Response to: Step on a Crack
Every kid knew the legends, how Jimmy’s Mama said she slid on ice, her legs scooped skyward, defying gravity, until thud & shriek, her bones slipping out of place, her back broken. Hard to say anything about the shiner. Put the blame on Jimmy, they taunted, step on a crack, break your Mama’s back. Father finger pointed to Jimmy, but clipboards kept coming, forms needed filling, boxes required checking. Father rode in a red-wailing car. The world felt surreal & nothing seemed the same. Worse, the rest of summer turned lame. Kids stopped playing on their side of the block. Grandma came over a lot more, while Mama moved slow-slow in her chair, that she painted tortoise-green, moving-green, new-room green. Out in the woods, cousin Judy made him cry, claiming his Father would never come back before she twirled & sang in falsetto
Jimmy steps on a crack, breaks his Mama’s back.
His Daddy hit her because he’s a little shitter.
This made his cheeks hot & he wanted to pop her in the mouth to shut that trap. It was Grandma who set him straight later that night after the bedtime ritual of reading. She was in the middle of a fairy tale, something about a forest and being lost. His mind drifted, waiting to ask about the earlier event. Oh, Jimmy, those are just folks telling tales. Not long ago, we thought the number of cracks meant the number of china dishes we would break before the sun set. He didn’t really know this “superstition”; sounded like someone patching up a large hole or hemming up new pants with Mama’s super stitchin’. Restless, he dreamed about snow & sharp shards. At his new school, his teacher with the name that sounded close to old-bird warned if kids stepped on the cracks in the street, they would get eaten by bears waiting around corners for a small snack to walk by & the thought of Judy being devoured by three bears made him feel just right inside.
Response to: Don’t Swallow your Gum or It will Grow into a Tree
For once, Mama was right & the tummy tree took root, running through my sister’s body, a nightmarish version of Tai Chi as her internal energy developed during Zhan Zhuang into bark & trunk, twisting knots & squishing through softness, a slow, strangling snake ready to swallow the waste she’d become, twigs sprout from knuckles & break through her jail-ribs but ignore the leaking heart-sack as branches fatten & stretch skyward while leaves unfurl cocoons of foil-wrapped candy bars ready for the entire neighborhood’s savage consumption until they each bloom gum ball bone & dangle cotton-candy moss forever surrounding her chewed-up altar.
Response to: I Don’t Believe You
With two words, it happened jackrabbit fast, an idea darting under the shrub & away from the speeding light, swirling into the heavy distance, a spell cast, a cause deserted. I don’t believe you. I don’t believe you. She stared incredulous, wide-eyed, with one hand on her hip & her left hand opened, ready to stop something larger than this moment, the heart’s barrier, a dream catcher of flesh & bone & nail. I. Don’t. Believe. You. He listened the way a child presses an ear to a keyhole, carrying a sense of magic & the impossible into a room caught in darkness where some sound could mean mermaid, could mean dragon. He heard her. He heard the loose strand of hem, the eye lid’s extra blink, the let loose arrow a mile away. He heard in you. In you.
Response to: You’re Going to Dig a Hole to China
If you’re reading this, you know the whole incident is classified, can’t talk about it. Sealed lips, signed forms. The works. In fact, this is “fiction.” For the dog & my kid, well, let’s just say it’s a dream, the ones where you know you’re in a dream but you go with it anyway because waking up is more trouble & really you’re just still tired, more sick & tired. I should mention, sometimes the neighbors came over on Sunday afternoon when it was our day to fire up the BBQ, bring out the dogs & turn small talk into an art. The kids would all scramble about, an organized fire crew sliding up & down the embankment, enjoying the moment, making mountains out of molehills, literally. Listen, I know the newspapers need their story, had their fun at our expense, but honestly there was nothing better than standing on flagstone, flipping burgers, breaking out a twelve pack, & watching all the kids & a few fathers scurry meerkat-like, filled with determination & joy for the moment. Make no mistake, “nothing” happened. How did it end up, you ask? The way all memories do, muddled with those little pleasurable points in time, the ones where we remember reaching over to our significant other, one hand on a shoulder or caressing hair, faces full of smiles for our life together, when sex meant sharing not warfare, before the lawyers & their blue pens, before weekend events became caught in the shadows of work-long weekdays, before we dug ourselves out of that muddy cul-de-sac hole.
M. E. Silverman is founder of Blue Lyra Review and Review Editor of Museum of Americana. He is on the board of 32 Poems and is a reader for Spark Wheel Press. His chapbook, The Breath before Birds Fly (ELJ Press, 2013), is available. His poems have appeared in over 75 journals, including: Crab Orchard Review, 32 Poems, December, Chicago Quarterly Review, North Chicago Review, Hawai'i Pacific Review, Tupelo Quarterly, The Los Angeles Review, Tulane Review, Weave Magazine, and other magazines. He recently completed editing Bloomsbury’s Anthology of Contemporary Jewish American Poetry with Deborah Ager and is working on anthology about the body. http://www.mesilverman.com
Q: The function of memory, personal and cultural, pervades these poems. What is your earliest memory?
A: My earliest memory is standing in front of a screen door watching the rain water rise and my mother scared and screaming about a flood. Perhaps that is why I often write about water and have a series of poems about a modern-day Noah?
Q: Paper or screen? Pen or pencil or stylus?
A: I have no idea exactly what this is referring to: reading or writing? I like to read on my tablet and keep all my books in one place so that I can read poetry or mystery or sci-fi or whatever I am in the mood for with one click. But I cannot write on such a small space. I need a bigger computer size screen. Sometimes I use pen and paper to write when waiting in the car for my daughter or when I don’t have access to the computer.
Q: The prose poem inhabits much the territory as the flash fiction. What are the field marks that can help us distinguish one from the other?
A: This is the exact question I have been wrestling with! Are my prose poems poems or stories? To be honest, I cannot distinguish the difference between flash and prose poems. But if one had to force me, I would say that flash fiction has more of the elements of fiction then a prose poem which relies more heavily on imagery and the elements of poetry.
Q: Words have power, words can do magic. This was true for most of human history – tell us how you came to address it as a contemporary phenomenon in these poems.
A: I think this is true. I am writing a series of poems about the last Jew in Afghanistan who stayed even after his family did not. This idea of extinction and longing and loneliness haunts my work. I think becoming aware of these things or other emotions could prevent us from experiencing them or if we have experienced them already, then writing can help one better understand what one went through.