Original Poetry: “Calling the Boys Home”

Calling the Boys Home

i.
From where the Tawe churns
into Swansea Bay, beyond the gull-
dissonant marina, the city
whimpers and whispers as if a mere
village tempoed by the waves sounding
on shore. As tempting as it may be
to drift toward the mute hills
of Devonshire, my gaze follows
the transit bus plodding westward
along the ocean drive, over
and past the concrete waste pipes
that stop mid-beach. The ash sands,
spattered with kelp and cockles, stop
short of the reedy grasses maintaining
a sand-ridge stretching the entire coast.
Just beyond lie the weathered stones
of Hadrian’s estranged sister, a wall
permeated by the steps and walks of Brynmill
and further villages with their terrace housing
defying the foothills’ downward slant.

ii.
Off-shift at the Woolworth’s in city center,
Rachael Claire wandered down Kingsway,
past the cathedral toward the open bay.
Nearing the dinnering hour, an afternoon
misting had siphoned the sun’s heat
from the pavement providing a head-
clearing evening. It’s a twenty-minute
walk to The Tavern in Uplands; but why
waste taxi fare on a pleasant day?

Rachael Claire chose a drier segment
of the still-damp coast wall from which
to eat her dinner. She picked at her spread
and watched gulls probe for theirs
in a common, yet inexplicably surreal display.
Gathering her bag, she headed toward
Uplands along a regular path, while keeping
an eye open for the secret route
daydreams destined her to discover.

iii.
The gulls frolic, landing every so often
unearthing worms from the shallower silts.
Cascades of water froth beneath this
marionette ritual, slowly sucking the pebbles
further out while pushing and stranding
Portuguese Men-of-War. Without the water,
the potent jellyfish are mere neon cellophanes
littering the filthy sands. They, too, end up
in the trash buckets with the kelp leaves,
wrappers, and the occasional used condom.
The trash scavenger sheathes his garbage
stick and makes his way to the truck
sitting at the road’s shoulder. With a brief
sigh of exhaust, the truck pulls onto firmer
pavement and becomes unimportant.

iv.
The lights brightened in the pub
banishing the shadows to darker corners.
Rachael Claire, with the new-found energy
of one who knows the workday is over,
flitted among the young men, gathering
their pint glasses and reminding them
of their mothers and young wives
waiting at home, feigning slumber.
The boys meandered out and homeward
to the night, to their mothers, to their wives,
to young children and into the safety
of their down duvets. At the door,
Lee paused and whispered to her profile,
Just an hour, tomorrow, please.
With her nod, he too joined the dispersing
crews on the cool pavement.

With the tidying done, Rachael watched
the lights of The Tavern click off
and front doors lock. She slowly
went her way up Sketty Road to home.
At Hawthorne, she paused with a visible
exhale, and scanned the valley to the bay.
With a sign of the cross, she accepted
the peaceful undulating of the bay’s dark
waters and proceeded past her church
with its little cemetery into Sketty village.

Following her nightly ritual, Rachael quietly
secured the front door and momentarily
stopped at the top of the first stair
to assess Grand Kate’s breathing. There,
she started her bedtime prayer barely
audible above the hum of electricity
and plumbing. Rachael thought the Amen
snugly, while heavily blinking at the pattern
of streetlight cast upon her far bedroom wall.

v.
The rising red sun illuminates the falling
mist to outline the boats trolling for cockles.
The seabirds circle like flies at a milk
platter. The bay breathes calmly
as if no storms had ever upset her,
as if the men beneath her waves
were just waiting to resurface. She, too,
had launched a thousand ships. She, too,
had men who had died for her. Old,
beautiful Swansea Bay gathers
the rhododendron blossoms released
in homage and folds them into her
delicate, churning silts.

vi.
Lee knew the bay, cockles and boats.
His best mate, Robert, had inhaled
the bay as his last breath during
an autumnal anomaly. A year passed. Still,
Lee heard the messages with the rhythmic
pulsing of the waves. Robert’s sister needs
me. Little Rachael, who hid flowers
in our lunch sacks and dotted her i’s
with circles, has blossomed. I cannot
watch her wilt breathing salty waters.

For his lunch hour, Lee went to find her.

