Prime Number Magazine
is a publication of
PO Box 30314,
Winston-Salem NC 27130
Issue 23, July-September 2012
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
Prime Decimals 23.2
Canoe Mormon Boys on Bicycles At the Graveyard of the Atlantic
by Sherrie Flick
followed by Q&A
Post-Mortem Survey Everything I Know I Learned from Survivor
Modern Hypothesis on the 1901 21-Grams Theory
by Terri McCord
followed by Q&A
Everything I Know I Learned from Survivor
by Anthony Frame
followed by Q&A
There’s an error in natural selection,
in the potency of fitness. My cousin points
at my glasses and says I’d never survive
in the African bush, which is fine
since I live in suburban Ohio where television
proves a smiling lie is better than
hunting skills and the biggest muscles must
be the first removed from society. At some point
the brain started to reign, but some instincts
haven’t figured it out, which explains why
Stephen Hawking ranks high on Google
but never shows up on magazine covers. It’s natural
to shun the ones who look like they’re dying,
to exile them to dusty libraries and museums.
At least we’ve evolved enough to create tears
when we bury them. Which is why
I want to be cremated. Forgive me for
not wanting a stone, a bust of angels
I don’t believe in. No, forget your forgiveness.
Cry for me the way you cry when the television shows
a fox finding a nest full of baby rabbits.
Write lyrics describing the color of
my magnified eyes. Words, like ashes,
might drift through the strings of
our genetic history. When I die, prove
once and for all the primacy of metaphors.
Anthony Frame is an exterminator who lives in Toledo, Ohio, with his wife. His first chapbook, Paper Guillotines, was published by Imaginary Friend Press and recent poems have been published in or are forthcoming from Harpur Palate, Blood Orange Review, Third Coast, The Meadowland Review, The Oklahoma Review, Northwind Magazine and Bigger Than They Appear: An Anthology of Very Short Poems (Accents Publishing 2011), among others. He is also the co-founder and co-editor of Glass: A Journal of Poetry. Learn more at http://www.anthony-frame.com/.
Q: What can you tell us about this poem?
A: I’ve long thought about humanity and the concept of evolution/adaptation, specifically the way certain humans have survived thanks to technology who “naturally” wouldn’t survive. Is this evolutionarily good or bad? Think Stephen Hawking. Then think of Stephen Hawking’s DNA surviving or not surviving. Add in to this obsession the fact that I watch Survivor pretty religiously and the idea of this poem came pretty easy. But I didn’t know how to write it until one day when I was working with my cousin, who had just returned to the States from a Peace Corps mission in Africa, and he told me, essentially, that I was watering down the gene pool because of my horribly terrible eyesight (I like to think he was kidding). After he said that, the poem just needed images and tone and structure and rhythm.
Suzanne’s father had thick fingers and rough hands. He’d once had dark black hair like hers, but it had grayed and receded as he got older. He was thick and tubby and then he was thin. Too thin. Then he was gone from this earth, and she was left to open the cottage and find the fishing tackle. She was left to remember how to fish and how to sleep in.
With the inheritance, a surprising gift, she left her job at the bookstore. A stupid job with a power-mongering manager. She left. Poof. And came to the cottage to exist. It had been easy leaving her life in the city. Packing up the car and heading north.
Once she arrived at the cottage, she sent out invitations. Everyone wanted to leave the city in the summer, after all, so it was easy to be surrounded by groups large and small. She curated her summer, much like she had curated the children's section of the bookstore. And both were a glaring success. Ex co-workers and neighbors became both jealous of and pleased with her generosity as they sat around the fire pit, stuck smoldering sticks into the last embers.
Suzanne knew she should keep her head down or word would spread to her family--something about too much partying or too much canoeing or too much smiling in this summer of sadness. Not enough casseroles.
Suzanne determined to buy a cardigan sweater later in the day. She'd drive into town and buy a sweater. This would show her preparation for the fall, and it would show her frumpiness, which the neighbors would appreciate. She'd buy a sweater in a bad brown color that wouldn't offset her eyes. A baggy sweater with puckering buttons.
