Synchronized Chaos July 2021: Small People, Vast Universe

Welcome all to July’s issue of Synchronized Chaos Magazine! This month the submissions highlight the wonder, danger, beauty and complexity of the world around us.

Anthony Vernon kicks us off with a short piece about a child’s awe at the night sky.

Hongri Yuan’s poetry, translated by Yuanbing Zhang, connects with a timeless imaginative world beyond Earth.

Dust, gas and stars against the black night sky.
Nebula (public domain stock photo) from the CC0 community

Sushant Thapa looks to the sky, showing how all of us, homeless people included, are part of life on the same planet.

Jack Galmitz’ parable encourages ecological conservation while inviting us to consider how much thought and decision-making agency we imagine non-human life to have. Chimezie Ihekuna’s poem calls out both the precarity and the joy of living on Earth.

Marjorie Thelen ponders rural American life: being dwarfed and amazed by expanses of space and time, working hard to maintain one’s lifestyle, realities and stereotypes of the social climate, and the complex ways farmers and ranchers relate to the ecosystems and the animals they raise.

Physical map of our planet.
Public domain image from Dawn Hudson here:

Lazlo Aranyi’s poetry evokes the ancient wisdom of the Tarot while Jaie Miller writes of dream states, memory and destiny. Alan Catlin drawn on both older and newer history and culture as metaphors for his stream of consciousness work.

Robert Thomas looks at WWII through his father’s experience as a bombardier and tail gunner. Steven Croft, a combat veteran himself, reflects on more recent armed conflicts from the point of view of ordinary soldiers and civilians, past and present. Susie Gharib poignantly demonstrates the effect of economic sanctions on civilians through pieces that combine reminiscence, grief, and nostalgic elegance.

Jeff Rasley depicts current conditions at Wounded Knee, South Dakota, a Sioux reservation where people work and honor their culture and eke out a living in creative ways despite extreme poverty. This is an excerpt from his upcoming book America’s Existential Crisis: Our Inherited Obligation to Native Americans.

Patricia Doyne contributes two poems on urgent American social issues: gun violence and the environment and climate change.

Mahjabeen Rafiuddin and Bianca Stewart both review Michael Robinson’s recently released poetry collection From Chains to Freedom, about the pain and resilience of the Black male experience in the US.

Various silhouetted people raise fists and march with signs.
Public domain image from this site: Reclaiming Social Justice – or Was There Ever Any in the WB-6? – The Berlin Process

Zara Miller explores the genesis and character arcs of villains and heroes. Frankie Laufer’s work also explores narrative, with an ode to the experience of reading, yet then shows how our emotions can outweigh the stories we tell ourselves about our relationships.

In the second installment of his Ph.D. thesis, Z.I. Mahmud probes Charles Dickens’ personal history and how it could have inspired parts of his novel David Copperfield.

Christopher Bernard also continues his Ghost Trolley story, heightening the adventure for ‘children and their adults.’

Ian Smith’s poetic speakers look out over panoramas of water and sand, remembering their books and travels. Kahlil Crawford’s piece follows a single man through a modern metropolis, showing his individual struggles and experiences participating in public art and culture.

Ivan Jenson writes of the inner loneliness and complex, shifting identity that can come as part of the human condition, while Abigail George recollects a past flame within a meditative piece on creative inspiration, family and romantic love, womanhood and mental health.

Terry Tierney reviews Virginia Aronson’s new poetry collection Hikikomori, about modern-day people in Japan who have chosen to withdraw from society out of feelings of inadequacy and shame, a preference for solitude, or a combination of those reasons.

Silhouette of a woman reading on a pier at sunset or sunrise. She has a ponytail and her book in front of her. Seagulls fly behind her.
Woman reading, public domain image from Mohammed Mahmoud Hassan

Anthony Ward describes the responsibility of jury duty, the heavy weight on his character’s conscience when he realizes that he isn’t sure about a life and death decision.

Mark Young’s visual art pieces harness contrast as an artistic device: vibrant and subtle colors, defined and fuzzy lines and shapes juxtaposed. He incorporates English words as a pictorial rather than a communicative element, encouraging us to see the letters themselves as part of the crafted picture.

The universe, even the world inside our own minds, can seem huge and overwhelming. Yet we each have a place here, and we can certainly assert that we belong and celebrate our joy when we find our place.

Ike Boat puts himself forward as a spoken word artist with a personal biography and several still shots of himself performing work in different styles. He also reviews Dennis Mann’s children’s book Mr. Pee Pee.

Sheryl Bize-Boutte crafts an unconventional love story, where two vastly different human beings recognize a common bond.

Person holds up a translucent blue puzzle piece up against city lights in the night sky.
Public domain image from Gerd Altmann:

And our individual lives and choices can matter.

Mahbub’s pieces are poems of life, about a willingness to love and live in the world wherever we find ourselves.

Chimezie Ihekuna’s spotlighted screenplay One Man’s Deep Words focuses on a professor who finds his own intellectual and personal voice.

Sarita Sarvate sends an excerpt from her upcoming memoir Leaving the Cuckoo’s Nest, about leaving an arranged marriage and creating a new life for herself in a new country.

We hope that this issue will inspire you to seek out and find your own artistic and creative voice and to read and learn from the many ideas, cultures and values presented here.

Excerpt from Sarita Sarvate’s memoir Leaving the Cuckoo’s Nest

What is in a Name?


Sarita Sarvate

Middle aged South Asian woman with a large shiny golden necklace and a burgundy top standing in front of a fig tree and a fence in a yard.
Author Sarita Sarvate

It is my wedding day! And I am sitting in the inner sanctum of the wedding tent worshipping goddesses I feel no affinity with. It is 1973 now and I am studying for a Ph.D. in Physics. Why then am I following such antiquated rituals?

Through the wooden grill, I watch the activity in the wedding canopy. 

Dressed in a dhoti and Nehru shirt, my father Dada rushes to the entrance. Behind him, aunts line up to sprinkle guests with rosewater. My mother Aai stands in a corner, making no attempt to help in the preparations. Since her nervous breakdown over a decade ago, she has mostly been bedridden.