Not all breezes carry voices. I will
tell her: Steps will hold; stones
will crumble, with or without you.

vii.
Beyond the city where the bayside road
trudges toward the village of Mumbles
and the newer concrete wall guards
the pavement from the churning waters,
land rolls in the rusts and greens of shrubs
and grasses unblemished by weathered
buildings. Here, cloud shadows overtake
and release the hills and gullies, cooling
the little snaking streams. Bluffs,
revealing ancient layers of stone, support
the trees bracing against the coastal
winds. Leaves blanket the grasses. Some,
coaxed by the streams, drift down the land
under roads and walls, and out the pipes
into the murky bay to be incorporated
into the kelp clouds. Those not stranded
where the silt worms tunnel, are fated
to quietly pound into the protective
wall at the tide’s every whim.

viii.
Grand Kate stepped into the back garden
to hang towels in what she hoped
was a dry couple of hours. She glanced
thankful at the nearly cloudless sky.
As sure as the rains will come,
Rachael should be headed to my pub.

          ***

“Katie, it’s good to see you, it is. We’ve
missed you while you were away. How’s
the new husband? He’s a lucky man,
he is.” “Good, good. And of course,
I missed the whole lot of you. But now,
finish up those pints and be gone
with you. It’s past half ten and I’ve
a husband to join.” “He’s a lucky man
indeed. But don’t leave us again, Katie,
or we’ll have to go looking for him.”
“Oh, I’ll be around for some months more,
but then—well, I won’t be able
to clean up after you then. Now,
hurry up, your mothers’ll be worried
for you.” “A baby? Katie, Congratulations.
You don’t look it yet.” “Cheers.
But now hurry up, I don’t live at the pub,
I just work here.” In a quiet nook,
a contemplative Dylan Thomas pauses
above a scrawled-upon bar napkin.
“A love poem to me, I hope.” Pocketing
the napkin, “Of course, Katherine. Sending
me home to my wife, are you? It is
that time. I’m done with my glass.”
“I don’t mean to rush you, Dylan.”
“Here’s to your new life unfolding.”

Katie watches the pub wind down
and lock-up for the night. Turning,
she feels the fresh night breeze deep within
her lungs. She looks over a sleeping valley,
a restless bay.

ix.
The village of Mumbles discreetly settles
into the night. Mists envelop the cluster
of pubs and boats that barely defines
the craggy hills. A metal footbridge leads
to the first of two small, rocky islands
disturbing the bay’s swellings. A lighthouse
rests atop the second. The light slicing
through the mists is transfixing. Elsewhere,
it whispers its warning. It calls to the boys.
Come home to mothers and young wives.
Come home to slumbering children.
Come home.
It quiets the channel.
 
 
[Check out other original poems here.]

Short Story Review: “Icon” by Nnedi Okorafor

3 of 5 stars.

Journalists and photojournalists tell living stories, with one subset going so far as to embed in war zones and other areas of terror and strife. Sometimes, these journalists become the story . . .

After Nigerian rebels fight off American oil interests with acts of terror and sabotage, an American journalist and his camera person decide to embed to tell the rebels’ story. The leader of the rebels, Icon, is less welcoming and stands more interested in telling a story through the reporter rather than with the reporter. Under threat of being killed, the reporter is told to shoot a young boy in the head. . .

Reporters can only report what they understand. When one cannot understand or trust what one is witnessing because it seems to defy the laws of nature and physics, the entire story is broken . . .

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Original Poetry: Thanksgiving Gathering

This table –
      elongated and stretching
to the borders of the room,
      set with heavy silverware
and water goblets and plates
      centered with linen napkins in steel rings,

and circumnavigated
      by my older brother
who’s lost the thread
      of conversation in pursuit
of his son who has left
      two Dr. Seuss books on the butcher’s block

and popped
      each fat black olive
into his mouth as his father did
      30 years ago;
my brother who still
      favors Stovetop Stuffing,

Scrabble after the meal,
      and his left foot ever since last year’s
second round of chemotherapy
      (that Thanksgiving spent
in marrow transplant isolation,
      nauseated

and nervously eyeing dry erase numbers
      that vaunted his T-cell count),
and his wife who’s returned to baking:
      two pecan pies, a blueberry pie
and cheesecake, and who’s inherited
      the gravy station at the stove

from our grandmother –
      whose chair is not filled this year,
whose silent passing muted
      everyone’s focus on cancer,
whose marshmallowed yams
      are not here –

this oaken table gathers
      the candied cranberries and crabapple pickles,
the casseroles edging the vegetables,
      the family that gathers
to pieced and quilted conversations
      and to clasped hands.
 
