Original Poetry: A Gathering of Four

This man (curled into
      himself) sits outside
the turnstiles of Washington Street Station
      right at the maw of the vast
subterranean Pedway
      moaning with errant winds.
His cardboard sign faces his lap.
      Dirt and thirst are kneaded
into the fibers of fleece.

***

Picasso’s old, blue
      guitarist is blocks away,
propped up
      by a cheap guitar.
His face – cadaverous,
      fallen forward;
sunken eyes –
      drawn shut as dry husks.
No warmth radiates
      from cyan skin draped
over gentle bones.
      No music escapes
this blind guitar.

***

As if trying to bow
her long-forgotten
cello, my grandmother
          full of grace
breaks the prayer circle,
starts to wail
in dissonance with
           blessed
winds at the window pane
           among women
Rosary beads dangle
           blessed
as two aunts
regather her hands
           of thy womb
These tendoned talons
           Mother, pray for us
pull and flex
with the banshee cries
           at the hour of our death.
She writhes;
her eyes dart. Her tongue
flicks
from her cavernous mouth.

***

Grandfather’s hands flutter;
      one gently, one not.
He speaks softly, too
      softly and too rapidly.
He rocks to propulse
      from the chair, to beat
those who would push him
      back into its cradle.
They’ll ask, what
      do you want? One
more time. Just say
      that again. Just one
more time.

 
 
 
[This poem was published by The Eunoia Review in mid-April 2015.]
 
 
[Check out other original poems here.]

Short Story Review: “Qinggong Ji” by Stephen D. Rogers

2 of 5 stars.

The American tall tale centers on a character that’s larger than life in action, such as Pecos Bill lassoing a tornado. A certain amount of absurdity is allowable, but the tales aim to be consistently true to themselves.

This tale hybrids a tall tale with kung fu movie heroics. However, the inconsistencies start from the opening line which ends with “. . . Ji was born an orphan.” Perhaps this impossibility means to state she was orphaned shortly after birth. The tale moves on quickly, with Ji already a young woman flitting from village to village by the end of the next paragraph. This makes it curious that her birth was mentioned at all.

She soon enters a new village in the Valley of Seven Echoes where she is rudely greeted by a guard. She is polite in response, but to the question What do you want?”, she replies “To repay your hospitality.” Since she has in no way been shown hospitality yet, one could wonder whether she speaks ironically and plans to exact revenge. Apparently not–her original treatment is brushed off.

Soon she wins over the villagers with her song of her life. She plays this on her possibly magical musical instrument of extraordinary ability.

Ji played a song that told the story of her life. Her audience wept at the hardships, cheered at her successes, and marveled at her bravery, for her story began with the love of her parents and ended with her love of all living things.

The love of her parents? Just a page earlier, the story states she was born an orphan . . .

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “The Lost Children” by Alison McBain

3 of 5 stars.

Many traditional characters from mythos and folklore, such as The Wicked Witch of the West and Maleficent, have received revisionist treatment turning their untold tale into a humanized one. Here, the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur gets a fresh telling with an altered situation.

King Minos refuses to sacrifice his favorite bull to Poseidon. His wife loves the bull even more and births twin minotaurs after “loving” the bull. The king is, as expected, angry, embarrassed, ashamed. When the female and male twins hit their teens, the king seals them in a labyrinth and forces his wife to feed them lest they starve.

Years later, the oracle sends Athenians to the Minotaurs to sacrifice a boy and girl in order to stave off a plague. Little does everyone know that the minotaurs are rather non-violent. But since the children do not emerge from the labyrinth, everyone is satisfied.

Except the plague rages. And another couple kids are sent in. Then a third set. By the time of the third pair of “sacrifices”, the queen has been stricken with plague so Theseus enters the labyrinth . . .

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: What Has Passed Shall in Kinder Light Appear by Bao Shu

3 of 5 stars.

Certain phrases hold deep meaning around the globe without having to explain the time and place they denote: Ground Zero, Tiananmen Square, the 38th Parallel. Recent historic world events are both humanized and contextualized when given fresh perspectives in this novella translated by Ken Liu.

The first twist–for English audiences, at the very least–is a Chinese national as narrator providing a non-Western POV for everything from WWII to the Gulf Wars, The Cold War to the Chinese Cultural Revolution, with distant reports of 9/11 and firsthand accounts of the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre.