As I face the goddesses I strain to recall my fiancé’s face. I can only remember him as a blurry figure at the end of the parade of men I was exhibited to during the last year; the dressing up in my finest sari, the bringing of the tea tray to the in-laws, the visitors’ inquisitions about my education, but more importantly, about my housewifely skills.

Am I getting married just to avoid the humiliation? 

Flanked by his brother Vasant and sister-in-law Savita, my fiancé Sharad walks into the wedding canopy. His parents, brothers, and sisters follow. 

This is my husband, I tell myself. But he does not look like a man who could be my husband. My body does not stir at his sight.  

A few months earlier, Sharad’s brother, Vasant, had arrived at our gate. “I asked for the smartest girl in the locality,” he said. “And everyone gave me your name.” He was an executive civil engineer in Bhopal, he told us, and had just returned from a sabbatical in the US. His aunt lived in our neighborhood. His younger brother, who worked as a textile engineer in Mumbai, wanted to marry an intelligent girl and go to America as soon as possible.

It all sounded so very exciting. 

He asked about my Ph.D. and about my debating competitions. He did not talk of rolling chapattis for a hundred people or matching astrological signs.

A few days later, Dada and I traveled to Bhopal and stayed with a cousin. The following evening, we walked to Vasant’s flat and sank into a sofa, facing an American TV, which, in 1973, still awaited transmission.

Dressed in a nylon sari and a sleeveless blouse, Vasant’s wife Savita brought the tea tray in, bearing a Mona Lisa like smile.

The boy, Sharad, entered the room. He had a sharp nose, thin moustache, and trim figure. In a full-sleeve white shirt and brown slacks, he looked appealing. I could not gauge his physique but I was counting on meeting him again. 

He talked of the textile research he was doing at an institute in Mumbai. I wondered why I was meeting him here under the watchful eyes of his relatives instead of in Mumbai where we could have gone on a date.

“Are you interested in going to America?” he asked. 

What a silly question. Who would not want to go to America? 

Sharad’s father was a humble man in white pajamas and a khadi shirt. “You should have a registered marriage,” he said to Dada. “No need to spend money on a wedding.” 

Dada beamed.  

“See what good people they are? They don’t even want a dowry,” Dada said as we walked back. “The boy has a company flat. You won’t have to bother with the in-laws. He might even go to America. But you shouldn’t count on it.” 

But I was counting on it. Everything was falling into place, I thought. 

Holding a chrysanthemum garland, I walk to the bohla -the wedding platform – and stand behind the saffron-colored wedding cloth two priests are holding up. I can sense Sharad’s presence on the other side of the fabric. 

Aunt Shobha nudges me forward. I bow. Priests chant the mantras. I am about to link my destiny to the man standing on the other side of the cloth. I would be his, not only for this life, but for the next seven incarnations.  

The trouble is, I can’t quite recall the exact moment when I agreed to the marriage.

After we returned from Bhopal, Sharad’s aunt, who lived in our neighborhood, arrived at our door. Circling an oil lamp around my face, she said, “You’re engaged,” and put a sari in my lap.

I was taken aback. I could not quite recall the exact moment when I had made the decision to marry. Rather, the decision seemed to have been made for me.

“You’re arranging Aruna’s marriage to a boy I haven’t even met?” Aai said to Dada after the woman had left. Aruna was my birth name.

“I want to see him again,” I said, wondering why Sharad hadn’t attended the engagement in person. I planned to go to Mumbai for my Ph.D. work in any case and could easily meet him there. 

Dada wrote to Vasant. He replied that Sharad would be in Madras for a technical conference and would not be able to meet me.

 Returning from Mumbai, I found the house buzzing with wedding preparations. “Didn’t they ask for a registered marriage?” I asked. Dada explained that his brothers had pressured him to have a formal wedding.

The next day, a letter from Sharad arrived, asking for the dowry of a scooter. Dada paced the yard, up and down, up and down, his cheeks hollow, his eyebrows furrowed. “Where am I to get a Vespa now? I will have to pay at least six thousand,” he said.

 “I don’t want to marry a man who asks for a dowry,” I said.

 “The boy’s family’s spending nothing,” Aai said, coming out of the kitchen and sitting on the divan. “They asked for first class train tickets for twenty people. They asked us to print two hundred invitations too. Who ever heard of the bride’s father printing invitations for the bridegroom?” 

 “Dada doesn’t know how to play the power game,” Prakash whispered in my ear.

“If we say no now, people will think the boy rejected you,” Dada said. “They will malign your character. No one will marry you.” 

“I don’t want Aruna to marry into such a family,” Aai said.

“I have invited all of my relatives,” Dada said. “How can I back out now?” 

“He is spending all his savings on the marriage and the scooter,” Aai said. “He will be retiring in February. What will we live on then? Prakash hasn’t even finished college.”

Dada raised his palm to indicate shut up.

Something snapped inside me at that familiar gesture. “Don’t ever do that again,” I said. “You repressed her all of her life. And now you are repressing me. You care more about what people think than what I think.”

Dada stared at me.

“You say you support women’s liberation. But you don’t. You like controlling women. You are controlling me. And you controlled your wife all her life. Which is why she went crazy.” 

Dada crumpled into his chair. “You don’t know anything. You don’t know what struggle it was for me to keep you and Prakash alive after your mother’s breakdown. So many times I thought of leaving her. But I felt sorry for you kids.” 

My arms and legs, my whole body, began to shake.

“And now you think of me as a dictator? You, whose tiffins I filled and uniforms I washed?”

Holding his face in his hands, he began to sob. 

The universe seemed to crumble around me at the sight of his tears. I had never seen Dada cry. He had been the one person who had always stood by me, who had tended to my every need.

I reached out to take his hand. “I will marry whoever you want,” I said. “But please don’t cry.”

Kuryat Sada Mangalam, the priests sing the finale. People throw colored rice on our heads. The holy cloth is removed. I peer into two timid eyes. This is the stranger who asked my parents for a ransom. His downward gazing eyes and slack demeanor do not compute with the hostile act he has perpetrated. How do women surrender to husbands who have demanded dowries? I cannot. My heart and soul are rebelling against this man. Every cell in my body is asking me to run away, like Walmiki, the ancient sage, who, after being coerced into an arranged marriage, had fled the wedding tent, and after taking refuge in an Ashram, become a seer and a scribe. 

