Synchronized Chaos April 2021: Escape Room

Wishing everyone who celebrates a very happy Easter and Passover and beginning of spring, or fall if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere.

First, a special shout-out to the Yiddish Theater Ensemble (Berkeley, CA) for the invitation to view a Vimeo video production of Sholem Asch’s 1906 play God of Vengeance, directed by Bruce Bierman, translated to English by Caraid O’Brien. We announced this play in last month’s issue and it represents a creative triumph of translation of live theater to the virtual environment. Everything between the actors and actresses, from a slap to a kiss, was cleverly conveyed through highly coordinated gesturing from within tiny Zoom boxes. Whether you see this play, concerning a socially questionable Jewish family determined to marry their daughter off well, as a tragedy or a tale of the daughter’s empowerment, you will likely agree that the Ensemble carried it off with passion and energy.

This month Synchronized Chaos’ contributors explore themes of escape and presence. How do we escape, or try to escape, the world around us, and when and how do we choose to stay present and experience and learn from situations we face?

Nondescript shadowy male figure running against a blue and black background carrying a briefcase in his right hand.
Public domain image from Gerd Altmann

Mark Blickley, in an ekphrastic poem inspired by Belgian photographer Inge Dumoulin’s image, comments satirically on the artistry of a man who has ducked his head under a table.

In the same spirit, John Robbins’ piece explicates why someone slips away from the world into the bar for cocktails. Stephanie Johnson reminisces about lunches and wine shared among expatriate women in Turkey, in an enclave they created for themselves away from the local culture.

Dan Flore also writes of disconnection: how our minds, and varying mental states, can separate us from each other. Even when we’re physically near each other, we’re not always on the same wavelength.

Brick building with white stone bricks and a gray painted door. A spiral concrete staircase with a railing extends out of the door as a fire escape.
Public domain image from Karen Arnold

In a different vein, Canadian poet Allison Grayhurst’s pieces embrace the merging of individual identities into the partnership of marriage. Rather than escaping into one’s own space, her speakers join with others at an intimate level and choose to embrace the uncertainty, risk, and joy that can bring.

In his poem, Christopher Bernard mourns the loss of someone he deeply loved with an ironic, poignant image; while John Culp illustrates the process of change and personal transformation, something that can happen when we choose to stay present and hear the lessons life has for us.

Sonia Das writes of childhood, home, and memories, while Alan Catlin presents a stream-of-consciousness look at cultural nostalgia and musings on the fragility of life. Dave Douglas celebrates the joy of playing and connecting with a little autistic girl in a piece he submitted for Autism Awareness Month in April.

J.K. Durick’s pieces also probe the effects of time: our memories, what we put away over the years and what (and who) we bring out again to remember. Drifting down memory lane can be an escape, but choosing to remember can be a way to be present in your life, deciding what’s important.

Arched opening in a brick wall opens to a view of a large body of water with clouds and a sunrise/sunset in the background. A green island looms in the distance.
Public domain image from Flash Alexander

In other pieces, Allison Grayhurst illustrates people healing from loss. South African writer Abigail George’s impressionistic essay also processes a loss: the speaker mourns and struggles to understand the end of a relationship she had with an older male writer. As part of this, she reflects on her life journey, relationships and writing and what she brings to her personal and artistic lives.

J.J. Campbell also points to themes of loss and loneliness as his middle-aged speakers reflect on their lives. Yet he finds space to mention what he enjoys as well: friendship, caring, and the joy of artistry for its own sake.

Michael Johnson presents various characters in persona poems who are unafraid to be themselves, including a Native American woman proud of her heritage and a girl comfortable in her own skin and ready to have fun.

Mark Blickley presents a rather unique character who helps a boy cope with his father’s impending death and his mother’s misplaced anger. Kahlil Crawford also writes of mortality, commenting through a single image on what we can leave behind us when we depart.

Bangladeshi poet Mahbub brings us short pieces from speakers hoping to escape their lives, or who find themselves unable to get away from their realities. Nigerian poet Daniel Ezeokeke’s speaker turns to history and academic study as an escape from the trauma of war and violence.

