FICTION

Poetry, Lyrical Essay

 

D. Allan Mitchell and  Mike Smith “Highway 61 ‘re revisited’ from New Orleans to Clarksdale, Mississippi”

A reading and presentation of a travelogue and lyric essay by poet and blues historian D. Allan Mitchell and poet Mike Smith, which traces Highway 61 from New Orleans to Clarksdale, Mississippi, 400 miles of road central not only to the Blues, but to writers such as Welty, Wright, Faulkner and Williams. In fact, the model for this presentation, both conceptually and practically, has been Eudora Welty’s “Some Notes on River Country,” that great apology for the adopted home of her imagination. Highway 61, like the river it traces, has been known to change course. 20 years ago, many sections were re-routed, locking in time many of the small towns it once supported. And it will soon change course again, as it is incorporated north of Clarksdale into the interstate system. This seems a propitious moment to reconsider this roadway and route used by generations of Mississippi artists.

 

POETRY and SHORT STORY

 

Joe Amoako

 

Acrostic: Essence of Language

L                              Love will forever flourish through language

Long time ago was language born with love

Longevity and affection are the essence of language

A                             Ages shall come

Ages shall go

Ageless shall language remain

N                             News have been spreading with civility

News will be spreading with vivacity

News will spread but through the agility of language

G                             Generosity thrives with the presence of language

                                Genealogies have thrived through language

                                Generations will survive through language

U                             Unity ceases with the absence of language

                                Unification comes with the presence of language

                                Unity and unification are the essence of language

A                             Among the angels in heaven

                                Among the devils in hell

                                Amidst them is the serenity of language

G                             Go from the North to the South

                                Go from the East to the West

                                Golden language is the passport to creativity

E                              Earth is full of love for language

Early was language born

                                Eternally shall language reign

 

Listen, New Bosses

Let me turn to apostrophe

To find out if I’ll obtain philosophy or prophesy

What is your philosophy

And what is your prophesy

How do we achieve your philosophy

And how do we fulfill your prophesy

Are we going to run the marathon like Pheidipedes

Or are we going to run the marathon like the tortoise

Every man has his Ides of March

Hence don’t forget your Brutus

Around will be your Mark Anthony

And of course there will be your Cleopatra

Beware of the wolf in a sheep’s skin

And be patient of the sheep in a wolf’s skin

 

Some will play the game of argumentum ad populum

They will sing the master’s voice

They will tell you what you want to hear

Others will play the game of argumentum ad hominem

They will attack the master’s person

They will not tell you what you want to hear

The protagonist’s foil brings the contrast in him

And the protagonist’s alter ego is his mirror image

Who is your foil

And who is your alter ego

One head does not make a council

But many cooks spoil the soup

Who will be the heads

And who will be the cooks

 

Arrival of the Twilight

 

The dawn gives way to the morning

The dusk gives way to the warning

The dawn light brings the sunlight

The dusk light brings the dark night

 

The twilight is arriving

Darkness will be following

Following darkness is the night time

And night time brings sleeping time


Unless You Kowtow

 

They threaten with their weapons

And their venom weapons are canons

Unless you kowtow

Lest you’ll be cut out

 

Your promotion will be on hold

And your merit will be untold

Unless you kowtow

Lest you’ll be cut out

 

You’ll get your disappointment

Because you’ll not get your reappointment

Unless you kowtow

Lest you’ll be cut out

 

Your silence is prudence at meetings

But your vibrancy is foolishness at meetings

Unless you kowtow

Lest you’ll be cut out

 

Promotion and merit are their weapons

And reappointment and your silence are their cannons

Unless you kowtow

Lest you’ll be cut out

                                DR. JOE AMOAKO; ASSOCIATE PROFESSOR

PAPER TITLE:                       The Twilight and other Poems

AFFILIATION:      DELAWARE STATE UNIVERSITY

Eleven of Dr. Amoako’s poems have been published in POMPA. He has many other publications in journals, anthologies, and books. His latest published book is Ghanaian Pidgin English: Diachronic, Synchronic, and Sociolinguistic Perspective.

 

 

Stephanie Eddleman

 

It Is Good She Did Not Know

 

I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.

  --II Samuel 12:23

 

It is good

she did not know

the end

from the beginning.

 

For then,

how could she ever

have left the side of his crib?

counting the ticking minutes

through the numbered nights.

 

It is good

for then

how could she ever

have smiled and waved

as he boarded the yellow bus,

or said yes

to a sleepover,

or told him

 just go outside and play.

 

It is good

for then

how could she ever

have counted

out the candles

and said make a wish

when she knew her own

would not come true.

 

It is good

for then

how could she ever

have shown him how

to fold his hands,

how taught him to pray

when she herself

was not quite sure

how God answers.

 

It is good she did not know.

 

The Celebration Tree

 

Long, long ago in a land far away,

there lived a farmer and his wife. 

The farmer’s wife gave birth to a son,

and she planted a beautiful tree

in celebration of his arrival. 

She also planted lots of lovely

flowers around their house. 

The riot of color and the pleasing aromas

gave the farmer’s wife much pleasure.

 

Alongside the farmer’s house

ran a fencerow that was thick

and overgrown with bushes and weeds. 

The farmer did not like this,

so he built a small fence around it

and bought some goats to clean it up. 

The goats ate and ate until the area was clean! 

The farmer was happy.

 

The goats were not happy, though. 

They had nothing good left to eat,

and the farmer’s wife’s flowers

began to look very delicious. 

One day the farmer’s wife looked outside,

and the goats were eating her flowers! 

This was so long ago that there were no cell phones,

so the farmer’s wife ran to the private radio

and called the farmer.

“You must come home,” she said.

 “The goats are eating my flowers!”

 

The farmer jumped off his tractor

and came home very quickly. 

He caught the goats and put them

back in the pen,

and his wife was happy again.

 

Until the next day,

when the ravenous goats again decided

 to dine on her flowers. 

She called the farmer again,

and he came and put the goats up,

but not as quickly this time.                                                                                    

 

The next day,

the farmer’s wife looked out the window,

and what did she see? 