The only flight I am capable of is a flight of the soul. It leaves my body now, and sitting on a wooden beam at the top of the canopy, watches the wedding rites. 

Aunt Shobha nudges me forward. The shehnai breaks into a merry tune. I put the chrysanthemum garland around Sharad’s neck. He puts a garland around my neck. Everyone claps. Sharad takes my hand and we begin the saptapadi -the seven circles – around the holy fire. 

The bridegroom’s palm, I note, is soft and clammy.

In Hindi films, the heroine circles the holy fire accompanied by the villain who has coerced her into the marriage. But just as the bride and the groom are about to take the seventh step, the hero appears, shouting, “Stop the wedding!” 

Is there a precise moment at which a Hindu wedding becomes irrevocable, I want to ask the priest? Or is it a myth that Bombay filmdom has concocted in imitation of Hollywood, where the lover invariably makes an appearance before the bride says I do? 

I take the seventh step. I gamble away my life. I am married, forever and ever. To a man I do not love.

Female cousins arrange banana leaves on the floor and draw colorful rice powder designs around them. Guests sit down. But no one eats. It is customary for the bride to initiate the feast by putting the first morsel of food into the groom’s mouth while rhyming his name in a lyric.  

“Say it in English if you want,” Vasant says.

Sitting by Sharad’s side, I pick up a piece of jilebi from his plate. “Smashing the atom and unleashing the particle is no miracle compared to the marriage of Aruna to Sharad the oracle.” I thrust the sweet into his gaping mouth.  

I have never felt more foolish in my entire life. 

Sharad and I sit on a sofa, accepting gifts. “What a good looking boy you have found your daughter,” someone says to Dada. I look sideways at Sharad. With his sharp nose, pointed chin, curly dark hair, my husband is handsome I suppose. Why then does he stir nothing in me?

As evening approaches, I brace myself for the farewell ceremony. Brides throw their arms around their mothers and sob hysterically during this ritual. Weddings become funerals. Even men weep.

Aai stands catatonically in a corner, her lips moving silently to some inner voice. Dada hovers at the edge of the canopy. My parents have never embraced me. They would not begin now, in public. Prakash stands among a group of friends, staring at me with large sad eyes. He would have to cope with our fragile parents single-handedly from now on.

But I cannot react to his plight. I cannot afford the luxury of emotion.

I sit down to face a plate of rice grains. The bridegroom will now write the bride’s new name in the rice. In our community a bride is given, not only a new surname, but a new first name too. Like a Mafioso in the witness protection program – Mario Puzo’s Godfather has recently hit the bestseller lists – her identity is completely erased.

Sharad scribbles a word in the grains.

“Sarita,” the priest reads.  

This morning, I woke up as Aruna but tonight I became a Sarita.

More about Sarita Sarvate and where to find more of her writing here:

Ike Boat reviews Dennis Mann’s children’s book Mr. Pee Pee

Book Review RevelationsBRR

Book cover, red, green, light blue. Title, Mr. Pee Pee, is in a red bubble font and there's a man with dark skin and a black top hat standing in front of a castle on a grassy hill on a sunny day.

Book Title: Mr. Pee Pee

Book Author: Dennis Mann

Hello Reader,

                        Let me take you on a roller coaster ride through the memory lane of BRR journey. Thus, some weeks ago I re-established communication contact with Mr. Dennis Agyeman, popularly known by his professional pen-name Dennis Mann. Apart from his career as an author, he’s a reputable Banker with in-depth knowledge about the financial sector coupled with the world of Forex Trading and the Crypto-System spheres across the globe. Undoubtedly, he’s been described and identified as a man of compassion with heart of generosity as well as integrity. He’s such a brilliant devoted and committed Christian man with Godly character in most of his inter-personal business dealings in both the creative writing and money-making financial sectors, be it local or global.

                        My first time phone conversation with him commenced when I was in Takoradi, Western Region of Ghana, thus a couple of years ago whilst the Manager of Amanful Digital Library & Learning Arena which is abbreviated ADLLA. If my memory serves me right, someone came to study and research at ADLLA then upon conversation his name came into equation so I had his phone contact number. Indeed, it about six years ago! Aside, thankfully going through a note-book I found his contact number and discerned right away to get in touch with him. Of course, his invitation to Prayer Breakfast and Business Networking program organized at Pleasant Place Church in Spintex, Accra brought about positive thoughtful, insightful and delightful conversation on the aftermath. It’s heart-warming and welcoming moment bring with his better-half and kid onboard his car. Oh, once again, am so grateful and thankful for the lunch which subsequently became my dinner! LOL, I can’t forget the book club reading and speed-dating event we attended over the weekend at seemingly garden-like venue of Dzorwulu in Accra, Ghana (West Africa). It’s a whole new experience for me, as a couple of Vlog 233 and other interactive video was recorded whilst there and onboard his car to and fro the event place.

Young Black man sitting at a table in front of a pile of Mr. Pee Pee books.

                        Quite significantly, in this writing as Arti-Blog I bring you the Book Review RevelationsBRR which I spent about two weeks reading and recording his maiden kid’s book titled Mr. Pee Pee even by posting and promoting on our People Of Extraordinary TalentP.O.E.T Africa Whats-App group-platform. Factually, it one of the best kids book I’ve ever done Read Aloud SessionRAS on. The following happens to be three (3) reasonable personal professional observations in relation to Mr. Pee Pee and characters he out-lined in the chapters of its contents.  I. Easy-To-Read (ETR),        II. Easy-To-Understand (ETU), III. Easy-To-Buy (ETB).

  1. Easy-To-Read (ETR):  Factually, it’s in clear simple every-day English sentence and easy to read in terms of word pronunciation. Beside, soft diction for kids growing their vocabulary to the mind’s absorption. Of course, pages and chapters to make the whole book easy to read by children.
Young Black man with glasses and a plaid top and jeans holding some Mr. Pee Pee books.
  1. Easy-To-Understand (ETR): Definitely, it’s so lovely to fathom in terms of understandability. Thus, in view of how characters and images show in the pages to bring about it understanding being prime purpose of author Dennis Mann. Come to think of reading suspense, it’s equally easy to capture and picture with imaginative thought processing revelations to understand.
  1. Easy-To-Buy (ETB): Affordably, it’s not expensive to get in terms of purchasing price being such a beautiful kid oriented book with nice pictorial chapters. I recommend and suggest that you get a copy or copies to your child, friend and families. Kindly, use the following Amazon web-link to buy online:
Stack of Mr. Pee Pee books.

