Prime Number Magazine
is a publication of
PO Box 30314,
Winston-Salem NC 27130
Issue 47, January-March 2014
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
Prime Decimals 47.2
by Benjamin Ludwig
by Milton Ehrlich
Jacinta V. White
I used to be six, sneaking wine from the clear bottle that belonged in the latched box sitting next to me on the back seat of Dad’s ’77 black Sedan deVille, wondering how it—tasting like old grape juice—healed; how it was going to cleanse the man Dad prayed
about just that morning, before the congregation and the Good Lord.
I used to be six, sitting in the back seat of Dad’s ’77 black Sedan deVille on the way to the house on the hill that sat next to the House of Prayer, wishing I drank something that left a better taste in my mouth, not hot and dry, sticky and bitter, like the outside air. Wondering how the dying man having the same pungent breath as mine was going to cleanse his sins and bring him right with God.
I used to be six, sitting in the back seat of Dad’s ’77 black Sedan deVille, wondering how these small drops of wine from this tube stuck between black velvet (like a body tucked in a casket) meant something so serious that when we arrived to the man’s house, I would have to wait alone outside. Pretend the smell hitting me from the cracked window wasn’t something dark and deathlike.
And, after it was all over and we pulled away, silent—Dad’s kit sliding closer to me, with each turn, on the leather back seat of that ’77 black Sedan deVille—I would quietly pull out the bottle that once held the power potion. My fingers tracing the rim of the miniature cup still wet from the dying man’s lips. I believed, right then, to have what I was told he’d received. Eternal Life. I used to be six.
Jacinta V. White is an NC Arts Council Teaching Artist, and has received numerous awards and scholarships toward her creative endeavors. She was the first recipient of the Press 53 Open Award in Poetry. After completing her MPA at Georgia State University, Jacinta founded the Word Project (www.poetryheals.com) – a company dedicated to using poetry toward personal and community healing. Through the Word Project, Jacinta has facilitated numerous workshops and training for organizations including schools and hospitals. Finishing Line Press published Jacinta’s first book of poetry, broken ritual, in 2012. Jacinta blogs at 3rdSpaces.com.
They were out picking potatoes in the garden. It was almost noon. The moon was still up. The father stood with a shovel, gently heaving up shovelfuls of soil. As he did this, potatoes and clumps of potatoes fell heavily and abundantly. His little girl, who was only two, picked them up, studying each one, pulling them from the greens before putting the potatoes in a basket. At some point she caught sight of the moon.
She dropped the potato she was holding so that she could point. “Sees the moon,” she said. No subject-pronouns. Not yet.
“I see the moon too,” the father said. “See the potatoes?” He wanted her to learn about things of the earth, and to love them as he did.
But the girl was still looking at the sky. “Sees the moon,” she said again, more excitedly; and then, “Needs to hold it.”
The father pushed the shovel into the soil. She was always talking about holding the moon. He wished she would look down instead at all the potatoes spilling at her feet. “The moon is too big for you to hold,” he told her. He leaned on the shovel and looked at her. “The moon is too big. I’m sorry, but we can’t hold it.”
She looked back at him, and he could see that she was thinking. “Just the stars,” she said, her chin dropping. “They are tiny.”
The father paused, then bent to pick up the potato she had dropped. He didn’t say a word because he couldn’t bear the thought of pushing her any further than he already had.
Benjamin Ludwig writes and teaches from New Hampshire. He is the recipient of the 2013 Clay Reynolds Novella Prize for his novella, Sourdough, which will be published by Texas Review Press this coming fall.
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I was always surprised
how warm milk was
when I milked a herd
of Holstein cows,
and how cold father’s
body became as red rivulets froze,
the moment he stopped breathing.
How easy it used to be
to laugh out loud
and stomp my feet
to not pee in my pants,
and how now nothing
seems quite so funny
as I read the obituary
making sure I’m not there.
