Prime Number Magazine
is a publication of
PO Box 30314,
Winston-Salem NC 27130
Issue 37, April-June 2013
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
Prime Decimals 37.3
This Baring Daylight
This Baring Daylight
by Christopher Allen
followed by Q&A
My Crow in an Ever Expanding City
by Elizabeth Savage
followed by Q&A
My Crow in an Ever Expanding City
followed by Q&A
1/ My Crow
Still, still hidden
Behind old shirts and pants
Like an inflated sock
Hung on a slanting coat hunger
With a prophecy stuck in its throat
Probably too ominous
To yaw, even to breathe
No one knows when or how
It will fly out of the closet, and call
2/ In an Ever Expanding City
A fragile front page
Of last year’s newspaper
Falling down from nowhere
Begins to drift around
As if to cover the entire city
With its faded words
Some broken into small
Fragmented lights, some burned
With frantic ambitions, others glistening
Like the stars beyond the horizon
Where the headlines run parallel
To midnight, leaving the content of
The same old story, yes, the same
Old story partly saved
Somewhere within the web
Changming Yuan, 4-time Pushcart nominee and author of Chansons of a Chinaman (Leaf Garden, 2009) and Landscaping (Flutter Press, 2014), holds a PhD in English, tutors, and co-edits Poetry Pacific with his teenaged poet son Allen Qing Yuan in Vancouver (Poetry submissions welcome at email@example.com). Recently interviewed by PANK, Yuan has had poetry in 709 literary publications across 27 countries, including Barrow Street, Best Canadian Poetry, BestNewPoemsOnline, Exquisite Corpse, LiNQ, London Magazine and Threepenny Review.
Q: What can you tell us about this poem?
A: Common, ominous, and individually unidentifiable, the crow is so inspiringly whole-black against the white background in winter that is one of my favorite poetic themes – actually I have written and published dozens of poems about crows.
I never visited Pete in prison, and I never told him about Miko. That was the plan. Pete claimed he was innocent, but I know different. He might not have pulled a trigger, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t want to. He’s a volcanic man. Hit first, gas-station flowers later.
He’s called six times since he got out. “Just a couple hours,” he begs the way he used to say “Just put your mouth on it” before he bent my head down. “Just a walk around the lake in broad daylight.” He keeps adding deals. “One hour,” Anna. “I’ll buy lunch. I found Jesus, Anna. Anna?” He keeps saying my name. And then I let it slip about Miko being his—forgetting the plan—and he starts crying. Pete’s not the crying type, so I bend.
At the lake he looks all slick in the sun, getting out of a car that’s a crumble of rust and mud. I’m sure it’s dirtied to make him look all saved and Christ-like, like when a seething man shaves to show you he’s touchable, like he won’t burn you this time. Miko digs his head into my leg. “It’s OK,” I say—but I shouldn’t lie to him.
“Hey,” I holler and wave. Pete waves back and starts toward us. I expect swagger, but he walks like a man who’s seen God: head bowed but somehow taller. When he looks up, his smile seems genuine, but who knows why? I once saw him burn the head off a tick and make a heart with its blood. He smiled real sweet then too.
He’s cradling a stuffed-bear ice-breaker. I roll my eyes when he bends down and says, “It talks when you press its belly.” I picture a room of detectives grilling Pete, pressing his belly. “I bet it does,” I say. “Anna,” he says, “try to be pleasant.” The bear’s belly says, “Jesus Loves You,” and Miko laughs.
We start walking. The sun broils the lake up into a billion sparkles. “How you been?” Pete asks, and I shrug like How should I be? Like six years of no hitting, no flowers has been pretty good. He runs through all the questions I guess he learned in some soft-skills class in prison, and I answer them because I’ve decided to be pleasant—and it’s easier to talk squinting into the blinding sun. Miko tags along, swinging his evangelical bear and singing. I don’t guess he’s noticed yet that this is Daddy.
“I’m tired and it’s hotter’n a witch’s titty,” Miko says finally, refusing to go any farther—it’s a pretty good-sized lake—so we sit in the shade and have French fries with extra ketchup at a place called The Snak Shak. Since no one’s talking, I point at the sign and say, “No wonder nobody can spell in this hell-hole of a country.”
