As I’ve told my wife too many times, the meaning of any poem
hides in the marriage of cadence and sound. Vowels on a
carousel, consonants on a calliope, whistles and bells; we need
them all if a poem is to tickle our ears. Otherwise, the
lines are gristle and fat, no meat.
Is it any wonder, then, my wife has had a problem, for decades
now, with any poem I’ve given her to read for a second opinion.
This is especially true when we both know the poem has no
message and I simply want to hear the music, assuming there is
some. Miles Davis made a living doing the same thing in jazz
clubs. Why can’t I have a little fun and give it a try even if my
instrument is words?
The other night in bed I gave my wife my latest poem to read. I
said it was fetal, not final. Afterward she said that reading this
poem was no different than reading all the others I had given her
over the years. She had thought I’d improve by now. Maybe I
should switch to fiction or the essay, she suggested, or else
stick with editing the manuscripts of others since I had made a
decent living as an editor for many years.
“You’ve been writing poetry for decades,” she said, “but reading
a poem like this is like looking through a kaleidoscope while
listening to a harpsichord.”
Point well taken, I thought, point well said. The nuns for whom I
toiled all those years in grammar school would have liked my
wife. They might have even recruited her to join their order.
Then I asked her what a man should do if he has careened for
years through the caves of his mind spelunking for the right line
for a poem only to hear his wife say that reading his poem was
like “looking through kaleidoscope while listening to a
Should I quit writing? Start drinking? After all I quit drinking
when I started writing and I discovered that the hangovers from
both were equally debilitating.
The following morning she said, “You should never quit
At that moment, she was enthroned at the kitchen table, as regal
as ever in her fluttery gown and buttering her English
muffin with long, languorous strokes Van Gogh would envy.
“You should write even more,” she said, “all day and all night, if
need be. After all, my line about the ‘kaleidoscope and
harpsichord’ needs a poem of its own. It’s all meat, no gristle, no
Donal Mahoney has had work published in Pipe Dream and other publications in North America, Europe, Asia and Africa.
Scattered across the continent
empty merchandise mausoleums
wires emerging from
the concrete craters
born beneath the lonesome sun
of the parking lot dunes
tumbleweeds guarding the
drunks and transients rest
in the darkened
inner sanctuary food courts,
dining on aged Orange Julius
they do their last minute
Christmas shopping in
the wilted shops breathing
asbestos and wielding
faded charms for loved
ones squatting within
washing their feet in the
cesspools of the drained
fountains flanked by
chipped baby angels
some headless and some
heads bowed whispering
Kevin Ridgeway is a writer from sunny Southern California. Recent work has appeared in Underground Voices, Negative Suck, Electric Windmill and Thunderclap! Magazine.
We watch them from the top floor of our accounting firm, struggling in the snow, walking toward the blacksmith, the snow swallowing their crutch, causing them to lean sharply to the right. We watch this to remind ourselves how we once struggled in life, how we feared blood and skin in our teeth, feared using the spines like rungs of ladders to make our way to the top floor of our accounting firm so we can watch they who struggle in this moment. The only ghosts visiting us tonight are the ghosts in this highball glass. The dead know fortune only favors the bold.
Happy Holidays from PIPE DREAM and J. Bradley!
Callow of heart, calculating of mind
To take my infantilism by the hand
Your own experience shadowed by a painful coyness
Reaching underneath your chilled skin
Touching upon the inner warmth
That is the center of your nature
Not to reach too deep
A commodity to be awarded with time
Mutually, I bar progression
Athrill with innovative sensations, what is next?
Only chronology can turn these pages.
The best of birthday wishes from PIPE DREAM, Ms. Lackstrom! Happy Birthday!
I just volunteered for an experimental procedure. The risks are high, I am told.
“The risks are very high.”
That’s what they told me.
But I signed the papers. My risks are very high if I don’t have it, that’s what I told them. I am quite certain that I will die if I do not have this procedure.
I’ve been on a waiting list for months now, just to be considered. I just met with the doctors who asked me to describe my symptoms to make sure I qualify.
“Do you experience extreme and rapid deviation of blood pressure?”
Yes, I told them, sometimes my pulse fills my whole body, so all other sound is drowned out and I can’t hear the laughter of children or the tea kettle whistling or a tourist asking for directions to a market or even my own private thoughts. I just hear thump thump thump, and I think I can see my fingertips swelling with all the pooled blood in them. But then the rest of the time, most of the time, I lose it. I lose my pulse. And I convince myself that there is nothing inside me at all, just air between ribs, or water. I feel as though I am floating through my life, living inside a scummy fish tank of myself, belly up.