I worry about my insomniac friend
with the wit of Oscar Wilde,
who now roams dark streets
weeping to himself.
I must remind him what it feels
to be human by holding each other.
Milton P. Ehrlich, Ph.D., is an 82-year-old psychologist who has published numerous poems in periodicals such as the Wisconsin Review, Shofar Literary Journal, Christian Science Monitor, Slipstream Magazine, Toronto Quarterly Review, Seventh Quarry: The Swansea Poetry Review, Antigonish Review, Descant Magazine, Huffington Post, and the New York Times.
followed by Q&A
A few months ago, I watched this movie about a guy who had cancer and a fifty percent chance of survival. I laughed a lot. There’s this scene, though, where the main character starts to ask questions about how the anesthetic works—how long he will be out, if he’ll accidentally wake up during the surgery, how they know he will even wake up at all. When the doctor explains how it varies from person to person, he lets out a whimper for his mother who grabs him and tells him he is going to be just fine.
And then there I was in your room in the intensive care unit, standing next to you, who, after two weeks of visits from family and friends, two weeks of video games and anime, faced your mortality at age fifteen. I imagined the surgery room—white tiled walls like a bathroom with two huge UFO lights, surgeons huddled over your body in mouthwash colored scrubs. Was Mom allowed to walk you in? Was this how you hugged her, unsure if you would ever feel the warmth of another body again? Did you regret kicking my ass all of those times?
I showed Mom the movie. She was stone-faced during that scene. Hardened. I asked her about the moment before you got that apricot-sized tumor cut out of your brain. I asked her if it reminded her of you. I asked her how this scene did not make her flinch at all. I lived through it, she said with a smirk and her brow raised, brown eyes fixed to mine. I guess it just doesn’t compare to the real thing.
Whenever my brain pulses near my temples and I can’t think straight, I run to the medicine cabinet for some pain pills and can’t help but wonder when I will be tested, when I will have to face my mortality like that fifteen-year-old boy did, his little brother too emotionally immature to understand. I can’t help but wonder how genes work, how hereditary illnesses mutate within us, how we are all just ticking time bombs waiting to explode while we worry about work and people and what’s in the fridge and whether we have paid our bills on time or not.
In the final couple weeks at the hospital, when they’d moved you out of the ICU and into that ward that looked more like a hotel, the pastel green walls carefully matching the dark rug in the hallways, the windows cascading with sunlight, the absence of beeping heart monitors and life machines, I remember how healthy you seemed before the surgery. How, though we’d moved to a ward that labeled you as not needing intensive care, you were recovering and couldn’t get out of bed anymore. How your eight-inch scar down the back of your head was new, how you lacked motor skills, how you could barely open your drowsy, medicated eyes. Mom seemed different, no longer pink and puffy behind her dark turtle colored glasses. She stayed with you in the hospital every single night, until you were in that new ward. When she went home and allowed us to stay with you instead, we knew you’d be okay.
After weeks of makeup work: mindless worksheets about tap water or rounding to the nearest tenths or hundredths, I returned to school. Most of the students never asked any questions or seemed affected. My teacher told me that when I didn’t return to class after the diagnosis, my friend looked worried. She never told me how he looked worried, but I imagined his vision getting blurry, his stomach hurting, his hand shaking as he asked to be excused to use the restroom. I imagined his bent back as he splashed water on his face, staring into his glossy eyes in the mirror, his jaw slack. Maybe it reminded him of his own siblings or his own parents. Maybe someone in his family had lost the battle to some sickness. Maybe he didn’t need anyone to teach him how to feel; maybe he was born with it.
Years after the surgery, you will be okay—a little neurotic, a little fickle—things we will crack jokes at, trying to diagnose you psychologically, detectives offering solutions like maybe it’s the section of his brain they removed. It could be worse. You could have brain damage. You could have an infection, or you could slip into a coma. You will say you forgot all the Spanish you learned. You could lose your speech or balance, even coordination—though you will have to relearn how to walk. And then you will walk like a pro. Run, even. You will be clumsy, but I can’t remember if you were before the operation.