“You need to be more patriotic,” Pete says, and I tell him he doesn’t get to bend my head down anymore. And then I say I’m seeing someone. I’m not, but I need to hurt him back because that’s how we work: fire with fire, hurting and hurting back. He nods, clenches his teeth at the lake. He skips a rock six times before it disappears into diamonds. “Pretty good-sized lake,” he says to Miko, and Miko wipes his brow like it’s been an achievement. The extra ketchup is all over his face and fingers. He doesn’t notice the ketchup.
Then Pete slaps his legs like We better get a move on. There’s a light, merciful breeze now. The four-o’clock sun bends our shadows long and tall. Miko points a stinky pink finger at the dark forms stalking us. “Who’s that?” he says. “Well whatayaknow,” Pete says. “Them’s the Holy Ghosts. I’m the father”—he laughs—“you’re the son, and them’s the Holy Ghosts.” He leaves me out completely.
Giggling, Miko jumps and lands right on top of Pete’s Holy Ghost. “Oh no you don’t!” Pete sprints about thirty feet. “You ain’t gonna get my ghost!” But Miko runs after him and jumps right back down on the shadow. “Gotcha!” Miko laughs—a new laugh, like fire from an automatic weapon that makes me want to grab my boy and run. Pete takes off again—farther this time.
“Hey,” I yell. “Y’all come on back.” I feel space stretch umbilical so I take off after them. It feels like one of them movies now where everything starts to go wrong and the ex-con runs off with the boy because the mother is so out of shape. But I can run.
“Game’s over,” I say when I catch up. Pete’s panting but Miko’s a blaze of six-year-old energy. “Gotcha!” he keeps yelling. “OK OK,” Pete says. “You got me.” “Gotcha!” Miko roars and stomps right on Pete’s dark head as hard as he can. He stomps and stomps until his laughter becomes a growl, like some kind of rabid animal. “Please stop.” Pete walks away to find shade I guess, somewhere free of this baring daylight. But Miko follows and keeps stomping. Across the lake the wobbling sun is far from setting. “I said stop,” Pete says to the sun—not like he’s angry, just like he’s tired of fighting.
“Miko,” I say, “you’re hurting your bear.” The stuffed animal is flying up and down like a seal in the mouth of a shark, except the seal keeps saying Jesus Loves You. “Gotcha!” Miko’s crying and coughing now, and we’re attracting attention. “It’s OK,” I say to an elderly couple passing us really slow and shaking their heads. “He’s just tired and hot,” Pete says to the woman, then looks to me for help. But I don’t have any. We just have to wait for the sun to go down.
Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O’Type (a Satire), an episodic adult cartoon about a man struggling with expectations. Allen’s fiction has appeared in numerous places both online and in print and has been nominated for Best of the Net and twice for the Pushcart Prize. In 2011, Allen was a finalist at Glimmer Train. He blogs at www.imustbeoff.com.
Q: What was your inspiration for this story?
A: “This Baring Daylight” germinated for quite a while before I wrote it. In fact, it was just another scrap of paper in a stack of ideas for over a year. “Gotcha!” was all I’d written to remind myself of this potential story.
After seeing a child and his father playing with their shadows one Sunday as I was walking around a lake in Bavaria, I knew I’d have to write a story about it; but I waited patiently—lazily?—for the theme and characters to arrive. When I look back, though, of course the story happened exactly when it was supposed to.
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Years ago I gave up
waiting & turned
instead to patience
Years ago I gave
into temptation at once
& avoided the struggle
Months ago I struggled
to avoid naming names
eyeing contact with
the social contract
contracted with perennial
Perennially I am anxious
this forgetting will
overrun my love
for the electorate
& I will run out
needed to read
the fine print
what might direct me
over national borders
Days ago I waited
patiently to find
the printed results
but had misplaced
at the time
Perennially I am reminded
amnesia might permit
facing pain I’m tempted
more than once
amnesia is one form
a perennial reminder
not to eye the contract
the fine print
Elizabeth Savage is author of Grammar (2012) and Jane & Paige or Sister Goose (2011), both from Furniture Press. Since 2008, she has served as poetry editor for Kestrel: A Journal of Literature & Art.
Q: What can you tell us about this poem?