It’s worthy to state in this Arti-Blog that Dennis Mann has good vision and purposeful mission for kids in Ghana and across the globe. Hence, he’s the Founder, President and CEO of Wide Reading Among KidsWRAK  non-governmental organization which seek to inculcate the habit of reading among kids in various communities in Ghana as well as across the continent of Africa and beyond. It also hopes to have Patrons and Partners come aboard so as to carry-out its literary charitable functions, thus donation of books to rural kids of school going age.

                  Facebook Page: Wide Reading Among Kids

Author being interviewed by a reporter with a mic on Mr. Pee Pee.

Kindly, get in touch with the Author via below contact details:

Email Address:

Phone Number: +233 247 654 113

This Book Review Revelation as Arti-Blog written by Ike Boat (Synchronized Chaos International Magazine) Contributor & Promoter In Ghana, West Africa. Email: Whats-App Contact: +233 267 117 7700, Alternative Number: +233 55 247 7676

Poetry from Patricia Doyne

FLAG  in the CROSS-FIRE                

(based on art by Andrew Kong Knight) 

Andrew Kong Knight’s work can be viewed here:

Social Commentary – Fine Art Painting – Andrew Kong Knight | Flickr

White stripes.  Red stripes.                  

Red blood drizzles down                       

on bystanders and gang-bangers,         

night clubbers and school kids.             

The right to bear arms.                    

“When they shot through our windows,”

says the seven-year-old,

“my Mom put me in the bath tub.

She said, ‘Keep your head down!’

I was okay,

but my cat’s ear got shot off.”

The right to bear arms.

In my own quiet neighborhood,

there was a rash of thefts—

from cars, from closets, from garages… 

Only one thing stolen:  guns.

Think of that–  most of my neighbors

own handguns, shotguns, or rifles…

Only one guy is a hunter.

Do they think the British are coming?

No. These days, it’s Columbine and drive-bys,

snipers in rush-hour traffic,

gang pay-backs, drug wars, shoot-first cops,

or psychos with assault rifles, and a grudge.

Red stripes.  White stripes.

Bullet holes punch through the flag,

and the flag bleeds.

Bleeds until the pursuit of happiness

becomes the pursuit of more prisons,

the pursuit of gated communities,

the pursuit of walls to keep out

those who are loud, needy, angry, or different.

Too often, happiness bleeds away…

leaving life and liberty

as empty as spent shells.  

Copyright 9/16  Patricia Doyne 


 Our planet is home to disaster

 as well as grand leaps and smooth take-offs.

 Chains of plot-twists build to cataclysm:                    

  an errant comet wipes out dinosaurs;

  continents stretch out, split up, regroup;

  earth’s axis tilts, and ice age turns to furnace;

   volcanoes spit up islands, bury cities.

   Thunder and destruction, then rebirth.

   Our planet stages riotous mutations.

    Sea water creeps ashore on its own legs,

     breathing that noxious poison: oxygen.

     Soon life has many branches: some with roots;

     some with shells and backbones, even wings.

     The new world sings of progress:  bipeds rule.

     Brains congratulate themselves on ways

      to use the planet’s bounty, make it work.

      Fossil products fuel a billion engines.

      Charged particles empower telephones,

       then telemarketers and robocalls.

       The internet explodes with “likes” and hackers.

        Water becomes more valuable than bit-coin.

         As rainforests burn, we prize the air we breathe,

        and try to market trips to outer space.

         On our rich planet, labels are updated.

          Polyester?  Now “performance fabric.”

         Plastic shoes and handbags?   “Vegan leather.”

          Pesticides are sold as “high-yield sprays.”

           Designer food-crops?  Call them “GMO’s.”

            Even designer kids are now for sale.

           But we can’t spin some side-effects of progress.

            Countless species wiped out, habitats lost

             for profit.  Ice cap melts. The oceans rise.

            Climate warms.  The ozone layer thins.

            Wildfires rage. Groundwater drains.

             Pollution poisons water, soil, and air.

             Plastic fills up oceans and our cells.

             A murmur of compassion for the planet

             is drowned by shouts to keep stockholders happy.

             The worried few recycle, use less, save,

             buy wisely, limit waste.  But all these folks

             use gas to get to work.  Electric cars?

             Electricity’s developed in gas turbines.

             The fuel we burn for transport, heat and light,

             the steaks and burgers raised on cattle farms

             rebound and undercut our planet’s health.

             Greenhouse gases trap heat, hold it in,

              setting the timer for catastrophe.

              Our stewardship of earth has not gone well.

              Doomsayers rage and wrangle, casting blame.

              Yes, always there’s rebirth: a new age dawning.

              But what comes next may fill us with dismay.

              If Mars has water, was there ever life there?

              We’re sitting, right now, on the cusp of change.

              Glacially slow, the wheel begins to turn.

              Copyright 6/2021           Patricia Doyne

Photography from Ike Boat

Ike Boat

Professional Biography – Pro-Bio

Pro-Bio – Ike Boat #IB

Growing Up Story – GUS: His life, like the metamorphosis stage of an African butterfly going through lots of dramatic changes thought him tremendous things, both negatives and positives. It all started on the suburban street of Amanful Westin Takoradi, Western Region of Ghana where he mingled and entangled in a life-style some described as being ‘Gutter-Snipe’ or seemingly ‘Ghetto-like’. Thus, both lowly and highly cherished characteristics of a boy with futuristic ambitions in relation to his passion of every-day life. He’s a teenager with heart for reading, writing and reciting what he later termed as ‘Read Aloud Session – RAS’ for short. Thus, literally or meaning his solitary moment he picks a story book, newspaper or magazine and hides himself at a backyard or close-door to read aloud like communicating in front of audience coupled with gesticulation and sensation in an atmosphere of loneliness. Factually, learning new things and sharing ideas became his hall-mark.

