Mermaid

Mermaid stands on her tail
and plays violin
first chair, in the
Nashville Symphony Orchestra

By special arrangement
she slides into a tank of seawater
between solos

She has such a light touch
the critics say

Her touch is full of air
free of water weight
Her instrument
a Stradivarius
worth a quarter-million dollars
artfully cover her breasts
as she slides the bow

In the audience country singers
still in their cowboy hats
despite glares from the well-coiffed women
behind them
and sailors in the hall too
one with an unlit cigar chomped between
yellowed dentures
wonder:
But how does she spread her legs
for sex?

* * * * *

Mitch Grabois was born in the Bronx and now lives in Denver. His short fiction and poetry appears (or will appear) in over a hundred literary magazines, most recently The T.J. Eckleberg Review, Memoir Journal, Out of Our and The Blue Hour. He has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, most recently for his story “Purple Heart” published in The Examined Life in 2012. His novel, Two-Headed Dog, published by Xavier Vargas E-ditions, is available through AmazonBarnes and Noble and Smashwords. His submissions to Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

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Exposure № 111: Blackest Crow

Anslow Blackest Crow

Photographer Dylan Anslow shares this self portrait with a crow, her father’s totem. This image was inspired by the Civil War-era song “As Time Draws Near.”

As time draws near, my dearest dear,
When you and I must part,
How little you know of the grief and woe,
And my poor aching heart.

It’s better I leave, for your sake,
Believe me, dear, it’s true,
I wish that you were staying here,
Or I was going with you.

I wish my breast were made of glass,
Wherein you might behold,
Upon my heart your name lies wrote,
In letters made of bone.

In letters made of bone, my dear,
Believe me when I say,
You are the one I’ll always love,
U
ntil my dying day.

The blackest crow that ever flew,
Would surely turn to white,
If ever I prove false to you,
Bright day will turn to night,

Bright day will turn to night, my love,
The elements will burn,
If ever I prove false to you,
The seas will rage and burn.

* * * * *

Dylan Anslow is a 19 year old aspiring ocean/earth scientist from Oregon, about to start school at Stanford. She hopes to convey her love and fascination with the earth, the ocean and their inhabitants, contagiously, through pictures and drawings (and maybe some day scientific research?). She likes taking pictures with just enough narrative to invite your mind to wander around them and think about the subjects and what they were thinking or dreaming of. Her submissions to Dr. Hurley’s Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Jericho Jones

https://i1.wp.com/farm9.staticflickr.com/8479/8238283371_5d64748dcd.jpgThe only name he still knew was Jericho Jones. As if his very existence had vaporized into the ether, his identity bent to just what his listeners willed. He no longer mattered in anything but what they heard, and what he could hear – that gathered by his ears and that hidden within his head. He wove a tapestry of sound, trailing through melodies and rhythms nobody else dreamed of, but they bled out of his veins without a thought. Sometimes accompanied by pounding feet, and other times just uncomprehending stares, his music flowed through the stratosphere and into worlds unknown. He could not keep a job, he could not afford a roof over his head, he could not read nor write nor count his change. But, man, could he play that trumpet, could he wail. The way he could blow, they said, he could bring down the walls of Jericho.

Every street corner served as his stage, every lamp overhead his spotlight. He leaned back upon the mojo, his breath steaming from the trumpet’s bell, moisture dripping from the spit valve. A fellow drumming on the bottom of a bucket might join in, or another with a pair of spoons. Bouncing off his brick backdrop, his songs reached into every corner before rising to every star. The gullet of his battered porkpie might beg for spare coins, but the music existed for its own sake, and Jericho Jones existed for the music.

Thin as a pencil, he meandered through a maze of streets, pulsing with the rhythm of the city, his horn hung over his shoulder by a rope. His mouthpiece, lovingly wrapped in a white handkerchief – the only truly clean piece of cloth on him – nestled carefully in his left pants pocket. Sidewalks and gutters, gravel roads and grassy shoulders, he walked them all, casting the seeds of his art upon whatever soil he found. Did he eat? Perhaps he might pick an apple from a tree, or find a sandwich tossed into the upturned hat, but the question seldom even arose. The thrills of his instrument fed his heart, and sometimes he had to smile so big he could not play for a moment.

He was the Pied Piper of joy, leading it around by enchantment. The gift was offered to all within earshot, listening the only price asked. He was master of his talent, passing along his work at no cost, thereby loosing the bonds of owners, sellers and critics. For those with no money, there was no fee; for those with no interest, there was no refund. The music took on life, like the air it rode upon, free to alight upon the sensibilities of any who rose to it. Like a caress upon a sleeping child, its touch might never be acknowledged, but was known of itself.

