Dress for Success

By Steve Slavin

Throughout my high school and college years, I almost always wore the same outfit – khaki pants and a white dress shirt. Once, when I went on a date, I overhead the girl’s father asking his wife, “Sneakers he wears when he comes to pick up my daughter?”

Around this time, Vance Packard was creating a sensation by describing tens of millions of Americans as “status seekers.” Clearly, I was not among them.

When I was in the army, I learned firsthand how important status was. The officers all outranked the noncommissioned officers – mainly sergeants – who in turn, outranked the enlisted men. As a new recruit, I was in the lowest rank of the enlisted men.

During basic training, we were occasionally required to wash pots and pans, prepare and serve meals, and perform other menial mess hall duties. None of us really minded, but drawing KP (short for kitchen police), was no joy either.

The worst job any of us had to perform was cleaning the grease trap. You needed to climb down into a pit and ladle the grease into a large pail. While down in the pit, I realized that I was performing the lowest status work in the entire American army – and probably in the entire United States of America.

Fortunately, I had signed up to perform just six months of active duty, and then serve another five and a half years in the reserves, which was a piece of cake. So, I respectfully went through the motions saluting and saying “Yes sir!” or “No, Sir!” And before I knew it, I was once again a civilian.

My first job out of college was as a credit reporter at Dun & Bradstreet. I would spend most of my time visiting small businesses that had applied for credit, and asking the owners for copies of their financial statements, and then a few questions about their businesses. I would then check with their creditors to find out how well they were paying their bills, and write up a report and assign a credit rating.

Just starting out, I was assigned to report on scores of very small businesses located mainly in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Still, every day, I would wear a suit. No subway riders would think I was a lowly office boy – a position I had held after graduating from high school. Back then, in my khakis and white dress shirt, I had “office boy” written all over me.

But now, in my suit, I was an “executive” – or at least, an “executive trainee.”  Riding the subway to work, I began to notice how other people dressed. The women almost all wore dresses. Back in the early 1960s, very few women – even college graduates – could become executives, unless they worked for the government.

With the men, it was an entirely different story. The suits generally had decent jobs, while the guys wearing work clothes with their first names embroidered over a pocket were strictly blue-collar.

My favorites were the guys wearing very cheap suits, most of whom were apparently trying to pass. If the suits didn’t give them away, then their reading material did. Invariably, it was the Daily News or the Mirror – both virtually news-free tabloids that were hardly reading material for budding executives.  

Dun & Bradstreet was a very prestigious firm, but they certainly did not pay their trainees accordingly. I was making about a hundred dollars a week, which was what the New York City Welfare Department paid its own trainees.

One day, I was in an appetizing store under an elevated train tracks in the Bronx. The owner seemed to have taken a liking toward me, and asked how much I was making. When I told him, he just shook his head sadly.

I waited, sure there was something else he wanted to add.

“Look, I think you’ve got a future. How would you like to work for me?”

“You’re serious?”

“Of course. I could pay you twenty bucks a week more – and you wouldn’t even need to wear a suit.”

“What kind of job?” I asked, growing a little suspicious.

“I could use a good chicken man!”

2

A few weeks later, my supervisor invited his four trainees to a company dinner at the Officers Club at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. When I asked my girlfriend to come with me, she began to laugh.

“What?”

“You know, I’ve almost never seen you in a suit. So, tell me, are you going to wear a suit and sneakers?”

I knew I had that coming. She had seen me in a suit only a few times when she met me after work.”

“So, do you want to come with me?”

“Of course! I only wish we could do this more often!”

A week later, we took a cab to the Navy Yard. As we passed the guard house, a sailor with a rifle saluted us – or maybe he was saluting the cab.

“Do you think I should set him straight that I’m not an officer?”

“Don’t worry about it. Just for tonight, you’re an officer.”

Once inside, we quickly learned that we were attending an awards dinner. We found our table and Mike, my supervisor, stood and introduced us to his wife. Then, his three other trainees arrived – one with his wife, and the other two with dates. After a few cocktails, we were all pretty relaxed.

“So, Mike,” asked one of the other guys, “are we a cheering section for the award winners?”

“Nobody told me a thing. They just ordered me to invite my group.”

The company provided a great dinner and as much liquor as we could put away. My girlfriend and Mike’s wife were soon chatting like old friends. I recalled a song by the Eagles, Take It Easy.  about making the most of things, because we may never pass this way again.

There was a couplet that kept playing in my head:

“We may lose, and we may win                                                                                   

Though we will never be here again”

After dinner they began handing out awards left and right. Even I won an award, along with a fifty-dollar check. My girlfriend teasingly asked, “Was that for best dressed?”

Thinking back about that night, I realized that at least subconsciously, I had reached a decision. A few weeks later I quit, enrolled in graduate school, and worked part-time ghostwriting college textbooks.

My girlfriend – whom I never should have let go – ended up marrying someone else. She probably made a good choice.

3

After receiving my PhD, I went on a few job interviews. Luckily, I still fit into the suits I had last worn while working for Dun & Bradstreet. Interestingly, not one person interviewing me was nearly as formally dressed. I realized then that I probably would never again have to wear a suit – unless, of course, I was attending another awards dinner at the Navy Yard.

The job market was pretty tight at that time, so I settled for a teaching job at a community college out in New Jersey. Commuting from Brooklyn was my least favorite part of the job, but fortunately I was able to negotiate a two- or three-day week.

One semester I had to teach a Wednesday evening course, and then be back at eight am on Thursday. Rather than drive to Brooklyn at ten pm and drive back before eight the following morning, I found a very cheap motel improbably named, “Executive Village.”  It was located on an extremely unattractive stretch of Highway 1 lined with oil refineries, bars, autobody shops, gas stations, and junkyards.

When I pulled in and saw the sign, “Executive Village,” it made me laugh. What kind of executives stayed in a dump like this? Autobody repair executives? Junkyard executives?

I had visions of all these “villagers” in business suits, sitting around the swimming pool, making deals. I asked myself, “Why am I here? Am I still with Dun & Bradstreet covering a new territory?”

No, of course not! Now I am a quasi-college-professor at a rinky-dink community college somewhere out in New Jersey. I checked in, walked down the block to have supper at a diner, went for a stroll, came back to my room, and went to sleep.

The sunshine woke me before my alarm clock rang. I was very happy that I had just a ten-minute drive to the college. When I stepped outside, I heard an odd noise. It was coming from a truck that was parked next to my car.

I soon identified the noise as the clucking of chickens. I burst out laughing, flashing back to the man in the appetizing store who had been looking for a good chicken man. When I got to work, I was still smiling.

