Prime Number Magazine
is a publication of
PO Box 30314,
Winston-Salem NC 27130
Issue 73, July-September 2015
Prime Number Magazine is a publication of Press 53, PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130
Prime Decimals 73.3
Lions and Flames
The Sycamore Tree
The Real Hell
The Real Hell
by Claire Scott
followed by Q&A
The Real Hell
is you get through it
distracted by a leaking roof,
missing keys, moles
roaming your yard
the real hell is being
lifted by Beethoven’s
sixth, Monet’s sunrises,
lilies flashing crimson
the following spring
all lie next to the place
searing your heart
a burn you want to feel
to hold the grief close
to savor its scent
to swallow its
but they blur and
fade until one day
you wake as cool
for just a
Claire Scott is an award-winning poet who has been nominated twice for the Pushcart Prize (2013 and 2014). She was also a semi-finalist for both the 2014 Pangaea Prize and the 2014 Atlantis Award. Claire is the Grand Prize winner of the White Pine Writing Contest for poetry. Her first book of poetry, Waiting to be Called, was recently published by IF SF Publishing.
Q: What can you tell us about this poem?
A: I have been struck at the way grief changes over time. There is a sense of loss as memories fade and life resumes its petty pace. The second loss is almost as painful as the initial loss. It feels like a betrayal.
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A day before solstice, longest night, nadir. The
earth turns. I am stuck, stopped, stone. We live
in a world of our mind’s making, spurred, taunted,
blinded, enlightened by it. To change the world,
change the mind. The mind is as hard to move as
a stone, a tree, a river. Small failures of a day weigh
like years. For all the joy, pleasure in my life, it’s
shaded, muted at the moment. We add a mirror to
the house, hang it on one of the doors; there’s a
new plane, new dimension, dark gleam in which
our light, our shadow shine darkly. Outside, a
foot of snow, the season’s first. The snow-covered
roof of the house across the street is almost
indistinguishable from the sky; perhaps its white
is darker than snow, less radiant. This morning
the mirror reveals two figures, resentment and
guilt – sisters, lovers, incestuous twins – embracing
entwining parting kissing pulling apart or trying not
to be pulled apart from each other, like Paolo and
Francesca. Outside, a white gull’s wings in high
branches of a gingko break snow’s aftermath of
stillness, wind chimes sway wildly, wind and flight
mirror each other. A taxi stops, someone gets out, a
man or woman in an orange jacket trudging up
Tonawanda Street. If it weren’t for the dogs, I could
stay here: the insistent dogs of morning, evening,
dogs stubborn as the stone core of my heart.
Sandra Kohler’s third collection of poems, Improbable Music, appeared in May 2011 from Word Press. Her second collection, The Ceremonies of Longing, winner of the 2002 AWP Award Series in Poetry, was published by the University of Pittsburgh Press in November 2003. An earlier volume, The Country of Women, was published in 1995 by Calyx Books. Her poems have appeared over the past thirty-five years in journals including Prairie Schooner, The New Republic, Beloit Poetry Journal, APR, Slant, Tar River Poetry, and The Colorado Review.
“Mirror” is one of a group of poems Kohler recently wrote using a variant on Dante’s terza rima, poems that were influenced by a reading of Dante’s Commedia.
Lions and Flames
by Anne Wright
followed by Q&A
The men were drunk that night, the three of them. One after another, they splashed the hundred-dollar cognac from their glasses into the fire to see what would happen, and the flames exploded in cool blue vapor. The three women were not as drunk, and they exclaimed each time the liquid inflamed the fire, and they worried the fire would spread to the stacked firewood. They were all gathered around the outdoor fireplace and really, the rocks of the chimney seemed to catch fire as the liquor sprayed out of the glasses. While the women waited for a disaster, the flames died down and it was dark again.
The moon was not that bright, but it illuminated the hills beyond the landscaped patio. Earlier the men had set up the telescope and pointed it at the three-quarter moon rising in the violet sky. That was after they used it to focus on the next house over, which they estimated was about a mile away. They could almost look inside at the people behind the illuminated windows, see what they were up to, and that excited them, to wonder about the secrets happening in the house beyond the fields of tall yellow grass and wicked bent oak trees.
At first, the men were looking for mountain lions and bobcats. They wanted to see wild game. They didn’t find the big cats but saw, through the large round glass, antlers of a buck moving above the tall grass and closer, the velvet brown bodies of his three doe gracefully feeding in the dusky moonlight. Bored with looking through the scope, and because nothing was happening, they decided to go inside and check the score of the ball game. They had seen the moon, up close, the craters like yellow white dimes and quarters, the valleys like purple veins and blotchy skin but they did not see a mountain lion.
Inside, in the kitchen, they found the women standing around a large tray of meat on the island, two long muscles, each more than twenty inches long and as thick as a young man’s calf, at one end, tapered to a thin, finger size. It was meat from a cow, dark red, kosher-salted and rubbed, prepared for the barbecue dinner. The women wondered if the salt was too much. Didn’t it dry out the meat? Won’t the meat be too salty? The men stood apart from the tray of muscles, regarding the darkened and dried crust on the raw meat.
In the living room, the men found the room and its smells of appetizers too confining, and the cold blue glare of the television screen too modern for their wilderness mood. So after a moment of pondering the football game’s score, and then back to the kitchen, to take beer from the double-door Thermador, they walked outside again, single file, holding long-necked bottles until they could breathe in the wide mountain air and smell the darkening ridge, rough with leafless trees. They gathered around the telescope, three old men in shorts, their bellies round and their legs skinny, large caricatures of small boys.