In this way, Suzanne could be left alone to read the books she'd brought with her from the store. She'd turn the pages and in that tiny moment--the fingers gripping the page, taking it from one side to the next--she'd remember snippets of her life, too. Walking on the pier at sunset; screaming at her father at the bottom of her driveway; the subway car rocking her to sleep; her father eating fried eggs for breakfast in his dark blue suit, nodding yes, yes, yes; the canoe unlocked from its shed. The world she’d known. This new world she lived in. She’d simmer herself, try to make herself into something denser, something better.
And this is why, also, she surmised, she continued to row in the rain even as the chill settled into her bones and puddles formed in the boat's bottom, even as new drops plunked in.
Sherrie Flick is the author of the flash fiction chapbook I Call This Flirting and the novel Reconsidering Happiness, a semi-finalist for the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. Her flash fiction appears in many journals and anthologies including Norton’s Flash Fiction Forward and New Sudden Fiction. Dan Chaon recently selected her story “Gravity” for Wigleaf’s 2011 50 Very Short Story List. She has received grants and fellowships from Sewanee Writers’ Conference, PA Council on the Arts, Ucross Foundation, and Atlantic Center for the Arts. She lives in Pittsburgh and teaches in Chatham University’s MFA program.
Q: What can you tell us about this piece?
A: In the fall of 2010, I attempted to draft a story a day. A shed, a lake, and a canoe kept circling into these drafts again and again. This version of the story ended up being the keeper.
Mormon Boys on Bicycles
by Bonnie ZoBell
followed by Q&A
In Which an FLDS Household Priest Sets His Newest Wife Straight
Surely you're my favorite, but as she and she have learned, you'll not call a sheriff for one nighttime scream across the compound, for this immortalizes the gentile lie that Latter Day Saints girls are forced when instead they happily surrender to assure their rightful places in the eternity of a celestial marriage.
The Statue of the Angel Moroni
His temple takes months to raise, fresh steeples darkening our freeway as we drive over to examine new carpeting before the place is consecrated. A gash of lightning cracks him loose atop his favorite spire—god tossing his gilt angel for the lie of too much gold, or because we don't see?
Mormon Boys on Bicycles
Their favorite blue ties tucked inside white, button-up shirts, short sleeves, they glide streets side-by-side, searching homes for those who crave the good news and wish to know how to become immortal, remain with family through all eternity. The boys never lie, though their truth may not be found while we're alive.
Bonnie ZoBell's chapbook collection The Whack Job Girls is coming out with Monkey Puzzle Press in 2013. She has received an NEA for her fiction, the Capricorn Novel Award, a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award for a story later read on NPR, and a spot on Wigleaf's Top 50 Very Short Fictions. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Night Train, The Greensboro Review, New Plains Review, PANK, Cosmopolitan Magazine, Prick of the Spindle, and Cutbank. She received an MFA from Columbia on fellowship, currently teaches at San Diego Mesa College where she is the Creative Writing Coordinator, and is Associate Editor of The Northville Review. More of her work can be found at www.bonniezobell.com.
Q: What can you tell us about this work?
A: This was a delight to write, something so short after finishing a book. The Mormon faith has always fascinated me—the utter devotion and ritual in a world so "advanced."
Available now: Prime Number Magazine, Editor Selections, Volume 1. Learn more...
My Life Story Involves Spit
Bearing his quest for soul,
perhaps Dr. MacDougall overlooked
the obvious. More a magician raising
each of his six near-death patients
on specially-made Fairbanks scales, he waited
for the beam end to drop the instant
one crossed, and MacDougall equated
the ¾ ounce loss
with soul—“How other shall we explain it?”
With lack of heart, he found none
in the fifteen dogs he balanced next,
each passing induced,
but the scales held steady.
He missed the science.
Refused rebuttals that a weight decrease
could come from lungs no longer
air-cooling the blood,
body temperature amped,
and set to sweat.
Refused the rebuttal that dogs cool
by panting, so their weight would
remain unchanged, soul or no soul proven.
He missed, perhaps, that what
he really measured
was the weight of the world
each person carries—
an even allotment meted out for all
Missed somehow the slackening
of the neck at the Atlas vertebra.
And when he thought he failed
to photograph the soul as it left
the human body, like capturing a ghost,
he missed the eyes spilling over into black,
the shoulders shrugging off the load.