A recovering economics professor, Steve Slavin earns a living writing math and economics books.The fourth volume of his short stories, “Small Crimes in the Big City,” was recently published.

Undertow

By Mary Ann McGuigan

They reach the place they started from, the entrance to Renske Hall, and Moira has no reason anymore not to go back to her car. Ryan doesn’t seem like the person she knew. She can’t tell if seeing her has made any difference to him. He’s polished now, careful. And Greg has trouble shutting up. She’s been roaming the campus with her former classmates since the fundraising meeting ended, feigning interest in how their inner-city alma mater has expanded, like Jesuit creep, occupying whole blocks of the city.

         Too warm for early May, the heat makes Moira’s hair heavy on her back, her necklace stick to her skin. Greg’s chitchat is getting tiresome, but she doesn’t want to be home. She doubts Ken has come through on his promise to get the rest of his stuff out, and she knows she’ll wind up regretting she hasn’t thrown it all on the lawn. Sean and Michael will be bored with their day by now, and whatever goodwill she earned with the new video game is likely used up. Since the separation, each day ends with a silent lamentation, a look on their faces that demands to know why she hasn’t fixed things yet. If Sean doesn’t pitch well in his game today, she’ll feel compelled to blame herself for that too.

Greg is going on about the guy who ran the meeting. “He’s full of shit,” he says, and turns to look at Moira, as if she might disagree. “He told Brightman he did all the communications for the CMC merger. I know the firm that did that work. Mark had nothing to do with it.”

Moira doesn’t care what Mark claims he’s done. She hardly recognized him at the meeting. Even Greg was a cipher until he spoke. She had to check his nametag to be sure it was him—his hair nearly all gray, no more sleeveless basketball jerseys. Uniformed in khakis and a sports jacket, he looked as homogenized as the other men on the committee. Saturday casual. Moira opted for a skirt, very snug, a guise she rarely chooses. The mirror reassured her it wasn’t provocative, but it made her wonder who she is anymore when she’s not in a business suit or loose-fitting sweats. She couldn’t remember the last time she thought twice about what to wear.

         “I doubt Mark was the only one inventing things,” she says. “It was piling up pretty deep in there.”

         Ryan stays out of it. He hasn’t said much since they left the meeting. His suit looks like a good one—a light gray fabric, some kind of blend—and it fits him well. No tie. A relaxed kind of trendy. Not as relaxed as he used to look in jeans, and not as sexy, but she’s mostly numb to that kind of attraction now. He seems as indifferent about the gathering as she is. She gets the sense—maybe because he arrived so late and had so little to say—that he was pressured to come. She wonders if he has connections that could bring in money. The family of a classmate killed trying to climb the Himalayas wants to establish a scholarship in his name. Moira remembers the guy at dances their freshman year, clumsy fool to the end. 

When Ryan walked into the meeting, she felt suddenly awkward, like someone who’d crashed a party, and the first silly thing she wondered was whether he wrote fiction anymore. She never bothers with it herself now. She thinks of it as a persona she tried on, a costume that called for lines she didn’t know. She hasn’t figured out yet why he volunteered for the committee. She suspects Greg was just hoping to get lucky. She isn’t sure why she signed up either.

The invitation would normally have gone into the trash, along with nearly every letter the school sends. But this one arrived only two months after Ken moved out, on a day with too many things to do. It felt like a dare, like a game online she could play incognito. She spends more time with the boys now, but she’s otherwise mostly alone. She avoids her friends because she’s become their poster child for abandonment. At a loss for how to help, they’ve resorted to greeting cards that offer butterflies and wildflowers and messages imagining brighter days to come. Except they won’t. Not at her age. Not when your understudy is twenty years younger and you’re left wondering how you could have botched the job so badly.

“Why don’t we see if the lit office is open?” says Ryan, meaning the headquarters of Undertow, the college’s once-daring little literary journal. “It was in the middle of this block.”

Moira agrees. She wore heels and she’s ready to sit for a while.

Ryan leads the way. This was his turf, an office in the basement, just below street level, where radical ideas reigned. He was editor their junior and senior years and he crashed at the office now and then. Everybody did. This was the place they often ended the night when they were together—a time she has since tried not to think about, because she bungled that too and doesn’t know quite how.

“It’s open. Which means no one’s in there,” Ryan says. It pleases Moira that some traditions, at least, have lasted.

Ryan flips on a light, then the ceiling fan. The place looks as if the occupants had to evacuate midway through an attempt to outdrink each other. Paper cups are everywhere, softened by stale beer and rancid wine, no more than pools now for soggy cigarette butts. One cup sits tipped against the keyboard of an old Remington typewriter.

“Just like old times,” Ryan says. Greg laughs, though she doesn’t remember him being around that often. He was on the periphery. Jocks didn’t feel at home here. But he flops onto the beat-up leather couch as if he belongs. The mainstay among the Undertow’s literati then were followers of safe bets like Larry Levis, although a few on the fringe pretended to decipher the Language poets. She doubts Greg was in either camp.

He moves some stray copies of Undertow aside to make a place for Moira on the couch next to him, then thumbs through the spring issue and stops to read something. Ryan sits at the desk. It’s daylight but the blinds are closed and the ceiling light is flickering through the last stages of a slow death. Except for the abandoned drinks, the room is in every way cerebral. Books—too many for the shelves to hold—are piled on chairs and tucked into crevices, some stacked tall enough to block half the window. Years of posters are layered on the walls in a haphazard montage of writers and rock stars and political slogans.

“I’m betting they still keep some elixir hidden in that couch,” says Ryan.

Greg rummages under Moira’s cushion and comes up with a pint of whiskey, nearly full. “Jackpot,” he says.

“Very Old Barton,” says Ryan. “Nothing changes.”

Unused cups are nowhere, but Greg isn’t waiting for one anyway. He removes the cap and takes a mouthful. “Madame,” he says, offering the bottle.

“Don’t mind if I do.”

They laugh at the face she makes as it goes down. Ryan takes his turn quickly and it’s back to her without ceremony. It’s easier to swallow this time, and her performance earns her their applause. “Well done,” says Greg. She tries to pass on the third round but they scold her, so she obliges.

They talk about music, about the school, the way it was in the ’70s, drink more, too much more for Moira’s tolerance. She doesn’t feel drunk, but she’s happier than she has any reason to be. She’s here with two people who’ve become strangers, nothing at stake. And that suits her.

Greg turns a page in the journal. “Some of this isn’t that bad,” he says.