Well, as the saying goes “All works and no play, makes jack a dull boy”, viz he sometimes played on sandy pitch football with some neighbors and subsequently played for his primary and junior secondary school football teams. Academically, he’s brilliant and good in lots of subjects hence won the hearts of head teachers to become school prefect in both primary and junior secondary levels respectively. Needless to say, ups and downs as well ‘Doubting Thomases’ of the hood never stopped or bothered him, as he focused in turning his passion to profession in the Arts global industry. LOL, one of his comical growing up character during his early child-hood days of life as a boy, he combined ‘Crying tears with bathing water’ often-times when he’s asked to bath and come for his meal. Well, if this were Scripture in the book of Psalms, I’ll state ‘Selah’ literally ‘Pause and Think’. So, this GUS happens to be a mixed bag of nostalgia about the Ike Boat chap as it brings to fore deeper things yet to come in his creative arts life-style.

Poetry from Sheryl Bize-Boutte

 a love story
 Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte
 He was born with six fingers 
 on each hand
 scalpel applied in a secret room
 Precision clean cut no trace
 Only a few knew 
  Cautioned not to reproduce
 He was fine with that
 A captain of industry
 A hellion
 A brute
 An unrepentant supply of evil
 A success
 Five remaining fingers
 On each hand
  Vice grips on all there was to have
 They named him man of the year
 In his private garden
 Of forever green grass
 And the blue eye sky
 He prospered
 She was born with six fingers 
 on each hand
 They tied them off with dirty string 
 let them fall back into origin
 Scars of protruding keloid
 Are even darker than her total gold
 Everyone knew
 Everyone whispered
 She was a hellion
 A brute
 An unrepentant supply of evil
 A bad mother
 A failed woman
 They named her witch
 Assigned designations without power to change
 Five remaining fingers on each hand
 barley clinging 
 to that thirsty branch
 Of the diseased tree
 She struggled
 They came upon each other one day.  It was a chance meeting, another arrangement of the universe.  After all, their worlds were separated, divergent, inequivalent yet equally actual.
 She was weary yet determined, walking slowly, the sidewalk seeming to grab at her steps as if to stop her progress.  This was nothing new.  Everything in life seemed to do that to her.  Yet she continued.
 He was on the same sidewalk, head in the air, walking briskly.  Too briskly to notice the woman he was heading toward. 
 And then they collided.  He was beyond angry that she had interfered with his forward progress. No one had even done that before. No one. He instinctively pushed her to the ground.  That was his nature.
 She knew she had to protect herself.  She knew immediately she was on her own. If she had to fight, that was what she would do.  He would not be the first she had to battle. He would not be the last she would best.
 She lay there looking up at him, one of her hands shielding her eyes from his blue glare.
 And that is when he saw the scar on her hand.
 He immediately knew what it was and what it meant.
 He reached down to help her up.
 She wondered why and did not trust.
 Jarring clarity took him to his knees.
 He took her hand and ran his fingers across the scar.
 She embraced the bond of blue sky and golden sun.
 They knew their real names.
 Holding hands and rising together to their feet,
 Now beyond circumstance
 Strength and Hope walked on.
 copyright©2021 by Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte

Christopher Bernard’s installment of The Ghost Trolley: A Tale for Children and Their Adults

The Ghost Trolley

A Tale for Children and Their Adults

By Christopher Bernard

Chapter 3. A Girl in a Red Jacket Under a Green Sky

As the trolley clanked noisily down the tracks, it suddenly emerged from what looked like a tunnel, but no – it was an old covered bridge, of the kind seen in the woods near Halloway, and that Petey always thought looked “romantic,” like his mother said, to a guffaw from his father – even eerie and haunted, though in a way that wasn’t scary. He had always liked the bridges, with their rumbling, uneven planks as the family car slowed down to drive across them with long shadowy interiors dotted with sunlight peering through cracks and the smell of damp, decaying wood. But this one wasn’t rumbling at all. Nor was there any sign of sunlight.

For the sun was only just now rising through the trees ahead of the trolley.

But Petey noticed something strange. It made his heart skip a beat. The shadows on the other side of the bridge looked all wrong: rather than falling from right to left across the trolley rails, which they should be doing, the shadows now fell from left to right. The trolley had been running north, unless they had made a weird turn when he was asleep. But that was impossible; they would have been back in Halloway by now if that had happened, not in the forest at all. If they were still in the forest, they had to be north of the town. And they were definitely in the forest.

At that moment the trolley moved across a break in the woods – a meadow cut through by a racing stream – before moving back into the forest darkness.

And above the meadow was the sun. And it was blinding him.

Petey had to throw his hand over his eyes. This was crazy – not that he had to cover his eyes against the sun, but because he shouldn’t have had to do that in the first place: the sun shouldn’t have been on that side of the trolley  It was in the wrong position. It was rising in the west, not the east. Petey pushed close to the window and looked up, past the blazing patch where the sun silently roared.

The sun was rising into a sky without a single cloud across its vast and shining expanse.

And the sky was pale green.

And not only that: it wasn’t winter anymore.

Petey pinched himself. Yep, he was awake all right, unless you could pinch yourself in a dream and still stay asleep.

There was no ice or snow anywhere, not on the ground, not in the trees, not in the crevices of the trolley’s windows. The banks along the trolley tracks were covered with a thick blanket of ferns and brush and wild flowers – a blossoming tapestry with a complicated blend of fragrances so strong and lovely he pressed his nose against the window crack so he could smell it better. It looked like, and smelled like, a drowsy, dewy morning in late spring. He pushed the window open as wide as he could.

Not only was the sky green, but some of the vegetation – the long grasses, for example, and some of the weeds – was blue. He could see clover (also blue) on the banks of the trolley cutting, and, on a sudden zephyr, several blew through the open window into the trolley. He picked one up from the seat next to him; it was a four-leaf clover! At first he felt “hella lucky,” as his dad would say, then he picked up two others that had blown in beside it: they were all four-leaf clovers! For some reason, this made him shudder.