The biggest goat had broken down

the celebration tree,

and all the goats were eating the leaves! 

The farmer’s wife was VERY ANGRY. 

She called her husband again.

 

“Just shoot them!” the farmer said. 

Although the farmer’s wife usually

had very good oral communication skills,

in her anger she missed all the cues

of verbal sarcasm. 

She went to the closet and got the .22 rifle,

 loaded it,

and with three precision shots,

 took care of the goat problem herself.

 

She marched back to the radio. 

“It’s done,” she informed the farmer.

 

There was a long period of radio silence. 

 

“You shot them?” he asked.

 

“Yep.”

 

Silence again. 

 

“Well, I guess there’ll be a barbeque,”

 the farmer said.

 

For a long, long time afterwards,

the old men who sit on benches

in front of general stores

would point at the farmer and say,

 “That’s the man whose wife shoots goats.”

 

 

Terry Everett   poetry

 

 

James Fowler poetry             

James Fowler teaches literature at the University of Central Arkansas,

where he edits the poetry journal Slant.  His stories and poems

have recently appeared in such journals as Line Zero, Paper Nautilus,

Rockhurst Review, Elder Mountain, and Parting Gifts.

 

Bilingual

 

 

                                                Wanting to revive the semaphore of herbs and flowers,

                                                she left a clutch of forget-me-nots (labeled)

                                                on his workbench.  Taking the hint, he rummaged

                                                through his toolbox mind for important dates,

                                                then, nodding, fixed an unruly venetian blind.

 

                                                The cupid on her sachet wept.

 

                                                Next she tried a declaration of red roses

                                                lightly sprigged with impatiens.  He caught

                                                the romantic note, but fumbled the underscore

                                                in wearing his Eager Beaver thong to bed.

 

                                                So the rosemary garlanding his steering wheel,

                                                pansies on the headrest, violets in the vents,

                                                and Chianti bottle with a single gladiolus stalk

                                                where his coffee mug usually nestled

                                                made him anxiously recall his first driver’s test.

                                                At work he cast around the Internet for meaning.

 

                                                And if his translation was rough, even skewed

                                                like instructions in English as a third language,

                                                he earned points for trying.  She returned that night

                                                to candlelit pizza–half meat, half vegetable–

                                                and a movie with chase scenes all for love. 

 

                                               

                                               

 

                                                                                On this eve of twisters

                                                                                the tag-team weathermen

                                                                                speak of wall clouds,

                                                                                hook echoes, rotation,

                                                                                point out ominous bulges

                                                                                in the ragged stormline.

                                                                                Fronts primed for funnels

                                                                                stress, excite them.

                                                                                They are ready, display

                                                                                the latest tracking gear

                                                                                precise to street level,

                                                                                dramatize the peril

                                                                                from block to block,

                                                                                in coming seasons maybe

                                                                                house to menaced house:

                                                                                “Timmy Hall of 314 Elm,

                                                                                get away from the window.

                                                                                We know you’re hypnotized

                                                                                by the swaying cobra

                                                                                of dirt-darkened wind

                                                                                vacuuming your town,

                                                                                a terror more horrendous

                                                                                than any you’ve dreamed.

                                                                                At eight years old

                                                                                it’s your first glimpse

                                                                                of the godlike–dreadful,

                                                                                magnificent, capricious–

                                                                                sparing the liquor store,

                                                                                smashing the daycare.

                                                                                Tear yourself away now,

                                                                                run for the bathroom

                                                                                and dive in the tub.

                                                                                You have memories there,

                                                                                happy ones, though they

                                                                                and every childhood thing

                                                                                will soon take flight

                                                                                for the next county,

                                                                                leaving you shaken, grazed,

                                                                                beneath clearing skies

                                                                                whose shelter of blue

                                                                                like all those below

                                                                                you’ll never quite trust.”

                                                                               

116 Baridon St.

Conway, AR 72034

 

 

Material

 

 

                                                                Inside the cover of this old-enough book

                                                                an empty sleeve X’d in ink.

                                                                The reason, a bar code pasted opposite,

                                                                also outdates the date-due slip,

                                                                its only stamp a day from 1982.

 

                                                                There was a time when readers signed

                                                                themselves, joined informal clubs

                                                                that never met except on the page,

                                                                whose membership all could browse.

                                                               

                                                                Now checked books name no names

                                                                in this most unprivate age.

                                                                How trace their checkered histories:

                                                                the first flush of demand,

                                                                the years of shelved neglect,

                                                                the sporadic flurry of interest?

 

                                                                Tomorrow, they say, we’ll breeze

                                                                through a gate as chips replace strips

                                                                and scanners pick books and pockets

                                                                of ID.  If books live to tell the tale.

                                                                Already the local library sells them

                                                                by the pound, cheaper than bananas,

                                                                to make room for the virtual.

 

                                                                Back to tablets, this clay never dry,

                                                                this stone never bitten once for all.

                                                                Efficient, yes, but words, concrete

                                                                in abstraction, insist on their thingness,

                                                                thrive on cream-colored linen stock.

 

                                                                Eye, ear, finger, tongue, concur

                                                                (even nose whiffing peppery dust):

                                                                materialism at its best savors

                                                                gutturals and goats, finds good company

                                                                in creatures bright and spined.

 

 

An American Original

 

 

                                                                      Disintegrating by easy stages,

                                                                      life work practically finished,

                                                                      he putters around the canal-backed yard,

                                                                      tending almost year-round hibiscus.

                                                                      He likes their brazen red, recalling

                                                                      the ruby blood on his father’s hands

                                                                      as he pruned the goddam holly.

                                                                      The subtropic is his reward:

                                                                      modest boat at the slip,

                                                                      sea bass or sunfish whenever,

                                                                      happy hour 5-7 nightly on the patio

                                                                      joined by his main squeeze,

                                                                      common-law by now he supposes.

                                                                      After their combined track record

                                                                      neither stands on ceremony.

                                                                      That line applies: perfection of life

                                                                      or work; choose.  Wife one bailed

                                                                      when full of his Mailingway b.s.

                                                                      (turns of phrase her chief attraction).

