To Lucasta
By Corey Mesler

It was either during Coltrane’s ‘Giant Steps’ or something by Ultimate Spinach. Ross turned to Emma and said, I want to die underneath your silken penumbra. Emma called to Sam and Sam came with a socket wrench. I was losing interest in the group dynamics by then and I wandered out onto the veranda. They were playing a game there with small animals, something cruel and full of fury. I smiled at Matt because Matt was a vaticide. The evening air seemed amethystine and the stars just another wheeling show let loose upon an audience unwilling to accept anything but the worst, the lowest common demonstrator. I thought I should leave and went in search of our hostess, Harley Mae. Harley Mae told me she loved me but that might have been in a formication. Now she looked at me the way the gambler who acquired Christ’s garments looked at the losers. I wandered out into the lavender night (did I decide just then that it was lavender?) and thought I might get a bite to eat at Pop’s. Maybe Micki would be there, in her shirt made of fishing net, and her hair red like the river in Montgomery Clift’s dream-image portfolio. I might start something with Micki, I thought, though that was perhaps premature since Micki was, I now remembered, in Aruba with her dermatologist. I winked at the first cop I passed and started to crave one of Pop’s chef’s salads. Pop was the only one I knew who put actual human flesh in his chef’s salad. Yes, that would be a fine way to end what had been a semi-frustrating evening, a little salad and a little chat with Pop’s daughter, Lucasta, who is a hunchback but still, really remarkably sexy, like an otter is sexy to other otters. She and I once kissed, many moons ago, over a game of Monopoly. She had just landed her cubiculum on Free Parking. I owed everything, at that fecund time, to Hieratic Trust.

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COREY MESLER has published in numerous journals and anthologies. He is the author of five novels, 3 books of short stories, 2 full-length collections of poetry, as well as numerous chapbooks of poetry and prose. He and his wife own Burke’s Book Store in Memphis TN.


By Ken Poyner

I can sell all the air I can find. Typically, I will strap it into an old shoe box – but any container will do. Buyers will pick over the boxes and cans of air, each vessel with its lid taped shut or fitted into place with a fold and old boot laces. Customers lay out their money on the table and usually, right there, peel open the container, slug down all the air in one breath. Their bodies will rattle and shimmer, and their eyes will go milky, their hands crawl on the counter like drinking spiders and their teeth go blue. I’ve seen it fifty times. It is no big thing, unless you’ve never watched it before.

I’ll spend half the night looking for air, pulling my empty bottles and cans and jugs and boxes along in a renovated PF Flyer wagon, wheels held on with shielding wire and the wagon bed nearly rusted through. You might think rain my worst enemy, but a full moon and a slight rain is good. Air forms bubbles when it is intimate with a rain puddle. A mist, and I can fill everything I have that will hold air, slog back to my storeroom to sleep watchfully over a large enough stash to stay open all the next day.

I’ve put by a bit of cash and, while I will never take on an apprentice, I can take some lackluster nights off. I’ll put on my finest pressure suit, the one with the adjustable diaphragm and the calligraphy in someone’s unknown language, heading out like a metal bon vivant to the oxygen bar. I will enter, mouth thrown open in a gesture of breathing, my arms held out as though pumping for volume. I am the bird of the wind, of free breezes, and a down payment on atmospheres. For an hour or two I will hit on the good stuff, slowly letting out the perilous diaphragm constrictor, until the oxygen is flowing deep and free and I can feel the tingle of aerobic activity all the way to my gravity releasing toes. I pace myself, and my personal behavior as a customer is good enough that the owner will run a tab for me – me, a man in a similar if less pure business. The professional courtesy makes me red-flesh giddy.

But I know when to stop. I get home long before my slink becomes a skip and I put my best suit ritually back into its gorgeous closet, fall into sleep like a demimondaine the day after the sex league has again started printing its own money.

Next morning I am serviceable. I put out commercial air from my reserve stock, make change for laborers who want gallons but who can afford only single shot glasses full. They come in as though they were browsing only, alone and with the practiced patina of indifference; hands avoiding their motionless, flat chests; eyes ruining the ambient stillness with their lizard-like pining. I try to make them feel comfortable. I smile and fold myself within the cloak and role of the small, second class merchant. I count and weigh and measure. I go on doing my gasless duty.

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Ken Poyner spends a lot of time trying to keep his literary accomplishments on par with his wife’s power lifting accomplishments. He is losing ground. She is the USAPL National Dead Lift and Push/Pull champion in the 105 lbs glass. He is still trying to find an effective way to proofread. He started publishing in the small presses in the 70s, took some time off, and came back to haunt the web in 2009.


