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is a publication of 
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PO Box 30314,
Winston-Salem NC 27130
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Issue 5, January-March 2011
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
Prime Decimals 5.2


Flash Fiction

John Berbrich
There Stands the Rhombus

Tawnysha Greene
Sensible Things

John Saller
The Dreamer's Workshop

Paul Weidknecht
Ninety-Four Winters


“Yeah, and go to hell, God damn you,” I shouted as I left, slamming the door behind me.

I jammed my fists deep into my pockets. This was it. I was never going back, never. Not this time. Everything was over, finished, done. I spit on Ideal Love. God damn her.

I strode along the sidewalk, turned the corner, and—

—nearly tumbled into a rhombus. I could not believe it. This was amazing, incredible.

There stood the rhombus, huge and rudely mute. There could be no doubt. It was as eternal and perfect as a Platonic Form, as inescapable as Kant’s Categorical Imperative, as arrogant as any assertion of Nietzsche’s.

There stood the rhombus, strange and fantastic beneath the glittering streetlight.

How do I handle this? What are the formulas?

My mind drifted back to high school math. I saw Mr. Snodgrass, dour face, long nose, thick black-framed glasses, pointing at the blackboard, saying, “This will be on the test. This will be on the test.”

I could see the rhombus on the blackboard, clear as a glass of clean water. And here I was, after all these years, confronting the beast again.

There stood the rhombus, terrible in its clarity.

Uncertainty gripped me like a cruel fist. What to do? How to react? It has been my experience that the pleasant verities of the schoolroom tremble and dissipate like pale ghosts when confronted by the bright light of coarse reality. In truth, the Ideal is no match for the Real.

Yet here before me stood a towering bit of schoolroom-verity, book-truth. There stood the rhombus, imperious and awesome beneath the coruscating streetlight.

Back in school I had never realized the practical applications of mathematics. Oh sure, everyone runs into a square or rectangle now and then, even a circle. I myself have several times faced a trapezoid, and, believe me, the memory of those encounters fills me with regret and despair.

Yet this was a thousand times worse. I could no longer avoid the glare of the monstrous eternality, and fear took me. I wished for a crucifix or cloves of garlic. My hands trembled.

I stepped back.

The rhombus took no notice of me. I was dust, I was an insect; I was nothing.

I was a temporal speck of organic matter, protoplasm—a squirming bit of mortality, an ephemeron.

I withdrew, shaken.

My hand went out to the reassuring brick of the building adjacent to the sidewalk. I felt the solid weight of real earth beneath my feet. Everything around me was imperfect, human in a way, incomprehensible yet friendly, unknown but familiar; everything around me was perfectly imperfect, precisely imprecise—everything, that is, except for the Thing before me.

I slunk away, my hand rubbing the rough wall, every brick a little different.

I knew she would take me back. I contemplated Love, both Real and Ideal, and I reflected upon Truth.

I decided that the world contains both the Ideal and the Real, and that Plato and Aristotle are both right. I could feel her in my arms right now, and I didn’t know whether one would call what we had Real Love or Ideal Love, but I knew what I would call it: Our Love.





John Berbrich was born and raised on Long Island, New York, and now lives in the town of Russell in far upstate New York, on the northwestern slopes of the Adirondack Mountains. Together with wife Nancy he edits and publishes the literary quarterly Barbaric Yawp and the many chapbooks of MuscleHead Press, all under the auspices of BoneWorld Publishing. He is the former bassist and lead singer of several defunct experimental rock bands.

Q&A

Q: What was your inspiration for this piece?
A: I guess this is the junction where emotion meets geometry.  A reminder that life isn’t always rectilinear.

There Stands the Rhombus
by John Berbrich
followed by Q&A
Poetry

Malaika King Albrecht
My Daughter's Keepsake Rock

Matthew James Babcock
The History of the World

Nancy Carroll
Helen's Postcard from Aspen

David Hopes
Seven Zen Preludes: Halloween Morning; Times Square


Thirty-seven stitches to sew your ear on, five more to close the skin above your eyebrow as nurses touch your ribs, shine light in your eyes, clean blood from your hands, face, shoulder, you telling how your bike flipped, straps of your purse caught in spokes and I watch you look from one nurse to the other, to Momma, to brother, me, hear you ask—will you tell Daddy?—while your helmet sits, unused in the garage, new since Christmas when we got the bike, the skateboard, the in-line skates, and when the nurses give you a bottle of medicine for your skin, Momma pays the lady behind the desk with a green card, and we drive home, you in the front seat, looking in the side view mirror and trying to touch your face when Momma tells you not to, tells you you’ll make it scar, and we see the driveway, that Daddy’s not home, then Momma says you were wearing the helmet—we all say you were—and you and Momma go inside and brother opens the garage, takes the helmet from Christmas, still white and shiny, and throws it down against the pavement until the plastic is cracked, paint chipped, then he picks it up and does it again.    