There came a day when a couple men of obvious means hung at the edge of the crowd, sort of hiding around the corner of a building, as Jericho Jones tore it up. Head to toe in sharp, three-piece suits, spats and hats, pins and baubles, the two nodded and laughed to the trumpet’s siren song. A new inspiration filled his lungs, and his tones pealed through the urban landscape. Under a midday sun, the gleaming instrument could shine no brighter than its own notes, hanging like stars in the sky. They danced a respectably slight jig to the jitter-bugging jazz, whooped in appreciative praise, with “yes!” and “uh-huh!” and “play it!” The meager audience dissipated, a couple of small silver discs fell into the porkpie, and the two lingered.

“Son, you’ve got no business playing on this street corner,” one said. A gold watch chain drooped across his ample stomach.

“I’ve got no place else,” he replied. “One corner’s as good as another for me to stand on.”

“Let us help you. We can set you up in clubs, in theaters,” said the other. “You’ve got no business playing that music for free.”

“Can anything make the music better?” asked Jericho Jones.

“Maybe, maybe not. Won’t be able to tell until we put a price on it.”

The gigs began small, in church basements and restaurant patios. Soon those venues became cramped, as his audience – the wide world – tried to fit within brick walls. Then he graduated to music halls and nightspots, and the fans poured in. With prosperity came a change of clothes, and a velvet bag to carry his trumpet. Its golden voice continued to cry out his muse, the inner workings of his heart and soul, as he poured a libation of emotion and empathy upon his willing proselytes. The gospel of music flowed over the land, even three hundred tables alert to its call, worshipping at its altar, prepared to rise in answer as it beckoned the people to its screaming refrains.

Rafters shook off dust, glittering a shower of magic upon eager audiences. Walls seemed to tremble with every stomping beat as the tempo had its way. Metallic echoes of gleeful celebration rang within the halls – joined by lights spinning and flashing quick glimpses of glad faces – a carnival of unhindered bliss. He bent to the notes, his body dancing interpretation to the pain and rapture of each new strain. Fingertips coaxed colors through the valves never before heard, the slide finessing an arc of passion, and within his closed eyes he could see the tones and phrases painting a canvas of melody. A covering of grace flowed from the instrument and over every spirit within the tabernacle.

The moon, round and silver, sent jealous beams from the early morning darkness as the three men walked away along the deserted street. They fairly glowed from the evening’s bash, stepping to the beat as it rang within their memories.

“Man, were you hot tonight!” said one.

“You sure can play that trumpet. Enough to bring down the walls of Jericho.”

They did not notice the half-dozen or so men appear from an alley’s deep shadows. Burly and ragged, they carried bats and ropes, hitching their jeans as they hurried to catch up.

“You fellas been doing pretty well, haven’t you? You’re looking mighty fancy,” one ruffian said behind them.

They turned, three men in all their finery, and the dim lamplight revealed the teeming menace.

“You fellas seem to have forgotten your place.”

“What are you talking about?” said the man with the watch chain.

“You fellas think you’re coming up in the world,” he patted his bat against an open hand. “Thought you might need a reminder of where you belong.”

“We’re on our way home now,” the man said.

“Not yet you’re not,” he said, and the bat sent a fine fedora flying through the air with a sickening crack. Down went the man, his blood seeping onto the pavement, but nobody could see in the blackness. Scuffling blows and kicking resistance made mockery of beautiful suits and shoes, and hatred overcame hope. An incoherent mix of muffled groans followed, and hefty cords gracefully arched over the high arm of the streetlight. Ugly nooses hung limply until fitted over swollen and bloodied heads, and two ropes drew taut under the weight of helpless bodies.

A bat fell sharply upon his shoulder, knocking the trumpet bag loose. As he stumbled upon his knees, he felt his fist tighten around the mouthpiece in his pocket. No, he thought, nothing from you but beauty.

“You really think you can live white, nigger-boy?” a man leaned into him to jeer.

He raised his face to the light, prepared to witness death.

“Hey! Hey, man, wait,” one attacker lifted a hand and checked his mates. “You – you’re Jericho Jones, aren’t you?”

“Jericho Jones!” arose a murmur.

“Yeah,” he spat out a little blood.

“Oh, man, you’re great! I saw you years ago, playing on a street corner! And that’s your axe, right there!”

“Jericho Jones!” a whisper floated over the scene.

He fell to the sidewalk, propped upon one arm, reconciled to fate.

“This here is the greatest musical genius of our time! Man, you should hear him jam!”

