Table of Contents:
Still Point• Sarah Law
Slight Visual Inclusion • Sarah Law
Inverted • Tony Deans
Gira Sole • Mary Tarantini
De Nominibus De • Don Thompson
The Things We Carry • Dan Hankner
Bliss • Zachary Toombs
nor miracle, this God
in whom you seek it –
footfall on cobblestones
following spiral or labyrinth
into the centre
(the molten core
the bright abyss
the host, the disc –)
and out again
as though you never made it
beyond the open door
the only mystery is this:
that there is anything at all
that calls us, and anywhere
at all that is our home
when loss is love’s itinerary –
following her utterly
into the riven silence, you
are graced with it –
the clean bone
the rinsed heart
the rising light,
Slight Visual Inclusion
We are more blinkered than the thoroughbreds
racing over ditch & hurdle. Never mind planks,
not even the healthiest retina holds a hundredth
of the rods & cones requisite for full vision.
Every breath is barely caught in mist. Fog’s
our groping synonym for God. That’s the least
of reasons to solicit mercy. Yes, he is just,
& yes, we’re bound by limits. Now, if only
there were a lens, & I, a dull glass plate,
doused in silver citrate & exposed to holiness…
None of this anodyne selfie-stick witness –
all my hope’s in one strong shot of light.
Sarah Law lives in London and is an Associate Lecturer for the Open University. She has poems in The Windhover, St Katherine Review, America, Psaltery & Lyre, Soul-Lit, Heart of Flesh and elsewhere. Her latest collection, Thérèse: Poems is published by Paraclete Press. She edits Amethyst Review, an online journal for new writing engaging with the sacred. Twitter @drsarahlaw
I stood in the courtyard,
I heard the cock crow,
quia non novisset hominem
The rock upon which the Messiah built the church was,
He fled Rome.
He returned and was crucified,
My tongue is boastful and proud,
it will never deny the faith.
mori tecum non te negabo
My heart is uncertain,
my soul is unknowing.
If I had been born in another time,
would I apostatise?
I have not seen yet I believe.
Peter had seen.
If certainty gave him no strength,
then how weak will I be in uncertainty?
alius te cinget et ducet quo non vis
You are strong,
You are forgiving.
You already know whether I will drink from this cup,
I know not if it will even be offered.
gloria et nunc et in die aeternitatis
I am unworthy to die like you.
Put my head to the ground,
my feet in the air,
let the world be a blur,
and you always in focus.
Tony Deans is a Catholic writer from the United Kingdom. His previously published work has appeared in several magazines including Mystery Weekly Magazine and the Literary Hatchet.
Turn to the sun, magnificent flower
Show us all the way
There is no shame in primal power
There is no shame in grand display
Docile habits draw us inward
Yellow is thy flame
In my ear you dared to whisper
Summer is your name
Howling wind nor sudden downpour
Dissuade you from your steadfast mission
Stand in thrall – divest – adore
My name is Mary Tarantini. I am a high school English teacher and have been writing poetry for several years. I have a BA degree in English and a MA in Theological Studies. I am also a second-year novice in The Third Order Society of Saint Francis. Some of my poems have been published in our newsletter The Franciscan Times.
De Nominibus Dei
Hash tag He is bone keeper, honey rock, cloud that whispers, latter rain, star namer and accountant who numbers your hairs, whose books always balance, who knows how many beans are in the jar;
paradox juggler, original verb, peacemaker before the Colt .44, holy ghost stun gun, lockpick of every dungeon, hidden hiding place;
plumb bob of the cosmos;
knotter and loosener of knots, legit defender and always pro bono, sting extractor, know-it-all’s nemesis, Gnostic’s conundrum, Nietzsche’s straw man and Sartre’s bugbear;
feeder of hummingbirds and humpback whales, tracer of lost sheep, fence mender, engraver of the Decalog on the head of a pin, who incises galaxies on a hazelnut;
unwinder of whirlwinds, artesian well in a parched land, He is the infallible dowser of dark hearts and denouement of time.
Don Thompson has been writing about the San Joaquin Valley for over fifty years, including a dozen or so books and chapbooks, most recently, The Art of Stone Axes (Broadstone Books). For more info and links to publishers, visit his website at www.don-e-thompson.com.
The Things We Carry
Mr. Flemming drove a Cadillac with gold rims, sported a head full of white hair thanks to a transplant, and held an unrivaled passion for basketball. His house sat on the edge of the old bus barn (a gravel lot that transformed into additional parking by the time we entered high school), while his modest back yard had been converted to an outdoor basketball court open to all; players on his team, students in his 7th grade math class, complete strangers.