He peered more closely at the forest the trolley was passing through. It also was different: the trees had pale gray bark, as he was used to seeing, but the boughs didn’t start till high up, leaving the lower trunks smooth and bare, and the roots started several feet above the ground, forming little, cozy cage-like shelters at the base of each tree. And the leaves looked strange: each tree had leaves with many different shapes, some of them like the wings of birds, others like seashells, others like palm fronds or banana tree leaves, some like oak or maple or sycamore leaves – but they were all on the same tree, which was definitely not how he knew trees grew back home.

Back home! But if this wasn’t “back home,” where in McGillicuddy’s bean patch (another favorite “dad phrase”) was he?

He heard what he thought was birdsong, as it was coming from the trees, but it wasn’t like anything he’d ever heard: there were long sharp hisses, then chattering and ratchety crackles, followed by a little, spiky shrieks. And then he saw the little furry animals that were making the noises; they were flying through the trees, though they were definitely not birds!

They sailed through the treetops like flying squirrels, though these looked more like chipmunks, one of them like a possum, another like a rat, another like a bright red fox; they spread their arms, the skin spreading out from their torsos like little sails or wings as they flew from bough to bough. There was even a monkey or two hanging out in the upper branches, but quite tall and with less fur, and they stopped and watched the trolley intently and seemed to notice Petey and watch him with an especially alert look on their wizened faces. The forest here looked like a jungle!

Petey tried to crouch out of sight when he saw the monkeys watching him, though he was immediately mad at himself: so what if the monkeys saw him, let ’em look! He had nothing to fear from them – did he?

Other mysterious eyes were watching him from the dense foliage of the trees: large round eyes in small round heads, bracketed by curiously stirring wings. One pair of wings took off heavily to follow him as he rode past, followed by another, then another, and another . . .

Not long afterward, the trolley came to the edge of the forest. At first the brightness of the sun dazzled the boy’s vision and Petey held his hand above his eyes like a hat brim until he could focus again. The first thing he saw clearly was something lying on the ground near the tracks just ahead of the trolley. 

It looked like the body of a man. He seemed to be sleeping. He lay with his face in the grass, with one arm stretched forward as though he were trying to hold on to something that was no longer there. Maybe it was one of the homeless people Petey sometimes saw in Halloway, usually from one of the big cities not far away – Portland or Burlington. Petey felt a spasm of pity for the man as his body passed beneath him and to the rear.

The boy, his eyes fully adjusted to the stark morning light, suddenly looked at the landscape surrounding him.

It was partly hidden by what looked like brown fog, that blew away here and there to reveal patches of blackened, in some cases still burning houses, barns, sheds, stables, granaries, silos, whole farmsteads, charred woods, fields pocked with craters like holes punched out by a crazed giant; and villages were burning in the distance, and the waves of smoke moved across the land like ghosts.

The boy was at first too astonished to be frightened. It looked too awful to be real, and he felt at first a certain detachment, as though none of this was happening to him; it was like being thrust without warning someone else’s nightmare.

A solitary bird was winging slowly above a dead tree. But it was flying upside down.

Then the boy saw something that made him shiver: the driver’s seat had changed – before, it had been on the left-hand side of the trolley, as it always was; but now it was on the right. He still couldn’t see any sign of the driver: just the tall back of his seat, and his coat, now on a hook on the other side of the driver’s cabin, swinging back and forth. The mirror above the driver’s head, in which he could usually see the driver’s face, was blank.

The bell clanged three times, and the trolley moved onward. Petey squeezed his face against the window and stared as they moved across the vast desolation. What had happened? Why had he heard nothing about it? Something like this would surely have been broadcast on the news – wouldn’t it? What was this? Where was he?

Then he saw her. It was a little girl dressed in a red coat, though the coat was covered with black streaks like stains; she was standing in a field next to the trolley tracks, watching the trolley come toward her. She started waving frantically.

The trolley stopped and she got in, mechanically put a coin into the coin box, and walked back with head down toward Petey as the trolley moved forward. Petey watched her intently as she sat in the seat across from him, without apparently noticing him.

She was a small girl, with frizzy hair and honey-brown eyes, from what he could see; her skin was smooth and brown, like cocoa; like the skin of Sambene, the little African American girl in the other fourth grade class, who Petey had a crush on.

The girl heaved a sigh. Her cheeks were stained with tears and ashes.

Petey wasn’t sure what to do. His parents had always warned him against talking to strangers. But, under the circumstances, wouldn’t it have been terribly rude to say nothing at all?

“Hel-lo,” he said shyly, his voice breaking between the syllables.

“Oh, hallo!” the girl said in a small, startled voice, seeming to notice him for the first time. She turned toward him; yes, her eyes were as brown as honey.

Petey’s heart skipped a beat, for the second time that morning.

“What happened out there?” he asked, after hesitating for almost a full minute.

The girl stared at him with large, sad eyes that hardly seemed to see him. They shone with tears.

“They come for us!” she said, in a curious accent Petey had never heard before.

“Who came for you?”

“The Korgan of Ramora! It part of the big battle last night. You must see that!” And bursting forth from having been pent up so long, her words came tumbling out. “They come in middle of night and take me father and me mother and me sister and me brother, and they take me if I not hid under bush at back of our garden, and they set our house on fire, and I have to wait all night, watch our house burn down, and I ken’t believe it so I look at it when it all over, and I slip and fall in the ash, then I run away as sun rise till I see the yellow trolley that cross the middle of Otherwise when there be a blue moon, like there be last night, and here I am . . . ”

Petey tried to take all this in, without quite succeeding.

“Why did they want to take you?”

“It part of the war . . .” The girl looked at Petey closely for the first time. “Don’t you know? Not you from here?”

Petey shrugged uncomfortably.

“No, this is the first time I’ve ever been here. I got in the trolley to go to school and I fell asleep and I missed my stop and I waited for the trolley to take me back but it took me here instead.”

“Oh,” said the young girl, still sadly. “That must mean you from Howtiz.”
            Petey, who had never heard of “Howtiz,” looked doubtful, but felt it would be impolite to contradict someone who looked so upset.