A: In the days immediately prior to the presidential election last fall, I joked with students, strangers, friends, and family members about storing up poison berries to consume should the election “go the wrong way.” Everyone I talked with found the solution very attractive, but I noticed that no one stated exactly which presidential administration was so worth avoiding. Maybe our silence indicated we were all thinking about the same scary results (or assumed everyone agreed), but I seriously doubt it. As absolutely baffling as I find some political attitudes, I am encouraged by what seems the persistent delight Americans have connecting with one another, like those moments when we kid around about things that genuinely scare and sadden us. So, in short, the everyday, unplanned, uneventful moments of contact with the electorate that have kept me from defecting to Canada so far inspired this poem.
by Sue Fagalde Lick
followed by Q&A
The funeral director leaves me alone in front of the niche where he has just placed the urn holding my husband’s ashes. From my purse, I take out a plastic bag holding a bouquet of fake velvet roses and baby’s breath that Fred gave me for Valentine’s Day three years ago. This morning, I pulled them out of a white vase on my desk. Now, I slide them into the brass vase and think about how my father has put artificial flowers in a similar vase at my mother’s niche for the past nine years. He visits every Sunday after church.
I sink into a mauve easy chair near Fred’s niche, thinking how different this is from the way we honored our dead when I was a little girl. On Sundays, we visited the mausoleum at Oak Hill Cemetery in San Jose where Grandma Clara, my father’s mother, was buried in her coffin behind the marble wall.
My mother would gather flowers from our garden, wrap them in newspaper, and put them in the trunk. Then we’d drive up the hill to the mausoleum. Our footsteps tapped on the stone floors and every whisper echoed in the glass-ceilinged, marbled halls. Grandma Clara was in Iris Court, at the far end where the 23rd Psalm was etched on stained glass.
Mom, who was not fond of flower arranging, would go to work in the kitchen-like room just off the hall with a big white-tiled counter and sink, assembling the bouquet for the vase while my little brother and I ran around the echoing halls and Dad stared up at the square of marble with his mother’s name on a brass plaque.
It seemed to involve a lot of cutting and cursing before Mom finally shoved the newspapers and flower stalks into the trash can and called to Dad that the flowers were ready. Now I understand why it was difficult for her, but from those days, I just remember the smell of sweet peas, roses, and azaleas, and see Dad hooking the vase on two prongs sticking out of a very long pole and raising it way above our heads as we held our breath until the vase was safely in its slot. Then we’d stand back and admire the flowers awhile. Dad would get very quiet. His mother died when I was two years old. Her loss was still fresh in those days. But my brother and I had no memory or sympathy; we were just two antsy little kids.
At last he’d nod and sigh and we’d walk away. Often we’d stop in the next hall, where Grandpa’s boss’s family had been laid to rest in a big iron-fenced area with what looked like giant marble coffins. They hadn’t been gone long either in those days.
Finally, we’d walk out under the rotunda and down the marble steps into the sun. Oak Hill’s mausoleum, built in 1928, sat high above San Jose. To the east, we could look down on the fairgrounds and beyond to the foothills and Lick Observatory. To the north, we could see all of downtown laid out before us, and to the west, we looked for our neighborhood and our house, near Valley Fair and the Winchester Mystery House.
Directly below, we saw miles of graves, including, somewhere, the ones holding Dad’s grandparents and their parents and siblings, where he used to come with his family when he was a boy. Everybody came in those days, all the aunts, uncles and cousins. After they decorated the graves, they’d spread out a picnic lunch and spend the afternoon visiting. Now you rarely see anyone around the older graves.
I asked my friends whether they visit the cemeteries where their loved ones are buried or inurned. Most of them said no. It’s too far, too weird, or they just don’t believe the person is there anymore. Aside from lonely widows and widowers, most of the visitors these days seem to be genealogists studying the gravestones for clues to family history.
In the movies, we always see people visiting graves in the ground with big tombstones where they lay real flowers or maybe even tend a small garden. But in real life, more and more people are being cremated, their ashes scattered, placed on the mantle at home or stashed in a niche, like Fred’s. The percentage varies by location, but in the western U.S., an estimated 65 percent of the dead are cremated now. If the ashes are placed in a cemetery, their love ones rarely visit after the newness wears off, and the flowers they place are small, artificial, and conveniently reusable.
Chelan Abbey, where Fred’s ashes have been placed, is just one room up a hill behind the cement plant in Newport, Oregon. It’s cold and it reeks of rotting flowers, dust, mildew, and air freshener. You can watch the sunset over the ocean from here, but it’s nothing like the magnificent mausoleum in San Jose with its marble walls and sculptures, soft music, and hushed aura of eternity. I know my husband isn’t here. His body was just an empty shell after he died, and nothing is left of it now but ashes. I can talk to him better at home, where his body is gone but his spirit still lives in the warmth of the pellet stove or the cabinets where he kept his wine collection.
