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 23.5
Cry of the Loon Lodge Elihu's Daughters
Cry of the Loon Lodge
by Jeanne Holtzman
followed by Q&A
Making a Game of It Documentary
Making a Game of It
by Julie Brooks Barbour
followed by Q&A
followed by Q&A
The History Channel, midway through The War
In Color: somewhere in a puke-green South
Pacific, Higgins boats. One heads for shore
Prepared to hang its tongue out of its mouth.
Inside these landing craft (LCVPs),
The contents prime for what they’ve been designed
For, churning in the stomach of the seas.
They cannot see what lies ahead, and blind
As well—unsure of where his charges are—
Waits one who would deliver them: their coxswain.
The hull bites into sand he thinks no bar,
But beach, and, trained to take that for his tocsin,
He tells the bow ramp, “bite down hard.” The first
Few strike out, off and down, and down, and down,
Drinking twelve feet for which they have no thirst.
The packs they’re bound to carry help them drown
Quicker than we can fathom, weaker swimmers
Surrendering to kelp’s enormities.
There is no help there, where Medusa shimmers.
Men end up tangling with anemones.
Depth, where’s thy sting, since all must come to terms,
If not in beds, or borne up by the arms That love, then borne down, falling short of berms,
And choking on a lethal sea of charms.
Len Krisak’s most recent book is Virgil’s Eclogues (UPenn Press).
With work in the Antioch, Hudson, New English, PN, and Sewanee Reviews,
he is the past recipient of the Robert Penn Warren, Richard Wilbur, and
Robert Frost Prizes, and a four-time champion on Jeopardy!
Q: What can you tell us about this poem?
A: A fairly dedicated watcher of the cable TV military channels, I was
struck by the story of the Higgins boats, and a (perhaps fading?)
memory of one of the Pacific assaults attempted at high tide,
to of course disastrous results for those attempting the landing.
I tried to honor those men. Imagination did the rest.
I stand waist deep in the warm lake, listening for loons. Tiny waves splash the shore, thump the empty canoe. The skirt of my bathing suit flaps against thighs long ago gone lumpy. I see a lone kayaker approach. A young man, dark hair, swarthy skin, naked torso, perfect muscles powering each stroke. I feel no tingles, nothing so simple as sex, but that need, that compulsion to be near him, to combine with him, to devour him, to mate. A desire both nostalgic and mocking. I hear my husband call to me from the cabin where he's icing his arthritic knee, anxious to leave before the traffic. I watch the young man paddle by, oblivious to me. I believe I feel his wake, lapping the water around my waist, hear it thrumming the canoe and tinkling the shore. Soon he will turn around the bend. I strain to hear loons, but instead the tinny jangle of "Mamma Says" erupts from the pier, the ring tone of my mother's nursing home. I don't move. A short silence, the chirp of the voice mail. I watch the kayaker slide around the point and disappear. Still I stand, waiting. For that wail, that lament. That lunatic laughter.
Jeanne Holtzman is an aging hippie, writer and health care practitioner, not necessarily in that order. Her work has appeared in Blip Magazine, The Los Angeles Review, Used Furniture Review, elimae, Stripped: A Collection of Anonymous Flash and elsewhere.
Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: This story grew out of a moment of solitary yearning during a wonderful family vacation on Sebago Lake, Maine. I never did hear a loon, but I listened to recordings of loons as I wrote it.
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My aunt faces my grandmother’s closet
and pulls a bright blue blouse from the rack.
She buttons the blouse over a tank top,
admires the fit in a mirror, turning from side
to side, a child trying on her mother’s clothes.
Whatever she likes she heaps onto an armchair
and the pile begins to tumble.
Ten minutes away in her son’s house on the river,
my grandmother has made temporary home
of a downstairs bedroom. From armchair to bed
she carries a sheet of note paper with the word
radiation written in red capital letters.
If she learns to live with it, define it,
perhaps it will become
something anyone does, part of a life.
Ten minutes away, her eldest daughter adds
to a new mound on the floor.
Dresser drawers unloaded,
coats and shoes stacked on the bed,
she has asked us to claim her belongings,
make lists of the things we like
and take something tangible for memory.
My aunt invites me to join her.
Do I like this patterned dress? This pair of shoes?
The river surged with rain on our last visit,
flooding my uncle’s yard. A boy in a yellow slicker
leaped and splashed in the rising water with his dog.
We watched them from the high windows of the house
and turned my grandmother in her chair toward the sight.
The sky held its darkness all weekend, no sun or stars.
The house held us until the river receded.
The boy and dog made a game of the storm while they could.
Julie Brooks Barbour’s chapbook, Come to Me and Drink, will be published by Finishing Line Press in June 2012. Her poems and reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in UCity Review, Waccamaw, Kestrel, damselfly, Diode, The Rumpus, Barn Owl Review, and storySouth. She teaches at Lake Superior State University where she co-edits the journal Border Crossing.
