in national newspapers, essay collections, travel magazines, health journals, and literary magazines including Brick, The Christian Science Monitor, Boston Literary MagazineThe National Post, and JAMA Cardiology. She was a regular contributor to The Toast. She lives in Peterborough Ontario Canada where, among other things, she teaches writing.



Friday, 13 October 2017

Fetish: For Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind

by Heather Steinmann


“What was the address where the body was found?” a reporter said.
The sheriff (laughs, says):  
“that thing hasn’t had an address for years…
a side note, that’s where I hunt my deer”  (reporters laugh).

The internet is an enormous radio
where you can find
how many units an apartment building has,
an ultrasound picture,
how to induce or remove.

***

A fetish is an object inhabited by spirit, fixated on or worshipped by a lesser being.

Also it can be a small, carved bead or ornament.

***

8 months pregnant.
22 years old.
Member of the Spirit Lake Tribe.

They said that when she was a child
Savanna made a friend by crossing the street and asking
“do you want to go for a walk?”

They said that she loved everybody.

They said that one out of three indigenous women go missing in their lifetime
but this case might be different.

They said we’re looking into whether the fetus
was induced or removed
and that happens
but this case might be different.

They said “womb raiders” follow a pattern.
This one seemed no different.

We seldom see what lies under water until a part of it surfaces.

They said she went upstairs to help a neighbor sew a dress.

***

When she got there it was different.

They said the apartment complex has 7 units, 3 stories.

Her boyfriend said they’d been together for 7 years.

They said the neighbor
had 7 children scattered
none that she wanted but this one.

***

16 or 24 steps a headline said she walked up the stairs and people were mad they said which is it 16 or 24 they said we need to know but what they really wanted to know was how many of what inside  

***

In the newspaper they said fetal abduction is rare but
there have been 18 in 43 years in the US
and just two mothers lived.
Women don’t get killed by women all that often
only these cases are different.
In the newspaper they don’t always say the victim’s names.

Margaret—Cindy—Deborah—Carethia—Margarita—Teresa—Carolyn—Bobbie—Jimella—Araceli—Kia—Julie—Jamie—Martiza—Victoria—Michelle—Angelikque—Savanna—


***

Another neighbor heard a banging in the bathtub for 15 or 20 minutes,
and then the shower came on around 1:30 or 2:00.

7 children scattered but those weren’t the one
“That’s the one. That’s the baby I want.”
A year before Savanna the neighbor
accosted a woman in a restaurant
a white woman but a white woman
with a brown child.
7 children scattered but she said “That’s the one. That’s the baby I want.”


***

American Indian women are murdered more than ten times the national average.


***

9 days until her body was found
just 2 until her baby was found with the neighbor.
He said the one with 7 children scattered said to him
“this is our baby, this is our family.”
7 children scattered but this one would have light brown skin
smooth and takeable.

Induced or removed.
This kind of evil makes us search the faces of the people we know.

A fetish can be a small bead, a carving of a being believed to have power.


***

8 months along,
her body nothing but someone else's personal calendar
an incubator
then a stopwatch
what was the sound it made when it was done in 15 or 20 minutes?

A countdown, tearing off each little paper on a chain.

  
***

Her 16-year-old brother heard he thought a sewing machine.
God keep his mind in a place he can find it.
They said she met her death by walking
16 or 24 steps
then 15 or 20 minutes
to help with a sewing project.

Our mothers taught us
if you don’t get what you want you’re not supposed to
take it from someone
you don’t craft a story
sew it up
to make the pieces of it fit.

A woman’s work is never done.

Her mother who said right away she was missing.
Her father who knocked on the door.
Her brother who knocked on the door.
The mothers who came to search.

What a mother is
would hold the 22-year-old 8-months along child
and tell her that she can have anything in the world that she wants.


***

Savanna asked
“Is it normal to have an extremely hard time breathing…
I’m 35 weeks and miserable.”

When they found her body
surfaced on a river log
the baby’s father said
“I can’t breathe.”

To carve out a plot is to lay waste to the whole story.
The mother of a culture discarded,
the taking of a trinket.
It happens all the time.


***

Over 50% of assaults on American Indian women are committed by non-natives.
This one was no different.

15 or 20 minutes,
the bathtub,
the enormous radio can’t capture
how quietly one came and one went.


***

27 miles away from my childhood home is a lake,
it grows closer by the day,
taking land and sometimes lives.
The Spirit Lake.
As a child I wondered at a picture on a cafe wall
of a lake monster, serpentine and mostly submerged.

The kayakers that found her,
they might have checked for a chance of rain but really
how many of us can say
we go down to the river
without a fraction of our hearts
scanning the undercurrent for
the sad story of someone rising?

I don’t know if it is a mystery
or a love affair.