Every day Mr. Flemming would grab a marker and scratch something on the board that had nothing to do with math. Today he sketched a river, a forest, and the great pyramids.
“Where did all that stone come from?” Nobody knew the answer, so he continued. “The Egyptians cut down trees, heaved the stone on the logs and rolled them across the desert.” He worked the marker like he was drawing a play for a last second buzzer beater, and when he was done the board was so plastered in ink that you could hardly tell its original intent. He looked at us, excited by the history and brilliance of these ancient people, and said, “Now that’s a game changer!”
Every class began with a random lecture, news article, or explanation about reaction time and 100 car pile-ups. Sometimes these segments would tarry on so long that the math lesson became an afterthought, and instead of a detailed rundown on how to divide decimals or carry fractions, he concluded with, “Oh yeah, don’t forget to do chapter 6.” And when you flipped to chapter 6 later that night, you realized in growing dismay that reading was no substitute for verbal instruction.
I was a good student who excelled at math, yet I distinctly recall an internal tremor – ‘We’re halfway through the semester and I haven’t learned a single thing.’
A few weeks later, I sat at my desk and laid my pencil down, having completed the test with 10 minutes to spare. “If you finish early, I’d suggest checking your work,” Mr. Flemming announced. I trusted my answers, but there was no harm in a second glance. I skimmed through and, to my surprise, found numerous errors. After making the corrections, I noticed Matt Edwards had finished as well and was staring off into wonderland. Five minutes remained.
“Matt,” I whispered. Matt was a friend, and I didn’t want him to miss any of these tricky little questions either. “Check your work – I would’ve missed five if I didn’t.”
Matt turned towards me. “What?”
Not desiring to raise my voice during a test, I decided to hand signal. “I would have missed five questions,” I repeated, holding up the number five. Looking back, I can see my error, of course; a foolish, well-meaning blunder, but we were kids, mind you, kids.
“Danny and Mathew!” shouted Mr. Flemming. I’d heard him yell at others before, but that was reserved for the bad kids, of which we were not. “Flip your papers over and see me after class!”
We did as instructed, still not catching on until the bell rang and we approached his desk.
“I will not tolerate cheating in my class!” A quiet rage burned in his voice – the magma of the proud bubbling just below the surface, threatening to blow when authority was questioned. To us, however, it was an unexpected slap in the face.
“We–we didn’t cheat!” we protested.
“But I was—” I attempted.
“I don’t want to hear it! Don’t ever let me catch you little punks cheating in my class again, now get the hell out of here!”
Had an older version of me been standing there, I would’ve bristled at his arrogance instead of cower. I would’ve met this man’s gaze, swept aside his dismissal like some Jedi mind trick and laid down a clean dose of reality. But that’s not the me that stood there. Although my mind was sharp for a 12-year-old, my confidence hadn’t yet blossomed, and my command of words and ability to argue hadn’t even sprouted wings. We walked out of the class on the verge of tears, shocked and unable to even articulate what had just transpired.
The next class Mr. Flemming announced everyone’s test scores out loud, as was his way. “Danny, 95%, minus 10% because he was caught cheating.” He shook his head and tsked. “Too bad, this could’ve been an A.” I grabbed my paper and returned to my seat without rebuttal.
Up until this point I held a neutral position on Mr. Flemming, but now I began to see just how polarizing he could be. Some of his students loved him, some of them despised him. My neighborhood friends (mostly older) joked about his unorthodox handling of troublemakers, while another neighbor (whose mom he was dating) professed hating his guts. Adults would remark about his achievements on the court and talent in putting together a winning team, while I once overheard two of his fellow teachers, appalled by how he treated his students.
I continued to handily pass his class – as everyone did – despite retaining nothing of value. This exchange struck me as blithely unjust, and I wondered at what point this symbiotic arrangement would catch up to us (it did the following year when I re-learned everything that was lost in 7th grade). But before that could happen, poor luck drove me headlong into one more episode with our math teacher.
The padlock on my locker broke. I remember fiddling with it, but it refused to latch. I felt a brief taste of panic – a minute remained before class began, and my locker was now exposed to the world. Frustrated, I left the defective hunk of metal dangling through the ring and crossed my fingers, planning to fix or replace it after school when I had more time. When the following period ended, I returned to the scene, but the padlock was now missing. I flung open the locker and rummaged, hoping a good Samaritan had stashed it somewhere inside, but no, it was gone.
So was my math book.
A sick dread washed over me. I’d heard of other kids losing their books, then acquiring new ones to the sum of $40. I didn’t have $40. I didn’t even have a job thanks to child labor laws (“Come back when you turn 14,” said the manager at Subway). My parents certainly didn’t have extra change lying around – things were tight, and the idea of making them cough up a chunk of dough because some jerk stole my book because my stupid lock broke was like vomit on the breath.