A fine feather in someone’s cap, he thought, and hung his head.

“Man – we met Jericho Jones! I’ll never forget this day! He’s the best of all time!”

The band of men had turned suddenly jovial – an inexplicable mix of magnificence and atrocity – and walked off into the darkness. “What a night! Jericho Jones! Man, can he play!”

He sat in stunned silence upon the curb, his legs straight out, his friends dangling above him in awful silhouette.

The voice turned somber. The beat slowed, and tones sank and mellowed into thoughtfulness. A mournful wail lifted itself from the trumpet’s bell and called out to the heavens. No more clubs, no more halls. Back on the streets, back on the road, only open skies and solitude would suffice. He hunkered down in dark corners, destitute parts of town left to wilderness, and played out his anguish. Pushing the frustrated notes from his heart and out through the instrument, he sifted his mourning with charity and resolve.

His voice would not allow hatred. Determination, yes, and perseverance, even anger, but the bitter wickedness of hatred had no home there. The phrases drooped under their new burden, lines repeated two and three times, because there was nothing more to say. Smooth and velvety, a darker timbre flavored his accusation. A slow vibrato shook his cry, and his knees supported the horn as sobbing tones fell muted by the sidewalks. Still he played, refusing the silence that might also mean safety.

Over bridges and through woods he trudged, seeking something that he didn’t know, but what he thought might bring peace. The travels returned his clothing to the rags he remembered so well, and wore his shoes down to paper-thin shreds. These things mattered little, as he searched the sun and sky for new reasons to hope, dappled light cutting through the waving shade of leaves overhead. Invisible song fell like rain, birds well-hidden within the branches, not caring what had passed and what might come. They left no trace of existence except their song, and he could hear it and know them to be birds, though he could not see they were birds. “I am a man,” he said, “though they don’t see me.” He raised his trumpet again, from the back end of a caboose tearing around a curve, and a brilliant blast of defiant joy echoed off purple mountains.

His art could not be stilled, nor either his humanity. Stirred again within, the grace of his muse returned, the supernatural inspiration that makes more of one than what he is returned, as he weighed the vain valuations of the world. Brassy melodies again flowed from him like a rushing stream, bumping smoothly over unexpected nuances, forever bubbling along with glad anticipation. The music spoke with new authority, with new purpose toward not just accommodation but enlightenment as well, a new light to shine upon a forlorn land. And on one day he found his audience again, the audience that would truly listen, and he lifted his voice before an immense crowd gathered around still waters, gathered to hear Jericho Jones preach.

Stones, cold stones laid one upon another make a wall, as do hearts of stone. And he played before the giant stone image of a white man, on an early April Sunday morning, he played before the temple, and his song rang out over the people.

* * * * *

Craig Davis was born and bred in Memphis, the land of Elvis and pork barbecue, though neither ever did him any good. After earning journalism degrees at the University of Missouri, he worked in newsrooms for 20 years, then turned his attention to writing fiction in 2004. Davis has written five books available for Kindle, including “A Time for Poncey – And other Stories out of Skullbone.” He has two grown daughters and a dog who refuses to grow up. His contributions to Snake-Oil Cure can be found here.

Butter-knife Slide III

Suddenly it’s too much and sometimes I know
what I want to for goldfinches
listing near marigolds
a banjo to make us sweat and I know he forgot
his slide and found  a substitute
to say you can move through the mirage.

Chords smooth as water on an inch of sunset
curtains wave  invisibly in  the melody
merrily gliding on a butter knife slide of verticals
or upside down cells of doubt you say.

It’s too hot for April already glistening
mirror-like in the film version of some novel
suddenly I know to be idling
Oriental, but he sings southern as grits,
in a contest of sweet predicament songs.

Spring green as far as the eye can go
in old niches and eateries
on that note you better decrease the volume
why the dog was barking is a mystery
one tree to another one in the northland
on perches consuming reports out of yes
email accumulates @ eye level
in  pink blooming lives of crime
outlandish as Sherlock Holmes in space.

* * * * *

Joan Payne Kincaid has published a collection of work entitled Greatest Hits with Pudding House Publications. She has also published a book with Wayne Hogan entitled The Umbrella Poems in which we both contributed drawings of some of our poems.  She has also published a collection of haiku entitled Snapshoots on the web at <TMPoetry.com>. Her work has been published in Gargoyle,Hawaii Review, Limestone Poetry Review, Licking River Review, Iodine, Hampden,Sydney Poetry Review, Main Street Rag, Santa Clara Review, Green Hills Literary Lantern, South Central Review, The South Carolina Review,  Cross Currents, Georgetown Review, Edgz, 88,  Oyez, Modern Haiku, Iconoclast, Lynx Eye, Yalobusha Review, Mother Earth Journal, Tule Review, The Quarterly, Cairn, among others.

