Phoebe Kate Foster

Phoebe Kate Foster

 

 

 

The Exquisite Delectation of Not Knowing

 

She shops for groceries every day after work and prepares mass quantities of the soft shapeless delights he devoured as a child—tuna casserole, macaroni and cheese, meatloaf and mashed potatoes, banana custard, rice pudding.  

 

In bed, he sucks hard on her nipples, as if he expects milk or martinis to flow.  All he ever wanted was someone to fill him up and make him whole.

 

When he’s done, her breasts feel like dried up lemons and her body an empty shell.  All she’s ever heard about is the pleasure of pleasing and the need to meet needs.

 

She buffers his world like it’s a Fabergé egg.  No phone calls that will distress, no bills that will upset, no news that will unnerve.  Her words are as carefully picked and finely filleted as a piece of fish: no bones, no spines, no scales to catch in the throat of their perfect life.

 

At night, he burrows between her legs, as if seeking a way back into the womb.

 

Every day, she gently pushes him toward the light—toward higher aspirations and the Harvard Five Foot Shelf, the ladder of success, the Fortune 500 and the latest styles.   

 

When she’s not around, he bonds with Playboy centerfolds and six-packs of beer.

 

She curses where he can’t hear.

 

He cries where she can’t see.  

 

One evening, on her way home from work, the crowded subway she’s riding grinds to halt between stations and goes black.  As she stands hanging onto a strap in the stuffy darkness, shoehorned in by restless bodies, she feels a hand behind her begin to play with her hair.  The gesture is more intimate than a caress and makes her want to cry as she remembers a long-forgotten incident from her youth.  She’d sneaked out of her parent’s house to go to a party where she wasn’t supposed to be: slow music, low lights, electricity in the air and a room full of strangers, ever so fascinating in their unfamiliarity.  She danced with a young man she’d never met, who had soft hands and a voice like velvet when he whispered in her ear, “Let’s go outside.”  Her mother had warned her about boys like that, but all he’d wanted was to kiss her and entangle his fingers in her long red hair before he bid her good night and a happy life and slipped away.  Though she can’t recall his face and doesn’t know his name, she clearly remembers the cool moongleam and the infinity of unknown stars, the mystery of the moment and the enchantment of the unforeseen.

 

The train suddenly shudders and starts to roll again.  The lights blink on.  The hand is gone.  Her hair is alone.  The faces around her are blank, betraying nothing.  The next stop is hers.  “Thank you,” she says to whomever it was, then disembarks and slowly walks home.  She stops at the supermarket as usual, but wanders up and down the aisles in a daze, her hand out of control and reaching for unthinkable things.  She stares at the choices in her cart and is amazed.     

 

When she opens the door, he approaches for the usual embrace but they miss each other by inches and proceed on in opposite directions.  She doesn’t turn back.  He watches the kitchen swallow her up.  Everything suddenly feels so empty, it seems.  

 

Her clothes.

 

His head.

 

This place.

 

Her face.

 

His heart.

 

As she unpacks the groceries, she does a little dance.  

 

He hides in the den and cowers in the dark.  

 

Instead of the oven door opening, he hears the front door close.  She’s gone.  He wanders around the apartment.  It looks strange and perilous, an unexplored land.  He doesn’t know where she’s going or if she’ll ever return.  He doesn’t know whether he feels relieved or grieved because he isn’t sure of anything anymore.  He isn’t sure how he feels about not being sure, and finds that strangely exciting.  

 

On the kitchen counter, the food she has bought awaits him like a farewell note.  Single Serving Size, all the packages say, and he doesn’t know whether to laugh or to cry.

 

 

 

 

Jay Boyer

 

 

 

The Secret Lives of London Detectives

 

Jessica’s class was going to a petting zoo. Emily was taking the morning off to be one of the adults on the field trip. Squeezing past him in the hall, she put a camera in Judah’s hand, saying, “Here.”

 

Having removed her from her bath, Judah Zukor had his daughter Amy in his arms, swaddled in a towel. He could smell from her hair that he’d missed some shampoo, should have rinsed her head again.