Q: What can you tell us about this poem?
A: This poem was originally part of a longer poem in my MFA thesis that I’d abandoned. A few months ago, I came across Bob Hicok’s poem “Making the list I will never make,” which is about the speaker’s father asking him to make a list of what he wanted to take after he died, and I responded to that poem with the first stanza of “Making a Game of It,” and it went on from there.
by Rosalie Morales Kearns
followed by Q&A
The joke never gets old.
“I’m Bread, and this is Butter.” “I’m Frog, and this is Toad.” They are, in fact, Iris and Orchid. Ten and nine, which means, they’ll tell you, that collectively they are nineteen. Thunder and Lightning. Snow White and Rose Red. Their sisterhood is both predestined and precarious. Fairy tales are stark alternative universes in which they are, disastrously, not sister and sister, but brother and sister. “Mom would have chopped his head off.” “Mom would have left us in a forest to starve to death.” “You would have been the boy.” “No, you.” Here and Now. Curiouser and Curiouser. The grandma reads them Shakespeare in the backyard. “We’re the Weird Sisters,” they tell the dad. “Shouldn’t there be three of you?” No. “I’m Toil, and this is Trouble.” “Let’s act out King Lear,” the grandma says. “We already have a dotty old man.” “Hey,” says the grandpa. “And I’ll be the Fool,” she says. “Which I am. Now who’ll play Goneril and Regan, the king’s wicked daughters?” “That’s us! That’s us!” “You’ll need another sister, so the king can cut her out of the will.” They find a large neglected doll, start kicking her around. The dad objects. “Cordelia’s supposed to be a good character,” he says. “She’s kind of a sap.” “But she loves her father.” “Dad,” they say pityingly. Later, when they are frighteningly well-read teenagers (combined age: thirty-three), they will be Sturm and Drang, Scylla and Charybdis, Being and Nothingness. For their own amusement sometimes they pretend to be demure and girly: Forsythia and Honeysuckle. “Where is our embroidery, dear sister?” “Shall we play our harpsichord?” The sisters will be old women someday, still coming up with names, still cackling. Old and Gray. Time and Time Again. They’ll quarrel only once, when both want to be Hellfire and neither wants to be Brimstone, but the argument doesn’t last long. They decide to alternate: “I’m Hellfire, and this is Damnation.” And then it’s the other’s turn. They will remember fondly their childhood home, the loved ones so loved, long gone. Just the other day they were jumping in the pool. Staging plays. They are running to the dad with a book on Egypt. They are no more than six and five. They love the pictures, they want names. The dad pages through it. “Isis and Osiris,” he says, and it is the closest anyone will ever come to their own names. It holds the key, they feel, to the truth about themselves. “Yes! Yes!” The dad is fuzzy on the details. “I think it means one of you tears the other to pieces.” “Yes! Yes!” They run off shrieking, hand in hand.
Rosalie Morales Kearns is an Albany, NY-based writer whose short story collection Virgins and Tricksters has just been published by Aqueous Books. Her stories and poems have appeared in The Nervous Breakdown, Witness, Painted Bride Quarterly, and other journals, and she has work forthcoming in Necessary Fiction, Her Kind, and Fiction Writers Review. She is seeking representation for her novel, the story of a female Roman Catholic priest in an alternative near-future.
Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: Iris and Orchid first made a brief appearance in my story “The Associated Virgins,” but I wanted to give these fierce magical females a story of their own. So many authors inspire me, particularly Shirley Jackson, Angela Carter, Toni Morrison, and Salman Rushdie, as well as Katherine Vaz, Kathleen Alcalá, and Kelly Link.
by Lisa Roney
followed by Q&A
I steered my mother up and down the aisles in the chain drug store, the handles of the red plastic basket digging into my arm because we were loading up on supplies. For several weeks, my mother had been in West Tennessee, sitting by her husband’s side in the hospital after his heart attack and subsequent angioplasty. She was out of every basic thing, but she turned this way and that, forgetting and then remembering, and then forgetting again what she needed. I went through all the basic categories.
“Which brand of shampoo do you like these days?”
Sometimes she would answer, sometimes not. She sniffled now and then as she shuffled. I would pick something and put it in the basket.
“I need some pantyhose,” she said. “All the ones I have are shot, and I need some nice ones …” She trailed off, but I knew that she meant she needed her stockings to be presentable for the funeral, Owen’s funeral. Owen had survived the heart attack and the long ambulance ride from Martin to Memphis—all of us originally there for a family reunion, and then following along in a car behind the ambulance through the dark little towns of West Tennessee as though through a tunnel into another life. It had been a long, terrifying night, but the surgery had gone well. My brother and cousin and I had all gone back to Massachusetts, California, and Pennsylvania, and Owen’s children had traveled to the hospital and had left, expecting to see him back in Virginia soon.