Nigerian writer Chimezie Ihekuna warns in his screenplay about the psychological dangers of developing an obsession with horror and violence as entertainment. Bruce Mundhenke speculates on the mysteries and hidden dangers of Internet technology, also an obsession and escape for many, in a piece evoking the Trojan War.

Nondescript clip art white male figure in a business suit runs from his shadow, which has grown and morphed into a menacing creature with teeth and claws.
Public domain image from Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan

Samara Hayley Steele uses the Free Britney Spears movement as a cultural touchstone in an essay where she hopes that ‘celebrity culture’ will become more than a mindless diversion. Perhaps the increased awareness of some social issues that we gain through watching celebrities’ lives will inspire us to liberate non-famous people as well.

Chinese poet Hongri Yuan and translator Manu Mangattu continue to craft poems illuminating a celestial world in which some may wish to escape.

Chris Butler tackles real world issues through surreal poetry: humans’ rapacious fingerprint on our planet, melting glaciers, rising seas.

Australian poet Nathan Anderson transmutes the language of his poetry into a jumbled concoction to convey the mindless monotony of oppression and the futility of assuming the world operates according to simple manufacturers’ instructions.

White or Latino man with short brown hair (real image of a person) with chains around his neck and hands underwater. Part of an escape stunt game.
Public domain image from Ron Sanderson

Other writers play with words and language to express mood rather than literal meaning. Mark Young’s poetry sounds resolute in its opacity and J.D. Nelson’s lines flow together in a poetic rhythm. Jack Galmitz showcases a ‘gallery’ of ordinary folks in plain language, to show that writing can be intriguing without being incomprehensible.

Chimezie Ihekuna contributes a piece of bold determination. He will not escape difficult situations or surrender to them, but will persevere in the face of any obstacle.

Synchronized Chaos Magazine is happy to have persevered throughout the time of Covid-19 with you. We are always flattered by the number and diversity of submissions we receive and encourage readers to leave comments for the writers and artists.

Poetry from Kahlil Crawford

LE FLEUR
for Bill Campbell

I am a flower.
My petals keep falling
to the wayside
One after another,
one by one.

Parts of my DNA
leave my life,
Shorten my stay.

What is life?
Seems like
it remains here
while we depart
for the unknown…

place in our imagination.

Chicago-ing

Ekphrastic work from Mark Blickley

Remains (bones and some fur) of a small rodent lying on dirt. Some pine needles are on the ground.

The dumbwaiter broke for the ninth time that month.  This meant that Arnie would have to run the family’s trash down five flights of stairs, depositing it on top of a row of garbage cans to the left of his building.  Arnie hated the chore but his sisters were too young for such a responsibility.  He flung his jacket with the New York Knicks insignia over his shoulder and grabbed the bag from his mother.

            “Goddamn dumbwaiter,” hissed her mother, “we don’t have enough around here with sickness, we need filth, too!”

            Arnie looked up at her and shivered.  It had been a long time since he could remember her smiling or when her voice wasn’t sharp, angry at him.  He wondered why her behavior was normal only when she communicated with the tall skeleton lying on the living room couch.

            She hates me, thought Arnie, just because I hate this stinkin’ garbage.  When Daddy gets better things’ll be good again.  He’ll help out with the garbage and everything will be fine.

            The garbage cans overflowed, spotted with vermin.  Arnie threw the bag onto the pile and watched with a smile as three days of his life spilled onto the sidewalk.  The crashing of baby food jars as they rolled from the sidewalk and into the street made Arnie cry, and he quickly covered his face with his jacket.  He did not want any reminders of his mother spoon-feeding his father from those jars.

            Ever since the hospital released his father following his third stomach operation, life had become crazy.  Daddy was like a six-foot three-inch child, and Arnie a four-foot seven-inch adult.  “Like a stupid midget,” sighed Arnie.  His mother depended on him to do everything and he was rewarded by her snapping at him like the turtles he caught up at the lake when his father was healthy.

            Five weeks had passed since the hospital dumped his father into the four-room apartment with the broken dumbwaiter.  Sometimes his speech could be understood, but his existence was mostly incoherent phrases and the sucking of air between gnawed teeth, swallowing pain.