One day, you will break skin on the sharp corner of my computer desk, the metal track for the keyboard broken and jutting out, your shin bleeding from the deep cut.
I will know what to do.
I will find some rubbing alcohol to clean your wound, and I will tell you to moisturize the area with lotion, because alcohol dehydrates the skin. I will help you dab some Neosporin on a Band-Aid and I will watch you stick it over the dark red line.
A. A. Singh is a sleepy over-thinker who lives in Tampa, Florida, where he teaches English courses at the University of South Florida. His work has appeared in The Caribbean Writer and has work forthcoming in Diverse Voices Quarterly. He is the Associate Nonfiction Editor for the literary magazine, em: A Review of Text and Image. He is currently working on a memoir about growing up in Florida as an Indo-Trinidadian.
Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece?
A: The early drafts of this essay failed because of a beginning that was too heavy handed with what it was about, and because of an ending that didn't seem to go with the focus thread of the essay. I was surprised at how many paragraphs of scene I'd written, just to clear my throat, and also at how an image at the end could better do the work I so desperately tried to do with exposition.
by Spencer K. M. Brown
Wait. Waiting—it felt like that was all I ever did, just waiting by the open front door, mindlessly puffing a cigarette as she took her time getting ready. I was so impatient, calling her name, asking if she was ready. She would snap back a response that kept me quiet for a few moments. The way she would climb into the passenger seat, the way she would take the cigarette from my hand and curl her soft, puffy lips around it, taking a long drag, always made me forget about waiting. I forgot everything when she was next to me.
Waiting. Sitting on the couch after a few drinks, feeling vulnerable. Feeling loved. I would wait to see what mood she was in. And with a soft graze of my hand along her thigh, she would pull me into a delicate kiss. I could feel her chest as it rose and fell, rose and fell, like waves before a storm, her heart pounding into mine. All the while I was just waiting for it to happen, waiting for her to finally be done with me. Waiting for it all to be over.
Wait: to pause or postpone some action. I sit in the Greyhound station, waiting for the clock to read, 3AM. My eyes continuously close, but I try to stay awake. I hate sleeping in public places. I climb onto the bus and stare numbly out of the hand-printed window. Wondering how long I must wait until I will be happy again.
Waiting—it was the one thing she said she would never do. Not for a day, not for a year. Not for any amount of time that I asked. She said, “A woman worth having doesn’t wait.” And I suppose she was right.
Spencer K. M. Brown lives in Southern Florida where he is a junior at Ave Maria University. His stories have appeared in Contraries and The Gyrene. In 2013, he published his debut novel, Wolfe.
Anyone walking past us wouldn’t think anything of it. Just two friends, two girls, standing together on a cold Friday morning. You wear a gray button-down jacket, and when I look at you so snug in your oversized coat my heart flails like someone losing her balance. Your lips, pale pink, caress your cigarette like a tulip ravishing the first bee of spring. And thinking of bees makes me think of birds and I blush, thinking this, thinking this while I stare into your syrupy brown eyes and breathe in your cigarette smoke, thinking that I’d have to slouch to kiss you, to arrive at your height. Thinking that your hands rest at the perfect height to hold the supplest parts of me.
From overhead someone would probably skip over us to the hawk perched in the skinny sapling. Certainly a hawk warrants more attention than we do, heartbreaker and heartbreakee; you took me here so we could see it, after all. Took me here so you could light your cigarette and smile at the hawk and say look, with your soft nicotine lips. Look, you say, I’m just not in a good place to do anything like dating, or romantic, with anybody.
The hawk, statuesque now but maybe not for long; of course the hawk stars in this scene.