“This be Otherwise,” said the girl, wiping the tears from her eyes (telling her story seemed to have relieved her a little). “You can see the different destination on front of trolley. When it go back from here it say ‘2 Howtiz.’ In Otherwise, things be different from Howtiz, completely different, but not all at once, which why it called Otherwise. Anyway that what me deddy tell me. I only know Otherwise, I never be to Howtiz. I always want to go there, because Otherwise not exist without Howtiz—at least that what me deddy tell me some of our philosopher say, though other philosopher claim otherwise. Me deddy say that so like them. They never make up their mind about anything.”

Petey blinked at that. Philosophers claimed otherwise about Otherwise? The thought gave him a little brain spasm.

“Anyway, I always want to see for meself, by going there on yellow trolley. But me parents never let me go. And a blue moon be rare anyway.” She sighed again. Speaking clearly made her feel calmer, so she continued. “We live, I guess not anymore, in Forest of Paal. Me deddy  a teacher. Me mommy a doctor, and there be three children. We live peaceful before the war and the Korgan from Kingdom of Ramora across Mountain of Sleeping Noor invade we. Everyone force to join one side or other, either Korgan or Paona, who be largest group who live on the plain. It easy for we to choose, cause Paonas gentle and honest, but very poor, and there not be many of them, and Korgan, though they be rich and powerful and strong, and there be many of them, not content with what they have but think they must have ever’thing. They probably not even be content then!” she sighed

The girl paused, as if uncertain whether to tell the boy from Howtiz any more.

“You couldn’t just stay out of the fight between them?”

“No,” said the girl positively. “You do that, everyone turn on you. ‘Whoever not enemy of me enemy, be enemy of me.’” She said the last in a detached singsong voice, as though reciting a school lesson she had become profoundly and bitterly skeptical of.

Petey looked uncertainly at the girl. He was thinking about what he saw altogether too often on the news back home. Back home! Sigh . . .

“Are you sure we are in Otherwise?”

“Yes, of course! Why you ask such a question!”

“Because what you say sounds an awful lot like where I come from.”

“The world Korgan and Paona fight for not just world of Otherwise,” she continued, ignoring Petey’s remark, “it be world of Howtiz, too. Whoever win will take over Howtiz as well. The two world come together then into one world – for better or worse. At least so some of our philosopher say . . .”

“When they aren’t saying otherwise?”

“Exactly right!” She gave a little laugh. “I doubt anyone know, really. But that what me parents tell me.”

The boy felt rather solemn after he heard all of this.

The girl looked straight at the boy.

“But,” she said, leaning in toward him; seeming finally to make up her mind to tell him everything, “there be another reason Korgan invade.”

She stared hard at him with her honey-brown eyes.

“They invade to find Spell.”

Petey gave her a blank look.

“So, what is ‘Spell’?”

“Spell be secret of Otherwise. Or one secret,” she added conscientiously.

The two children looked gravely at each other as the trolley moved quietly onward. The sun was just behind the young girl’s hair, making it glow.

“Me deddy tell me the story. Spell discovered many generation ago by the Paona. At first it make them happy, because it give them power over whole world, me deddy tell me. But it soon come clear such power can also destroy world, and so it too dangerous to keep. It too much for Paona to know. And so they bury it in a distant, hidden place and try to forget it. But my father say fact they once have that power can never be forgotten, never utterly entirely. Every so often someone break down and try, in middle of night, because it against law and every commandment of our religion, to dig up Spell, but no one ever able to find out where it buried.

“Then one day me deddy, who also like to invent things  – mostly toys for childers, but sometime big important things for adults – thought he had worked out – completely by accident, he say, but I think he just modest – what Spell be. Last night he tell me mommy. And I overhear them.” The girl’s face looked almost frightened. “I not sure I hear everything, but I remember everything he say.”

“But what was this ‘spell’ all about?” asked Petey impatiently. “Why was it so dangerous somebody would start a war because of it?”

“First of all, you must know Otherwise only exist because different things happen in all kind of different ways, but by chance,” said the girl. “Anyway, that be what me deddy say though I don’t really understand it. What Spell do be this: it make possible to go back into past and change into future – What Be. Even more: What Is. That why it be so powerful. It possible for you – for anybody – to make another Otherwise, and then another, and then another . . .”

Petey stared at her.

“If you have Spell, you have power over all of time. And therefore over all of world. So.”

And the possibilities this suggested to him swirled through Petey’s mind in a flash of intoxicating wonder.

Chapter 4. The Exploding Trolley

“What be your name?” the girl asked politely.

“Petey,” said Petey, coming back from his momentary trance.

“Me name be Sharlotta.”

For some reason Petey blushed, and the girl lapsed into silence. She seemed a good deal less upset now.

“Our home so beautiful,” the girl said quietly as she stared across the ruined landscape outside the trolley windows. “It not big, like a gookor, it be more like a gimpy, but it be roomy enough, and cozy. We live there long as I remember. Me mommy say I born there, but I think that can’t be so. After all, my little sister born in a gorpal in town.” She was silent for a moment, then continued dreamily, “We have two kerdles, and we have a bumble who think he a kerdle, and we have a goffney out back where we grow cispies and prunables and gerk trees that unleave in the fall and flourish all winter until the kerries turn many colors in sprang, and we have a wintry house where we eat when it not rain, above a custer with a pearly so fresh and cold you can kneel at the bank and cup your hands and drink it whenever you thirsty, it be most delicious beverage in the world, me deddy say.” She stopped, as though the dream had abruptly ended, and her face again crumpled. “Now it all gone . . .”

Petey had hardly understood a thing that Sharlotta had said, but her words sounded so heartfelt he too felt deeply sorry that it was gone, and he sighed.

It was then he heard an angry series of shouts from in front of the trolley, which came to an abrupt halt. The two youngsters were thrown from their seats to the trolley floor.

Petey scrambled up and peered around his seat toward the invisible driver. The jacket had fallen from the hook.

Sharlotta stayed down behind the seat in front of her.

“It be them!” she whispered in a terrified voice.

The trolley’s back door, which was right in front of them, had been thrown open when the trolley halted. Petey took the girl’s hand and, without a word, they scurried down to an embankment thick with tall ferns and other brush, and hunkered down among them out of sight.