Her other submissions can be seen here.

Decomposing

He stared at the piano keys and saw jagged lines, sharps that altered and bent the pitch of the sounds he heard only in dreams. Putting pen to paper, he struggled to capture the pulse, the EKG of the music, its peaks and valleys of feeling. Mistakes,
corrections, frustration, crossings-out, final completed coda. “It is finished,” he said. When they found him, the line had gone flat forever.

Moves

The pack of wild men dances with arms up,
chests out, teeth flashed. You there in the center,
yes you. That white T-shirt and the view from
upstairs—howl, as they say.

Around we go, the hip hop beats on, we beat
on, feet stuck, slipping, moving, hips stuck,
slipping, moving.

I declare you, man, the owner of moves: first,
last, your lips on my neck, my curves and yours,
words just words, my lips, yes, mine.

I declare myself woman—the resistance until
what will be. You loved someone else before.
Remember? Let’s not be alone, man, man. Say
it with me.

The Chronicles of Sarnia, № 2

~In which editor DLR recalls his youth on the island of Sarnia.~

№ 2: Changes


emper Eadem
, or “always the same”, was etched on our school crest – a tribute to Queen Elizabeth I, who shared this steadfast motto when she founded the institution in 1563. Back then, it was a seminary housed in a handful of rooms. By the time I was there, it taught a rather wider range of subjects, but still admitted only boys. Like the little gentlemen we were supposed to become, we were forced to wear tweed blazers and carry our schoolbooks and pencils in briefcases.

It would be too easy to say that Sarnia was Semper Eadem. Yes, it’s true that it is a misty antique, that its inhabitants are some strange combination of middle Englanders and continental coast-dwellers, but most of the time, it potters along happily like any other small town.

During those years, I began to accumulate CDs, a now-outdated medium that only proves how much things do change.  Early purchases were haphazard, but eventually patterns emerged: classic rock artists and contemporary bands made up nearly equal parts, with the odd Miles Davis or John Coltrane record thrown in for good measure. Though at the time it was innocent musical curiosity, it now smacks of studied hipster eclecticism.

It soon became clear that I would end up purchasing a large number of Bob Dylan and David Bowie albums. One of the first Bowie albums I picked out was Hunky Dory, a then-30-year-old record that opened with the track “Changes”. This anthem didn’t seem to apply to Sarnia’s sleepy landscape, and I decided to pen the (once again) imaginatively titled “Everything Stays the Same”.

More an homage than a riposte, you can listen to a reasonably well produced version of it below.

Eventually, some things changed. Briefcases were abandoned in favour of sensible rucksacks;  Sarnia’s airport was rebuilt in glass and steel; and the island even bought a whole fleet of new buses that were just slightly too wide for the narrow country roads. And though my record collection grew, Semper Eadem remained etched on the school crest, for better or worse.

Stay tuned for more Sarnian tales.

The Chronicles of Sarnia, № 1

~In which editor DLR recalls his youth on the island of Sarnia.~

№ 1: Tides


rowing up on an island is not unlike learning the definition of a word without having the benefit of a dictionary. Sarnia, as it is still sometimes known, is small and beautiful in an unobtrusive way, but there are not many dictionaries to go around.

Summers were the worst and the best of the year. Warm and breezy, slow and tedious. We would make do with the beaches: either those in town that were dark, sand packed with rivulets of water mixing in with the sewage, or those whose light, flat dunes were altogether more pleasant.

We could have done with a dictionary before setting out on one particular project nearly a decade ago. On a wide, empty beach along the south coast of Sarnia, we scaled some sandstone rocks with a video camera in tow, intent on capturing some early-2000s quality video for later editing. Included in our filmic masterpiece were ciphers surreal enough even for an Aronofsky movie: a wooden pallet, some empty CD cases, and a plastic ruler among them. Having wrapped filming for the day, we turned our attention back to the beach and the road beyond, and realised the error of our ways.

God did smite us as he smote Noah. Waters had rushed in from the briny deep and surrounded our outcrop of rocks, and we would have to wade in one- to two-foot high depths just to get back to shore. So, trousers hitched up, socks and shoes in hand, we let the tide carry us home. Much less poetic was the barefoot walk back home.

Several years ago, I even decided that this was a suitable anecdote to base a song on. You can listen to the inventively-named “High Tide” here: