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43
Issue 43, October-December  2013
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
Prime Decimals 43.3


Flash Fiction

Agnieszka Stachura
The Little Golden Book of PTSD

John Goulet
Mutt and Jeff


The Little Golden Book of PTSD
by Agnieszka Stachura
followed by Q&A

Poetry

Ross Losapio
The Greyhound Rescue Club Walks Through Hollywood Cemetery

Deonte Osayande
Pitbull

The Greyhound Rescue Club Walks Through Hollywood Cemetery
by Ross Losapio
followed by Q&A
Pitbull
Deonte Osayande
followed by Q&A

I.

In a drunken rage he turns pitbull,
frightens his girlfriend 
into a submission of silence,
assaults a mutual friend of ours,
and everyone remembered that.

Everyone remembers how it made me rabid,
foaming a frustration which had been boiling over 
for all of the months we lived together.

When all is calmed
his hangover is more
throbbing knot from blow
than one drink too many.
I apologize, he doesn’t
even remember the cause
only the pain. His best friend,
offers an ice bag as consolation.

II.

His best friend says the stupid Nigger did it, 
with a tone which echoed 
underneath his skin
for generations before he was born.

He doesn’t realize he said it
as if there was a courage in
being disappointed in his country
for finally electing a president
who doesn’t have the same old skin tone.

My roommate does the most composed thing
I have ever seen erupt from his impulsive frame.

He politely asks his best friend to leave our dorm.
After his guest leaves he looks to me 
with the same riot in his eyes
pulsating through my own. 
In that moment he apologizes to me 
on his comrade’s behalf
and I find more shame then sincerity.

III.

On a night quiet as his father’s presence during his childhood
my roommate sits across from me weeping. He doesn’t know
what he is doing in this downward spiral called a life.
He has used reverse gravity on all of his friends.
His girlfriend has been treated as expendable.
He wears the scent of the other women, doesn’t even hide it. 

It is fitting, that when she tosses his things from her window
she doesn’t hide his adulteries from the other women.

His own mother treats him like the boy who cried wolf.
Her phone is always lost when his name is on screen.
He has reached his breaking point. All he has left is me, 
and I’ve grown tired of living with him, I’m obligated to be here.
The room where he finds sanctuary is my sanctuary as well.
He says his best friend called him a beast as if he wouldn’t miss him dead,
as if he would be first to tie the noose, as if he has a white hood in his closet.
He said his best friend said this with a hiss, as if he had been a snake all along.

IV.

My roommate gets kicked out.
Turns the room into New Orleans in 06,
New York in 01,
Detroit in 67,
Greenwood Oklahoma in 21.
He leaves no good bye, no apology.

He stayed loyal to his best friend like a pitbull
since they were in high school in Grosse Pointe.
Loyal until the end, when the leash was cut,
and his side was kicked. Last thing I said to him,
was you’re going to be alright dawg, I may not like you
but even I see good in you. I didn’t mean to lie.


Deonte Osayande is a poet, editor, performer and teacher from Detroit. He is currently a writer in residence teaching poetry with the Inside Out Detroit program and is finishing his M.A. in Liberal Studies at the University of Detroit Mercy. His work has previously appeared in Emerge Literary Journal, Scissors & Spackle, Eunoia Review, Wayne Literary Review and many others. He spends his time reading, giving poetry readings, and doing other mancat.

Q&A

Q: What can you tell us about this poem?
A: It took some time to finally write this poem, but it was inspired by true events with a roommate in the college dorms.

Jane reads to her children from A Little Golden Book in the tent in the campground off the bypass. The book is called Four Puppies. It’s full of easily digestible object lessons for the very young, complexity chewed into nuggets that slip down smooth as Jell-O. The campground is called Falling Leaf. It’s where they’ve been living since the foreclosure. There are other families here too, and children using their Outside Voices. 

“Four Puppies,” reads Jane, thinking, Puppy mill. Thinking, Fucking pet owners. Thinking, Those dogs would be at the shelter so fast if that house got foreclosed. Aloud she reads about wise Mr. Squirrel, who guides the four rambunctious collie pups through the changing seasons in the Big Wide World.

“They had so much fun that they hated to go inside—even when there were lamb chops for supper!” Nope, nothing weird there, thinks Jane, picturing four little lambs, ice crystals clinging to their snow-white fleece, curled inside a humming deep freeze. 

“Mommy, I’m hungry,” says Sally. She hasn’t been sleeping very well. “When is Daddy coming back?”

“Soon, sweetheart,” says Jane, thinking, Where is that dick? Aloud she says, “Let’s get back to our story. What do you think happens to those four silly puppies?”

“Arf, arf!” says Timmy. He’s four, and very brave.

Jane is still reading when Dick comes back. He is driving very fast. He drives fast through the campground entrance. He drives fast past the ranger’s house. He drives fast right into the tent.

It’s like being pinned beneath the weight of the Big Wide World. 

Ambulances come, and stretchers and cameramen and police. The CNN reporter looks very concerned. He says that Dick is an Iraq war veteran recently back from his second tour. He says, “Authorities are still piecing together the story.” 

Maybe Dick will get help now. Maybe not. Maybe they’ll write a book about him. The Little Golden Book of PTSD. See Dick enlist. See Dick get shot. See the phone receiver pipe fifty-five minutes of Muzak into Dick’s ear when he calls the VA hotline. See Dick take his wife Jane and their two children to a campground to live—my, camping’s fun! So much fun in the Big Wide World. 

It isn’t likely, though. This sort of thing isn’t covered in A Little Golden Book. This sort of thing simply doesn’t happen to people who live in a world where four puppies have room to play in un-neutered freedom, where they get bigger and bigger but never mature, where they eat lamb chops for dinner but are never overcome by the troublesome instinct to catch and dismember a helpful talking squirrel. 



Agnieszka Stachura is a two-time Duke graduate who lives and works in that other North Carolina college town. Her stories, poems and essays have appeared in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Funny Times, Damselfly Press, Minerva Rising, Untoward Magazine, Prick of the Spindle, Foliate Oak, Passages North, Tiny Lights and The Sun, among other publications. Her short story “The Edge of the Known World” was a Top 25 Finalist for Glimmer Train’s January 2011 Very Short Fiction Award.

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this story?
A: Flipping radio stations one day in the car, I came across a bottom-of-the-dial religious program. The insipid music nearly made me run off the road, and the fatuous innocence of the message left me seething. I wrote this story to explore my reaction. 

Available now: Prime Number Magazine, Editor Selections, Volume 1 and 2Learn more...
Flash Nonfiction

Heather Kirn Lanier
Whipping Jesus In

Katherine Riegel
Shhh
Mist crosses the grounds, extends
over grey muzzle and onyx eyes. 
The hounds pass, disappearing

over a stone-studded hill—each thin-stalked, 
shoulder-first step like the planting 
and unearthing of saplings—when a high Max!

trills. Max! again, and a Here, boy
But if he’s spotted a rabbit, that dog’s gone.
A salve of morning drizzle on crumbling

granite angels, amputated stumps
of wing and limb. How long, I wonder,
before she resorts to Max’s entrant name,

shame-faced: Gin Bomber or Sand Flea,
Paris Star or Puzzle Tree—something
he might recognize from the pinch of metal

stalls, the cheers of ticket-clenching crowds,
the whirring of mechanized desire caroming
into inconceivable future tense. A mantis nymph

peels away from the grass—Seed Totem, 
So It Goes, Rough Sleeper—and loses 
itself in the wrinkles of my palm. It’s not

against the law to kill a praying mantis, 
but, looking at this one’s snap pea segments pinning 
my hand to the earth, I think it may be impossible,

endangered status mythed to hide our impotence.
Monkey Mind and String Theory. The greater trick 
would be to condense ourselves like coal, 

changing from man to greyhound to mantis 
to whatever comes next: Name it Little Death 
or Horse Grenade. Name it Quiet Menace.



Ross Losapio is a graduate of the MFA program at Virginia Commonwealth University and the recipient of the 2013 Catherine and Joan Byrne Poetry Prize. His poetry appears or is forthcoming in Copper Nickel, Hayden’s Ferry Review, the minnesota review, The Emerson Review, and elsewhere. His reviews appear in Blackbird, Rattle, and Verse Wisconsin.


Q&A

Q: What can you tell us about this poem?
A: I’ve lived in Richmond, VA, for nearly four years, and the complicated relationship the city has with its own past has always struck me as remarkable. Monuments to Robert E. Lee and Arthur Ashe stand within blocks of each other. Virginia Commonwealth University is a constantly expanding and modernizing presence, attracting students from all over the country and the world. Hollywood Cemetery, where this poem is set, is the final resting place of two United States presidents as well as Jefferson Davis, the only president of the Confederacy. Consequently, my poem uses the greyhound rescue club in an attempt to discuss the idea of transition, our ability (or inability) to change, the fact that we always have one foot in the past even as we strive toward the future.

Whipping Jesus In
Heather Kirn Lanier
followed by Q&A

As a girl in the basement of a brick, sixties-era church, I colored the brown hair, brown sandals, and brown staff of a man named Jesus, who was single-handedly responsible for wearing down to a nub every brown crayon at Whitehall Baptist Church. Paperless, the crayons looked like the poops of geese. Jesus back then was the right-hand-man of God, who was a white-bearded ruler with a penchant for discomfort. When Mary needed a place to give birth, Lord God offered nothing more than a barn. And when Lord God stooped to speak to Abraham, Lord God told Abraham to slaughter his son. Abraham, always the dutiful follower, sharpened his knife. Lord God apparently reconsidered, but Abraham had been willing, had maybe even strapped Isaac to a stone table.

They probably didn’t teach us that last story at Sunday school. But I wore my fleece dresses and white tights and vinyl Mary Janes there anyway because I knew Lord God deserved sacrifice, and I offered it by way of the most uncomfortable clothing. Though the seams of my tights twisted around my thighs and though I squirmed in a desk in the damp basement, such suffering was incomparable to birthing on hay or almost murdering one’s kid. 

It did not occur to me as strange that, at least in my dreams, my father tried to murder me. That on certain nights I found myself stuck in the middle of our suburban street as he sped toward me in his red coupe. In waking life, he drove the family to church. I watched my mother’s face in the side-view mirror. Her eyebrows drew inward like ridges, her mouth pressed down into the slightest frown. Sometimes she bit back tears. But if we all went to church we’d be saved, my father said, so each Sunday he drove us, and I learned a new story about the strange dealings of Lord God. 

He sent a plague of locusts, turned a sea into blood, changed a woman into a pillar of salt. I imagine she went into a stew. When God’s people tried to reach him in heaven, he cast them from the heights of their makeshift tower, scrambled their tongues. 

And then there was Jesus. At Sunday school, Jesus continued to arrive to me as a black outline on beige paper, and as my duty to Jesus, I colored him in. He always wore the same thing: colorless folds of a robe, tied at the waist by a rope. A pair of sandals. The accessories of his beard and long hair. That was all. Beside him were typically some rocks. A flock of sheep. Perhaps another person or two, also in a robe, also in sandals. Nothing asking for chartreuse or crimson. We, the Bible-school kids of Whitehall Baptist Church, were neon-crayon deprived in the eighties and silent about it. The face of the person beside Jesus might have been scared, or weeping, or pleading, or scolding, but Jesus, Jesus was placid. Serene. And Jesus received his drab colors by my hand. 

This was the Jesus I had to accept into my heart. The minister said it. The Sunday school teacher said it. My parents said it. Accept Jesus into your heart. Accept this man in need of Crayola. Or, you know, go to hell. The choice was a no-brainer. But how do you accept Jesus into your heart? kids asked the Sunday school teachers. Just ask for it, our teachers said. Just say a prayer to Jesus—say, Jesus, please come into my heart, and you know what? If you really mean it, Jesus will enter your heart. Because Jesus loves you.

You only had to ask him once, we learned. Not twice. Not three times. But you had to remember it. The moment of salvation had to be powerful and resonant, a memory of gold and light that you could not forget even if you tried. 

After coloring the pages of the stories, we children were sent upstairs. Adults sat in wood pews. In front of each was a small vial of grape juice slipped into a cut-out circle beside the hymnals and Bibles. The pastor said it was to remind us that Jesus had died for us, bled on the cross for us. And why did Jesus have to bleed on the cross for us? Because we were sinners. 

If I rustled, my father turned his head, lifted his eyebrows so that the skin on his enormous forehead folded into five ridges, and I went rigid, faced forward. Be thankful that Jesus got nailed to the cross. In any given picture, droplets of red syrup dripped down Jesus’s martyr face, and he looked forlorn and pitiful. Jeezus, Jesus! Why’d you have to go and do such a thing? 

When the pastor commanded it, the adults lifted their tiny vials of juice and sipped them down on cue. 

At night, in bed, I asked the necessary question. Or rather, I willed him. Into my heart, Jesus. Like a whip on a horse, my imagination struck Jesus through the Valentine-shaped organ. I envisioned Jesus’s fat, sandaled foot stepping forward. His second foot, trailing the dust of the coloring book pages, followed. Now he was in. Safe. Like Pete Rose on the plate. No outs.

Until the next night, or another night later that week, or any night when I felt the shaky ground that I would grow to know well in adulthood, that shifting, cracking, moveable ground I would learn to walk on my whole life: Doubt. Could I really be sure I’d asked? Maybe I’d just dreamt of asking. Maybe I hadn’t asked. Or hadn’t asked right. Or Jesus, just a cartoon after all, had fallen straight out of the paper Valentine in my body, or hadn’t made it in to begin with. Because I hadn’t believed. 

You had to believe, they said. For Jesus to enter your heart, you had to believe in him. Did I believe in him? He and Barbie were in the same kind of coloring book pages, but for her I at least had an action figure to match. 

I was a paranoid kid. Why risk eternal damnation? Why not buy insurance in bulk. Night after night, I envisioned miniature cartoon-Jesus walking, not on water, but on the air inside my body. He stood and hovered just inches outside my heart. Come in my heart, Jesus. Ribs seemed like cage bars, and I sympathized with Jesus’s desire to go elsewhere, but obediently he went, and I could sleep soundly one more night in the poly-cotton sheets of my youth. Until the next night, when I asked again.




Heather Kirn Lanier is the author of the nonfiction book, Teaching in the Terrordome: Two Years in West Baltimore with Teach For America, and the chapbook, The Story You Tell Yourself, winner of the Wick Poetry Open Chapbook Competition. Her work has appeared in dozens of places, including Salon, The Utne Reader Online, and The Sun. “Whipping Jesus In” is from her book-in-progress, Monk’s Girlfriend: A Memoir of Love, Agnosticism, and Faith. She lives in Vermont and blogs about parenting a child with disabilities at starinhereye.wordpress.com.


Q&A

Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece? 

A: What surprised me most was that second sentence: brown crayon-nubs looking like geese poop. Where did that come from? I have no idea. But once I got it down, the simile evoked a quality about my childhood that was simultaneously light and heavy, silly and serious (perhaps as many childhoods are). The silliness of Crayola, the seriousness of the color brown. The heaviness of crucified Christ, the lightness of Jesus as a cartoon. The tension between these two opposites only grew as I learned both the high stakes of a fundamentalist Christian life and the mounting skepticism that seemed built into my bones. How to make sense of all that? “Crayons as geese poop” seems as good a way as any.

Mutt and Jeff
by John Goulet
followed by Q&A

If you’d been skiing in the White Mountains—right after the war, the big one—you might have seen them. A couple of young guys on rental skiis, wearing army surplus stuff. One real tall, the other short—if you read the comics you’d be tempted to call them Mutt and Jeff, a famously mismatched pair. At the top of the run, they horse around. They get somebody to record their antics on a Brownie. They are both lousy skiers and are putting off making their run. Somebody in charge comes around warning people that a dangerous fog is setting in at lower altitudes. The time to go is now. The two guys you thought of as Mutt and Jeff are the last ones on the mountain. Finally, the short one pushes off, his skis weaving erratically. Then the tall one. His take-off is no more graceful than his pal’s. In a minute they have both disappeared.

But maybe you’ve never been skiing in the White Mountains.



John Goulet grew up in Boston, Colorado and Iowa. He attended St. John’s University, San Francisco State, and the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop. After serving in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia, he returned to take a position at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, where he is currently Emeritus Professor of English and continues to teaches courses in creative writing. Goulet is a published short story writer and novelist (Oh's Profit, William Morrow; Yvette in America, U of Colorado Press). His stories have appeared in numerous journals, magazines and anthologies.  

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for the story?
A: “Mutt and Jeff” was inspired by an old photo of my father and his pal, George Coddaire, on skis.

You get there by making yourself small enough to crouch under the thick wire holding up the grapes (purple, concord, with seeds—you put one in your mouth and suck off the skin, strain the flesh through your teeth, spit out the seeds, savor the sweet slimy roundness and the tart leftover rag before you swallow them both). Follow the path you find there, on hands and knees. Sergeant, your beloved shepherd dog, uses this path sometimes. Other animals do, too, though you’ve never seen them. It is low, under the arching canes of blackberry, so deeply shaded only moss and poison ivy grows. 

Don’t worry. You won’t get poison ivy. But do not dawdle. The summer weeds will not forget their battle with the house, the garden, all that tries to impose order. They do not like people all that much, and you don’t want to stay here until you grow big enough for them to notice you are one. Scramble along that path for a long time, longer than you want to be on your knees like this. Don’t stop to touch your lucky rock, riding safe in your left front pocket, the rock for which you traded a rabbit’s foot someone gave you saying it was lucky. The earth wanted its rabbit foot back, so you left it when you took the rock. 

Almost there now. See the opening? A small clear space around the trunk of the tree, the biggest tree on the property, so big you can’t put your arms even halfway around it. So tall the lowest branch is far above your reach. Now. Sit and lean your back on this wide trunk. 

Above and behind you is the house, where your mother sleeps and your brother watches TV. The house is cool with air-conditioning but too full of people, especially when your sister and father and other brother are there, the six of you colliding and rebounding like electrons.

Below and in front of you is the pasture. You have climbed down to the pasture from here, but the horses’ hoof prints were filled with water and it was a long walk back up the other way. The path doesn’t go that way; it ends at the fence. Sometimes when you are at the tree you can hear the horses eating, munching grass and stomping to get the flies off their legs. Today they are away at the far end, where they galloped after you and your brother put them out this morning. 

Shhhh. You are not here to think about the house or the pasture. You are here where no adult has ever come, and no kid has ever come when you were here, to tell the tree your secrets. The tree knows all about the rock and the rabbit’s foot. It knows about the diet bar of your sister’s, how good the chocolate outside was and how the inside tasted like sawdust. It knows you cry when your mother sings, “My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean,” because you think of her cocker spaniel Bonny, how much she must miss her, how far it must be over the ocean, so far they’ll never see each other again. The tree knows and tells no one. It is the best sort of confidante. It does not want anything from you. Its lower branches are dark and secret, but its upper branches stretch joyously in the wind of that other altitude, that higher up world. 

Go ahead. Whisper today’s secret news. The birds are off on their daily errands. The crickets can only sing, not talk in words. 

Now breathe. Put your hand in your pocket and touch the gritty surface of your lucky rock. Sit on the ground and pull up grass. This place is outside time. There is no “time to be getting back,” only you, on hands and knees, looking into that tunnel and knowing what you want now. 




Katherine Riegel has published two books of poetry, What the Mouth Was Made For (2013) and Castaway (2010). Her work has appeared in journals including Brevity, Crazyhorse, and The Rumpus. She is co-founder and poetry editor for Sweet: A Literary Confection

Q&A

Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece? 

A: The biggest surprise was probably that the 2nd person point of view ended up staying. I wrote it in the 2nd person because the memories are so personal, and from so long ago, that I thought my best shot at getting the details down was to imagine I was telling someone else what it was like. This mutated into me telling myself how to be that little girl again—a set of directions for entering memory through place. Sometimes it’s easier to engage with memory when you recognize that the past-you is, in many substantial ways, someone else. 

Shhh
Katherine Riegel
followed by Q&A