“Alright.” They said. “Do you experience any physical pain, and if so, where and how severe on a scale of one to ten.”
I told them I wasn’t certain what kind of pain they meant. Pain is subjective. The only other surgery I’ve had was to remove my wisdom teeth, and once I had gallstones. But I have no children; I just sit and nod my head at parties when other women swap their labor horror stories.
I’ve never been in a war, or a fist-fight, or been stabbed, or hit by a car. But this is pain, a strange pain. Like when you are sleeping and suddenly you wake up in a panic because you’re arm isn’t there. And you lift it up by the wrist and shake it a little, and then a little harder, but you can’t feel it. You watch the muscle wave inside the flesh but it isn’t yours—not your muscle, not your flesh, not your arm anymore. And it doesn’t hurt, exactly, not like something called pain, but it is painful. I suppose it is the pain of not belonging to yourself anymore. But then always the pins and needles come, and your arm wakes up so you can go back to sleep. Except I don’t get the pins and needles, just the dull ache of an absent part. Only in my case, it isn’t my arm: it is my heart. I tried to explain this to the doctors, but they only kept asking me to place it on a scale of one to ten. It isn’t a numerical feeling. Feelings aren’t really calculable, least of all painful feelings. But the minimum pain level to be considered for the operation is an eight, so I told them I was a nine, because I know that in their language, that means it is serious, and it is serious.
So with a nine, I qualified for the experimental procedure. And I understand the risks, which are high. But my heart is no good to me anymore. They are going to attempt to replace my heart with a red cardinal. A cardinal with feathers of brilliant crimson; a cardinal who will build its sturdy nest between my ribs and sing cheer cheer cheer what what what. And predators will hear its warning and stay away—the cooper’s hawks, and loggerhead shrikes, and screech owls, and milk snakes, and coluber constrictors—they will all stay away.
Cardinals mate for life, you know.
They stay together year-round and feed each other dinner beak-to-beak. Cardinal pairs change their songs, the pitch and the notes, to harmonize with each other. Or to locate each other if one should get lost. Cheer cheer cheer, what what what. We sing the same song, the cardinal and I.
Jessie Drake is a transplant to Portland where she scrapes together a happy living as a freelance writer, editor, transcriber, actor and quilter. She studied Theatre and English Literature at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, CA where she also worked as an actor and dramaturge with Ratatat Theatre Group and Lit Moon Theatre Company. Her poetry has been published in Westmont’s literary magazine The Phoenix, and her first play was accepted for the Aspiring Female Playwrights Workshop and Staged Reading at Center Stage Theatre in Santa Barbara in 2010. This piece, “The Procedure,” was originally written for Intimate Strangers: A Night of Art and Performance by the Portland Fiction Project.
Artist: Bennett Slater======Cardinal Arrest
THOMAS R. THOMAS
There you are,
standing on the ramp -
in that dress your Mother made,
a smile that lights the whole scene
reaching through the years.
Thomas R. Thomas is still in love with his wife after all these years, and remembers that smile.
She says, “Come, kneel down next to the bed with me.”
I’m not sure if she’s kidding. I’ve never been one for prayer.
“We’ll do this a long time,” she says, “then things will be better.”
My sister is older, stronger and smarter, but too optimistic. She thinks rainbows are real. Unicorns are her favorite animals.
“Just watch me. Do what I do.”
Our mother drove Dad to the bus terminal an hour ago. I figure we have another two hours ourselves until she arrives.
“We could run away.”
Sister’s fingers are laced, her eyes closed. She shakes her head.
It’s hard not to be resentful and jealous of adults who can come and go when whatever whim hits them. Even Dad is smart to get out. He’s not as stupid as she thinks.
I watch Sis, her eyes scrunched closed like wrinkled berries, her knuckles pink fruit from the pressure. Her lips move soundlessly. I cock my head but can’t make out any syllables.
When I try to copy Sis, I find myself on a raft roaring down a black river. I don’t know how I know it, but up ahead is a sheer drop off, a mile high waterfall. I am soaked from the cold spray. My raft collides against hidden boulders but continues its manic sweep with the current.
Eventually I get to the edge. The raft slips out from under me and I begin my descent. The fall takes my entire childhood.