Today’s cemetery flowers are mostly artificial. Some cemeteries and mausoleums don’t even allow real ones. They wilt too soon, and their falling leaves and petals make a mess. Plus people don’t visit often enough to maintain real flower arrangements—although you can pay someone to do it for you. At Oak Hill and at the Santa Clara Catholic Cemetery where my mother is inurned, if you put up something tacky, cemetery staff will remove it. Ditto for anything that rots or gets in the way of the gardeners and caretakers.
It’s more casual here in Newport. The urns come in all shapes and colors, including little log cabins and a giant ceramic artichoke. People hang cards, pictures, letters, plaques, balloons, and even comic books on and around the glass. On Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day, the cemetery supplies American flags for all the veterans. Families leave stuffed animals on the floor and potted flowers near the niches. One family filled their two vases with dirt and planted one marigold in each.
After a while, you get to know everybody in the place, their names, their photos, what they used to love. You notice new names and new flower arrangements.
It’s a miracle that Fred has ended up in this niche right next to his parents and his brother. I have been bringing flowers here for 14 years. I stood on this same chair taking pictures of the niche when his dad and brother were placed here. Fred’s mother had to have photographs. When she passed away, she joined her husband and son in the same space. I have spent years collecting plastic flowers from the Craft Warehouse and the Dollar Tree, putting up red flowers for Christmas, blue and yellow for spring, orange and yellow for fall.
I have become negligent. If I’m lucky, I get the Christmas ones out before Easter. But some of the vases sit empty all year, or their flowers are faded and coated with dust. I bring enough fake flowers to share with the undecorated niche of a teenager named Rocky who never seems to have any visitors. I wonder what happened to his people. I wonder what will happen to mine if I ever move away.
My father doesn’t go to Oak Hill often anymore, even though his father’s ashes now rest in the crypt with his mother’s coffin. The last one alive in his family, Dad puts artificial flowers there, too. Then, alone, he stares out at the acres of graves and beyond them the miles of housing developments and freeways that were all farms when he was a boy.
Fred used to cry every time we came to visit Chelan Abbey. I’d handle the flowers, and then hold him as he sobbed on my shoulder. Now he’s here, too, or at least his ashes are. I stand in front of the niche, tracing his name through the glass, trying to grasp what has happened. I fix his flowers, and then I sit in the mauve chair. My first couple of visits after the immediate numbness wore off, I cried as if I’d never stop. Now I just sit here with him, as I sat beside his bed at the hospital and in the nursing home where he died of Alzheimer’s disease.
I stare at the black urn with Fred’s full real name engraved in brass. I talk to him, but I don’t think he’s listening. I get up to straighten a crooked flower, to make sure Fred’s flowers aren’t blocking the niche above his. I look at the decorations on the other niches and wonder about the people who put them there.
Fred doesn’t care about flowers. He never did when he was alive, and he certainly doesn’t care what kind I put in front of his ashes. Cemetery flowers are for the living. We want to do something to show that we still care, that we have not abandoned our dead.
Chelan Abbey is locked. When you buy a space, you get a key. The door locks behind you when you go in. You change the fake flowers, say a few words, and go back out into the world, gratefully filling your lungs with ocean air as the door clicks shut behind you, locking away the dead for another time.
It’s late January now. I need to take down the Christmas flowers. Valentine’s Day is next week. Maybe I’ll just take those velveteen roses back. Maybe, wherever he is, Fred won’t mind sharing them again.
Writer, musician, and dog mom, Sue Fagalde Lick spent many years in the newspaper business before earning her MFA in creative nonfiction at Antioch University Los Angeles. Her work has recently appeared in the Bellingham Review, Skirt!, Diverse Voices Quarterly, Still Crazy, and Humor for a Boomer's Heart. Her books include Stories Grandma Never Told, Shoes Full of Sand, and Childless by Marriage.
Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece?
A: Two things surprised me about writing “Velveteen Roses.” First, that I found comfort in remembering those times I visited the cemetery with my parents when I was a child. I liked the ritual and the shared solemnity as we put up flowers and reread the 23rd Psalm printed on the stained glass window near my grandmother’s niche. Second, as I asked people about their cemetery experiences, I was surprised at how few people visit cemeteries anymore, at how attitudes about honoring the dead have changed.
by Gay Degani
followed by Q&A
Packs of Kents were wedged between the windshield and dash of the Plymouth, Mom and Dad lighting one smoke after another, puffing away, the radio on low, spitting static. The Mojave desert barreled by outside, long and wide and hot.