The Same River Once
By Rich Ives

I will tell you that Jonathan holds very very still and a mouse crawls into his pocket. Jonathan too has crawled into a pocket, a larger one, but this one he invented, and until he invents a more lively body to wear its baggy coat, he’s going nowhere.
Jonathan’s Grandfather Petrov thought it was a game and held very still, almost as still as Jonathan. Then he thought, “There is no such thing as death, but the fear of it, the fear of it is real.”
Jonathan didn’t move. Jonathan was winning.
So the old man went to the mousey river and said to it, “Which of you has done this?” He hadn’t noticed the daughter of a wasp, sitting on the bank, mourning the loss of her wings, and he hadn’t noticed how much of the impatient world was moving past him.
But Jonathan became like unto an idea of himself held together with smoke and steam. Jonathan grew more intense. Jonathan was offering habitation to a concept larger than himself.
Then Petrov wanted to enter the world the wasp lived in. Petrov wanted to enter the wasp. But Petrov was afraid of rejection. He had become beggared by a penchant for malleable inconsequentials.
And so the old man touched the opening lightly with his foot to see if it was real. Which mimicked the actions of the mouse in Jonathan’s pocket although neither of them knew it and Jonathan continued dreaming.
Several daughters began flying across the river. The daughters dropped their wings on the other side and went looking for the sons. They wanted to lay their eggs in them. They wanted to wait patiently.
Do you want to ask the river some questions?
Hold very very still.
Then hold still longer than you can hold still.

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Rich Ives is the 2009 winner of the Francis Locke Memorial Poetry Award from Bitter Oleander. An interview and18 hybrid works appear in the Spring 2011 issue of Bitter Oleander. In 2011 he has been nominated twice for Best of the Net.


The Laundromat
By Eric Suhem

Paulina entered the Laundromat, carrying 2 bags of clothing. She approached the detergent dispensing machine and deposited the necessary coinage. As expected, a little box of detergent appeared in the chute, and she clutched it distractedly, Paulina glanced at the detergent box, and it did not have the letters ‘Tide’ or ‘Biz’, etc. but rather the screaming face of her 8-year old son Billy. She closed her eyes, looked again, and it was gone.

At the elementary school, on a bright, clear, cool Wednesday morning, Billy was walking in perfect little circles (radius of five feet) around the flagpole, and he could not stop. It had drawn him in. At first he had been screaming, but now he just spun around and around with a cold, dull stare. It was a sort of Bermuda Triangle. Old Mike, the janitor, had discovered it early, and was using tools in an attempt to pry him out, but it was of no use.

Thirty years ago, eight-year old Paulina put dishes into the dishwasher faithfully. Every smudge and discoloration would be cleaned, but she looked at her grandfather, who declared with evil glee, “You are so unclean, dirty child!” while dancing in a circle around a makeshift campfire created in the middle of the living room. “You are unclean!” he repeated in a high-pitched indigenous wail, waving berry-stained, smudged towels in haphazard directions. The dishwasher cycle ended, but the dishes didn’t look quite clean, probably best to run the dishwasher again. Paulina would also need to put the towels in the washing machine, after her grandfather finished his tirade.

At the Laundromat, Paulina stared at the back of the detergent box, which had a list of usage instructions: 1. Insert clothes and empty detergent box in the third washer from the left, and set the wash cycle to ‘Soul Cleanse’. 2. Set the next cycle to ‘Spin’. 3. Sit in the fourth orange plastic chair from the right. After accomplishing the first 2 instructions, Paulina moved quickly to the fourth orange plastic chair from the right, but saw that it was occupied by a cantankerous, rutabaga-chewing old man who would not budge. She was eventually able to pry him out of the chair with a small crowbar that she kept in her purse. The old man wandered out the door and down the sidewalk, muttering laundry-related obscenities.

Paulina sat in the orange chair, the detergent box in her hand. As the third washer from the left’s cycles progressed into ‘Soul Cleanse’, and then ‘Spin’, it started slowing. Paulina looked at the detergent box, and saw her son’s face dissolving into that of an old man. She knew that she needed to add more quarters, but could find none, moving towards the doorway and reaching to the sky, hoping that a bird would drop a quarter out of the air. Minutes later, 8-year old Billy was found in the street, babbling about how in his day, they used good old soap to clean clothes, not these new-fangled detergents. And an unpleasant old fellow with a rutabaga-like face stood near the flagpole at the elementary school, wanting to play tetherball.

After rerunning the dishwasher, trying to pacify her bellowing grandfather, eight-year old Paulina opened its door, discovering that their contemporary plates, glasses, silverware and bowls had been converted into crude stone implements from the Pleistocene Era. As Paulina stared at a rock bowl, she wondered if the dishwasher was a time machine that could transfer her back to another epoch: a different time, a different place, as somebody else. She liked believing that the dishwasher had changed her identity, even if it was only in her imagination, as her grandfather screamed.  A subsequent test of the dishwasher proved that it could not do so, but Paulina believed that the results might have been different if she had waited for the ‘Rinse’ cycle.

After more fevered hunting through her purse, Paulina was able to find enough quarters to finish the ‘Spin’ cycle. As the cycle completed, she looked with relief as Billy walked in to the Laundromat, smiling and back to his normal self. The old man had also returned to his natural state, wandering through the street, complaining bitterly about unclean clothes. All was well for now….until laundry day returned again next week.

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Eric Suhem lives in California and enjoys the qualities of his vegetable juicer.

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