When I open my eyes, I’m on the sofa with Sis. Buddy, Mother’s boyfriend, is staring at me, then Sis, then switching over to me.
“Eeny Meanie Minie Moe.”
His pointing fingers hold a smoldering cigarette so that his hand seems to be on fire, and in a way it is, he is.
“Get me a beer, Darlin’,” he says to Sis.
I’m squeezing her hand and now I squash it harder, yet she tugs away, her face saying what she can’t, “Just do what I do.”
“Come on over here, Boy,” he says.
Mother has doll eyes, as empty as paper plates. Something between a smile and nothing sits on her face.
When he coughs, smoke rises like gray fog from the slit of Buddy’s mouth. “Whyn’t you dance for me.”
I want to be back on that raft. I want a different ending. But then Buddy pinches the burning cigarette into my arm. The skin hisses. Buddy chuckles.
“You know I mean business,” he says, so I shuffle my feet, trying to do the tap number Buddy likes best.
After twenty minutes, Buddy says, “Now switch, you get me a beer and Shelley, you come dance for ol’ Buddy.”
We pass like sentries. Sis won’t give me anything, no advice, which is really her way of saying the same thing: “Just do what I do.”
When I come out of the kitchen, Buddy’s pawing at Sis as she does some sort of ballet stretch.
Buddy’s eyes are greasy, his hair is oily, and he smells like tar.
“Just sit that damn thing down,” Buddy says to me without taking his swirling gaze from Sis.
It’s one thing to pray, it’s another to do.
So I get back on that raft. It’s going to take me with it wherever it wants to go, not where I’m heading. But it’s a better ride that this one.
I plunge the knife through Buddy’s shoulder. I keep plunging—five, six, seven times— because I want to make sure there’s no way he’s coming back for Sis after I’m gone.
The blood splatter is hot oil, but I make myself feel arctic river water instead. I flip over the edge of the cliff. It’s a long fall with an uncertain landing. Still, I don’t scream or make a solitary sound. Unafraid for once, I await my landing.
To see more glittering gems of literary genius, visit Len Kuntz’s personal blog @ http://lenkuntz.blogspot.com/.
gleaming in the spotlights
and bouncing off his
crisp tan visage
lifting a marionette of
He needs the extra
for he lost it
internally a long
washed up in the
current of popular culture,
spewing air symphonies
in between his
The long player tanked,
and now he’s in Tahoe
wondering who these
women are in his bed,
calling his priest
with stuttering saliva rivers
and his doctor with
an emergency care package
of prescription refills
The gold suit
sits gleaming in the
morning sun as he
Kevin Ridgeway is a writer from sunny Southern California. Recent work has appeared in Underground Voices, Negative Suck, Electric Windmill and Thunderclap! Magazine.
Experiment #1: Extreme Bitter Sequence
the scientific method,
it draws upon a store of excessiveness.
tender skin of electricity
veiled environment - a territory of
experimental lust for the corona discharge.
a small amount stretched far out of time
while rioting on the sunset strip.
they landed quietly but burned away
as 2 knives crossed the tongues.
later towards the stairs
a couple of months ago,
penetrating together without success.
a materials list.
taste the juice.
the sequences reconnect
buildings stretch to breaking
conduction is true or false.
Experiment #2: Extreme Neutral Sequence
greatly relieved when they explode,
tilting our heads up until necks
crack to see the particles
of the present come to rest
near the curbs.
quiet in the soil.
electrostatic generators bring life to the
formless bodies – the ultraviolet ray -
the patient charts are thrown into the incinerator.
Experiment #3: Extreme Testing Sequence
hide the evidence
burning between the amputated limbs.
who can easily measure?
the final report was expunged.
deep into medical electrotherapy equipment
turned in the elevator.
Eve conducted an experiment.
another common mistake:
the word “electricity.”
we must have crossed the
terminals on her arms
my pretty little thing.
Peter Marra is from Williamsburg Brooklyn. Born in Gravesend, Brooklyn, he lived in the East Village, New York from 1979-1993 at the height of the punk – no wave rebellion. Peter has had a lifelong fascination with Surrealism, Dadaism, and Symbolism. In the past 2 years he has had over 50 poems published online and in print. He is currently constructing his first collection of poems.
Dear Pipe Dreamers,
The PD hiatus is over!
A huge “thank you” to David from Computer Buyer’s Resource! Thanks to him, PIPE DREAM’s files were saved, and updates can continue as usual.