Dad bought a cooler from Sears for the trip. It straddled the hump in the front seat under the butt-filled ashtray. It was supposed to chill the air from the vents by flowing over the ice in the cooler. Me in the backseat, I never once experienced a chill.
Nothing but sand between us and The Alamo, and two hours out of L.A., I dripped sweat, my eyes burning from cigarette smog. I cranked down the window and stuck my head and shoulders out, face to the wind, my hair a yellow hurricane.
Mom hollered over the seat, “Roll that window up, Sheri. You’re letting in all the hot air.”
“But it’s like Death Valley in here.”
Mom jabbed the red tip of her Kent at me. “Don’t sass.”
I flopped back onto the itchy cloth upholstery, put my bare feet against the hot glass of the window, and watched the blur of red rock and blue sky through the pane, thinking about my friends back home at the beach slathered in baby-oil, going to the movies, meeting boys. Their dads sold insurance or drilled teeth or remodeled houses while mine taught American history and believed I’d grow up stupid if we didn’t take a road trip every summer and “steep ourselves in the rich and edifying tapestry that is—The Past.”
What about the present? What about my present? Dissipating with every mile.
He was jabbering about Davy Crockett and the Alamo siege. I couldn’t see Mom but knew she was thumbing her cigarette filter like she always did. I took out the matchbook I hid in my pocket and struck a match. Played with flame, slid my finger into the silky yellow part and kept it there until the match burned down. I didn’t make a sound.
We stopped at a rest area to pee and empty the ash trays. I was the first one out and into the smack of heat. “Ugh.”
Mom followed, stretching and yawning, smoke wisping from her mouth.
Dad slammed the car door and made a flourish toward the scrub brush. “Oh, ye pioneers,” using his best declaiming voice, “It is1836 and you, Sheri, are traveling west—
“Then Sheri’s been traveling the wrong way, Dad.”
He cleared his throat, took a drag on his cigarette, and kept talking. “Traveling west in a Conestoga wagon wearing a calico bonnet and wool dress—”
I shook my head and turned down the steaming asphalt path toward the concrete block facility, knowing Dad couldn’t really know what he was talking about.
The restroom was dim and smelly and almost not-hot.
“That you, Sheri?” Mom called from the one stall.
“It ain’t Sandra Dee.”
“Don’t say ‘ain’t.’ Can you go back to the car and get the sandwiches and the jar of ice tea?”
“I have to pee.”
“I’ll be done by the time you get back. They’re in the front seat in a paper bag. There’s a table in some shade on the side of the building.”
I could hear her talking, then calling my name as I cut through the sand toward the car. The metal handle stung my fingers. I yelped, then growled. Wool dresses, I didn’t believe it. Unbuttoning the bottom of my shirt, I used it as a potholder and opened the car door. The handle still felt like fire.
I snatched the paper sack, and coughed at the foul air inside the car, then caught a whiff of something burning. In the seat cushion smoldered a tiny glowing ball of ash and tobacco. The tip of a cigarette must have fallen off or been brushed off. I watched it eat at the nubby frayed upholstery. Couldn’t take my eyes off of the angry redness of it. A miniature flame jumped up as a gust of wind swirled past me and into the car. I reached for the ice tea jar. The glass was warm in my hand.
I could have twisted open the lid, easily dowsed the hot little coal, but I stepped away from the car. Walked back across the sand, glancing over my shoulder when I reached the asphalt. It all looked so normal, the car door left open to let the breeze clear out the reek of cigarette and smoke.
“Sheri, hurry up. We’re hungry.” Mom sat with her back to me, twisting around with her cig at her lips. Dad stood on the edge of the rest area, a thread of smoke snaking from his right hand, gazing out at nothing but scrub and rock.
Gay Degani has published on-line and in print including each The Best of Every Day Fiction editions (fourth forthcoming) and her own collection, Pomegranate Stories. She is the founder-editor emeritus of EDF's Flash Fiction Chronicles, a staff editor at Smokelong Quarterly, and blogs at Words in Place where a list of her online and print fiction can be found. She’s had two stories nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize for her flash piece, “Something about L.A.”
Q: What was your inspiration for this story?
A: “Kindling” came into being because of AWP Heat, a contest in 2013 with a simple word prompt, “fire.” The challenge for me was to go beyond my “first thoughts” and find a way to write something that no one else would think to write.