I imagine an ending where we grasp one another’s hands and fly away, higher than the hawk, to a galaxy where the only white powder you care about is the stardust on our eyelashes, where the comets burn bright enough to obliterate all your scars, where the light of the sun makes me look like someone irresistible. We will outstrip that hawk, tuck stars like sticks of bubblegum in our pockets, dance like goddesses above all the trees and ceilings that ever towered over us.
I imagine an ending where you choose me.
The secretary behind us has no idea, I’m sure. She stands here every hour puffing her own brand of cigarettes—a brand I don’t care to know, not like I care to know every detail about you, like how you smoke L&Ms on a daily basis and Marlboros (which you call Marls) when you feel fancy, like how you have cigarette burns on your forearms, like how your favorite perfume is Sunflowers by Elizabeth Arden, which I bought last Saturday and wear religiously. The secretary, loitering somewhere behind us, sees two brunettes: one short, one tall; one in gray, one in red; one perfect, one average; one letting the other down gently, one fallen too hard to save. Or maybe the secretary sees nothing of the sort. Maybe she watches the hawk, or the students trudging by, or the clock as its hands pass 9:50. Maybe I’m the only one who thinks about us at all.
Alaina Symanovich is a graduate student pursuing her MA in Creative Writing at The Pennsylvania State University. She prefers to write lyrical, character-driven pieces of creative and flash nonfiction. She draws inspiration from authors like Lorrie Moore, Jhumpa Lahiri and Alice Munro.
Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece?
A: This piece surprised me from start to finish; when I sat down to write, I didn’t plan to revisit the memory of the hawk because it was still so raw. But my thoughts kept returning there, to that morning, and I knew I had to surrender to my instincts. Interestingly enough, writing (and crying) through the moment reframed how I remember it. It’s no longer intensely painful, but somehow poignant, even beautiful, in my mind.
followed by Q&A
by Lowell Mick White
Lowell Mick White’s Professed, reviewed by Brandon D. Shuler
Lowell Mick White
College Station: Slough Press, 2013
Lowell Mick White’s second novel, Professed, is a satirical look at academia from the perspectives of the lowly adjunct, the lofty ivory tower of a multi-book-published tenured professor, and the disengaged student. White, in less than 140 characters, describes the book as
Professed is comic novel set in #highered filled w oddness craziness
dysphoria teaching drinking grades sex murder lust adjunct fun:::life!
But the book is more. White’s Professed experiments with form and style in a way that makes the disjointed life narratives of adjuncts, tenured professors, and students embody the disconnectedness that affects most English departments in American higher education.
White’s Professed tells a linear narrative. But, he structures Professed by not weaving the various perspectives throughout the story, but by stringing together three vignettes that drive the story. White’s structure tells Professed’s narrative almost better than the characters themselves.
Professed opens with the adjunct, the workhorse who drives the new corporate model of higher education. The adjunct becomes the disposable commodity that makes way for the disenfranchised and disengaged student, but not before the seemingly safety of the protected tenured-class professor is proven to be just as disposable and faceless as the missing portraits of the professors that came before her and the adjunct who has to babysit her spoiled cats just so he can make ends meet. Professed screams that the system is broken, but by ending with the student’s tale whispers at the inanity inherent in today’s higher education model.
Professed in not a screed; it is not a manifesto; nor is it a sappy recount of the personal discontentedness a singular character feels in navigating the university’s hallowed halls. Professed is an empathetic story that captures the interpersonal politics of the English department and the characters who inhabit them. Professed captures each character’s desire to be included into the greater whole. Professed is a must read, not only for the English major, but for anyone who has wanted desperately to belong.
Lowell Mick White, a recent inductee into the Texas Institute of Letters, is the author of Long Time Ago Good and That Demon Life. Awarded the Dobie-Paisano Fellowship by the University of Texas at Austin and the Texas Institute of Letters, White lived in Austin for 25 years, at various times working as a cab driver, as a shade tree salesman, and as an Internal Revenue Service bureaucrat. He is now Assistant Professor of English at Pittsburg State University, where he teaches creative writing and literature.