If you live in Portland, OR, I highly recommend supporting a local business by taking your sick computers, laptops, etc. to Computer Buyer’s Resource.
Their phone number is (503) 285-7588.
Updates will resume tomorrow with Peter Marra’s “Lab Manual”! Get excited!
(AN EXAMPLE OF WHAT THE SPARROW GHOST COLLECTIVE HAS TO OFFER)
You will try to brush the seasons from your shoulders
but, like moths, they will always return.
Fluttering around you as persistently as he did that first night he kissed your chilly
cheek and asked if he could stay
Every winter brings the same cold
but there will always be new patterns in the frost thick on the windowpane.
Don’t fight the season, let it sink into your bones
The bitter chill will shake you,
Life will shake you,
rest heavy in the shudders, love.
You are alive.
Play in the snow like you did when you were young.
Trudge and stomp, huff and let the air paint your cheeks red.
Catch a cold,
Cough into your teacup.
Take time to watch a sparrow at the feeder.
Listen to the ghosts as they whisper what they remember.
You are alive.
Blizzards will blind you some days.
Leave you stranded, staring at the drifts piling up on the sidewalks.
Lay your shovel down,
go inside to build a fire in the hearth.
Ask him to call in sick,
Make a blanket fort and melt into each other.
Take a nap,
There will always be the cold.
The season will always return
and you will shake some days.
But take time to notice the patterns on the windowpane,
your breath as it dances and rises in the morning air.
Out from your window, watch the bare aspen trees shudder;
their roots tangling with one another through the long winter
beneath the frozen soil.
William Stanford has been living in Portland and writing poetry for a year. He stumbled into Portland after his car broke down while traveling and he decided to abandon it in a gas station parking lot for a life of sparse employment and performance poetry. William represents the Portland Poetry Slam and is a co-founder of the Sparrow Ghost Poetry Collective. He is 19 years old and works as a caregiver.
Find the Sparrow Ghost Collective on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Sparrow-Ghost-Collective/142497319183029 and visit their Tumblr at http://sparrowghostcollective.tumblr.com/
I walk through the cemetery, baking in my faded black buttoned up shirt and jeans. I look like a rejected member of Color Me Badd trying to blend in all this sadness. I kneel down to place flowers on a random grave as I quietly take video of the Steinbrenner crypt. I walk around, capturing the empty torches, columns, iron bars.
“Excuse me sir, but what are you doing?” A groundskeeper yells across the way.
“I want to show the folks back home where the Boss was buried. My dad’s a huge Yankees fan. He collapsed on the carpet when he heard George died. He only cried one other time when the Red Sox beat the Yankees in 2004. I told him I’d get some video for him, snuck out of a conference even just to do it. I might get fired but to see my dad smile but it’ll be worth it.”
“I understand completely. My dad’s a big Jim Morrison fan. Went to Paris finally last year to visit his grave and…”
“Broke On Through The Other Side?”
“Don’t make me beat you with a shovel.”
“Jesus fucking Christ, this thing is a fortress.”
Leon says to the TV as we watch the video from earlier. The ice packs strapped to his knees rattle when he adjusts himself on the edge of the bed.
“I know. Even in death, the Boss is surrounded with stone and iron. How am I supposed to dance on his grave when I can’t even get inside.”
“Have you thought about dancing on top of the crypt?”
“It’s a little hard to break into a cemetery at night with a ladder. Also, the roof is slanted. How the fuck am I gonna dance on a slanted rooftop?”
“Carefully. But what’s your other options?”
“Crowbar the gates open and dance in the crypt?”
“Dancing on a grave isn’t a crime. Breaking into a crypt on the other hand probably is.”
“Fuck indeed.” A knock at our hotel room door punctuates the indeed. Leon and I look at each other.
“Leon, who else knows were here?”
“No one. All my friends know is that I went to Tampa for tryouts, that’s it.”
I slide off the bed and look through the peephole to see an Alex Rodriguez lookalike with three suit bags slung over his shoulder.
“What the fuck is he doing here?”
“What the fuck is he doing here?” Another knock slaps the door.
“Who? Who? Reg, who? Who is at the fucking door. You’re freaking me out over here.”
I take a deep breath and look over my shoulder, into Leon’s eyes. “The man who killed my father, that’s who’s here.”
“Dancing With Steinbrenner” is an upcoming novella by Jesse Bradley.
J. Bradley is a contributing writer to Specter Magazine and the Interviews Editor of PANK Magazine. He lives at iheartfailure.net.