Terri McCord is a former South Carolina Arts Commission Fellowship recipient. She has received awards from the Kennesaw Review, Southeast Review, and the South Carolina Review as well. Her recent publications include Potomac Review, Nassau Review, Comstock Review, and the Jacar Press anthology, And Love. The South Carolina Poetry Initiative (Stepping Stones Press) published her book In the Company of Animals, and Finishing Line Press published The Art and the Wait. She received her MFA from Queens University in Charlotte.
Q: What can you tell us about this poem?
A: I became fascinated with the notion that a person in the 1900s thought that the soul was a tangible thing and actually experimented to measure it. I merged this idea with the thought that everyone carries a weight of the world on their shoulders, and that only when we pass from this earth do we lose that load. We are all Atlas, so to speak.
At the Graveyard of the Atlantic
by Craig Fishbane
followed by Q&A
I had almost given up on Cape Hatteras. For three days, I loafed on the beach, leafing through a souvenir booklet purchased at the drug store—a glossy history of local shipwrecks. When I went looking for the ruins of masts and hulls that had washed up onshore, all I found were a few wooden planks rotting on yellow sand. It had been that kind of summer: budget motel, empty bottles of beer in the sink, and a postcard of a lighthouse I sent to my mother.
By the final night of that long weekend, I was ready to concede that I had nothing to show for this vacation except a cluster of mosquito bites and a bad sunburn. I packed early and then stayed up to watch the Cardinals beat the Dodgers on ESPN. Pujols sent everyone home with a shot deep to left. And it was nearly time for me to go home, to drive in a rented car from one rented room to the next.
The only reason I went to the parking lot at midnight was to fetch bottles of aloe and caladryl from the trunk. Walking across the gravel, I glanced at the empty shoreline on the other side of the road. It had been years since I last went to the beach after sunset. Something about an unlit ocean always made me nervous. I didn’t want to know what was waiting for me beneath the surface. I would have been content to ignore the Atlantic that evening—settling for pharmaceuticals to soothe inflamed skin—if I had not glimpsed a pattern emerging on the water. A narrow ribbon of light, painted by a crescent moon, stretched across the tides: a golden band extending from horizon to shore.
When I first made my way toward the barren dunes, my sole intention was to stand on that radiant strip. At least then I could tell myself that I did something on this vacation, something that was more notable than swimming in a chlorinated pool or eating three meals a day at Burger King. As I padded through the sand, a vague fantasy came to mind: if I stepped onto the light, it would become a luminous trail, a path that would allow me to walk across the ocean. I saw myself wading through the last hours of the evening until finally arriving at the place where sea met sky. I would have been satisfied just to place my feet at the edge of that moonbeam—to pretend I could go further if I wanted.
It seemed like it would be an easy trick. All I needed to do was stumble through the tide, working my way though a gauntlet of cracked shells and crushed soda cans. But with each step I took, the light retreated an equal distance. At first I enjoyed the way the moon toyed with me. I could almost see an eye winking from a cratered face. The moon was enticing me like a parent crouched on a soft carpet, inviting a toddler to take his first tentative steps.
There was no one to catch me when the floor gave way. All at once I was kicking and thrashing, reaching for a bottom. The breakers rushed past me from three directions. A barrage of salt, spray, and seaweed pummeled my squinting eyes. I turned left and right, searching for the fading embers of the last bonfire on the beach, the red bulbs of a vacancy sign blinking in the motel parking lot. I had gone too far. The shore had been swept away by darkness. Even the moon, muting its own silent laughter, had retreated behind a blanket of clouds.
Now I understood the ease with which the Cape had trapped its victims. I could see four centuries of terrified sailors abandoning their posts in a flood of Gulf Stream water, the gashes in wooden hulls foundering on hidden shoals. I was lost in the same dismal currents that had sent defeated captains—along with cargo, crew and gold coins—down to contemplate the depths in which they hovered.
That was when I heard it—a sound so distant it may have been an echo, a reverberation from the invisible shore. Someone was calling to me—a voice untethered by logic or language. I could hear it growing louder as dim patches of moonlight emerged from the haze. I could not remember the last time I’d heard myself scream. The cry was of such volume it seemed to give shape to the air, a presence I could almost touch.
I extended my arms to reach into the wind and found myself paddling beyond the breakers, rising and falling in the smooth swells of the sea. I understood then that I would not be adding a page to the lurid history of the Graveyard of the Atlantic: the tourist who drowned in the moonlight. With the ruined bodies of sunken vessels decaying beneath my feet, I practiced the art of swimming at night.