                                                                      Spouse the second preferred half

                                                                      the property to all his love,

                                                                      minus a small percent on the side

                                                                      she and her lawyer never discovered.

                                                                      If anything, these Solomon chops

                                                                      made him more productive, determined

                                                                      to replenish the counting house

                                                                      as if no blow could floor him.

                                                                      Always the instinct for what would sell

                                                                      and tickle the lit-crit hyenas.

                                                                      Yet now he bristles at autographs

                                                                      and treats his agent rudely,

                                                                      a case of professional prickly heat.

                                                                      Some guy with his last name

                                                                      takes up a whole bookcase shelf.

                                                                      Last week at a gallery he nearly

                                                                      snatched a mask off the wall

                                                                      for a crazed banshee dance.

                                                                      In mockery of his image he wears

                                                                      a floppy sunhat and white powder

                                                                      on his nose (a rich shift there).

                                                                      White, glaring white, bones-at-noon

                                                                      white, this place’s answer to snow.

                                                                      He doesn’t walk the same beaches

                                                                      as the bronzed immortals;

                                                                      still, his orgasms and aura

                                                                      stack up nicely next to most.

                                                                      The next minute the breeze drops

                                                                      and his old man’s brag goes limp.

                                                                      Better to nurse wounds quietly.

                                                                      Swirling a Manhattan, he conceives

                                                                      an out-of-character piece about

                                                                      this chump who’s haunting himself,

                                                                      though it’s likely been done before.

                                                                     

 

The World According to Merriam-Webster Illustrations

 

 

                                                Would have plenty of critters and music,

                                                not quite symphonic, more after-dinner,

                                                the meal itself long on meat—lamb, veal—

                                                with grilled opah to cleanse the palate.

 

                                                Vegetarians would despair.  No fruit or salad

                                                unless odd ingredients tossed together,

                                                spearmint and onion, dry, little enough

                                                to leave them eying the phlox centerpiece.

 

                                                Granted, brussels sprouts, but who wouldn’t

                                                rather feed those to the dik-dik?

                                                The guests?  Clotheshorses mainly, the ladies

                                                in polonaise, the gents in puttees and peruke.

 

                                                Following the quartet for accordion, French horn,

                                                rebec, and shofar, all could amuse themselves

                                                at magic squares or attend a match

                                                between twins, forehand vs. backhand girl.

 

                                                Or they might just lounge about the chalet

                                                on Barcelona chairs and recamiers

                                                admiring the Franklin stove or canopic jar

                                                where dear Harlequin’s belly laugh is laid.

 

                                                In lieu of liqueur servants in Prince Alberts

                                                would tender roast potatoes on lazy tongs.

                                                Talk would, as usual, drift skyward,

                                                and end, as usual, with a catalogue of clouds.

 

                                                Then some might stroll to the runway,

                                                sidestepping muntjacs and mud puppies,

                                                to board the detailed plane bound for

                                                the saltbox town on the alluvial fan,

 

                                                                                                                                [break]

 

 

 

                                                As others, Abyssinian cats in arm,

                                                descended to moored felucca or dhow

                                                and set sail for the sea of atolls where

                                                houses come in one of four rooflines.

 

                                                 

                                                                                                —James Fowler

                                                                                            jamesf@uca.edu

                                                                                          (501) 450-5107

 

                                                                               

William Hays                                                                        

 

                                                                           Cookie  (1st few paragraphs)

                                                            By Bill Hays               

                "Beep, Beep," Cookie shouted as a rust‑covered paddy wagon partly veered into his lane. He turned his lid sharply to the left in order to avoid a collision.

                "Cookie, what the hell are you doing? You know you ain't supposed to be on Main Street," the driver of the paddy wagon shouted. 

                               

 

Peter Malik     short story

Dr. Peter R. Malik is Associate Professor of English at Alcorn State University. He teaches composition, creative writing and technical writing courses at the university. He has been at Alcorn State since 1998.

Dr. Seuss Had No Children

Don Fleck looked up from Seat 31C on Delta Flight 1057 from Dallas to Los Angeles on August 22, 2013 with a sentence ringing through his consciousness that he had just read in the in-flight magazine. In an article about the creator of the Dr. Seuss books, the author admitted that he had never had children. “You’ll have them, I’ll entertain them,” the author was quoted as saying.

Balding, potbellied and only 40, Fleck was nevertheless head of the largest polling organization in the United States, bigger than Lou Harris even. This little fact about Dr. Seuss only confirmed what Fleck had suspected was the Next Big Trend in the United States: childlessness as a lifestyle choice. He and his wife Terri had been grappling with the issue; Terri was 39 and her clock was ticking. Fleck wondered what Dr. Seuss knew that he didn’t.

He had been reading studies on the cost of having a child and raising it to maturity: about $200,000 without a college education these days. Fleck thought about his own upbringing without money, how his mother had often told him after three martinis: “If I had to do it all over again, I would have never had children.” It still haunted him after all of these years. He himself had numerous allergies growing up which the doctors attributed to his mother smoking during pregnancy.

Such a risk, a baby, such a risk, Fleck thought, moving around in his seat in an unsuccessful effort to stretch his legs. They could be brain damaged, blind, deformed, insane. And if they’re normal, they could be burned in a fire, run over or hit by lightning. If they’re slow, God knows what would happen to them. And if they’re good in school, think of the extra expense: ballet, riding lessons, maybe a summer in Europe.

 

Malik 2

When they make it to high school, it’s four years of Guadacanal. Girls don’t make cheerleader, have acne, bad dates and tears. Boys get cut from varsity, have acne and start smoking. If they go to college, they write home for money. If they don’t go to college, they wind up selling cars somewhere.

As the plane began its descent, Fleck decided to take a poll and only ask a single question: If you had to do it all over again, would you have children?

In a month, the results were in. The preliminary polls in San Diego had over 70 percent of those sampled saying that, yes, they would not have had any children again. Fleck went nationwide a month later and the same percentage held up. It turned out that there were a lot of Don Flecks out there.

The Associated Press picked up the story and ran it under headlines like “New Study Indicates Child Rearing Unsatisfying” or “Parents Wouldn’t Do It Over Again, New Poll Says.”