“Give it here,” says Ryan, and Greg tosses him a copy.

“Check out ‘Testament,’” says Greg.

Moira studies the posters, but they seem to be pulsating, floating, so she ponders Greg and Ryan instead, finds herself wondering about them. She plays at guessing what their daily uniforms are. They could be mailmen for all she knows. She arrived late, missed most of the greetings and catch-up. Ryan showed up even later. She sneaks glances at each of them. No wedding rings, no expensive watches, middles spreading and hair thinning, but not badly. Sizing people up this way is unlike her, but the whole encounter is so artificial, as if all three of them are cardboard cutouts, stand-ins for their former selves. She wonders what turns them on, now that they aren’t boys anymore. But maybe that never changes. It didn’t in her marriage.

“A Heaney knockoff,” says Ryan, tossing the journal onto the desk. She remembers how he scared her off when they were in school. He behaved as if he was certain of things, certain of her, that she’d want to read his first drafts, want to hear the things he shared with no one else—that his writing might be mediocre, that he’d stolen money from his father, more than once, a postal worker with two jobs and five children. The trust made her feel she had deceived him somehow.

“Good enough for me,” laughs Greg.

“So the work your friend did for CMC, is that what you do?” Ryan says. “Communications?”

“Oh, let’s not do that,” Moira cuts in, because she doesn’t want to know. Career moves, smart or otherwise, invariably reveal the worst in people. And it won’t take much for her to lose interest in this little homecoming.  

“What? Talk shop?” says Ryan.

“Talk anything.” Moira fears she might be slurring her words, so she slows down. “Anything about whatever boxes we’re in.”

“You’ve got my vote,” says Greg. That doesn’t surprise Moira. Given his reaction to Mark, she already has him pegged as professionally bruised.

“So no specifics about what we do nine to five?” says Ryan.

“Or after,” she says, sipping the whiskey again before offering it to Greg.

“We can make it a game, try and figure it out,” says Greg.

“Or not,” says Moira, wondering why people insist on knowing things that can’t matter, at least not here.

“Well, you’ve got a wedding ring on,” he says to her. “So we know that much.”

“Maybe,” she says. “Some people wear them when they don’t want to be approached in that way.” She wore hers only because its absence might make people wonder, and she’s not sure she’s steady enough yet to deliver explanations.

“Or when they do,” says Ryan.

Moira doesn’t respond to that. More than five years ago, she asked old friends about Ryan, tried to find out where he lived, even checked with the Alumni Association—for no reason really, except that he’d remained in her mind like something nagging, like a question never asked. No one seemed to know what he was up to, and she decided it was better she didn’t know. Thinking of him was only an escape she allowed herself when her marriage first started to unravel, a way to pretend she had options. She doesn’t want Ryan to think she came today hoping she’d see him, because that’s not true. But she doesn’t want to have to admit what’s happened to her marriage, so she smiles at him as if she has nothing to hide.

Ryan is up, perusing book titles. He picks up a thin volume of poets from before World War I, maybe the very same one he read from then. Greg cradles the Barton’s between his palms, telling Moira about a movie whose title he can’t remember. She tries to listen, takes her shoes off. Then Ryan holds one hand up as if everything needs to stop, as if he understands now why they’re here and she should too. “Here it is. ‘Blue Sky.’ ” He looks at Moira as if she’s the only other person in the room. “Listen,” he says.

“I do not like you like this;

but when the storm howls across your expanse

and when the clouds

rage through you like winter wolves,

ravenous and mute with hunger,

my agitation will show

how much I crave your freedom.”

She knows these lines, remembers resting her head on his chest, feeling his voice vibrating in her ear, the hum of vowels, the breathless admiration. He loved finding obscure poets. This one, Gustav Sack, wound up in a psych ward, traumatized by what he’d seen on the western front. When he was released, they sent him back there. Ryan’s delivery still has just the right attitude, the right mix of curiosity and conviction. He was puzzled when she didn’t love the poem as much as he did. She closes her eyes, remembering how intense he could be, how easily he’d miss the point. He assumed she was in love with him, wanted more than he was ready to give. She didn’t, but she never set him straight. When it ended, she missed him, wished she had let him know that he’d been safe all along. She sent him a postcard from Spain after graduation—almost a year after they’d been together—an impulsive, urgent note filled with feelings he must have suspected would cool by the time they crossed the ocean. Six months later he sent her a poetry journal containing a poem of his about longing. She tossed it. She wishes she could do the same with the card Ken gave her after they told the boys they were separating, a flowery piece of wine-colored parchment, love and gratitude scribbled above his name, as if these afterthoughts could balance the scales.

Greg passes her the Barton’s again. She takes another swallow, a longer one, her throat cauterized now, and the taste as it goes down doesn’t bother her at all. Greg is sitting closer. She leans forward to push her shoes aside and he moves his hand down the length of her spine until it rests on her bottom, like a question. It feels as shocking as a burn, as if pain will follow immediately. Instead a sharp excitement registers, as thrilling as it is repulsive. If she turned and looked at him, she’s sure he would remove his hand, but she doesn’t. So he leaves it there.

She imagines what she and Ryan must have looked like together in this room fifteen years before, flawless skin and smooth muscles taken for granted. But that’s all been swept away. She is directionless now, no longer vivid but not quite dulled, and the only thing to do is forget who she was before.

“Ryan,” Greg says, “what do you think of that pitcher the Mets just brought up?” Moira is sure the question is meant to draw Ryan away from the poem, to let him see where Greg has his hand. But Ryan ignores him, tells her to listen. She doesn’t want to do that, because if Ryan thinks he understands something about them, it’s too late.

“I do not like you like this,
not this cloudless braggart
whose boastful purity

crushes me like one would crush a leaf.

“The first time I read that to you, you insisted he hadn’t finished it,” Ryan says. The poem seemed to her to be about a journey that begins but can’t be completed. She was young, didn’t know much about poetry yet, or how resistant life was to being planned. She was already well acquainted with raggedness, the misshapen attachment to a parent who hurts you, but she rejected the idea that the odds of finding your way are so long.

She pretends to browse through an issue of Undertow open on her lap, and Greg places his hand in the narrow space between them, explores the fabric of her skirt, which she hasn’t bothered to keep from riding up. Crossing her legs raises the skirt higher, and he touches the skin she exposes.

She senses Ryan is watching them now and she looks up from the journal, makes sure he’s seeing this, then slowly uncrosses her legs. The decision makes her stomach loosen. Everything loosens. Greg seems to understand, shifts position so he can reach under her skirt. His fingers feel warm, deliberate. This is it, she thinks. This is what she needs, to accept that nothing that happens here can matter. 