Tawnysha Greene received her M.A. from Auburn University and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in fiction writing at the University of Tennessee. Her work has appeared in various literary journals including The Foundling Review and Wigleaf and is forthcoming in The Southern Humanities Review. She can be found online at http://www.tawnyshagreene.com/.

Q&A:

Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?
A: When I was young, my family lived above my cousins’ garage for a time and while we were there, my oldest cousin was in a biking accident very similar to the one mentioned in this story.  

Sensible Things
by Tawnysha Greene
followed by Q&A

The Dreamer's Workshop
by John Saller
followed by Q&A
I think my earliest memory is from my father’s workshop. I remember the objects, inert and varied and incomprehensible, waiting to be combined, given purpose, or at least life, by hands that hardly had to touch them to make them hum or glide or be reborn as something greater than they once were. They were arrayed on the walls and the benches and the tables, lofty when I was so small, always looking up, familiar with every piece because I had committed them all to memory, even though most held no meaning for me aside from their place in the whole miraculous tumbling together of unrealized potential.

When he was in motion, he was quick and decisive, jerky, maybe even nervous. On his feet, he could convey an air of clumsiness, even as he flawlessly navigated the most treacherous corners of his space. When his hands moved, though, that was entirely different. They were thin and long, calloused, and dark with grease, and when they moved, flying back and forth between the tool box and the objects of his attention, it was with such precision that it should not have been possible for every touch to be a caress.

His other state, and he only had two, was a stillness so complete that I should have known, even though I was too young to imagine such things, let alone understand them. His stillness came when he was caught in the reverie of imagination, or when he was trying to unravel a problem complex enough to defy his initial pinpoint assault. Of course, there were problems that he was hopelessly ill-equipped to approach, even with endless hours of stillness. 

I remember some early birthday of mine, attended by an assortment of children that I did not choose, but whose parents lived nearby, or shopped at the same grocery store, or confided once in the parking lot that their little girl needed another friend. We waited restlessly while my father fidgeted with something in a box on a picnic table, too high for us to see, clearing his throat again and again. I do not remember my mother at that moment, but her irritation must have been electric. Focused as we were on the mysterious contents of the box, which were taking far too long to emerge, we wouldn’t have noticed their silent exchange, but, looking back on it, there was something oppressive in the background as he cleared his throat one last time, stood to face us, and straightened his glasses.

He gave no introduction. It would have been impossible for him to speak to such a collection of children, anyway. He took the box under one arm and came to us in turn, setting in each eager cupped palm a tiny bird, as light as the air itself, every one different, metal and clockwork covered in the softest down. The last one he kept for himself, but only after offering it to her with a glance and a slight movement of an outstretched hand. Of course she refused. I don’t know whether she refused with an averted eye, or a turn of shoulders, or a smile that had come to mean all the things that smiles should never mean, but she refused, and he knew she would, but that can’t have made it easier. It can’t have eased what had once been a sting, but had long since become a hopeless sinking, deeper and deeper, and deeper still because that’s what she wanted, because it was not carelessness or even disinterest, but loathing of him and especially when his dreaming might bring him joy.

But it was not his joy that was important that day, and so with a smile that I might have even believed at the time, he crouched ever so slightly and we all crouched with him. One, two, three, and we threw up our hands and the air was filled with color and motion and shrieks of delight as tiny perfect wings bore our prizes away from us, arcing and diving and spiraling farther and farther above us until they disappeared from sight and were gone.