It quickly became The Topic. The morning shows did whole days on it, the afternoon talk shows had child and adult psychologists on (an audience member or two weepingly admitted that hated their children), and the late night talk show hosts used it for bad jokes (“So did you see this new poll about parents not wanting children? Boy, I bet they’re glad their parents didn’t think that!”)

Even the President of the United States read the poll results and in his heart agreed. His children had never really amounted to much, and his wife had never shown much interest in them. He was nearly 80 years old himself. But he wondered what the consequences would be for the country: Ultra low birth rate—lower welfare costs, lower upkeep for roads, bridges, and city streets, and lower costs for government overall. Balance the budget maybe. More prosperous people consume more, and a stable economy results. Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. Doesn’t say anything about having kids.

Malik 3

The most violent reaction came from the Fundamentalists. They called radio talk shows, wrote letters to newspapers and even tried to picket Fleck’s offices. Their ministers preached to the converted for hours on the Satanic idea of childlessness. “Be fruitful and multiply” was quoted endlessly in places like Tupelo, Mississippi and Decorah, Iowa.

The year after the report appeared, the birth rate actually went up. But by the year 2020, the birth rate had noticeably decreased. The middle class had taken the news to heart. Retirement at 50 with all of the comforts or a child? The answer became simpler and simpler.

The tide turned for good in 2025 when a congressman from Michigan proposed the Childless Incentive Plan which became known from the inner city of Los Angeles to the Appalachian hills as CLIP. Its passage allowed permanent sterilization for any couple in exchange for a middle-class income for the rest of their lives. In essence, being sterilized was a little like hitting the lottery. Participants were allowed to move into government-owned homes and condominiums left over from the last banking crisis.

The program didn’t work right away. Early recipients had a tendency to spend the $7,000 monthly income on drugs, liquor or food for relatives not yet enrolled. CLIP also changed the housing patterns in cities all over the country. Bankrupt oceanfront condominium complexes in Southern California became crowded with poor black and white families from places like Alabama and Utah. Scenes from The Beverly Hillbillies became literal reality. The term “Malibu ghetto” came into existence. To remedy the problem, the Clippers (as they came to be called) were gradually relocated to reservations located in various Western states.

Don and Terri Fleck remained childless by choice. Don lived to be 110 years old as most of his contemporaries did. Numerous studies were published indicating that being childless led to long life (less stress, divorce and bankruptcy). Fleck lived to see childlessness as a lifestyle choice become the dominant social issue of his generation, the last generation to live in the

Malik 4

United States of America. He was credited in his obituaries as “the man who started the final American revolution.”

Social changes rapidly took place. As the birth rate dropped, schools began to shut down and millions of Mexicans were allowed to emigrate to deliver newspapers and sack groceries. In another decade, colleges began to close in great numbers, and still more Mexicans emigrated to care for the millions of old Americans.

Mexican-Mexicans (as they came to be called) became the most potent political force in the country, and a new organization, the Mexican Youth, began to rampage through the streets of cities like Tampa and Scottsdale, bullying and robbing the old Americans. In time, the elections laws were rewritten to allow Mexican-Mexicans to vote and hold office.

By 2085, Mexican-Mexicans constituted a majority in Congress and a man named Juan Alvarez was elected President of the United States seven years later. In the year 2099, the United States allowed itself to be annexed in its entirety to Mexico. All remaining native-born Americans of Caucasian, African or Asian descent were allowed to stay but prohibited by law from voting or having children.

By 2170, schoolchildren all over Mexico were required to memorize the biography of Don Fleck, the liberator of U.M. (Upper Mexico) and how wily “Senor Don,” being a most patriotic Mexican, had conceived the idea of conquering the U.M. without a fight by popularizing the idea of a negative birth rate to effect a peaceful coup d’etat of the richest, most powerful people on earth.

On Fleck Day (August 22, a date known by tradition as the day Senor Don got his idea for the revolution), much celebration was made. Wreaths were laid at Fleck’s tomb just outside Dallas, the new capital of Upper Mexico.

 

Malik 5

And Fleck’s famous catchphrase (now thought to be a clever code) became a proverb among citizens in every part of Mexico, from Maine to Acapulco, from Seattle to Matzalan. It was printed every day on the masthead of The New Mexican Times. On Fleck Day, vintage biplanes from the early 20th century spelled it out in white smoke over Manhattan: Dr. Seuss Had No Children.

 

 

 

 

Rusty Rogers Short story

                                                                                AN

 

                I saw AN yesterday.  I was riding an aged trolley through a decaying section of an eastern

European city when it was forced to slow at a crowded intersection.  Only a few feet from my window seat, a small cluster of old women waited to cross. When I glanced their way, even after so many years, I knew her instantly, as certainly as if she had worn a name tag on her dress.  I should say names, for she had many.  She was already looking at me through the window, and she recognized me just as surely, although no discernible sign of it appeared on her face.  Just as surely, she had no wish to be known by anyone, for her clothing matched that of those around her and, while I knew her to be almost six feet tall, she somehow managed to seem no taller than the others.  We looked at one another for perhaps a full minute, and as the trolley began to pull slowly away, she rose to her full height, smiled very slightly and very wryly, and years seemed to fall away.  And I saw AN truly for the first time, AN whom I had seen so many times in so many forms revealed herself to me in what I knew was the last time I would see her.  I was moved, quite powerfully, in ways that I find hard to grasp and explain.  I made no attempt to return and find her—she would not be there.  She was never to be found unless she wished it.

                We—AN and I and others--were trained to be either precise or vague, as the occasion demanded.  So, at times I will be exceedingly specific, in other instances perhaps annoyingly the opposite.  And sometimes you may be unable to tell the difference.  I may be unable to tell the difference, for if it is somewhat imprecise to imply that I am old, it is more accurate although not exact to assert that I am ancient.  There is no other term appropriate for one who began his—shall we say—peculiar career –albeit at a very young age—during the second Great War and is still relatively functional.  And given the passage of time and my not so recent “retirement,”  one might wonder why could I not be as particular as I wished concerning matters of so long ago.  As I was reminded recently, however, there are things which do not change and connections which, however tenuous, may not be broken—or forgotten. 

