Welcome to the October issue of Mountain Gazette, with a new look and feel.
The poems in this edition cover a wide range of topics, from war to the imperfections of memory, to declarations of peace, love, and slow decay. I suppose if there is one thread that ties them all together, it’s this: like the season of fall, these poems show us that while life is fleeting and ephemeral, some things will last. Some of us will cling to the one true thing we know, however difficult that might be.
I hope you enjoy the poems. I also encourage you to read them aloud, and to share them with friends.
THE SENSE OF CENTS
A penny for your thoughts, he says. But he
doesn’t really want to know.
For fifty years, two stylized ears of wheat
on the reverse of Lincoln’s commemorative.
Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes.
From a child’s ear, the magician takes a quarter.
A penny would be dangerous,
too small, getting stuck.
During the War, made from salvaged gun
cartridge cases. Once made of bronze,
mostly copper, some zinc and tin.
Bet that cost a pretty penny.
During the War, my father gave my mother
a watch of rose gold—
copper blushing the glint and shine.
The nick of time.
Another father and his little boy once put
pennies on the railroad tracks
that ran by their dusty small Texas town.
And when the train came hurtling by,
it smashed the coins flat, thin and wide.
Defacing government property.
A penny saved is a penny earned.
See a penny, pick it up.
All day long you’ll have good luck.
Toss them in a spouting fountain.
So many wishes—youth and riches,
the end to war,
a man who can make sense of things.
Water droplets catch the light,
glisten on a woman’s rouged cheeks.
The sky is raining
pennies from heaven.
—Seth Brady Tucker
It is the first day with real summer heat,
mired in our own personal inferno, this Delta
flight frozen on the tarmac, has my back
sweating and cramped while I support Olivia’s
head to provide comfort—her face pressed
to my damp chest, her cell blinking blue, rings
What a Wonderful World it is, and three people
turn to stare at us, confident their own cells
are turned off according to regulations, and they
are lined up like dominoes, and the airplane
engines idle down sadly to nothing, and the air
conditioning whispers to off. The sharp ticket
juts into my cheek, but I am five drinks into it
already, uncaring, a big bloody gin butterfly
taking flight in my heated tissue, a soft liquored
fluttering of drunk and bright blue butterfly
wings in my head, and I don’t care at all for
the hard flexing of this bottom-of-the-deck dealt
world, nor for the poignant meaningless of it all:
all of us travelers, lolling like the olive
in the bottom of my martini, sticky with hot
sweat and bad intentions, our hands rising to ring
for the smiling attendants. We are burning
up on this runway, ready to barter or sell
our way onto any cool escape, onto any
other flight, onto any ascending white airplane
that takes us from this sweaty, business-class
lifestyle. At this point, I would take a bus ticket
to any cold arctic nowhere. Our air is breathed
over and over and back, so I bitterly take up
another spit martini from the stewardess,
and I know I am more slug than bright butterfly,
and I know I am as fractured as the dried
and fetid soil of the low tide Mississippi Delta,
but I also know how to excuse myself, to stop
while ahead, to quaff back the olive drab olive
that I have already personified to compare
to our sad condition on the jet-way, and soaring
from my drink, I escape to the john. I am
out of control angry, and the toilet is a hot cell;
the air is soiled with traveler butt and businessman
urine, this boiling and humid ding-dong airplane
just an envelope of choleric or malarial disease,
or worse, something non-lethal. My air plans
are ruined, and I have made the attendant hate
me by sending back my hot martini. I take out
a cigarette insolently and light it. The smoke
alarm rings and I flap my arms like a butterfly,
still smoking and cursing and trying to force
the smoke down the crap hole, but the Delta
crew is on to me already, and I realize I have
truly fucked up, and I know that Olivia
will be reading from her assortment of literary
magazines when she hears the alarm ring,
and because of me, she will be flying solo
and hating me, and I will be handcuffed in a cell
somewhere in the bowels of the Atlanta airport.
They will take my personal items, break my cell
phone, smoke my cigarettes, and they will taxi
Olivia away, our flight joining brethren airplanes
in the line burned on the skyway, and my empty
seat will be filled by a lonely and ticketless
traveler, some failed salesman who makes
his awkward move on Olivia, on my butterfly,
like some rotten alleyway pigeon. In my airport
prison, I will belatedly lament choosing Delta
over United (I am fully aware of the meaning
now!) and if I know her like I think I do, Olivia
is looking at his soft hands, his ring finger circled
by a white band where his wedding ring
should be. She will notice that he has a nervous
habit of twisting the imaginary wedding ring
when he speaks. He is getting nowhere, but
she is angry with me, so she provides him a cell
number not her own, and makes a promise
to meet him at baggage claim. Off the airplane,
she will head straight for the exit. He will call
her for drinks, only to get Chinese take-out
in Tallahassee. He will imagine what it would
have felt like to kiss her, to unbutton the fly
of Olivia’s jeans, to kiss her like he should kiss
his wife. In the morning, he will fly Delta
again, thinking he is as misunderstood as
anyone on earth. He will look her up, but Olivia
will have provided the wrong name and number,
because she is no dummy, my Olivia,
and when he returns to Ohio, to his wife and children,
he will lie on his bed twisting his ring
on his finger as he stares at his ceiling, unable
to sleep. I will be in Atlanta, in a holding cell,
feet in paper sandals and body wrapped in coveralls,
and on the floor, a metal plate with plain
bagels and runny eggs and cold bacon. I will
bang the bars, demanding my cigarettes, taken
from me by the cops. Olivia will reach Paris;
she will sit in a café decorated with butterfly
figurines. In two weeks, she will trade
in my unused ticket, fly to Prague via Delta.