I remember the wonder and the disappointment as those birds flew from us. As usual, he didn’t get it quite right. You can’t put something like that into the hands of a child, only to have it disappear a moment later. It is hard enough for us to love something fleeting and magical now, even after we have been taught so well that all we have are moments, and grasping for what’s gone will put you in your grave or worse. Maybe some of those children felt this for the first time that day, realizing that something they had known and treasured briefly could leave them forever. At what moment did each child understand that the birds were not coming back? Who was the last to admit what they could all plainly see? Maybe that night, long after the candles had been blown out, while my father was sitting perfectly still, a little girl was listening at her bedroom window, waiting to hear the beating of tiny wings. Maybe now, with just a touch of gray at her temples, and creases at the corners of her mouth and eyes, she still turns occasionally and looks up into the sky, and, if she does, does that make her more or less tragic than the rest of us?





John Saller mostly works on stories that never end. This is his first publication since high school. He pours beer for a living and spends his time plotting his escape from Normal, IL. He enjoys cooking and brewing, growing vegetables, playing softball badly, and singing the blues. He is currently working on a fantasy novel, a creepy/hilarious TV screenplay, and a memoir about opening a comically disastrous restaurant.


Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?
A: "The Dreamer’s Workshop" is an excerpt from a novella of the same title. It was originally written for the 2006 Three Day Novel writing contest.


Ninety-Four Winters
Paul Weidknecht
followed by Q&A
Every winter as a teenager she’d find herself standing at the pond. She remembered her fascination at how the shelves of wafer ice, more fragile than bulb glass, would grow and knit over the wilted pickerelweed, eventually thickening enough to support her father’s tractor. Though the years had bundled themselves into decades, she recalled with the clarity of someone much younger the last time she had been to that edge. Now her view came from the parlor chair, past mother’s yellowed lace curtains: a dozen children skating and sledding, laughing and shouting. 

She turned toward the phone. One call to the sheriff would end their trespass. His four-wheel drive would appear at the crest of a hill a quarter-mile away, bump over the cattle guard at the end of her frozen road, and come to rest near the dock. He’d talk a moment before gesturing vaguely for them to leave, probably half-embarrassed he was breaking up their fun. As the group slumped away, they’d glance at the house, knowing who had called: the bitter old woman who lived in stale shadows, whose youth was so ancient as to be alien.

And they’d be right, she thought. At least a little. Yet there would be no call today. They didn’t need to know that ice sometimes breaks, shattering lives and dreams with it. So she stood, pulling the chair close to the window, hoping the pond was solid and that they would never leave.





Paul Weidknecht’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Clackamas Literary Review, Pisgah Review, The Los Angeles Review, Yale Anglers’ Journal, The Raleigh Review, Potomac Review online, Outdoor Life, and elsewhere. He has been awarded a scholarship to the Norman Mailer Writers Colony. He is a member of the Bethlehem Writers Group and lives in northwest New Jersey where he is at work on a collection of short stories. When not writing, he throws flies to wild trout and gets thrown to judo mats, both with regularity.
 
 
Q&A:
Q: What was the inspiration for this piece?
A: I suppose the story began with the image of the children skating and sledding on the pond. I worked backwards for the conflict—young versus old—and in doing so the character of the elderly woman emerged to tell a story of time and tragedy.
 
 
 


Helen's Postcard from Aspen
Nancy Carroll
followed by Q&A

Mapping every faint implausible dream.
David St. John, “Nocturnes and Aubades”

Not all things are lost
she whispers, licking oil off

pine cones, rubber tree leaves,
the hawthorn branches found next

to Paris’s body. Her own
body erect, numb, tethered to

the language of a thousand
men, their wives, their children,

their sunken ships. It is an art,
this deception that lines 

the sides of my beer glass.  
Amber foam, amber air, amber lips.

Just beyond the aspen grove, his tail lights lie
veiled and shattered. Remnants of yes. 

There is always the story of trees
She picks one more leaf, all grease and blood, 

to smear across tongue, fingertips 
before an early frost. Then she will turn quiet, 

wrapped upside down, a locust 
in tender cords of snow. 





Nancy Carroll has published work in Borderlands: A Texas Poetry Review. She has received the 2008 Academy of American Poets George Dillion Memorial Award and the 2009 Rachel Sherwood Award for poetry. She holds an MA in English with a focus on creative writing from California State University, Northridge. Also a photographer, she lives and works in the San Fernando Valley. 


Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?
A: Helene Cixous exhorts us to put “woman back in the text and history” and this poem exploring the Helen of Troy myth is one of my attempts at doing just that. 