The second twist is a cause and effect game-changer. World events unfurl in reverse order. Narrator Xie Baosheng is born the day of the Mayan 2012 Day of Apocalyse, not that anything of note happened that day. His first memories are of his country’s pride in hosting the Beijing Olympics [2008], but then the world seems consumed with USA rough handling of Afghanistan and Iraq culminating in the 9/11 stunning blow to NYC that shuts America down [2001]. Slowly, computers and cell phones disappear. Technology reverts and the world appears dumber for it. The free markets of China clamp down into isolationism as the narrator attends the Tiananmen protests while in college [1989].

Seventy years of Baosheng’s life and love, and the militaristic and cultural wars raging around him, help make history accessible if not totally recognizable as Nixon visits China, wars erupt in Vietnam and Korea. And late in his life, aggressive Japan rapes China while a distant threat named Hitler emerges in Germany to ravage Europe . . .

This tale appears in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Science Fiction Novellas: 2016 edited by Paula Guran, which I received directly from Prime Books.

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Original Poetry: Portobello Market

The silent corner reveals the makeshift booths and carts huddling
             close along the distance of cobbled road.
Old wrinkled clothes practical for a theatrical costume shop and crates
             of shoes which survived their use and mates.
Wire jewelry bent around buffed stones; scarves, some silken,
             some hand-decorated.
Antique wooden stamps; clocks; dishes, chipped and gold-leafed;
             paintings and prints.
Sweaters thick with Welsh wool.
Boxes of clementines, apples, pears, onions, carrots, potatoes, fresh
             breads and biscuits; piles of cockles and fish wafting a fresh odor;
             spicy curried aromas atop the doner and tikka kebabs; greasy chips;
             fresh Ethiopian and Peruvian coffees.
Socialist fliers; anti-Nazi fliers; newspapers; magazines; cabaret
             advertisements.
Tobacco—fresh, flavored, rolled/piped; American/Dutch.
 
 
 
 
 
[Check out other original poems here.]

Short Story Review: “Toward the Back” by Jake Teeny

3 of 5 stars.

It’s said that everyone is the hero of their own story. However, in this humorous short tale, that might not be the case for the cowardly “Cheech and Chong” orc duo trying to find any excuse not to enter battle.

Glob and Teacup like to hang out at the back of the battling hordes where action can be avoided. Their commander, Riser Har’n’Zerk, always pushes them toward the front. He’s ordered them to ready themselves by donning human blood as face paint. Without human blood, the slacker duo daub on some mud when they next see Zerk approaching.

“What’s that on your face?”

“This?” said Teacup. “Just your typical, standard issued, human blood, sir.”

“Yes,” said Glob. “The blood of our forsworn and eternal enemy. Let the True Shadow stretch on forever!”

“Human blood? Why’s it so thick? And brown?”

“Well, you see,” began Teacup, giving Glob a sidelong glance, “with the angle of the sun in conjunction with the dilution of our perspiration–”

“Enough!” growled their commander. “Just make sure you add a fresh coat when you reach the frontlines.”

“Of course, sir,” said Glob.

“Indubitably,” said Teacup.

Satisfied, Riser Har’n’Zerk tramped through the other orcs and back to his center position.

. . . “You did great. Conjunction. Dilution. I knew you’d come up with some big words to confuse him.”

Teacup looked down, abashed. “It’s not all about who can swing their sword the fastest.”

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Short Story Review: “Great Light’s Daughters” by Patricia S. Bowne

2 of 5 stars.

Creation myths are often strange tales, if not very strange tales. However, they’re also often a reflection of the culture from which they arise, showing the priorities if not social construction.

This tale is a creation tale for an unexplained culture. A Father Sky style god leaves for an undefined spell while his 7 daughters who are to be spinning clouds into light slack off and cause a bit of mayhem before discovering color and including that into their light. One invents rainbows along the way.

For world building, the strong gender roles in the society are clearly hinted, as is the perception of duty. The lack of consequences for slacking off is a surprise. So, too, is the lack of names for the 7 daughters. One would expect the names to be aspects of light or different minor types of light. The lack of names leaves the daughters nearly indistinguishable as they are called “oldest”, “second oldest”, “second youngest”, and “youngest.” The middle 3 don’t matter apparently.

While creation myths tend to have bizarre elements, and idioms tend to have bizarre turns of phrase [such as “fine as frog’s hair”], this creation myth also contains a quirky, nonsensical idiom in its repeated use of the phrase “fine as hen’s hair.” Repeating an image and action in myths is common, but not the use of idioms. Myths try to explain the unexplained by tying to what is solidly understood–such as what women’s work is. They don’t tie it down to something just as abstract when there are plenty of “fine” materials for comparison.

This tale appears in Abbreviated Epics, a Third Flatiron Anthology, edited by Juliana Rew.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]