 
[This poem was published by The Eunoia Review in April 2015.]
 
 
 
[Check out other original poems here.]

Short Story Review: “The Carpet” by Nnedi Okorafor

2 of 5 stars.

Many folktales include an object with mysterious or mystical properties, be it a mirror or piece of jewelry or abandoned lamp in the Arabian desert. Said object may contain echoes of its own past or act as a portal for a character-building adventure. This tale hints at and then fails to deliver on a modern version of this style of folktale. Using a colloquial voice, the teen-aged narrator and her sister, older by a year, experience something outside of “normal” after purchasing a carpet at market. Despite the obvious elements of fantastical, the tone is fictional realism.

The sisters head from America to Nigeria without their parents for the first time. Despite having been to the country many times before, cultural differences rub up against them as they need to navigate the vacation without adult help. They purchase a carpet in the big city before heading 8 hours into remote parts of the country to stay at their family home in their father’s village. Upon arrival, they are disturbed to find out that their kindly neighbors and cousins had stripped the house of all their possessions while they were away. Also, spiders, geckos and other unknown creatures had taken up residence inside the house.

Locked in a nearly bare room with only a single borrowed bed, the girls hear disturbing noises in the house throughout the night . . .

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Novella Review: Johnny Rev by Rachel Pollack

4 of 5 stars.

The mash-up of supernatural urban fantasy and detective noir works time and time again. For Chicago this means Harry Dresden. London has Bob Howard of Stross’ Equoid. Here, Pollack gives NYC a reality-bending, multiverse-traveling detective named Johnny Shade. His wife is dead [by a poltergeist] and his daughter trapped in the reality beyond. Johnny stays a half step ahead of doom and demise by a canny network of associates and lovers.

He’s oath-bound to accept any client with his card, which cannot be a good thing. Especially when his own self-created and later destroyed–or so he thought–doppelganger comes to hire Johnny Shade to “beat” the duplicate’s maker, ie Johnny himself. As the duplicate Johnny known as Johnny Rev tries to take substance from the realm of dreams, Shade turns to the help of his ex-lover the Dream Hunter who happens to be the illegitimate daughter of a formerly worshipped sun god and the Queen of Eyes [oracle of oracles] . . .

The layers of the history and worlds upon worlds tantalizes as around every corner lies another Johnny Shade anecdote or past lesson learned or lucked through. This tale is highly recommended.

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.]

Short Story Review: “Long Juju Man” by Nnedi Okorafor

2 of 5 stars.

Supernatural ghosts and tricksters exist for many cultures. The tricksters often match wits with their victims, doling out humorous to vindictive comeuppance.

In this folktale-style vignette, a narrator relates her childhood run in with the trickster ghost of the village’s former sorcerer. As a 9 y.o. girl on a mission to deliver a basket of eggs to her aunt, the narrator holds her ground in a stand off with the ghost of the Long Juju Man. The stakes are the basket of eggs . . .

This tale appears in Okorafor’s anthology, Kabu Kabu by Prime Books.
 
 
 
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Original Poetry: Saugatuck, Michigan

In stuttered movements,
      my stiff feet stretch
and flex in the West Shore sands
      as I make my way
from the dunes, sheathed
      in marm grass and cottonwoods,
to the tide line’s shell crust.
      Each step
to the bulkhead pretends
      to be limber –
sprier.

I pause here,
      propped on two blocks
of the breakwater wall.
      This vantage confirms
the unending mosaic
      of gull prints layering the empty
beach. Graffiti is daubed
      across one stone asserting,
The nice thing
      about telling the truth—
        you don’t have to remember
      what you said.

Hundreds of lines, mumbled
      as I sleep, have washed away.

I abandon
      my stony perch.
Ahead lies a gull
      brown-flecked in youth
and still
      in death. Supine,
with flawless plumage.
      Not a feather ruffled.
Her neck craned
      almost comfortably.
 
 
 
[This poem was published by The Eunoia Review in April 2015.]
 
 
[Check out other original poems here.]