Ryan drops the book on the desk, and it lands with a ping against the brass bell of a paperweight turned on its side, as if marking the end of a meditation, or the start. He comes and kneels in front of her, slips the journal off her lap, and holds her chin up, making her look at him. “Moira,” he says, as if calling her back. She doesn’t want that. She undoes a button on her blouse, the one that matters most, the way a rodeo clown distracts the bull. But the effect is not what she was looking for. “Don’t,” he whispers, his mouth close to her ear. He kisses her on the forehead, softly, and she has to keep her mind from racing toward beginnings, promises. He feels real.

She becomes aware of Greg again. “You’re wet,” he says, as if discovering she isn’t a mannequin, and she wishes she could slap his face, because that’s what she wants to be, an avatar.

She pushes Greg’s hand away, closes her legs.

Ryan stands up, takes her hands to help her to her feet. She rises, puts a hand on his shoulder to steady herself and gets into her shoes.

“What the fuck?” says Greg.

“Where’s that book?” she says crossing the room. She finds the volume on the desk and tosses it at Ryan. “Poetry was always trouble.”

She leaves without looking at either of them. Outside, it’s almost dark, the air chilled. She tries to walk quickly, but her balance is off. Her head feels weightless, as if it might detach. She tries to take long strides, but her steps seem so small. She’s losing ground. Two students pass her, so close one brushes her shoulder, but they don’t seem to see her. “Here’s what we should do,” one of them says, his head bent intimately, a conspirator. She wants to hear the rest, but they’re quickly out of range, and she’s gripped by a sense of loss so sharp she feels as if she’s been plucked out of her life and set down in a place where no one recognizes her, where she has nothing to prove she ever belonged. She thinks of Ken this morning, ringing the doorbell when he arrived to pick up the boys—absurdly requesting permission to be in their living room, like a delivery boy. He always entered their bathroom without knocking, ready to towel her dry.

She takes a deep breath, and the cool air tickles her throat, steadies her. Still, she can’t picture which street the school’s new parking lot is on, so at the corner she lets instinct take over and turns left.

“Where are you going?” It’s Ryan, a step or two behind her.

Caught off guard, she almost smiles but then remembers the way he looked in the office, as if she’d spoiled something between them. She wonders why it takes people so long to see when things are broken. “Back,” she says, and then laughs at how that sounds. “Back home, I mean.” He’s close beside her now, an arm across her shoulders, and she feels something in his jacket press against her side. She’s afraid he’s brought the book with him.

“The parking lot’s the other way. I’ll walk you.” The skin at the corners of his eyes is etched with wrinkles, little white tracks in his tan, and up close he doesn’t look familiar anymore. Deeper creases frame his mouth like gentle parentheses. She’s alert for contempt, but it’s not there.

“Thanks,” she tells him, “but I can manage.”

“I know that.” He takes her elbow anyway, and the gesture makes her think of novels by Edith Wharton, where gentlemen believe it’s their job to spare a woman the dangers of real life, real choices. She tries to read his face, afraid of what he might want, but can’t be sure of anything.

“Listen,” she says. “Back there, I—”

“Be quiet,” he tells her. “You’re in no shape to be alone.”

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in Pif Magazine and and is included in Pieces, which was published by Bottom Dog Press in 2017).

Mary Ann McGuigan’s fiction has appeared in The Sun, Image, North American Review, Prime Number, and other journals. Her collection Pieces includes stories named for the Pushcart Prize and Sundress Publications’ Best of the Net. Mary Ann’s young-adult novels, about teens trying to make sense of the chaos grown-ups leave in their wake, are ranked among the best books for teens by the Junior Library Guild and the New York Public Library. Her novel Where You Belong was a finalist for the National Book Award. For more about her fiction, visit www.maryannmcguigan.com.

The Struggle to Be Ordinary

By John Grey


I don’t say anything quotable these days.
I’m too locked into ordinary life
and the demands of small talk.
No matter the vocabulary,
everyday conversation
doesn’t involve into music.
Only into January,
the sky having fallen,
a blizzard of fine dimension.
And yet I’m on the bed sensing
the trees inching higher,
through snow,
in search of the invisible sun.
Thoughts and flakes…
I run them simultaneously
through my head,
grow wise with unqualified life.
Some rub off on me,
become the mind.
offer up lessons learned
against the visible erosion,
the suffering,
the glass always less full than before.
This is my current state.
It hangs like bait
in a river of time.
Despite the simplicity of my days,
I still believe
I am something more than a mannerism.
If you don’t hear anything shrewder,
you can quote me.

John Grey is a poet whose work has recently appeared in Sheepshead Review and Poetry Salzburg Review.

Of Language and Botany

By Harsimran Kaur

He had started learning German – at least that is what he told his wife who was doing the laundry in the basement of their New England house that they’d brought from Mr. Peyoli, a veteran. His wife gave him mixed expressions, as she always does to his experiments. In the New England winters, when they’d be too cold to speak to each other, he’d tell her that he’d been too omnipotent about their lives; that they needed to be separate and live on their own, and have different microwaves for mac and cheese. She’d disagreed for the most part because, oh well, now that they’ve sailed across the world away for a world, they were too lazy for a divorce.

It had in them – a thought- growing inwards. So it went, there was a baby in their hands after nine months.

Then there was fall. And he had started to learn French – at least that is what he told his wife, who was making casseroles in the kitchen. This time too, she’d given varied expressions after hearing about her husband’s new venture. After then, there was talk of changing the baby’s clothes, so he went into the darkling empyrean outside. The leaves were the color of the sky. He plucked one from the stem and observed its midrib – something he learned in his grade 9 biology class. His language teacher had tried, at least twice, to explain to him that he should instead edify himself with botany. But he had insisted on learning the languages.

So there he was – in an unknown land with an even unknown language in his mouth. He put the leaf in his mouth because it was right there in his hand. It was not sweet, or so he’d thought, for that matter. Everything appeared like language to him now, and he was convinced that he should ask his wife to speak in the same language as him.

To unlearn the language that he was currently learning, he left it and started learning Dutch – at least that’s what he told his wife when she was preparing the lunch box for their baby. But, of course, she pretended not to listen, and he pretended not to tell.

Then one day, he saw his son graduating high school. He’d learned twenty-six languages as of now – at least that’s what he told his wife. She’d proactively ignored him as she’s been doing from the last twenty years of their life together – when they’d seen too many falls, too many springs.