            Arnie was sitting in the chair opposite the couch, reading, when he heard his father mumble.  He looked up from his illustrated Grimm’s Fairy Tales.

            “What Daddy?”

            His father slowly turned his head until he could peripherally see his son.  “Soup,” he whispered.

            Arnie begrudgingly closed his book and stood up as mother scuffed into the living room and smiled down at his father.  She tugged at the back of Arnie’s hair, propelling him into the kitchen. 

            “You do what your father wants and fast, understand me?” she whispered angrily.  “Are you such a stupid little fool that you don’t know he’s going to heaven soon?”

            Arnie slipped out of his mother’s grip and hurried out of the apartment.  He raced down five flights of stairs trying to outdistance his thoughts, but failed.  The past months were not spent waiting for his father to get better, to go back to work, or go back to the hospital.    Going to heaven?  Heaven is for skeletons?  Hell is full of skeletons, not heaven.

            Arnie bought the soup with his own coins.  He was walking up the tenement stoop when a movement by the garbage cans caught his attention.  The nine rusty cans for five floors of families were completely buried by torn, greasy bags.  It smelled the same way Arnie felt.  He walked closer to the noise, careful of rats.

            Suddenly, a large head covered with red blotches, chewing on the remains of a day-old TV dinner, popped up out of the garbage.  Arnie jumped back and froze.

            “What’s the matter, pal?  Never seen anyone enjoyin’ their lunch before?  Want some?”

            Arnie pulled the can of soup out of his pocket and cocked his arm defensively.

            “Soup.  Well, you are a good lunch companion.  Oh dear, it’s mushroom.  Doctor says I can’t eat mushrooms.  I have a tendency to hallucinate, but I do appreciate the gesture,” he smiled, rising up from the rubbish heap and stretching to his full height, a head taller than Arnie.

            Arnie giggled and pocketed the can.  “What’s your name?”

            The man blew a fly off his nose and scratched under his eye with a long, jagged fingernail.  “People call me Decay Dan.”  He extended his hand as Arnie withdrew a step.  The man laughed.

            “You look good in garbage,” giggled Arnie, pleased at being able to retort with an adult.

            Dan nodded in agreement, walked over to the curb and squatted.  “Garbage has been good to me, too.”

            “Why are you called Decay Dan?  Sounds like a toothpaste commercial.”

            “Because I give hope to people,” replied Dan.

            “You’re crazy,” said Arnie.

            “Naturally.  But to get back to your question, I’m called Decay Dan because I offer the promise of life after death.”

            “Say what!” exclaimed Arnie, his fingers tightening around the can in his pocket.  “You tryin’ to tell me that you’re God or something?  I look stupid, huh?”

            Decay Dan shifted on his haunch and squinted at the boy.  Arnie noticed that Dan’s ankles were swollen; his shoes housed sockless feet.  “What I’m saying is that garbage is important because everyone makes it.  When people see garbage they’re disgusted because it makes them think of their own slowly rotting bodies and the death that awaits them.  Understand?”

            “I think so,” said Arnie, “but why do people get hope from you?”

            “Just a second,” answered Decay Dan.  He walked over to the garbage, rummaged through some bags and returned to the curb with a soggy, half-smoked cigarette.  After a frantic search through his tattered shirt and pants pockets, he found a book of matches and tried to light the cigarette.  It was too wet. Decay Dan grumbled and ran the flame under the cigarette, slowly rotating it at the filter.  Thirty seconds later he tried to light it again.  A brown stained smile recorded his success as he filled his lungs with smoke.

            “What’s your name, boy?”

            “Arnie”

            “Arnie, the way I have it pegged is that when folks see me scrambling around the garbage they get comforted ‘cause the only life usually found in garbage are maggots.  A human being rising out of the decay makes them think of the resurrection of the flesh.  Understand?  Decay is not the end.  It’s the supper.  And as you can see by my gut, not the last supper, either.”