Two large males, dressed like soldiers from a bygone era and holding weapons that looked to Petey like a weird blend of crossbow and machine gun, their skin as pale as milk but looking like they hadn’t washed in months, walked up to the trolley’s front door, looked inside and waited.

The driver didn’t emerge. Petey, who had never gotten a good look at the driver, was curious to see more, but Sharlotta tugged his sleeve to keep down.

Petey could hear the Korgans talking in the distance, but could neither see them nor make out what they were saying.

“Maybe we should get away from the trolley,” he whispered, suddenly feeling queasy.

 They crept through the brush quietly up the bank to several curious-looking trees at the top – their canopies of leaves were broad at the bottom and narrow above, twisting up in a shape like a flame. From there Petey could see clearly into the driver’s cabin: there was no one in the driver’s seat! His father had said that driverless trolleys and busses were only a matter of time – but he had never seen one before.

In front of the trolley several Korgans were conferring. Then one of them walked to the trolley’s open front door and threw something inside. The Korgans then ran hell bent for leather for cover behind a stand of tree fifty feet away.

“Hold your ears!” Petey had just enough to say when there was a flash, a rush of air and a boom as the trolley exploded.

Dust and gravel and shattered fragments of metal and glass, shreds of plastic, rubber, straps, handles, fixtures, stuffing from the seats, bits of wire, lights, piping – all rained down as the two children sat with their hands over their ears. Papers and fragments from Petey’s backpack and the things inside it scattered in the air, which was suffused with the smell of burnt gasoline and oil.

They sat paralyzed as the noise from the explosion echoed away in the distance.

How will I get home now! Petey thought. His backpack and notebooks and homework and lunchbox, and – gee whillickers! – his new smartphone, his very first one, which sure would have been useful to have right now – were all gone in a blast of smoke and noise that made his ears ring.

After a moment, Sharlotta brushed away a large piece of plastic seating that had fallen lightly on top of her, and whispered to Petey, “If I follow them, they lead me to me family.”

Petey didn’t need to ask who she meant by “them.”

“Aren’t you scared they’ll catch you?”

“Of course I be. But how else I find them?”

The girl raised herself a little.

“Are you going by yourself?” Petey asked.

“Yes. Unless you want come with me.”

“You know, it’s too bad you’re wearing a red jacket,” he said, after a moment, still in a whisper. “They’ll see you a mile away. Like,” he added, shyly, “my hair.” Fortunately, he was wearing a little, dark blue watch cap, as it was still winter in Howtiz; his orange hair peeped through in a narrow halo around the edge.

Sharlotta nodded ruefully.

She couldn’t just take her jacket off. She had only a thin nightie on underneath.

“But if you wear it inside out . . .” Petey said.

The girl’s face brightened. Then she whispered, “Don’t look!” took off the red jacket, turned it inside out, and put it back on. The lining was a blue-green and would blend in with the landscape quite satisfactorily, at least from a distance.

“There!” said Sharlotta. “Now you can look.”

“Who talking up there?” called out a voice from below.

They heard sounds of climbing and took the plastic seat cover Sharlotta had brushed aside and, curling up together into a little ball, covered themselves up.

A pair of muddy boots moved through the grass toward Petey, stopping a few inches from his nose.

There was silence except for the sound of the wind and the shrieks of flying animals in the trees.

“Strong smell of Paona!” The voice came from behind Petey’s head; it took a deep breath. “Some find it repulsive, but I find it likes me. I smell it can here.”

Petey felt something touch the seat covering himself and Sharlotta. It felt as if one of the Korgans had raised his foot and was resting it casually on the seat.

“Humph. No doubt explosion scaring them off.”

The voice above the boots spoke. “I need interrogate the leader Laghdin dragged in last night. I have word he knows more than he has a right to. Laghdin found paper before they burned house that tells he may have it. Or part of.”

“Hm! That be a lucky find indeed!”

“Or not . . . ”

 “It mean quick end to war,” the other said, almost ruefully.

“Or not! We keep it to ourselves till we have more fun with Paonas. Why spoil the game when our boys just start to enjoy themselves?”

“Ah, now you thinking like true Korgan!” said the other.

And the two laughed and ambled away down the embankment.

“He be talking about me deddy!” whispered the girl.

Petey met Sharlotta’s eyes in the shadow of the cover.

“Well,” said the boy, “I guess we’ll have to follow them now.”

He saw in the shadows a complicated look on the girl’s face: a knotting together of fear and sorrow and determination and gratefulness.

They quietly pushed the plastic off and peeped above the grass. A half-dozen Korgans were walking down alongside the trolley tracks, their strange weapons cocked over their shoulders. Petey and Sharlotta followed at a distance, through the trees above the tracks.

“One thing I don’t get,” said Petey quietly. “You said your family joined the Paonas, but the Korgans said your father is a ‘big shot.’”

“We not Paona,” said Sharlotta, “we be Creel, related to Paona going back many a generation. Me deddy become a Paona leader after we join them in the war, so they consider him Paona too. They consider anyone who join the Paona Paona. It just one more way they be coarse and stupid.”

“And the Paonas don’t do that?”

“No, of course not. They not lump everybody together the way Korgan do. Everyone be different, be treated differently. Anyway, that what Paona believe. And we Creel believe that too. But we should not talk. The wind blowing from us to them. They might hear.”

The two children followed the Korgans until the latter walked past the tracks, down a twisting stream, then turned out of the woods to the edge of a wide plain. Petey gasped a little at what  he saw: an immense encampment going for miles and made up almost entirely of tentlike structures, spread across the landscape like a living quilt, swarming with thousands of living beings – “Korgans,” said Sharlotta to Petey’s unasked question.

Pocked with open spaces, parade grounds and sturdier constructions of wood and even stone, and divided up by a network of roads and pathways, and surrounded by a belt of fencing punctuated with bannered towers, it was the main camp, as Sharlotta explained to Petey, of the invading Korgans. Far in the distance, a range of mountains crowned with snow seemed to float above the horizon in the image of a sleeping woman, and a blue moon hung in the eastern sky.

“That,” said Sharlotta, gesturing toward the mountains, “be land of Korgans. From there they come to conquer us, to seize Spell, and conquer world.”