 

He had to look past his daughter’s little rump to see what he’d been given. Her head was tucked in to the hollow of his shoulder. The child was going back to sleep. “Come on, Puppet, none of that.

 

We’ve got to get moving. What’s this?”

Emily answered, “What does it look like, Judah. A camera.”

“What’s wrong, doesn’t it work?”

“I wouldn’t know.”

 

It was one of those fool-proof numbers that wound its own film, focused itself. Still, where in the hell did you open the thing? Where did you put the batteries? “What do you mean you wouldn’t know?

It’s your camera, Emily, not mine.”

“I’ve forgotten how it works. I need to make sure that it works.

Okay?” Emily had this way of letting him know she needed more from Judah than he was providing. You. You and your intermittent father act. She did this same thing in bed if he reached over to touch her. What I need from you Judah is help, not a roll in the clover. I’ve never been more stressed, Judah. I’m dying here, or haven’t you noticed?

 

Judah was half-dressed and late to get started. Amy slumped over like a rag doll when he propped her up in her bed, the lower berth of a shaky wooden bunk. He got down on his knees and began foraging through her drawer of under things. The carpet was cheap, more nylon than wool, and the nap burned his skin. Searching for her stuffed bunny beneath the piles of clothes and toys that were strewn about the floor, Jessica slid beneath him as if he were a bridge. “Help me get your sister dressed, Jess,” he said. “I’m looking for bunny,” she protested.

“You can’t take bunny to school anymore, remember? They won’t let you. You’re too big.”

“Then I’m not going. I’m staying home. Help me look, Daddy.”

“Where did you last see bunny, Puppet? Try to think. Did you have bunny with you while you were eating your breakfast?”

“I haven’t had my breakfast yet. Amy didn’t do her homework.”

For no reason he could determine, Amy, waking now, began to whimper. He thought perhaps she had hit her head or otherwise injured herself but she hadn’t. Increasingly, they had to look to Jessica to serve as an intermediary.

 

“Amy doesn’t have homework.”

“Amy does too have homework, Daddy. She brings a book home from class every day. She has to be read a story, then you have to sign a paper.”

“When did this start?”

“It’s in her knapsack, just see if it’s not. She’ll need money today for a tea as well.”

 

A phone rang in the distance. Dishes piled high in the sink toppled over as Emily answered the call. She turned on the tap. He heard her speaking into the receiver as she answered as well the chime of the microwave: something, waffles if the girls were lucky. He heard her open the microwave door, reset the timer, give the dish a little longer.

 

“You’re going to need your shoes and stockings as well.”

“NO. Not until I find bunny.”

 

Jessica had dressed herself. He could see what she had done. She had put the dress on backwards so that the buttons up the back were in front, making it easier to work them. Two ends of an untied cinch now trailed the floor behind her. He heard Emily’s footfalls returning toward their end of the house, heard her stop at the tub and release Amy’s bathwater. Heard her put the rubber bottle of children’s shampoo back where it belonged. She was carrying Amy’s night dress in her hand when she came into the room. She had rinsed it out in the bathwater, apparently. She seemed to be wringing the neck of a Disney character that was stenciled on its front. “It’s for you,” said Emily.

 

 

 

 

Earl J. Wilcox

Earl J. Wilcox

 

 

 

 

Arabian knight on the run

 

    On a day once near Al Ain,

    so hot Satan sought shade,

    no dune, no shelter in sight,

    I saw a man pissing in the sand.

    His damp and limp dishdasha

    Looking grungy and likely smelling

    sour from the day's sweat

    was hiked up tanned shanks.

    He stood spread eagle to prevent

    piss from splashing his sandals.

    A hand on one hip, another pointed

    his water to puddle into a sand stain.

    Speeding by in our cool blue car,

    we cruised along the hot tarmac.

    Our driver pushed the pedal to

    tuck us in safely before nightfall.