My mother stopped between the lotion and the vitamins, her mouth slightly open, looking past the white light of the drugstore fluorescents into the humid morning outside. “This is all so sudden,” she said. “I can’t believe it.”
She had gone to get a sandwich one evening when Owen was nearly ready to be discharged, and when she got back, his bed was surrounded by gowned men and women hammering at his chest. An embolism, the doctor told her later. She had dropped the sandwich and was still having a hard time holding onto any object.
I grasped her forearm and pulled hard, as if rowing an oar through rough water, tugging her toward the prescription counter to pick up our last needed item, a pack of blood sugar strips. There had been no one around when we’d entered the store, but now four or five people stood waiting. I was afraid of being late to deliver my mother to her own husband’s funeral two hundred miles from where they lived, but it took some effort for me to flag down one of the people behind the counter.
The woman came forward reluctantly, grimacing as though she had just swallowed a spoonful of vinegar, her eyes hard as death itself. “You have to wait your turn,” she said before I could speak.
“I need to pick up my prescription,” I said. “My doctor called it in a while ago—before these people got here.”
“It’s what order the prescriptions came in,” she said, jutting her chin in a gesture of dismissal. “You’ll be called.” She started to turn away.
“Look,” I said. “We are on our way to a funeral near D.C. We need to get there.”
She jerked to a stop as though I had slapped her. “You have to manage your prescriptions in a more responsible way,” she said.
“How long a wait?”
She looked at her watch, so tight on her plump arm that her flesh bulged around it. She batted her eyelashes at me. “Probably an hour.”
I quelled the urge to shriek at her, but I’m sure my voice went up an octave. “Normally, I’m on top of things,” I tried to explain, “but I got this call yesterday that my mother’s husband had died suddenly, and I forgot to check how many strips I had with me before I left home. I have Type 1 and especially with all this stress I don’t want to be without them. You can understand that, right?” She didn’t respond, just stared at me, so I went on. “You don’t mean to tell me that you’ll fill every prescription of every person who intends to come by after work today before you’ll fill mine while I stand here in front of you waiting to take my mother to her husband’s funeral. Really?”
“That’s the rule,” she said.
By this time, my mother was sobbing behind me.
My chest felt like it would explode. “You bitch,” I said. I threw down the full basket, grabbed my mother by the arm once again, and dragged her to the car.
“Oh, no,” my mother said. “I really need that stuff. Oh, no….” She sat in the passenger seat, curling inward. She seemed so small.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “It’s okay. Isn’t there another drugstore up the street? I remember passing it.” We drove a mile to a local pharmacy, where I called my doctor’s office once again and had a filled prescription and all the other stuff we needed in no time. Still, the day was tinged by cruelty of more than one kind as we drove up Interstate 95 to Alexandria through the summer heat, transparent clouds of fumes deforming the air, mirages stretching across the roadway.
There was no Owen to tease us out of our mood. “Annie,” he would always say to my mother when she got overly obsessed with her job or bossy at home, “don’t be an asshole.” Then they would laugh and head out together for a walk with the dog. They had made each other so happy—the retired widower who liked driving around with the dog in the backseat and the still-career-oriented divorcee who appreciated his perspective. I had finally come to peace with my parents’ divorce now that both of them were better off with their second spouses. Owen was the only person who ever called my mother “Annie.”
“We had such a short time together,” she rehearsed a time or two in the car. It was something she would say repeatedly to people at the funeral. They were married only about two years, and many of Owen’s acquaintances did not know my mother well. He’d had a life in politics, and the funeral would be huge. I knew my mother would model her grieving on that of Jackie Kennedy, though many, including Owen’s children, might think her more like Jackie Onassis, a Johnny-come-lately, an interloper. The funeral would be a command performance.
After that, my mother would have to return to Norfolk and walk the dog alone. Owen’s children would grow antagonistic, and his ten grandchildren she’d doted on would no longer call her “Gran.” We drove on in silence, aware it was our first time in a car together since we had followed Owen’s ambulance to Memphis. We wished we could go back to that dark tunnel of fearful hope that brought us out into a bright, clear spring morning, not this burning, blinding, endless glare.
Lisa Roney’s work has appeared in Numéro Cinq, Saw Palm, Willows Wept Review, Waccamaw, Sycamore Review, Harper’s, and other literary journals. She is the author of a memoir, Sweet Invisible Body (Henry Holt, 1999), and is associate professor of English at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. She lives amidst gators, armadillos, and anhingas with her husband and three cats.
Q: What’s the best writing advice you’ve received? Did you follow it? Why, or why not?
A: That’s a hard one. Probably the thing I remember most strikingly—from the great teacher and maximalist writer Paul West—was that our writing should work to compete with the specificity and vividness of the real world. He said this when we were meeting in a drab conference room, and all the students laughed. But then he had us start looking around at each other’s faces, at the weather out the window, even at the stains on the floor and walls—and then we understood the challenge.
I certainly do my best to live up to these words of wisdom. They are a goad when I get lazy.