In Georgia, after three days, I will rub the hot
rings of my wrists after they remove the cold
metal handcuffs, my Delta captors will smile
as blankly as the windows of airplanes as they
hand me my ticket and my broken cell phone,
which I will futilely use to call Olivia home to me.
MY HAND ACHES
—Chris ‘Chez’ Chesak
My hand aches because
My hand is empty.
My hand misses the feel,
My hand misses the ominous grip,
Designed by thoughtful engineers,
Allowing the quick reach of a finger
Onto the trigger,
The steadying sister hand wrapped around the fore-grip,
My cheek welded to the stock,
My eyes searching
Through the site posts
For a target,
For center mass.
My hand is hungry.
Hungry to touch again the steel
The power—and the glory.
My hand is hungry,
Hungry for the pull of its fingertip on the trigger that leads to the hammer that
Releases the bolt that drives the pin into the primer that leads to the explosion of
Powder in the chamber;
The 556 round flying, a ripping six-grove, right-handed spin, exploding from the
Barrel upon a wave of fiery gas…
That leads to the chest erupting.
That leads to the ruptured, cavernous exit wound.
That leads to the skull coming apart
My hand misses its weapon.
That weapon pressed into it
By drill sergeants and NCO’s.
The weapon locked to it
By training and exercises,
By muscle memory.
My hand misses its weapon,
The one welded into it
Every day for a long, hot, dangerous year,
Branded into it,
Branded into the flesh of my hand,
And the grooves of memory,
My aching hand has me
Clearing my living room
Hunting at bars
Sizing up distances and windage
On the lone figure in the distance,
Looking for a kill shot.
The robber approaches her teller window,
says he’s got a gun,
gestures to his waistband.
At his demand, she empties
her drawer of 20’s, 50’s and 100 dollar bills.
After he leaves and the police arrive,
she gives a detailed description—
gray hair in a ponytail
and blue eyes.
At trial, when asked if she sees
the man who robbed her, she points
to Sam, seated at the defense table.
In answering his lawyer’s questions,
she emphasizes those eyes –
she’d looked into them,
they were cold, hard,
and she was afraid.
Casually, counsel shows her
the surveillance photos.
Throughout the robbery, the man
had worn very dark sunglasses.
She doesn’t remember that, she says,
but she insists,
that man is the one.
I’d know him anywhere.
The jury believes her.
TWO LONG YEARS
—Seth Brady Tucker
In order to impress upon you
how wretched the world would
be without your love, I have to imagine
a life without you, where time spins
its tires in the mud of despondency,
where joy pushes the yoke of a mill
in terrible circles, where love punches
a clock in the bowels of a mailroom,
where life itself stumbles and falls
in the bathtub, too far from a telephone,
too weak to call for help. In this new
world, we eat sand and wood chips
for every meal, forever filling bellies
that will never know satisfaction; we breathe
soot, we walk on the bones of our kneecaps,
we mutely sing with shadows signed on walls,
we recite poems of love with our heads submerged
in barrels of thick oil. In this world, without
your love, we lack the energy to lick
our wounds, and we lie naked in the snow
in winter, and bare our bodies to the hot
tarmac in summer. Our energies are devoted
to the search for pain, because if we
know pain in every intimate, perfect detail,
we will also know the touch of the devil,
and that will be enough to fill the empty
void of eternity, until you call me back
and breathe your sweet breath upon my neck.
Chris ‘Chez’ Chesak is an Iraqi war veteran and avid climber, skier, backpacker, and writer, having published fiction in several literary quarterlies and non-fiction in national publications. He lives with his wife Sally and daughters Lillian and Sylvia in Cincinnati, Ohio. Read more of his work at www.grimeschesak.blogspot.com.
Vicki Mandell-King has been writing poetry for what seems an entire lifetime, even during her career as a public defender. Her poems have been published in many journals, including Calyx, Illya’s Honey, Main Street Rag, Pinyon, Slant, Tribeca and others. Her first book is entitled Tenacity of Lace, and she and her husband live in an old, constantly remodeled Victorian in Old Town Louisville, Colorado.
Seth Brady Tucker is originally from Wyoming, and served as an Army 82nd Airborne paratrooper in the Persian Gulf. His first book, Mormon Boy, won the 2011 Elixir Press Editor’s Poetry Prize, and was a finalist for the 2013 Colorado book Award. His second collection, We Deserve the God We Ask For, won the Gival Press Poetry Prize. His poetry is forthcoming or has appeared in the Iowa Review, Verse Daily, Pleiades, Poetry Northwest, Connecticut Review, Chautauqua, River Styx, Asheville Poetry Review, storySouth, Crab Orchard Review, and elsewhere.