Before returning to shore at dawn, I would learn to dive.
Craig Fishbane’s work has been featured in the New York Quarterly, the Boston Literary Magazine, Opium, Flashquake and The Nervous Breakdown.
Q: What can you tell us about this piece?
A: When you swim alone, late at night in rough waters, it occasionally inspires a good piece of writing.
My Life Story Involves Spit
by Ron Yates
followed by Q&A
The old concrete bridge that carries Second Avenue over Cottage Grove Avenue still stands in the southeast Atlanta neighborhood where I grew up. As a kid, I walked under it each day on my way home from East Lake Elementary school. An ordinary bridge, but the space underneath was different, darker and dirtier than the avenue beyond. My friends and I, seventh graders, were attracted to this spot with its garish spray-painted vulgarities on the supporting walls. The sidewalk that carried us under gave way to grassless, litter-strewn dirt containing, along with ground up cigarette butts and empty packs, the broken fragments of countless glass bottles that had been hurled against the concrete by passing motorists. We often lingered under the bridge, breaking glass ourselves, scuffling in the dirt, or adding to the graffiti whenever one of us could come up with a can of paint.
The topside provided different opportunities. We would sit on the squatty concrete guard wall and watch the cars as they approached then disappeared beneath us. My best friend David sometimes wondered aloud about dropping large, disgusting bombs—overripe watermelons, rotten pot roasts, bags of shit—down on the cars. I laughed along with him and my other friends at these fantasies but became the voice of reason whenever a plan began to develop. “Naa,” I’d say. “We might cause a wreck or damage a car. Then we’d be in big trouble. Let’s go down to the park and play tetherball.”
David was always difficult to keep on a sensible path, and the other boys, Tim and Mike, were followers, willing to do whatever we decided. David said, “Tetherball’s boring. We need to do something fun for a change.”
Tim, short and chunky, shook his head to toss his bangs out of his eyes. “Yeah, tetherball’s boring. We play every day. Let’s do something different.”
Mike, a skinny, curly-haired kid with an overbite and pinched face, said. “Yeah, I’m bored.”
David grinned, and then his eyes moved to something in the distance. He elbowed me in the ribs, dipped his head toward a vehicle we all recognized coming our way. “Look,” he said. “I’d love to drop a dead cat on this guy.”
A primer-painted 1950 Ford coupe with glasspack mufflers and chrome wheels was approaching and would soon be passing under our bridge. The driver was a teenager we recognized—Todd Latham. We often saw him cruising through East Lake Park, the side streets of the neighborhood, or the Burger Chef parking lot with a cigarette stuck to his lip and his arm out the window. David had had an incident with him at the park during an impromptu football game between kids our age. Todd and two of his buddies thought it would be funny to run onto the field in the middle of a play to crash the game and knock kids down. Todd, with a cigarette in his mouth, intercepted David’s pass, then shot a hard spiral back to him, spearing him in the gut. David doubled over. The teenagers laughed. As they sauntered off the field, Todd called out, “You guys are pussies,” and then directly at David, “especially you—you throw like a girl.”
Now, he was headed under our bridge, and David had a malicious look in his eyes. His runny nose crinkled as he pulled in a big gurgling breath through his nostrils. He gathered the mucus at the back of his throat, and then hocked it forward to mix with the spit of his mouth. I watched in disbelief as he leaned over and released the gob with perfect timing, making a direct hit with the driver’s side of Todd’s windshield just before the Ford passed underneath.
An echo of loud mufflers rumbled from beneath as Todd floor-boarded his souped-up engine. David laughed hysterically with a look of wild excitement in his eyes. Tim said, “Holy shit!” We watched the back of the car as it accelerated toward the next block and the left turn that would bring it around to Second Avenue and the top of our bridge.
Todd was coming, and, by his engine’s snarl, he was mad as hell. Tires squealed as he turned onto First.
Still laughing, David tugged at my sleeve. “Come on. We’d better get outta here.” Tim and Mike had already started scampering toward the maze of small neighborhood backyards, hedges, and alleyways that would provide sanctuary. I pulled my arm away and shook my head. “I ain’t going nowhere. I ain’t running from that jerk.”