Perhaps he’d been talking to his deaf wife all this while. His baby, now a man, tries to convince his sixty-year young father that his wife can’t hear whatever he’s been telling her all along. But he is yet to learn Japanese while the flowers in their garden have dried.

Harsimran Kaur is a seventeen-year-old author of The Best I Can Do Is to Write My Heart Out, I am Perfectly Imperfect, and Clementines on My Poetry Table. Her work has been published (or forthcoming) in The Book of Matches Literary Mag, BULL Magazine, Cathartic Literary Magazine, Trouvaille Review, KNACK Magazine, Indus Woman Writing, VOV Takhte, StoryMirror, TeenInk and elsewhere. When she’s not writing or reading, she can often be seen teaching invisible people. You can know more about her ventures at www.harsimranwritesbooks.com/. She is currently a senior in high school.

Reunion at Starbucks

By John Grey

You and I sip lattes,

nibble muffins,.

in the green and white decor

of the Starbucks

on the corner.

It’s supposed to be

a talk over old times

but then you bring up Rita.

And you harangue

with the worst of them.

I fight back

by mentioning,

you and Peter.

Then my drinking gets

the third degree.

I return serve

with your outrageous

spending on shoes

and pocketbooks.

You snarl that I haven’t changed.

I worry for your mental state.

You poke and prod

into my life now.

I respond with my usual

round of barbed questions.

Half an hour of this

and we’re ready to

call it quits again.

Actually, you storm out

before I get a chance to.

It’s been an ordeal

I need a drink.

You probably could use

a new pair of shoes.

Or maybe a pocketbook.

But that’s life isn’t it.

Not rocket science.

But definitely brain surgery. 

John Grey is an Australian poet most recently published in Orbis, Dalhousie Review and the Round Table.

Tiny Sparrow Feet

By Michael Lee Johnson

It’s calm.

Cheeky, unexpected.

Too quiet.

My clear plastic bowls

serves as my bird feeder.

I don’t hear the distant

scratching, shuffling

of tiny sparrow feet,

the wing dances, fluttering, of a hungry

morning’s lack of big band sounds.

I walk tentatively to my patio window,

spy the balcony with my detective’s eyes.

I witness three newly hatched

toddler sparrows, curved nails, mounted

deep, in their mother’s dead, decaying back.

Their childish beaks bent over elongated,

delicately, into golden chips, and dusted yellow corn.

Michael Lee Johnson lived ten years in Canada during the Vietnam era and is a dual citizen of the United States and Canada. Today he is a poet, freelance writer, amateur photographer, and small business owner in Itasca, DuPage County, Illinois. Johnson is published widely and internationally.

Mr. Dobie’s Desk

By Robert Okaji

Sitting at this desk, I wonder

whose words will emerge

from the stained wood,

its whorls and cracked surface

detailing a specific language

of the inert and precious.

Earlier I rapped the cistern

to verify water level,

and a week ago startled

a cottonmouth sunning its lengthy

self at the crossing. The door

just blew open, perhaps,

or a ghost wished to offer its

voice, neither malice

nor approval imbedded

in the gesture. History

shadows me despite my best

efforts. I walk, drink water,

write, think of friends left

behind or gone ahead,

reading between the grains

and dark spaces, looking for rain

in the blue, for light and benediction

and the secret poetry of furniture.

Robert Okaji served without distinction in the U.S. Navy, no longer owns a bookstore, and once won a goat-catching contest. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in So It Goes, Buddhist Poetry Review, Genuine Gold and elsewhere.

The Library

By Jason Visconti

The Library

Whose chairs are charmed as if a wizard has visited,

Newspapers mask the motives of men,

Come night the bones of books haunt in their den,

Something in the shelves turns to moss when it’s read,

A trip through the aisles is a trip well-traveled.

Jason Visconti first discovered his love for poetry after losing his mother at a young age and needing a way to express himself. Decades later, it remains his passion.

The Writer’s Personal Block

By David Lightfoot

  “I can’t take any more of this, Helen!” I cried at my wife. “Every time a lady client comes into my office, you immediately think I’m going to cheat with her! You know me better than that! Can’t you see I’m not one of those private eyes who strays from his wife with every dame he sees?”

  “Spare that ‘defensive husband’ act, Bruno!” Helen said bitterly. “I know just by looking at them how tempting they are. And I know you. Men like you just can’t take your eyes off tramps like them!”

     I gave her a cold look and frowned. “You obviously don’t!”

  Thomas Greenwich stops typing and reads the fight scene over again. What drama it shows. His private detective character is getting frustrated, trying to earn his wife’s trust. He wants her to stop suspecting him of cheating with “dame” clients. She won’t, because she believes that private detectives can’t stay faithful. She perceives their female clients as nothing but husband-stealing bimboes. Thomas feels so sorry for the poor detective.

  He reads the scene over again and studies the dialogue, the tone in which his characters are speaking. He thinks of the fights he’s had with his wife, Patricia. She works as an attorney-at-law, is a partner in a law firm, and she doesn’t like Thomas’s work at all.

  He’s always hated her pestering him to get a real job. He’s never agreed with her saying that writers can’t earn a good living. She always insists his book contract won’t help him provide for the family, but he keeps giving various counter-arguments defending his work. Thomas has been writing stories since he was twelve, earned a freelance writing degree in college, and has been writing full-time for ten years. His mother was a celebrated literary novelist, and his older sister is also a writer. He’s had short stories published in magazines as a young man. Later, he signed a book contract with a top publisher, and published a collection of short stories and three novels. All of them are best sellers. Critics say Thomas is brilliant and hard-working. So Patricia should leave his work alone. He’s now working on his fourth book, about a private eye who, like Henry VIII, has six wives throughout his career.

  Thomas hears the front door open, and his wife call to him, “Tom, I’m home!” He keeps typing. He wants Patricia to see him hard at his work.

  He hears her in the hallway saying, “You won’t believe the day I had. I swear, that defendant in court today was a jackass. He kept going on and on about his insurance company’s strict policies, and he wouldn’t give me time to ask questions.” She pauses and gets no response. “Thomas, where are you?”

  “In my office!” Thomas calls back.

  Patricia sees Thomas focused on his laptop computer. She sighs harshly in unmistakable frustration. “So, still working on that stupid novel of yours, are you?!”

  Thomas rolls his eyes and turns, competitively frustrated. “What does it look like, Patricia?”

  “God, Thomas, how many times do I have to tell you?” Patricia asks in a frustrated tone. “You can’t make a living writing fiction. Nobody can, so stop wasting your damn time! Why, I never wanted to write fiction, or do anything else ‘artistic’. Those careers can’t bring you a stable income.”