                I have lived in a small Southern town for many years, married and raised a family, and outlived them all except a few scattered great-grand children.  Three months ago I was interviewed by the local newspaper because I was that very rare specimen, an actual survivor of World War II.  It was the usual patriotic 4th of July filler for the holiday issue, and my comments were standard and very general.  I characterized my war efforts as “diplomatic service” and left it at that.  Nevertheless, I was visited the very next day, very early in the morning, by two men I had never seen before.  They briefly, politely, but quite firmly suggested that I in the future—such as was left to me—refrain from any remarks, however innocuous they might seem, concerning my past “diplomatic service,” that such remarks could have unforeseen and perhaps serious consequences.  Lives might be endangered, national security threatened, etc., etc.,  I had heard this spiel before, although not for many years, so it was not something I found alarming.  I did find it ironic and rather amusing that such a demand for secrecy was delivered by men whose appearance could not have shouted “government men in a bad movie” more loudly if they had had “Secret Service” written in big letters across the back of their suits. Their surveillance and instantaneous response to the aforementioned interview have, however, caused me to be more circumspect in what I am writing than I might otherwise have been.  Even though I have been “out of commission” for a considerable amount of time, one does indeed never know.

                As you have no doubt surmised, “diplomat” is a euphemism for what is more sensationally termed a spy.  That is what I in fact was, and let me immediately dispel any possible expectations that admission may induce that what  is to follow will be any kind of James Bond, Jason Bourne account of action, intrigue, assassination, and seductive, treacherous femme fatales.  It is true that such elements did occasionally enter into my line of work, although not nearly so frequently as books and films portray. The “femme fatales”  were especially rare, at least in my experience.  Nor do I intend to describe any specific episode in a manner which might elicit another unwanted “advisory” visit.  Most of what I and my ilk did would not in fact prove particularly entertaining to a general audience.  Indeed, many of us were “enlisted” because we were discovered to possess certain skills or abilities—not necessarily exciting ones--deemed potentially useful to our governments--I do not limit my “profession” to only my own country--in times of crisis.  We all received what might be termed basic training, but our special qualities were further polished and developed—not surprisingly, such specialization has apparently intensified in recent years.  My individual talents turned out to be an acute power of observation and an almost photographic memory.  I did not require a super sophisticated camera to capture important documentation;  all I needed was a glance.  An infinitesimal detail or personal mannerism which I might notice remained with me permanently.  I once recognized, for example, an extremely dangerous and carefully disguised opponent because, although left-handed, he always stirred a drink with his right hand.  AN’s abilities, however, seemed unlimited, which I learned over time—we were never specifically on the same “side.”  Certainly she was, as the cliché would have it, a mistress of disguise.  That I discovered at our first encounter.

                Our first meeting—it was long ago—I know, vague again—could hardly have been more mundane.  I can say it involved the exchanging of documents concerning the rather dicey balancing of power in the aftermath of World War II.  This exchange did take place in a setting appropriate to an old grade B war movie—at night, in an almost abandoned airplane hanger, one dim light, the propellers of a derelict bomber silhouetted against the gloom.  It was basically a training run for me.  I simply stood in the background while my superior did the work.  His counterpart also came with a backup, a tall, slender man in an overcoat and fedora.  Our contact identities were simple and short—letters or numbers.  Such things are much more complicated now, I understand, it seems to me unnecessarily so.  If such a detail is secret, it is secret—if it is not, it will be decoded, no matter how complex it may be.  My counterpart as accompanist was  A.N.—just those initials, uttered in a decidedly masculine voice.   Almost no words were spoken, papers were passed, there were business-like closing nods, and the meeting was over.  Yet as A.N. walked past me, our eyes happened to meet, and I knew—I don’t know how—that she was a woman.  And she saw that I knew.  A flicker of what might have been disappointment at being found out crossed her face, followed by the merest suggestion of a smile.  Just as quickly, the two “men” were gone. 

                I was fascinated, in part by what seemed an almost preternatural assumption of an identity and character not even of the person’s true gender.  There was more than that, however, and it was not some sort of instantaneous sexual and/or romantic spark so often concocted to drive movie or novel plots.  Indeed, I was convinced of AN’s masculinity until that brief moment of eye contact—and there was no discernable clue even in that.  But there was some connection—impalpable and indefinable—begun that night which has endured ever since.  I encountered her numerous times over the years of our “diplomatic services,” mine in the employ of my government, hers in the service of whoever sought her abilities and who she, after her own fashion, chose to serve.  And no matter what character she adopted, always flawlessly, I knew her—and she was always aware of this.  Perhaps she somehow shared that same bizarre connection between us, for she realized that only truly extraordinary circumstances would have forced me to give her away. 

                Curiosity fueled by that initial meeting led me to try to discover, as discreetly as possible, more about her.  This was not wise, as I was well aware, for whatever I might be required to search out in my profession, to go very far in unprescribed directions tended to draw unwanted and potentially dangerous attention to oneself.  I persisted, however, with extreme caution over the years, but even so what I did find out proved to be of questionable reliability.  What I have been able to ascertain, although many details are sketchy, is that AN—I dropped the initials and she has remained Ann to me—is European, perhaps German or Austrian.  I heard her employ several languages and accents so fluently that it was impossible to determine which was truly her own.  Her family—parents and siblings—was tortured and exterminated by one of the brutal regimes of World War II, which infused her with an inveterate hatred of any person or government she believed capable of such atrocity—and she did not appear to exempt any country from culpability in that regard.  The circumstances of her life, early or late, where and how she became what she was, trained in espionage, etc., I never learned.  Apparently no one else ever did, either.  But she became a kind of “hired gun,”  a mercenary spy, if you will, although payment was never her motivation.  Whether it was revenge, a strange sense of justice, or other elements which drove her, she developed a highly individualized and unconventional moral code, one which made her at the same time the most reliable and efficient operative, and the most unpredictable one.  If she decided the task assigned her was consistent with her own purposes, it would be carried out with impeccable precision.  If it was not, nothing could induce her to take it on.  She was, unlike myself, loyal to no country or government—ultimately she answered to no one but herself.  There was a hardness within her—she was frighteningly unflinching in her judgments and actions, no matter how ruthless or cruel they might have seemed to others.  Yet I have known her capable of mercy, even kindness when she judged that to be right, even though it put her in jeopardy.  I saw her shoot an unarmed woman as if she were vermin when she found her to have murdered two children, although that execution had no part in her official assignment.  But when she had once captured a man she had been sent to find, he mysteriously “escaped” after she discovered he was to be tortured by those who had hired her.  She made sure that her employers never knew she had caught him, while at the same time she created an exoneration for her supposed failure to do so. It was essential that her record of success remain unblemished. 