            Arnie stared at Decay Dan and shrugged.  Although he wasn’t sure what the man was talking about, he felt a certain comfort from his tone of voice, an old familiar comfort, like when his parents used to explain the reasons why it was important for him to excel in school.

            “My mother told me that my father’s going to heaven soon.”

            “Is he now?  Well, I suppose it’s a damn sight better than living in garbage.”

            The two sat in a prolonged silence.

            “My mother is upset and angry at me all the time for nothing.  I haven’t done nothing.”

            “Your old man’s pretty sick, huh?”

            Arnie nodded.  “Cancer.”

            Decay Dan was about to put his arm around Arnie’s shoulder but retracted the motion.  “It’s the decay, boy.  Don’t worry.  It’s not you, it’s the garbage of disease.  She’ scared, that’s all.”

            Arnie glanced down at Decay Dan’s swollen ankles and then looked into his eyes.  “You don’t sound all that crazy.  Why are you in garbage?”

            “Because there’s so much of it and nobody fights me for it.  Now mind you, I’m only talking about American garbage with its bright sanitary packages and Grade A meats.”

            “I’d like to do something for you, Decay Dan,” said Arnie.

            Decay Dan smiled and spit.  “You can, Arnie.  Next time your mom forces you to eat something you don’t want and she tells you about all those starvin’ people all over the world, just smile and agree with her.  When she leaves think about old Decay Dan and scrape your plate into the garbage, okay?”

            “Deal,” grinned Arnie and the two shook hands.

            A scream pierced through their new friendship and they both looked up at the fifth-floor window where Arnie’s mother’s face was pressed against the window grill.

            “Arnie!  Arnie!  Stop talking to yourself and waving your arms around like an idiot!  Get the hell up here, now!  Your father’s been waiting for that soup!  Hurry up!  Run!  Now the neighbors will know I got mental sickness to put up with, too!  Get off that curb!  Now!”  She slammed the window shut.

            Decay Dan winked at Arnie and scampered away.

Arnie climbed slowly up the stairs.  He paused at each flight to run his hand over the banister and think.  His mother had not seen Decay Dan even though Dan was right next to him when she shouted down at him.  There’s going to be trouble, big trouble, thought Arnie.

            He stopped in front of the muddied welcome mat outside his door, drew a breath, and clicked the key in the keyhole.          


Mark Blickley hails from the Bronx and is a proud member of the Dramatists Guild and PEN American Center. His latest book is the text-based art collaboration with fine arts photographer Amy Bassin, Dream Streams. (Clare Songbirds Publishing House, NY). His art videos, Speaking in Bootongue and Widow’s Peek: The Kiss of Death represented the United States in the 2020 year-long international world tour of Time Is Love: Universal Feelings: Myths & Conjunctions, organized by esteemed African curator, Kisito Assangni.

Poetry from Bruce Mundhenke

All Aboard

Nero fiddled;
I play Slither io,
Rome is burning again…
ID2020,
The Trojan horse of today,
Preview of coming attractions,
A reset is on the way…
A chicken in every pot,
How could anyone lose?
There is no time to think,
There is no need to choose,
Only one train,
Only one track,
So then,
All Aboard!
Where this train
Is bound for,
Not even the engineer knows…

Poetry from Christopher Bernard

 

 Late Flowers
 By Christopher Bernard

 Only now have they started to fade.
 They had just begun to open
 the afternoon I bought them
 right before your birthday:
 white lilies, red carnations,
 clematis that clings to the eaves,
 small pink roses,
 little daisies,
 against a deep green backdrop 
 of shadowy ferns and leaves.
  
 Over the days that followed
 they blossomed like a flourish
 from a garden on your little table
 in your lovely room
 bright and warm and gentle,
 the windows opening to the bay
 and the northern reach of sunlight
 gathering the day.
 
 They opened like young loving,
 they opened like the spring,
 they opened like your smile
 at the sweetness of all beauty:
 a simple and artless bouquet.
  
 Only now do they begin
 to fade. Who could have known
 they opened only for one
 who would no longer see them,
 in a room where you, in sleep,
 the afternoon that followed
 the day that you were born
 (or so it seems, to the living),
 fading long before the flowers,
 were gone even as they flowered
 beautiful as the day?
  