  “Hey, I may not be a millionaire,” Thomas says, “but at least I’m successful. Isn’t that what you wanted from me? You knew this is what I wanted to do when we first started dating. What did you say then?” He mimics Patricia’s voice. “I don’t care what you do as long as you’re successful.”

  “That’s because I thought you’d change your mind about writing.”

  Thomas is insulted to hear that. But he doesn’t want to fight. Instead, he says, “Well, why did you become a lawyer? Because you always wanted to, right? Your father was a lawyer, and you loved him that much, isn’t that what you told me?”

  “And he was a damn good lawyer, too,” Patricia says defensively. “He was a very truthful man. He always told us kids to beware the arts, entertainment and sports, that they were a waste of time, that people can never make it in those fields.”

  Thomas points at the top of his head. “Um, hello. Person who has made it sitting here.” He swivels away from his laptop and stands up. “And I can name lots of others who’ve made it also. All the models, actors, musicians and athletes too numerous to mention. Lots of kids want to be just like them.”

  “Maybe so,” Patricia says, “but when they get to high school, they want careers in law, medicine, business, even psychology. They choose those fields because they want to be rich and successful. Believe me, Thomas, they know what they’re doing.”

  Thomas feels her lawyer attitude rubbing off onto him. He decides to play her game. “But is it wise to give up your childhood dreams entirely? Some people spend a few years doing something legitimate, then they try to become writers, musicians, painters or whatever. And it pays off. Hey, John Grisham went from being a lawyer to a household name in adult fiction.”

  “You were never a lawyer, Thomas!”

  He starts to lose his patience, and scowls at her. “Neither were Mom and Katherine!” Then, he sees Patricia is getting really mad, so he speaks more rationally. “Look, we’re all writers because we love it dearly. It deals with three of our most favorite things: words, plotlines and our imaginations. Mom managed to raise me and my sister all by herself, writing and selling her novels. She had a major book contract with a large salary, and she loved her work. So quit saying that writers can’t support their families. They can so.”

  “My family never liked your mother or sister very well.” Patricia leaves the room looking scornful. It doesn’t discourage Thomas, so he goes back to his novel.

  He looks at the dialogue again. He reads over Helen’s response when Bruno said he pledged to love her. Thomas decides to make Bruno’s response more forceful and a bit more diplomatic. One more time, and this would be it, he decides. Now it sounds realistic, like the fights he’s had with Patricia.

  Thomas thinks of Patricia again. He longs to leave her, so he can have the emotional freedom to write. He always threatened divorce if she didn’t change, but she’d tell him, “You can’t leave. You need me.” They would separate sometimes, but he’d always come back to her. Never again, he decides. This time, if he and Patricia separate, it’ll be for good. And he’ll take their three-year-old daughter, Courtney, with him. He doesn’t want her to go through what he did with Patricia.

  Thomas wakes up at six o’clock the next morning, gets dressed and brings his laptop out to the living room. He turns it on, and inserts his jumpdrive. He clicks on the word processor and starts writing once his document loads.

  At quarter after seven, Patricia gets up and dressed and leaves for the mailbox. She notices her husband writing again, but decides to say nothing as she gets their daily newspaper. She comes back inside and heads to the kitchen to start breakfast, Thomas never looking up the whole time. Almost an hour later, she calls, “Breakfast is ready!”

  Thomas goes to the dining room and sits down to his favorite breakfast – pancakes, toast, bacon and orange juice. But then, he notices the “Careers” section of the morning paper. He picks it up and gives his wife a peeved look. “Patricia, what is the meaning of this?”

  She looks up from her eggs and hash browns. “While I’m at work today, I want you to go through that section and see what careers interest you,” she says. “Focus especially on accounting, financial consulting, management and paralegal. Tell me what you want to do, then call the local community college and ask about evening and Saturday classes.”

  “Why should I?” Thomas demands.

  “Because it’s time for you to give up the writing!” Patricia stresses. “You need a better career, Thomas! I’m tired of supporting us and our daughter on my salary. It’s as if I’m the husband in this family, not you! It’s embarrassing. Maybe we should be a two-income family if this is going to be your attitude!” She’s putting on her lawyer act.

     Infuriated, Thomas throws down the paper and stands up. “We are a two-income family, Patricia!” he bellows. “My book contract has helped me make my fair share of money! In case you’ve forgotten, I’ve had three best-selling novels published, and a fourth one in progress now! I’ve also had a slew of short stories published, and I’ve got paid for each one! Critics praise me for my talents and hard work. So stop telling me that I ‘absolutely must’ be an accountant, paralegal, or whatever! I’m living my life the way I want, and no damned lawyer is going to make me stop! I’m tired of this!”

  He sits down and eats his breakfast, all the while giving his wife nasty looks. When he finishes, he leaves the table and goes back to the living room.

  Thomas grumbles as he types. He’s now eager to leave Patricia. How dare she tell him what to do in such a controlling, snobbish manner? He knows he can’t give in to her; what would he do then? He can’t see himself doing anything else but writing, and he’s told Patricia this many times. But, being the lawyer she is, he can’t ever convince her. And nobody in her family will help him, either; he knows this. Patricia’s father is a retired lawyer, and her mother, a retired nurse. Her older brother works at her law firm, and her younger sister is a financial consultant with her own office. They just side with Patricia every time, and let him know their opinions. Thomas is also tired of this.

  Patricia walks by Thomas as she gets her jacket at the front hallway, her briefcase in hand, never looking at her husband. Thomas glares at her as she leaves for her work. He turns to look at the newspaper, still sitting on the dining table. He never bothers to touch it. Instead, he leaves his writing to wake Courtney up, dress her, and take her out to the kitchen. He gives her some cereal and a glass of milk. This is the only thing he likes about being with Patricia – the little girl she gave him. It’s why Thomas never does much writing in the evenings and on weekends. He wants to spend this time being with his daughter. Thomas sees that as the only thing Patricia likes about him.

  After breakfast, he takes Courtney to the living room and reads some of her favorite storybooks to her – Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. When he finishes reading them all, he sits and ponders for a few moments. What is he going to do with Patricia? How will he leave her? Should he leave her? He stares at the telephone. He thinks about calling another counselor, but decides against it.

