Poetry from Deborah Guzzi

ashes fall from the joss stick: finger bones

 

My name is Devi, a foolish name really for it means Angel, and I certainly am not. The city of Phnom Penh had been our home. Father was a professor at The Royal University. I was their only child. I was just getting ready for school, Tuol Sleng High, when the Khmer’s arrived. They drummed on the door of our house and said “Get out, get out!” They had bomb guns pointed at us. One of the soldiers—not much older than I—a very dark skinned girl screamed at Father. “You have American friends? You speak English?” He nodded and said of course he did; he was a professor at the University. “You New People, you think you are so smart.” She shot him in the head. He tumbled like a string-less puppet onto the step. Mother screamed and cried. “You are not to cry,” they ordered, “Get out!”

 

the open door

let in a light rain:

the kettle whistles

 

They grabbed mother and I, and tossed us into the band of people milling in the street. They pushed us; prodding with rifle butts along the street lined with palm trees. I was glad it was warm. My black skirt and white blouse were all I wore. All I could think about was my feet. I had been barefoot when they came. What a foolish thing to think. Father was dead. Thinking of my feet. I wish I could go back and get my new shoes. I felt naked. Mother staggered behind me. I told her, “keep up Mae or they will kill you.” Mother bumped into the Grandmother in front of her. Yiey spit at the guard. He jammed the rifle butt into her face. She fell into the gutter. The line walked around her. The guard kicked her body. “Why waste a bullet?” He and the other half dozen guerrilla’s laughed. The girl guard ripped Yiey’s gold amulet from her neck. She wiped the blood off the necklace on Grandmother’s dress. “Be of use or die New Ones,” the male guard bellowed.

 

To my surprise, the Khmer guards took us to the High School. Mother was ripped away from me. All the women were taken outside. I could hear much laughter. There was screaming and cries to God. The dark skinned female guard smiled. “They are being of use,” she smirked. She sucked on her index finger and the male guard next to her howled. I never saw mother again.

 

So many, many: young children, young mothers, young boys, all marched days with little food or water. The temperature climbed over 100 degrees. Babies were torn from shawl slings and tossed away like garbage as they died. There were no more tears. We were to be ‘purified’ in a commune. The village was called Prek Sbauv. I struggled to live. I bent my back in the fields of the Old People.

 

What was life? I asked myself, so many times, but, to say no was to die. I did not want to rot in a rice paddy, not be reborn. Had no one burnt father’s corpse? Had no one placed the white crocodile flag in front of our home? I must live to see father and mothers’ bodies were burned. I must place their ashes in the stupa.

 

*The Cambodian genocide April 17, 1975

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Laura Kaminski reviews Elsie Augustave’s The Roving Tree

Cover of Elsie Augustave's The Roving Tree

Elsie Augustave’s The Roving Tree (Akashic Books/Open Lens, 2013) is a masterful work of fiction, meticulously researched and exquisitely written. Despite the publisher’s statement that it is “told from beyond the grave,” the narrator’s voice is flawless — I kept feeling I was reading creative nonfiction, a book that should share a shelf with Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior, Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, and Maya Angelou’s Letter to My Daughter.

I literally stood up and shook myself to break the spell after the deceased narrator brought the story to a close during the final few pages. My next thought was: This book needs to be taught to university-level humanities students: students of political science, history, sociology, anthropology, comparative religion, African / African-American / Haitian studies, women’s studies — and literature. Above all, literature. Timeless, insightful literature that teaches us about our history, our culture, our social mores, the barriers created by our own unnoticed preconceptions and ingrained prejudices — this book belongs with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (Maya Angelou) and To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee).

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Short story from Rachel Stewart Johnson

 

Errands

 

The veterinarian’s office had a noxious odor every time Angie Pell stepped inside. The odor was so strong that Angie found it hard to continue without a frown, and the frown would involve both the gray scoops below her eyes and the muscles that lined the back of her neck. She wanted to cover her mouth, and she wanted to provide commentary – good Lord, she wanted to say, before telegraphing her near-nausea via the sustained parting of her lips. She had never thought to worry about what caused such a foul smell. Her six-year-old daughter, Katie, introduced this concern.

“Why does it smell like throw-up in here?” the little girl wondered, not fifteen seconds in.

“Oh I think maybe that’s just medicine it smells like.”

“It smells like a baby died.”

Angie scowled. “Oh, Katie, please. Yuck. Come on,” she said. Angie looked at the only other patron in the waiting room, a woman whose likely age advanced the longer Angie studied her. She had passed fifty when the phone rang.