My Daughter's Keepsake Rock
Malaika King Albrecht
Followed by Q&A


Listen to the stone—its story
Of glacial rifts and tectonic shifts.
The many lessons of being broken,
Cleft clean from a solid source
To free fall into the sea.
The story of the sloughing down
To smooth essential by surf and sand.
How to go with the flow
Then inhabit stillness on a beach.
A simple roundness, the mountain’s center—
This weight in your open palm.




Malaika King Albrecht’s chapbook Lessons in Forgetting was recently published by Main Street Rag. Her poems have been published in many literary magazines and anthologies and have recently won awards at the North Carolina Poetry Council, Salem College, and Press 53. She’s the founding editor of Redheaded Stepchild, an online magazine that only accepts poems that have been rejected elsewhere. A former rape crisis counselor and substance abuse counselor, she has often facilitated Poetry Therapy Groups for her clients. She lives in Pinehurst, NC, with her family and is a therapeutic riding instructor.


Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?
A: While attending a writer’s residency at Whidbey Island this past summer, I took my daughters to the rocky shore along Puget Sound. Like me, both daughters collect rocks, shells, and drift wood, and perhaps even prefer found objects over store-bought travel souvenirs. We just barely had enough room to pack this large rock that my youngest “had to have” along with the driftwood that looked like a whale fin.

The History of the World
Matthew James Babcock
followed by Q&A

There is not a single History of the World
—Whitman

Even with thirteen years in The Bloody Tower,
how did Ralegh think he could
get it all down in
his History of the World? Somewhere 
between The Ice Age and William Langland

you’re bound to omit something.
Whether it’s King Cnut or Old Sarum,
you’ll drop the ball somewhere for sure.
Even the most astute historian runs the risk
of skipping trilobites or flint napping,

as thoughtful he rises from
his yellow borderware chamber pot
and returns to the incomplete treatise ablaze
under trembling canopies of pink candlelight
on an oak writing desk in the corner.

Retrieving his quill, he launches 
into tobacco trade routes and the bluestones
of Stonehenge, excluding in the moment of inclusion
a thumbnail sketch of the Flemish artisan whose
circuit-board tapestry adorns the stone cell’s north wall.

On closer scrutiny the whole prospect
is peppered with logistical snags.  
Consider the question of what’s versus why’s
For instance, your history might 
touch on The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian

but not say why he looks so sublimely pleased
on the museum wall, a criss-cross salvo
of crossbow bolts shot through his torso.
Nor would it offer commentary on the Granny Smith
apple I finished after turning from St. Sebastian

and wandering away, the padded clank
of the chewed core in the trash can outside
the café in the National Gallery, the tart pendant
on the bare wall of my throat a ripe epilogue
to the moment. Nor would your history 

present a summary of these thoughts, the ones I’ve
scribbled here, which while trivial to some
still comprise a scrap of the world’s history. 
So no history can
be called the world’s history.  

Even if you tried, outright obsolescence would be 
the best you could achieve.
On the golden April afternoon
you snugged the kerning
and polished the margins and pagination

you’d be finished as a writer
in the same moment
you failed to include all the bright blue humdrum
events that happened on the day you boxed 
your manuscript and shipped it to your publisher’s

New York office with a cirrus cloud 
like a laughing Scottie dog easing across 
the slipstream of Tuesday,
two charcoal cats footloose in your untrimmed  
arbor vitae, the paper boy hiccupping past your study

window on his yellow moped.  After madness
drove you to your grave, 
a nagging infinity would ignite
and pursue time’s remnant where a morose 
semicircle of mourners and scholars on pilgrimage— 

pink and yellow blossoms looped in 
their hands like colors of rain— 
huddled in solemn conference on the muddy plot 
facing your tombstone in a local cemetery
in an obscure Montana mining town

where you listed onto the hard shoulder
in a rental car, trying to fathom
how to type faster in order to record events
before they happened—minutiae never
to be serried in any addendum or index.  
 