They were restless and looked in turn through the muzzle of the telescope. The youngest of them spotted movement away from the group of grazing does, a subtle parting of the long yellow grasses almost too fluid to discern, and he whispered to the others to look into the scope, that he’d seen a lion, or maybe a bobcat. But before they could respond, the antlered buck and the does fled, jumping and leaping through the grass, and the cat sprang up at the neck of the smallest one. The others ran off without it. The men looked from the scope to the hillside and watched until the grass quieted, thinking of blood, and meat, and women.
The six of them sat around the long dining table, drinking red wine from flat-bottomed glass decanters and spearing bites of the tenderloin, bloody and barbecued, and talking about the game, the lion and the deer. The men were unsettled, shifting in their seats. Moving to the windows, looking out, they wanted to walk outside after dinner; the house confined them and made them sleepy.
Now they sat outside in the cobalt darkness in cushioned redwood chairs pouring shots of small batch Kentucky bourbon and smoking Cubans, the ashy ends glowing red. They sat in long silences peppered with talk about mountain lions, bobcats, deer and the wild boars that had ruined the landscaping, and death in nature, until refueled. They decided to look again at the neighboring house. The telescope focused on the distant illuminated windows and homed in on the people inside, a woman and a man. They watched, taking turns at the scope as the couple disrobed.
The moon had descended behind a fog bank on the horizon; the lights in the neighboring house blinked off. The men, silent and bent, stood tall to walk inside to find the women.
Anne B Wright has always had print and words in her blood since she grew up working for her family's weekly newspaper. She's presently a writer and artist living on the cliffs of the Pacific Ocean and has had short stories published in various journals, including Curly Red Stories, Negative Capability Press, and KYSO Flash. She's a devotee of Italian and visiting Italy, and of her two cats.
Q: What surprised you most during the process of composing and revising this piece?
A: The wild-ness of the mountains and tall grass, and the natures of the lion and deer took on lives of their own, as the men, who were domesticated animals, responded in a way I had not anticipated when I began writing this story. It started with one vision, of the men becoming wild.
Q: What’s the best writing advice you’ve received? Did you follow it? Why, or why not?
A: It’s important to set a pattern, a habit of writing daily, and early, at least for a couple of hours and preferably more. That’s the only way I can get into the heads of my characters, when it becomes the big part of my consciousness. I like to think about my stories as I go to sleep, then my mind spends the night arranging and creating so I’m ready for the next day’s writing. This is my process based on a variety of advice, especially from author/teacher Janis Cooke Newman, who influenced my writing a great deal. For me, it’s what works.
Q: What three to five authors and/or books have inspired your journey as a writer?
A: To name just a few is difficult because I have always been a voracious reader:
Stephen King, On Writing;
Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird;
Mary Karr, Liar’s Club;
Alice Munro, all her books, but if I had to pick one – Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage: Stories;
Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteredge;
and Susan Steinberg, Hydroplane.
Q: Describe your writing space for us. Are you someone who finds the muse in a public space such as a café, or in a cave of one’s own?
A: I like to write in my upstairs office with views of the wind-beaten cypress trees and fog, at a cluttered desk filled with books and papers and my pencil collection. Not that I write longhand – I have a computer but edit in pencil. Sometimes I like to put music on to set a mood that suits my story’s setting and characters. Writing in a public place does not appeal to me; I feel vulnerable because I get so lost in what I’m doing.
by Meg Reynolds
followed by Q&A
Each spring I knew what to look for
nights stretched sideways curved around hours
into dawn’s bright mouth. What I did
at night made me hate the sun, when I was
the only one awake the floodplain oiled with eels.
Others measured banks in the morning,
what impressions they left before they sank
to sleep in the river or traveled to the sea.
It was me, alone, watching animals close over terrain
like an curtain, a song that ended at first light.
I went out, sleepless, passed the closed eyes
of unlit windows, a silver pail swing to catch the moon in.
The windows were my own with whatever else
at rest behind them. The grasses yielded.
In just enough water to move, the eels knotted together
to overcome land. At my feet, they threw the earth
underneath, a single strain away from my grasp.
The sky pressed into their skin, the fins, the scales
near-hidden. No constellation was ever as well written
as on the back of that fish. The bucket heavied.
I wondered how long it would take before they tangled,
until each could not come away from each, until
my hand could be caught at the end of my reach
amongst them, where we were both the meat
on the edge of opening. Even now when they don’t run here
anymore, when the dark is empty of curves and pails
are overturned, I am caught, awake at dawn
with what’s missing: a black untangled, a lightness
unwanted, a search that appears everywhere. Even in shadows,
my rough hands seek them out, my palms heavy with scales.
Meg Reynolds is a teacher and poet living in Winooski, VT. She holds her BA in English and Arts and Visual Culture from Bates College and her MFA in poetry from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine. Her work has been published in Est, The Salon, Prelude, and is forthcoming from Prime Number Magazine and Wild Age Press. She teaches at Centerpoint School in Winooski, VT and is the co-director of writinginsideVT, an organization that offers supportive writing instruction at the Chittenden Regional Correctional Facility in Burlington, VT.
Q: What can you tell us about this poem?
A: This piece was inspired by multiple conversations with older generations about diminishing ecosystems and the human practices that go with them. In this poem, I was thinking of harvesting eels, the sensory qualities of it, and the sensory experiences that become endangered or go extinct as our world changes.