“Front Range Veterinary Clinic. Good morning,” the receptionist behind the front desk answered. Angie rolled her eyes. The receptionist was silent, the phone to her ear. Angie had to look away. “Hello?” the receptionist tried again. “Front Range Veterinary Clinic. Hello?” Angie rubbed her temples and spoke to her daughter.

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Fables from Laura Kaminski

Fable Six: Dance

The dervishes are blown across
the desert lands like seeds,
they gather at the shrines
of Sufi saints to dance and pray,
they spin with arms stretched
up toward heaven, sprouting,
reaching for the light, longing
to learn to photosynthesize.

Fable Seven: Destruction

regarding the death of an oak in Syria, November 2013

Some call our dancing
heresy, took the shrine
at Atme, with their rifles
turned back those of us
who came to pray.

We gathered, then, within
the nearby shade of a large
weathered tree, made
our ablutions, spread our
carpets on the sand.

They came with axes,
proclaimed jihad with
chainsaws, toppled
the hundred-fifty-
year-old oak tree.

We take our mats—
the world is filled
with other places
to face the qibla.

Before we leave, we
turn and greet the angry
soldiers: Peace.

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Play/Write from Ryan Hodge

-Ryan J. Hodge

PW_Banner_LT

For someone who enjoys a great story, is there anything better than a narrative that engages you from the very start? Imagine a world so rich you can almost smell the scents in the air, a delivery so clever it forces you to think in a way you never thought you would. I’m Ryan J. Hodge, author, and I’d like to talk to you about…Video Games.

Yes, Video Games. Those series of ‘bloops’ and blinking lights that –at least a while ago- society had seemed to convince itself had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. In this article series, I’m going to discuss how Donkey Kong, Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty and even Candy Crush can change the way we tell stories forever.

What Moral Choice Systems Teach Us About Writing Better Characters

When we think of some of the truly great characters in contemporary narrative, one might notice that it is a certain type of character that rushes to mind above all others. The traditional hero may be all well and good, but does not lend itself to the same examination as Charles Foster Kane or Tony Soprano. In their respective stories, it can be easily claimed that it is the personality of these characters that drove the narrative forward and less the circumstances in which they found themselves.

There’s a reason they’re front and center.

There’s a reason they’re front and center.

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Poetry from Peter Jacob Streitz

COMPLETE CONCENTRATION

Treblinka forever lies over my U.S. hills
Where trains do roll through my childhood still
Day skies darken and night skies glow
Fertilized grass, green and grows
Over the dead and dying souls
Stuffed headfirst in living holes

All-American Boy Born 19__

My skull-white moon shines above
While whore-forced Jew makes camp-time love
Death is sought as end of whole
Not so when my cattle train rolls
Across stone bridges the boxcars slide
Clickity-clack buries star-crossed sighs

All-American Boy Born 1__

Beyond dry creeks my train flies past
Drunken driver blows a final blast
Our Polish vodka kills the pain
Shots drown screams in snow and rain
Trains connect from miles around
To dump their load in my hometown

All-American Boy Born

Childhood recalls trains as fun
Now they warn to forget its run
The train returns, swift with lightened load
And travels back to the deadman’s road
Cars all packed with skintight bone
I don’t listen to those alone

All-American Boy Bo

Sidetracked screams waif about my fears
Fresh smoked flesh distilled my tears
I’ve a drunken knowledge of what I’ve done
I know it all, yet told no one

All-American Boy

Like the Hitler’s mid-wife in Braunau
I knew of horror, then and now
Rosa Horl delivered our devil’s kin
I knew him well and let him in

All-American

My heart raved against the bastard’s “murderous race!”
Yet the Hebrew, a queer, any “ist” could take my place
Christian screams rang in my ears
But nothing took, nothing near
I knew of torture, yet told no one
Never admit what I had done

All-America

“They,” occupied us from within
“We,” decreed it their deadly sin
Our Headmen ordered and turned their backs
While I laid the state-run tracks
Trooped in lines towards well-scrubbed shacks
Freed ash rose from store bought stacks

All-Americ

Red embers swirled in a dull black night
Kike crazed communist on gypsied flight
Fires raged hotter and my time grew short
Still I had nothing to report

All Ame

Cremains flew higher than I could go
Condemned to silence for what I know

All A

Their smell no longer spreads earthbound
Its stench became my sacred ground
Blood-dried trails line the path I plod
I dare not touch the blistered sod
From this soiled earth, truth could grow
With seeds of hate from what I know

All

Now my stifled screams ring mountain peaks
I lived gagged, I cannot speak
My tribe once sung “Fight till our new man comes”
But I fear him like my father’s son

A

For I am that old man whose mind does reek
I wait silently, never once I speak

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