So here’s to the real history of the world:
excursus on skinned knees and foil gum wrappers
in pockets, the unwritten saga whose subtext
chronicles coughs in fifth-grade classrooms,
leaky Laotian fruit barges and forced apologies

on Wall Street subways, graham cracker crumbs,
the fables in blades of grass, the sound 
of regret slogging among sullen strangers 
on rainy days in foreign countries, 
the exact tally of ice water refills

performed in Italian restaurants,
and extravagant bouquets of old newspapers
blown with pigeons and McDonald’s milkshake cups
from benches across Picadilly Circus.
In the history of the world, volume eleven thousand

sixty-two, page four, right hand column,
middle of the second paragraph from the top, I’ll always
be leaning from a second-story window
over the traffic jam nocturne
that lazes like an electric centipede in the rain

down London’s Warwick Way, my shirt
collar unbuttoned, a gloss of cool sweat
swelling like dusk on my forehead, unable to name
the breed of songbird whose jubilant fanfare
ascends in buoyant strands and volleys

over the bent TV antennae and charred chimneys
atop the Surtees Hotel, the sound’s carved music
rising like the honed arrow shafts
of infant cries that will pierce
my wife across the Atlantic when our daughter

is born into the prison of the here and now,
where no iron-filing ink strikes calfskin vellum and no
devoted scribe’s hand with gold-leaf paint
starts chapter and verse where she’s scholar and saint.





Matthew James Babcock teaches English at BYU-Idaho in Rexburg. He was a Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Award winner in 2008. In 2010, his novella, “He Wanted to be a Cartoonist for The New Yorker,” was chosen as the first prize winner in Press 53’s Open Awards. His book, Private Fire: The Ecopoetry and Prose of Robert Francis, will be published by the University of Delaware Press in 2011. His work has appeared in Spoon River Poetry Anthology, BateauThe Rejected Quarterly, and Poetry for the Masses.

Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?
A: I finished this on a tour bus about a half mile from Tintern Abbey. Hokey, I know. Still, it came close enough to the rhapsodic to put on paper. Thinking about little histories made me think of my wife, who was about to make history by giving birth to our third daughter, thousands of miles away. Result: lines composed.

David Hopes
Seven Zen Preludes: Halloween Morning: Times Square
followed by Q&A


1
This is the corner where the tourists stand
to have their photo taken
before the greatest possible concentration
of bazillion kilowatt billboards.

I’m surprised to feel so tenderhearted toward them.

They will think when they look at the picture later,
“My friend took this. 
That was the day we had raw salmon.
That was the day we got the last seats at the matinee.”

That it is Times Square is irrelevant.
It might as well be 
Iguazu Falls
or a stand of trees
weighed down with autumn. 

Oh. I wish I were taking somebody’s picture,
kneeling, ignoring the crowd
to get a better angle. 

2
The pigeons note my pigeon-disgusting chai, move on.

The brown sparrows come after,
perching on the rim of my table.
They’re sure I’ve something hidden,
something kept from the complacent pigeons,
but that may yield to them. The brown of their feathers
is more complicated than one expects.
I rise. Go to the Starbucks. Buy a bagel.
Crumble it to pieces and present it to the sparrows,
bit by bit. You can tell by the casualness of receipt
this is what they expected all along. 

3
A tiny Japanese girl with her face made up
to be a kitten offers me a plastic pumpkin
to put something into.
Her parents watch, beaming.
They have got the custom slightly wrong.

I have nothing. I have a plastic bottle of antacids.
I put that in.
The girl-kitten dances for joy.
The smiling parents bow, and bow.

4
The woman with the cigarette catches me
cleaning my glasses with a dollar bill.
“I learned that from my father,” I say.

Then tears course down the lenses,
and I have to take the dollar out again.


The domes I cover myself with
are the color of the air, therefore invisible.
But I know they rise above those towers 
and seal the square, the city, the gray Hudson 
flowing down, against whatever danger
I was sent here to prevent. 

Who knew that they took in so much?

6
The policeman and his horse
pose for photographs.
The horse is beautiful and allows
on his nose the caress of children.

Some life in this city will be saved
by a caress on the muzzle of a beautiful horse,
and the cop and the horse chant
from their quarter of the well of light

O come, O come

7

I am sitting here weeping in gratitude
for the gift of poetry.
Passers-by think I have lost someone
and the news had just come.





David Brendan Hopes is a poet, playwright, painter, living in Asheville, NC. Look for two of his short plays in the anthology, Short Plays to Long Remember.
 
 
Q&A

Q: What was the inspiration for this poem?
A: The poem was written, as the title suggests, sitting at one of the outdoor tables now on Times Square. The episodes in the poem were immediate and actual, and not how one usually approaches a poem.