    Through my rearview mirror, where objects

    may be closer than they appear, I stole a

    backward glance at the man pissing in the

    sand. Fading fast, I spied him, hauling

    himself up on a kneeling camel. Undulating

    awkwardly, they loped away toward

    a distant dune. As in a memory flash,

    near Al Ain, the two faded into mirage.

    Neither the hot sand nor the nomad's

    stance seemed droll or bizarre to us

    in the cool car. Not mere curiosity, nature's

    urgent call bound him to us magically.

 

       (Near Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 2004)

 

 

 

 

Freedom a distant gleam

 

Abu Dhabi women stand in a half-circle, eyes peering

at us through a small slit or oval opening in their head

wraps or shemagh scarves. Like baby penguins huddled

in creches for strength, the women watch expectantly from

the safety of a protected world. Light brown, blank faces

radiate warmly in cameo relief against black fabric folds

engulfing them. The dishdasha overwhelms the women,

tsunami-like, inhibiting their movement, their souls and wills.

 

          (Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, 2004)

 

 

 

 

Crane Forests circa 2006

 

From my high-rise hotel, I watch the waters of

the Arabian Gulf gently nudge the shores of beaches

swiftly disappearing from erosion made by machines.

Frenetic crane forests stand in the sands of the Emirates,

casting shadows like giant yellow praying mantises at midnight

and during the noonday prayers. Gleaming glass skyscrapers,

children of the mating cranes, are rooted in spaces

where Lawrence of Arabia might have miraged into real.

Night and day, day and night, tall booms--skeletal sinews of

steel--jerk and sway like oversized toys in a grainy, flickering

grade-B film. Arabian nights fade into light

from artificial amber,

two-hump camels are replaced by SUVs, whose hard-hat

owners

swagger, tattoos glisten, pony-tails flap in warm Gulf breezes.

Crane forests multiply overnight, eat their mates, quickly die.

 

        (Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 2006)

 

 

 

 

Daniel Pendergrass

 

 

 

 

Istanbul Street Scene, IX

 

The riot at Beyazit happened after the call for prayer

On a Friday variety of boring afternoon.

The same old local vultures waiting patiently around the square,

The same secret agents selling bird feed to the tourists

 

Must have been surprised at the sudden swell of rage,

The quick massing of bodies with fists upraised.

Anyone with a video camera could have made their name:

For appearances sake, we might all have been rushing off

                                      to liberate the dungeons of the

CIA

 

But in truth had mostly been caught up in the rush

  Of a few admirably conscience-less pranksters

Treading on the red white and blue without allegiance–

Irony being the genesis of so many urban revolutions.

 

This way and that, my legs not moving,

  I could not deny I was somehow in motion,

And from the great silence at the center of all uproars,

Chipping in my own to the accumulated anger,

 

As the graceful dragonfly of a police helicopter

                                                                       

elegantly descended

And the mob, re-directed, turned to that usurper,

I clipped the wings of my lofty indifference

And warmed to the crime of outrageous happiness.

 

  

 

Istanbul Street Scene, XIII

 

It was the day your alienation became complete.

Friends, near and far, dropped away from any understanding.

Only old pictures sustained them, those odd people

Surrounded by the things they work so hard to pay for.

 

In a foreign land, but it would have made no difference

Had they all been next door;

The mere thought of it was enough to drive you to Gulhane Park,

                                                               that

retreat for fading sultans,

 

For a few loose moments to think it over

                                                                    in

the company of the old men,

‘The chill Fall wind flipping through the pages of your book,

‘The sun doing its afternoon best to fight off the cold.’

 

The reality was a mass of students from the nearby medressi

Who surrounded you, hung on your coat, questioned inanities,

Speaking what at first seemed like English, but in fact was the local

language…

 

And you understood it all.

Replies pouring from you,

Huck Finn among the Lilliputians, and with a ridiculous Southern accent-

Caught up in that strange land where intent (and not the word) is heard,

The mysterious and lovely pleasure of communication,

Doubled when exchanged in a foreign tongue.

 

After their teacher led them away, it took a moment to relocate;

Then, only, sunlight filtering through the ages,

The old men chuckling about kids these days.

 

 

 

 

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