 For K.
   

Christopher Bernard’s latest book of poems, The Socialist’s Garden of Verses, has received a stellar review from Kirkus and will be included as a May feature (Best Indie Books of the Month).

Screenplay from Chimezie Ihekuna

Title: Wake Up, Dream Boy
Adapted from a book by Chimezie Ihekuna (Mr. Ben)
Screenwriter: Robert Sacchi

Chimezie Ihekuna (Mr. Ben) Young Black man in a collared shirt and jeans resting his head on his hand. He's standing outside a building under an overhang.
Chimezie Ihekuna

Genre: Fantasy Mystery

For reviews, production consideration and other publicity, please contact us through the email addresses below:

mrbenisreal@gmail.com

rsacchi@rsacchi.20m.com

Synopsis/Details: 

‘Wake up, Dream boy!’ explores the ordeals of a young teenage boy, Tom, through a dream he had. It combines geographic names, conceptualized characters, metaphysical locations and various thought realms.


Things turned upside down as Tom, in high school, became obsessed with horror films and books that had satanic themes. Anything scary caught his attention and he hardly paid attention in class. Left alone, he looked out for books flooded with zombies, ghosts and other extra-terrestrial entities.
Tom’s friends eventually got tired of hearing about his special interest and kept him at arm’s length so they wouldn’t have to hear all of his evil visions of blood-feasting demons, cannibals and dark voices telling people to commit suicide. He became somewhat of a loner.


His mother, Sarah, whose husband had died shortly after Tom’s birth, tried to distract him from the horror. However, she eventually gave up, since she had two other children.


However, Tom’s nightmares played themselves out. For every action, and every obsession of humankind, there is an equal but opposite consequence.

Poetry from Mahbub

Poet Mahbub, English instructor in Bangladesh

Gratification

The matter that makes us laugh makes us cry

Crossing the Styx – one for all

Glints the new page

Feel like plastering the room

Seized by the riddles

Only glare at

We come and go

Leave behind we would never like to

This painful heart masters the art

How to adjust in the moonlit scented air of cestrum nocturnum. 

Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh

07/04/2020

A Big Blow on the Street

You broke my right hand today

A big blow with the stick

Mind it; it will reflect you one day

In the name of service

What is this torture?

Feel so proud of

What makes your belly?

You speak too much

Pretend to perform nicely

The vanity appears to

Master of all trades

How unflinching!

The man went away, saying.

Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh

07/04/2020

A Beast of Burden

The load on the head is too heavy to carry on

Not fixed on time and place

A beast of burden

Every moment, day and night

My head and heart dismayed

Cracks the body

Feel the nerves hazy bouncing the ball to the batsman

Dims down the eye sight

In this dying despair

Groveling to you, my Savior

Though spring smiles on the leafs and flowers

The sacks loaded on in this encircled barrier

What a confusing fathomed world!

I live and die

O Merciful

Please drench us all in your blessed rainfalls.

Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh

09/04/2020

Love in Paradox

The world is raging so fast

What does it sand for ‘dismal life ‘?

No escape of love

No escape of death

This love and death – a plus the sign test

Man howls and bowls to fit for

Man cries and prays to live in the world

Man dreams that turns into a nightmare

Counting the moment the unexpected time of death

Then what the Love stands for?

Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh

09/04/2020

The Drowsy World

The world is now drowsing

We all living far and near undergo this condition

Floating on the river of forgetfulness

In the moonlit night

Bored to stand on the deck all the time

Our journey has not reached the goal yet

Sometimes the sky is firing on the head

The scorching sun

Others meeting with the challenges

To get out of the nervousness

People are waiting silent

Some stretching their loving hands

Some grooving in the darkness

We look through the screens the dead bodies

Counting thousands or lakhs crossing limits of patience

The world is filled in the love line of the swans

We see and get asleep

Rise again with the breaking news of deaths

Always facing the challenge

To reach at least near the harbor a silent tiptoe

The world is now seriously drowsing.

Chapainawabganj, Bangladesh

10/04/2020