  Thomas and Patricia have already seen four counselors since her behavior became a problem in the relationship. All the sessions were the same thing. He would tell the counselor that she was pushing him to change careers and be, “more financially supportive.” She would explain the importance of a husband in a high-paying career, and the benefits of two-income families. The counselor would tell Patricia about some of the famous writers, entertainers, painters and cartoonists, and sports personalities who can support their families. He or she would add that some people decide to stay home and raise children. Finally, Patricia would be told, “Let Thomas write his fiction if he wants to.” It always ended the same way – Patricia would use her lawyer skills to tell the counselor off, then leave the office. It always upset Thomas. He decides another session isn’t worth any more aggravation.

  Instead, he calls his sister, Katherine Greenwich Roberts. She’d help him, just like she always did. Her husband owns a successful business, yet he never objects to her writing. Thomas quickly dials her number.

  When she answers, he says, “Katherine, it’s Thomas. I need you to come over here. Patricia’s been at it again.”

  “Where is she now?” Katherine asks.

  “She’s at her work, thank heavens,” he answers. “You won’t believe what she did to me just this morning.”

     “What?”

  “She took the careers section out of today’s paper, and told me to look it all over for something interesting.”

  Katherine is shocked. “Don’t tell me she’s still after you to quit writing and find a new line of work!”

     “Brilliant, Holmes!” Thomas replies. “I’ve been with her since college, you’d think she’d finally get the hint. Why would I give up something I love for something that won’t make me happy, even if the pay is better?”

  “Stay right there, all right?” Katherine says. “I’ll get myself ready and be there in a couple of hours.”

  “Bring the kids, too,” Thomas suggests. “Courtney should have someone to play with while we talk.”

  “Will do. You just continue with your next best-seller. See you.”

  “See you, Katherine.” He hangs up and brings some toys for Courtney to play with, and continues writing.

  Two hours later, Katherine arrives with her children. She and Thomas live in separate cities, but he’d always go to visit her. Whenever he left Patricia after a terrible fight, he’d pack up his and Courtney’s things, and they would spend some time at Katherine’s house.

  When he hears the doorbell, Thomas saves his novel and clicks off the word processor. He carries Courtney in one arm, takes the newspaper in the other hand and answers the door. He shows it to Katherine and whines, “This is what Patricia’s putting me through, sis!”

  “How about you let me in the house first?” Katherine suggests. “Then I’ll look at that.” Thomas steps aside and lets her and the children in.

  The visitors hang their jackets up, then Thomas says to the children, “Why don’t you go into the basement and watch some TV, or play some games or something?” They obey, then he and Katherine go into the kitchen.

  Thomas pours two cups of coffee, then they look at all the career advertisements. There are ads for jobs such as a legal secretary in a corporate law firm, a sales manager of an interior design business, a senior accountant at an insurance company, and a communications officer at an airline service. They reject them all, even the communications ad.

  “As much as I like to write, I can’t see myself editing a boring magazine, or writing newsletters for a living,” Thomas comments. Katherine nods in agreement.

  She pulls out the sports section and opens it to the classifieds. “Funny Patricia didn’t mention these,” she says.

  They look over those advertisements. They cringe when they read the offers under, “Professional Job Opportunities;” they’re pretty much like the ones in the careers section.  Katherine and Thomas skip the “Technical and Trade” section.  The “Teachers Wanted” section looks interesting, but they’re disappointed when they can’t find ads asking for creative writing teachers.

  Katherine puts the paper away and says, “Thomas, your mission is clear. You have to leave Patricia once and for all. You just can’t go on like this. And you can’t give in to her demands, either. We have fans all over the nation. What would they think of Thomas Greenwich giving up writing for something more conservative?”

  “I want to leave, Kathy,” Thomas says, “but Patricia keeps saying that I need her, which is true.”

     “That’s not true, Thomas.”

  “Well, I can’t raise Courtney alone on my book contract, even if I tried. That’s why she keeps saying she’s the one fully supporting us, which isn’t true.”

  Katherine has an idea. “Why don’t you and Courtney move in with us? We can set up a writing office for us to share, and you, Nicholas and I can share custody of her.”

  Thomas smiles. “Good thinking. I can just see Courtney in Patricia’s custody. That poor girl would suffer. What if she wants to be a writer, actress or singer when she gets older? If I know Patricia, she’ll tell her to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a business executive instead. She’d probably even try to send her to one of those prestigious private schools.” He shudders.

  “I’ll tell her this,” Katherine says. “You can be headstrong and stubborn when you want to be, but I can be deadly when I want to be. What’s her office number, Tom?”

  He gives it to her, and she goes into the living room, picks up the phone and dials. After two rings, she hears Patricia’s receptionist.

  “I’d like to speak to Patricia Greenwich, please,” she requests. “This is Katherine Roberts, her sister-in-law.”

  “You’re Mrs. Greenwich’s sister-in-law?” the receptionist asks. “Is this some kind of joke?”

     “For your information, missy, I am her husband’s older sister, and this is an important matter! Now, may I speak with her, please?” Katherine is put on hold for a few moments.  When she hears Patricia’s voice, she starts her belittling.

  “Hello, Patricia,” she says coldly. “Do you know who this is? It’s Katherine!”

  Patricia is flabbergasted. “Kathy?!” she cries. “Listen, I don’t have time for this. I’m hanging up right now!”

  “No, don’t you dare hang up on me, you witch!” Katherine barks. “You will listen to what I have to say.”

  “What, Kathy?” Patricia asks snidely. “What is it that you have to say?”

  Katherine tries reasoning with her. She speaks in a civilized, yet firm tone. “First of all, Thomas did go over that careers section in the paper, just like you asked. He and I looked at it together, and we even searched the classifieds. And you know what? Neither of us is fit to do anything in there.”

  Patricia sighs harshly. “That’s just a bunch of baloney, woman, and you know that damn well! You mean to tell me you’re not fit to do anything advertised in there? I think you’d better read them all over again! Or should I come home and point some things out to you?”

  “Patricia, shut up and listen, all right?!” Katherine blasts. “If Thomas and I went back to school, and got law or business degrees, or anything else like that, chances are we wouldn’t be successful!”

  “What in hell are you talking about, Kathy?” Patricia asks. “Of course you would! It’d be better if Thomas did to begin with! Face reality, Katherine! Writers can’t make enough money to support themselves and their families, even if they did have his talent. Or yours, for that matter.”

  “I will not be insulted by a high-powered lady lawyer!” Katherine shouts. “Now, you listen to me! Thomas can be a writer if he damn well wants to be, and if you’re really his wife, you’ll back him up!”

  She hears Patricia pounding her desk on the other end. “That’s the problem with you writers!” she barks. “Always trying to prove yourselves more worthy than everyone else! Just like the singers, actors and artists of this world! Well, let me tell you something, sister! English is an impractical subject!”