I sighed a heavy sigh, held my head low, and dragged my feet into Mr. Flemming’s classroom.
“I lost my book,” I confessed.
I can’t recall to you the look on his face, only the details of the thinly carpeted floor. His voice sounded annoyed, like a master who tires of continually instructing a dumb dog. He rose from his chair, moved to a cabinet, then hurled a textbook at me. It landed on his desk; I jumped. I expected it to be a loaner, but I was wrong.
“Found it laying outside your locker.” I picked it up – despite some additional damage, it was mine. “I don’t understand how you could just leave it lying in the hallway. How irresponsible can you be?”
I thought about telling him the truth but knew the effort to be moot. He returned to his desk and didn’t waste a second glance at me. “Here’s a novel idea; maybe take care of it this time. Wouldn’t that be a game changer?”
I walked out of his room, his wrongful indictment barely a blip on my radar. I didn’t have to buy a new book – that’s all that mattered.
The year ended; I moved onto the 8th grade while Mr. Flemming moved out of town. In the 20 years since, I haven’t given him much thought until the other day, when I happened across a post on Facebook. I don’t know the severity or details of his lung disease, I don’t know whether he will live another 20 years or die tomorrow – all I know is but a flash of the man’s life, a glimpse of who he was two decades ago. Was Bill Flemming a lousy teacher? Maybe. A jackass? Probably. Any worse than you and I?
The disease that plagues Mr. Flemming is the same that courses through all our veins – it is the sickness that sundered the world, the deceit that destroys our bodies, the cancer hidden behind one crisp bite of an apple. I can only imagine what’s going through his mind, coming face to face with his own mortality. But here’s the plot twist, dear reader – this story wasn’t written about Bill Flemming’s mortality.
It was written about yours.
Now pause for a moment and let that sink in – imagine we’re sitting in class. It’s quiet but for the sound of pencils scratching paper and a box fan humming in a window. Afternoon sunlight drifts in from the west, and you look up. Everyone is engrossed in a test, but you and I have finished early, and I’m whispering this story to you with 10 minutes to spare. Your back is to me – you were barely listening, but this is where I divulge something that makes you turn.
“My dad passed away the day after Christmas,” I tell you. “Five months ago.”
“What?” you say.
I don’t want to raise my voice, so I decide to signal. “It was five months ago,” I repeat, forming the number on my hand. This time there is no teacher to interject – no fabrication or alternative reality where we move forward with whatever falsehood we want to believe. There is just the truth of it, left to sink or swim in our souls.
Now close your eyes, let the classroom fade; no more tests, no more grades, no more struggles. There is a book bigger than any math book, locked away and kept hidden from thugs who seek to damage and destroy and leave them abandoned at the foot of lockers. This book is so great and important that all the works of men compiled aren’t but a speck of excrement in comparison.
My dad’s name is written in this book.
And you know what, dear reader? So is mine. But the ending is unknown to me, and I cannot say whether yours has been etched alongside ours. This book is not a book of records; no matter how many tests you’ve aced, dollars you’ve made, good deeds you’ve done or varsity games you’ve won – these feats won’t account for one scratch on one page.
Open your eyes and look towards the writing on the wall; the Egyptians labored to haul stone out of the valleys and into the pyramids. You can relate to this. The burdens you’ve carried may not have been dug out of mountains or pushed across deserts, but you’ve carried them, and you carry them still. Yet here’s a novel idea; what if all that laboring was in vain? What if someone had already come down and done the heavy lifting for you? What if all you had to do was believe the words that were spoken to you?
Wouldn’t that be a game changer?
Dan Hankner began penning stories about himself and his idiot friends as a teenager. Now, masquerading as an adult, he lives in Davenport, Iowa with his wife and three children, working as an electrician for his own company, 12 Stones Electric. Dan’s work has appeared in places like Downstate Story, SQ Mag, Bending Genres, and others. If you’d like to read more of Dan’s writing, he sends out a new story every month, visit his website www.storyunlikely.com and sign up.
Zachary Toombs is a published writer and artist from Winter Park. His works have been featured in various venues such as Freedom Fiction, Against the Grain Magazine, Mad Swirl, City. River. Tree., and more. Check out his artwork and other pieces of fiction at his website, zacharytoombs.com.
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[…] run over by Dan Hankner at Story Unlikely. Dan is a great writer whose work was featured in our July issue. His website at Story Unlikely features thoughtful, humorous, and often profound pieces with an aim […]