                I encountered AN perhaps a dozen times over a period of many years.  She never appeared in the same guise, for while I was always provided with a cover—a genuine white collar government official—her work and indeed her literal survival depended upon her never being the same person.  She had to remain unidentifiable and untraceable.  Her ability to do so can only be described as artistic, for her talent for being “other” went far beyond what could be achieved by artificial means such as makeup, masks, clothing, etc.  It is inaccurate to say she could have been a great actress, because she was one.  I have seen her as an old man, a crippled woman, even teenagers, both male and female.  I have said she was tall, but she could seem to so shrink within herself that one would swear that a given persona was quite short. 

                Perhaps AN’s most remarkable and inexplicable ability was sexual, in the sense that she could somehow create an aura, if you will, which might be masculine—as during our first meeting—feminine, and even asexual.  I was made most fully, in fact stunningly aware of this when I attended a huge gala in New York during the Vietnam War.  I was there simply as a lower level diplomat—I was not “working.”  All the “important people” were present, and I’m sure much was going on behind the scene, although in this instance I was not involved.  Amidst all the party noise of voices, clinking glasses, and background music, there was a sudden muting of sound.  I looked up toward the raised level where guests made their entrance and saw her, and saw that she was the interruption of the pulse of the gathering.  On the arm of the most influential Asian political figure in the US, AN wore a clinging gown of soft but vivid scarlet, a diamond at her neck, and a band of rubies around one wrist.  Her hair was wine- red, her eyes almost hypnotically green, and while there were other more classically beautiful women in the room, both men and women could hardly take their eyes off her.  She simply exuded sensuality.  As she and her companion made their progress through the hall, smiling, shaking hands, and chatting, they eventually found themselves near me.  She had seen and of course known me.  After a moment she sent her escort on some errand and moved to stand beside me, all the while gazing out at the crowd.  “Well, Robert,”—not surprisingly she knew my real name—“Are you working tonight?”

                “No,”  I replied.  “I am just required to be here.  But what about you?  Are you—I ask only in a general fashion, of course—present on, shall we say, business?”

                AN turned to me then, and smiled with breathtaking brilliance.  “Ah, Robert, I am here for the same reason I am anywhere—I come to dance.”  She nodded slightly, as if in salute, and walked away.

                I never learned her purpose or assignment for that evening, nor her employer, but it has remained with me as evidence both of her genius and her belief that at times calling attention to oneself can be the best way to hide.  The final time I saw her—before yesterday, that is—was under circumstances diametrically opposite to the evening of the scarlet gown.  And I must admit that in that instance the setting would have fit nicely into a LaCarre novel.  Again, the details of the “job” are not relevant.  Suffice it to say that it was related to complexities and tensions in the Middle East, and that we had by that time become middle aged.  There was a third party involved in addition to those AN and I represented, and while it would be a stretch to say all were on the same page, they were at least not adversarial. And we all had some very dangerous adversaries indeed.  We met at dusk on the edge of a field far from the Middle East which was bordered on two sides by forest.  AN and I had arrived by arrangement by the same country lane at different times, while the third person had come down a path through the woods.  We all wore dark clothing, AN’s making her appear so androgynous that it was impossible to determine if she were male or female, although she had made her face look vaguely Slavic. The man was short and portly, his round face and equally round glasses giving him the look of a simple clerk or librarian.  Only a few words had been exchanged and some documents passed over when I heard the “chuff” of a silenced rifle and a hole appeared in his chest.  He made no sound, just stiffened, then collapsed downward as if he were boneless.  Even before he had reached the ground AN and I were running toward the forest opposite the woods from where the shot had come.  The “chuff” came again, and I heard her choked gasp as she fell.  I skidded to a stop, but by the time I had turned and taken a step back, she had propped herself up on one elbow and had a small pistol in her other hand, aimed directly at me.  “No, Robert,”  she said, pain in her voice.  “If they take you, you will talk, then you will die.  Go, or I will kill you myself.”  There was no mercy in her eyes, no wavering of the gun.  I ran, and lived.

                What exactly happened afterward I never knew, although I found through various channels that AN had not only survived but was, after a brief and silent interval, back in the trade.  And as I said, across many years I had not seen her until yesterday.  I returned to my rather dingy but thankfully temporary apartment three hours after that crossing encounter to find an envelope on my kitchen counter.  My door had been locked, the envelope had no address, no postmark, and there was no sign, even to my practiced eye, of anyone having been inside.  Not that I thought there would be.  The envelope contained a handwritten note in what I realized was her hand, not one assumed for disguise—it was written from AN herself to me—myself. 

                Robbie—in my life, my sister alone called me Robbie—I am pleased to see you, as you are to see me, nes pas? Many  memories. You have retired, I have not.  Why?  I think of Ulysses—“Some work of noble note may yet be done.”    Or perhaps more honestly, “ How dull it is to pause.”  We will not meet again, I think.

                Ah, Robbie, we did the dance well, did we not?”

               

Jeff Smithpeters

Assistant Professor

Delta State University                     Sorry, I Interrupted Your Newsgathering

 

March 1, 1997  3:22 p.m.

 

                Rufus, reporter for the Arkadelphia Siftings Herald, smallest circulation daily in the state, drifted toward the police chief, flicking on his recorder, remembering he needed to know just where the tornado had done its work. "Sir, could you describe the way things look to you?"