  “English is an impractical subject,” Katherine repeats. “This coming from a woman who uses it in her career!”

     “My point, Katherine,” Patricia sneers, “is that you and Thomas, and all the rest of your kind, tend to think you can survive on English alone.”

  Katherine widens her eyes in shock. “What do you mean, ‘our kind?’”

     “Don’t interrupt me!” Patricia pauses a few moments. “Now, as I was saying, you think you can rely on English alone. You know bloody well that’s not true! I was first in English and math all throughout school. Math is important too, Katherine! The problem is, you and Thomas are too ignorant to see that!”

  “Fine, witch! If that’s your attitude, then I don’t think Thomas needs you as much as you say. He’s coming to live with me, and we’ll see that he gets full custody of Courtney, not you.”

“And why should that be? She’s my daughter, too.”

  “Because you’ll be controlling her just like you tried to control Thomas. What’ll happen if she comes to you and says, ‘I want to be a writer?’ Maybe she’ll want to be a singer or actress. What’ll you do, tell her to be a doctor or lawyer instead? Maybe even after you’ve smacked her?”

  “Of course I would. I’ll not have Courtney wasting her life away like her father.”

  “I thought so!” Katherine’s voice sounds cold and evil.

  Patricia sighs again and orders, “Obviously, I can’t get through to you. Bring Thomas to the phone! I want to speak to him!”

  “Why, so you can nag at him like you’ve done for years?”

  “Oh, and just what are you trying to imply?”

  Then, Katherine says to her, “I personally think Thomas can do better than you, and Nicholas and I will help him file for a divorce.”

  “You bitch!” Patricia screams in the phone. “You and your goddamn husband wouldn’t dare do that for him! Thomas wouldn’t think of leaving me!”

“Just watch us, girlfriend! And don’t even try to rush home and stop us!” Katherine slams down the phone and goes back to Thomas.

  “Tom, I want you to pack up all your things,” she says. “But first, see if you can find some boxes for Courtney’s stuff.” Thomas nods and goes to the attic. Moments later, he goes to the basement to get four boxes. He gives two to Katherine, and one to each of her sons. She looks at her daughter. “Shauna, watch Courtney while we pack up her stuff, okay?” Then the other three go upstairs to Courtney’s room.

  Meanwhile, Thomas returns to the attic for three suitcases and two duffel bags. He sets them on his bed, and empties three of his top dresser drawers. When the first suitcase is full, he opens the bottom two drawers.

     Just as he’s filling the second suitcase, he hears the front door slam, and a familiar voice angrily screaming for him and Katherine. Patricia has come home. Moments later, he hears his wife and sister screaming at each other. He quickly finishes packing the suitcase and puts the two out in the hallway.

  He follows the women’s voices to the kitchen. Patricia sees Thomas and starts toward him, but Katherine won’t let her pass.

  “Thomas, you listen to me!” Patricia shouts at him. “Don’t you dare leave me! You do, and you’ll never see Courtney again, you understand?! Besides, you know you’ll never make it on your own! You’re nothing without me! Your little book contract is nothing!”

  “Wrong!” he replies coldly. “I’m leaving you, Patricia! I’ve had it with you telling me what I should and shouldn’t do with my life. I’ll prove that I can make it without you! You heard Katherine, I’m moving in with her and the family. As soon as I get settled, I’m filing for divorce. And we’ll make sure that you never see Courtney again! You hear me? Enough is enough!”

  He goes back to his bedroom, opens his closet, and packs his shirts, slacks and ties in the last suitcase. Then, he takes a duffel bag and fills it with his toiletries. He takes the other bag to his office, fills it with all his books, grabbing his laptop case on the way out. He shuts down his laptop and packs it, throwing the jumpdrive with his current novel into a small sandwich bag full of the others. Just then, Katherine calls to him.

  “All of Courtney’s things are loaded in our van,” she says. “The kids and I are taking her with us. Is that all right with you?”

  “Sure thing,” he replies. “Her seat’s in the back of my car.”

  “See you in a while.”

     When she leaves, Thomas finishes up his packing, surveying for anything he’s forgotten. He puts his duffel bag on one shoulder, carries his laptop case in one hand and a suitcase in the other. Just as he goes to the front door, Patricia calls to him from behind. He turns to her and says, “Ah, Patricia, glad you’re here. I need your help with my luggage. Can you get the rest of my suitcases and bring them out to the car for me, please?” Wordlessly, she does so.

  Outside, Thomas puts his bags in the trunk of his car. When Patricia meets him, she says, “Good riddance, Thomas! I give up! You never loved me! You obviously don’t love me enough to get a better job to support your family. You think you can do better with your sister? You two won’t even be able to pay your electric bill with your damn books!”

  He takes the bags and puts them in the trunk. “Dammit, Patricia, you make me sick,” he tells her. “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer.” He gets into his car and drives off.  Thomas sings along with the radio as he drives to Katherine’s city. The further he drives, the further away he gets from his wife’s control. He drives away from a loveless, unsupportive marriage, heading to something he’s always wanted – the emotional freedom to write.

David Lightfoot identifies as a writer with a disability (Cerebral Palsy), and chose a writing career while still in middle school. Following an incomplete stint in Business Administration at Red River Community College (now Red River College), he studied creative writing through correspondence from the Stratford Career Institute headquartered in Toronto and the Institute for Writers (formerly the Long Ridge Writers Group) headquartered in Connecticut, USA. In addition to self-publishing a novel on disability human rights, “Broken Family Portrait” through an independent Canadian bookseller, McNally-Robinson; he has also been published in Scarlet Leaf Review.  An advocate for educational literacy, David lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Alberta Bound

By Michael Lee Johnson

I own a gate to this prairie

that ends facing the Rocky Mountains.

They call it Alberta-

trails of endless blue sky

asylum of endless winters,

the hermitage of indolent retracted sun.

Deep freeze drips haphazardly into spring.

Drumheller, dinosaur badlands, dried bones,

ancient hoodoos sculpt high, prairie toadstools.

Alberta highway 2 opens the gateway of endless miles.

Travel weary, I stop by roadsides, ears open to whispering pines.

In harmony North to South

Gordon Lightfoot pitches out a tune-

“Alberta Bound.”

With independence in my veins,

I am a long way from my home.

Michael Lee Johnson lived ten years in Canada during the Vietnam era and is a dual citizen of the United States and Canada. Today he is a poet, freelance writer, amateur photographer, and small business owner in Itasca, DuPage County, Illinois. Johnson is published widely and internationally.