There had been similar episodes, times when I, through misplaced convictions and my perceived rectitude of conduct, refused to budge, even when facing much stronger adversaries—parents, teachers, principals. I watched my friends scurrying behind a short retaining wall, bushes, and a rickety picket fence between unkempt yards. I sat as if nothing had happened, comfortable in the knowledge that I’d done nothing wrong.
Then Todd was there. He slammed on his brakes and jumped out before the car stopped rocking. I saw the mucus sliding down the windshield, and I saw his contorted face. “You little shit!” he yelled. Only a few steps separated us and he moved with purpose.
His hands hit me in the chest with such force that my upper body was knocked backwards past the point of balance on the concrete wall. Had his fingers not found the thin fabric of my shirt, I would have fallen to the street below. There was a moment of helpless terror as I, suspended, looked into his angry green eyes. Then he jerked me up, off the wall, and completely off the ground. Holding me by my shirt, he dragged me toward his car, my feet barely touching pavement. “You’re gonna wipe that shit off, you little punk!”
He was strong enough to use my head and face as the spit sponge, but I was resisting with all I had, my hands pressing against the windshield as he pushed me down closer to it. “I’m gonna wipe that shit up with your face! Teach you to spit on my car.”
Just before my cheek made contact with the mucus, I heard a familiar voice: “Hey, jerk! Don’t you know who his brother is? You’d better let him go unless you want your ass stomped.” Todd turned to see who was calling him out. When he eased off on me, I was able to cock my head and see David at the end of the bridge a few feet away, Tim and Mike behind him.
“This kid’s name is spit-wipe,” Todd said. “That’s all I know. And yours is pussy. When I get done with him, you’re gonna lick up the rest.”
“No. You don’t get it,” David said. “That kid’s name is Yates. Brother named Tommy. You might have heard of him. Most people call him Big Moose. And the Moose is gonna trample your ass if you don’t let his little brother go.”
The pressure against my head and neck immediately slackened. I twisted away from his grip and stood upright. “That right, punk?” Todd said. “Your brother Tommy Yates?”
“Big deal. That don’t mean nothing to me. You spit on my car again and I’m gonna whip your ass worse than I did today.”
He turned abruptly, got in his coupe, revved the engine and peeled out, leaving us standing in a cloud of exhaust fumes and rubber smoke.
My brother’s reputation as All-State, All-Southern linebacker for Murphy High School had saved me, and I grinned to think of Todd driving away, squinting through the gob of mucus that was still sliding down his windshield. I didn’t tell Tommy what happened, as he was away at Florida State on a full-ride scholarship. As time passed, the episode faded, and he never knew about this particular incident and how he had saved his stubborn little brother from unthinkable humiliation.
Tommy didn’t move with the family when we left the city the next year. My parents bought a few acres out in the country, and we got away from what they considered an unwholesome environment. As I became a teenager I forgot about many things and lost track of David, Tim, and Mike. East Lake Elementary School, the old neighborhood, and even the bridge became dim memories.
My brother would drop out of college and become a Dekalb County policeman, building on his tough-guy reputation. He would be the Moose for another twenty years, cuffing thugs, busting heads, and breaking cases . . . until the day he killed himself with his service revolver. After an extended fifteen minutes of fame, he fell victim to alcoholism and the demons of his profession.
My fifteen minutes never came, but thanks to the Moose, I didn’t wipe the spit that day on the bridge, and in all the years since, even though I’ve made concessions, I’ve always stopped short of wiping the spit. I’ve always had the feeling that my stubbornness was justified, and that somebody—big brother, friend, sympathetic authority figure—would be there to back me up. Thankfully, that has been the case more often than not.
Ron Yates holds an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. His work has appeared in Bartleby Snopes, Clapboard House, Rose & Thorn Journal, and Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. He has completed a novel titled Ben Stempton's Boy, set in the rural South of the tumultuous early 1970s. Yates lives on Lake Wedowee in the Appalachian foothills of eastern Alabama. He has taught high school English, journalism, and creative writing for many years. When not teaching or writing, he tinkers with old cars and motorcycles, spends time with his son and daughter, and tries to fish a little.
Q: Describe your writing space for us. Are you someone who finds the muse in a public space such as a café, or in a cave of one’s own? A: I get ideas in public places, but I compose in my writer’s cave, a room with overflowing book shelves, a cluttered Eisenhower-era wooden desk, futon, electric guitar, vintage stereo, vinyl LP’s, and a general assortment of junk.