                The chief looked down, frowning at the planet. "Blown to hell," he said, and began heading out of the building. Rufus followed, backtracking, holding out his recorder. "But could you--
                "Chief," dispatcher Patty interrupted, leaning her head through the little teller window on the side of her booth. "Leslie Character is here from Channel Ten."

                "Well, damn," the chief said eagerly. He leaned his own head toward the Plexiglas, and padded his few hundred indeterminately colored hairs against his scalp. "She in the vestibule with that mob?"

                "Chief, could you tell me where it touched down?" Rufus persisted. "And where it first hit the city?"

                The chief turned to Rufus. "You got a comb?  This cowlick is always poking out, makes me look like a unicorn."

                Rufus produced a black, plastic unbreakable from his pant pocket. "Here. Now where do you think it started?"

                "I think it first touched down . . . uh . . .” the chief combed vigorously and padded delicately once, twice, three times,  but his eyebrows still twitched with discontent. "Damn," he declared. He handed the comb back. "This'll have to do."

                The chief then straightened his plastic, night-sky blue police issue jacket and stepped through the doors into the golden dimness of the vestibule, with Rufus following. A single uncompromising light, hovering over a shoulder-held TV camera bent Rufus headache into a new shape it would take hours to accustom himself to. A woman stood beside the hirsute man whose beard probably outweighed the camera he held. Rufus was shocked, but for some reason faintly relieved, at how petite she was compared to her TV version. Dressed in a coat that would only have been stylish in Alaska, she was on the point of looking at her watch when she noticed the chief. "Hi, Miss Leslie. I'm Chief Paul Adams of the Arkadelphia Police Department. Pleased to see you again. Wish it could be under better circumstances," he said, holding out a hand. After transferring her microphone from one to the other hand, she took it and held it to her face for three beats before she even began talking.  "Chief, that's what everyone says when they see me, but I bet it's never been more true than today," she said expansively to the camera. "We've been out there. I bet this is when the job gets tough, huh, chief?" This is when the coffee comes in handy."

                "Oh, I've got enough excitement to keep me going. No doubt about that one."

                There was a silence. Rufus looked down at his own watch. 6:25. "We'll talk after this, won't we, Chief?" he said.

                "Excuse me. Excuse me. Excuse me. We want you to shtay out of the shot, shir," said the cameraman in an astonishingly chirpy, lisping voice emanating from no location other than his left nostril. "We'll be done with him in a minute. Then you can have whash left."

                "Yes, Mein Fuhrer," Rufus said. He extended his tape recorder toward the chief's mouth right after the cameraman told his reporter they were rolling.

                "We're here with Arkadelphia Police Chief Paul Adams who has been out and about surveying the damage from the tornado that paid a short and unwelcome visit to his city in the course of its path toward southwest Little Rock. Chief, could you describe what it looks like out there?"

                "Well, you've already got pictures of it now. It's a bombed-out war zone. I was in Vietnam myself, and this definitely puts me in the mind of some of what I saw there. It will take us years to recover physically, economically, and psychologically."

                "But not socially," Rufus muttered.

                "Just what path did the tornado take through your town?"

                "Well it touched down, as you no doubt already know, in Hempstead County and took a path through the rural areas of that county, doing damage to many farm-related structures. It skipped a lot of Nevada County, touched down near Okolona, and hit a convenience store slash truck stop business to our south and kept on a Northeasterly path till it entered our city on the Southeast end, and just . . . took what I would call a firm dislike to our downtown section, as you can no doubt see. It lifted just after it got to the river."

                "Maybe it couldn't swim," Rufus said. He nearly knocked his own front teeth out as he made to cover his mouth. He had forgotten that hand still held the tape recorder.

                "You heard it here first," Character said, glancing timidly Rufus' way. "Back to Clive at our Weathercenter Ten headquarters."

                "We're off," the cameraman announced. "You've got a lot of nerve pal. That went over the air for sure. I could file charges."

                "For what?  Just some talk?"

                "Now, now. Wait a minute here," the chief said. "We can't have any hooligans here. This is the police station. Banks, I'll put you in the can for disturbing the peace. I have to apologize for him, Miss Character. He's our local man. Writes for the little daily we have here."

                Miss Leslie Character put her hand over her mouth. Her eyes glimmered with stifled mirth. "I'm sorry, sir," Rufus said to the chief.

                "I think you owe ush one, too," the camera man said, as he let the conical lens dip forward, and held the camera at parade rest. He sneered like a guitarist on an album cover.

                "Shorry I interrupted your newshgathering," Rufus said, and he would have sworn he hadn’t really meant to lisp. The cameraman rolled his eyes and began to carry his gear out, followed by Character, who looked Rufus up and down appraisingly and shook her head as she walked away.         

                The chief tapped Rufus' back affectionately. "Now that's a good fellah."

                "You said the tornado hit at the southeast part, the poorer part of town?" Rufus asked. "Which streets were hit hardest at that point?"

                "Oh, I'd say 14th and Cutler," the chief said, sighing. "Where that rental trailer park is. Off the record, I'll tell you that if one of those was tied-down out of the twenty-five or so there, it's news to me."

                "So from there it proceeded onto Walnut?  Did it destroy all the homes around there?"

                "I’m sure it must’ve. Those wood frame houses went like cardboard," he said, nodding. "Then it headed across Carpenter and 12th, hitting the laundromat there. It's almost gone. Then I'd say it went across that bunch of storage buildings. It pretty well erased those. It came up to Sixth and seddown right on top of the four blocks where Elk Horn Bank and the funeral home are. Listen, I got a meeting at the command post I'm late for." The chief turned away and put the edge of his hand to a state trooper's shoulder, meaning to nudge himself a path to the exit.

                "So it hit Main and Sixth?  Did it go up the next street?” Rufus called.

                The chief turned his head back impatiently. "Will you let me loose?" he asked.

                "Could I ride with you to the command center?" he asked, raising his hand in the air and keeping it there as the chief stepped carefully through the thick jungle of humanity.

                "You can follow me in your car," was the barely audible reply.

                When Rufus got out of his car at the temporary headquarters, a big, tin building used to display fair exhibits, he again heard the never-ending noise of the generators battering the soaked air. He had somehow lost the police chief but remembered the name of the character he had become in the chief's harried, evasive presence:  Columbo.  The two nearly new generators sat, like gruff, squat sentries, on either side of the building's jammed entrance. Negotiating his way through the police department vestibule and the headquarters' front door had utterly convinced Rufus that disasters should be avoided, if anything because they were so damned crowded. The air inside the building was ten degrees warmer and everyone inside, the strictly calm police, the indignant-eyed men in faded farm-company caps, and the puffy-faced women weighted down with blankets and children, bore on their foreheads a bold, pearly, shine.

                "Mr. Leamons?” Rufus called as he recognized the county emergency services director about to cross the room, gesturing patiently as he spoke solid paragraphs to the various deputies and officers following him. He didn't hear Rufus. Rufus grabbed his shoulder.

                "See Boyd Wilson over there?" Leamons said. It was not a question "He's the radio guy.” He pointed to an unmistakable figure standing in a corner in pilot sunglasses and a Michael Jordan jersey pulled over a black sweatshirt. He had a cell phone in one hand and one of those big tabletop tape recorders in the other, the one he always laid gingerly on the table when the school board met. "I've made him my official spokesman. Anything you want to know from me, you ask him, all right?"

                Rufus nodded. "Sure. Thanks.” Rufus already knew Boyd, who had snared the KNOC job before they both graduated college. Offhandedly, Boyd had told the staff of the Henderson State station after a meeting that KNOC was going for a newer, breezier style. When he left the room, Rufus asked what orifice they wanted the breezes to come from. Boyd was big and had one of those unnecessarily loud voices.

                Rufus strode over to where Boyd stood and put his own little recorder on record and pause. "Boyd," he said in a grotesquely congratulatory tone. "I see you've been given a county job."

                "Oh yeah, yeah. Well, whatever," Wilson said beneath his beige attempt at a mustache.

                "Well, could you describe to me the general path the tornado took through the city?" Rufus probed. "I assume Leamons filled you in."

                "I really don't know anything, Rufus."

                "So he didn't really tell you anything?"

                "No. Absolutely not. I don't know a thing. I'm blind here," he said, and kept standing there as if he really was going to answer a question. Rufus let the echoes from his denial, which he did not really hear, only felt in his head, die out. He watched fire department personnel from Waldron come in, find several identical chairs, and form a quick circle of conspiratorial concern.

                "Specs?  And this being after dark?” Rufus asked Wilson.

                "Don't mess with the glasses, Rufus. Last night was Thirsty Thursday in case you wanted to know,” Wilson explained.

                "No mas. No mas. Well, I think if--” At that, Wilson's phone gave a pitiful, shrill artificial ring.

                "Yeah. I BEEN ready for going on five minutes here. Okay. Just tell me when," Wilson said into it. He cleared his throat and looked at his watch. Rufus shook his head, but took his tape recorder off pause and held it toward Wilson. "Okay, we're down here live at the emergency command center in the Arkadelphia Senior Adult Center where various emergency personnel have set up shop temporarily. County offices, including the sheriff's office were hard hit in the tornado and so all personnel from the county were told to gather here. I've spoken to Gene Leamons, county emergency services director, who told me the tornado cut a swath through the county about 30 miles long and a quarter of a mile wide. It began southwest of Okolona and crossed both lanes of an interstate, throwing three passing cars into the nearby woods. One man died on the scene. It then hit a convenience store in Scrum Springs, destroying it. After that it traveled parallel to Highway 57, blowing trees this way and that.

                "Leamons said it entered the city's southeast corner on 14th at about 2:40 and from there headed northwest, destroying all but one home in a tra- eh manufactured home park, a storage facility, and about sixteen blocks of the downtown area, hitting too many businesses to mention. It finally lifted just after it crossed the Ouachita River. According to a report, a local wag said, 'I guess it couldn't swim.'

                "Right now about 400 troops from the National Guard have been sent in on request from the governor, and they are assisting in looking through the rubble and in manning road blocks. You can't come into the damaged areas, and you are advised not to even try. Power lines are down everywhere. I dodged a few myself, driving up here. Red Cross is also setting up with food and shelter to be available at many local churches.

                "Back to you, Loopy Lars."

                Rufus stared at Wilson, concentrating a beam of pure hostility toward his forehead strong enough to transmit an eight-hour long headache. "You were holding out on me. At a time like this. You on the station's payroll, or the tornado's?"

                "Now hey," Wilson said. "You know what it's about."

                "I know what you’re about," Rufus said. He turned away and walked toward Leamons who was standing in a circle of police of various uniform colors and men in orange vests. He waited until the circle's members dispersed before he put his hand on Leamon's shoulder. Leamon brushed it off.

                "I don't mean to be ornery here, but I thought I asked you to go to Boyd," he said.

                "Boyd’s not thinking about being your public information guy. He's just wanting to get an exclusive."

                "Oh?"

                "So do you think you could tell me where it first touched down?"

                Leamons explained he thought it touched down in Clark County somewhere south of Okolona. Then it crossed Highway 53. Leamons talked with his eyes on the floor, like he was reading from it.

                "I drove down and tried to find it," he said. "When I was on 53, one tree fell down in front of me and another behind me. I had to call a couple of guys to cut me out. I radioed them to set off the sirens. When I got out, I drove right up here to check my house, but on my way up the interstate, on marker 68, I saw where the first man was killed in his car. It was on the northbound road, but ended up in the far woods with this big diesel that got laid out.

                "I think it followed along Highway 57 and hit a truck stop along that way. I heard some on the radio about it hitting old Highway 67, hitting another car, but I don't know what it did to it."

                Rufus began to grope for the next question. But Leamon continued. "I think it came in on this trailer park where they found those people laying on the . . . on the roof."

                "What?"

                "You shouldn't print that, but that's what happened. That's what happened. You smoke?” Leamons asked.

                "I . . . I . . .uh."
                "Oh, no you don't. Damnit. What do you think got into that deejay?"

                "The smell of an exclusive."

                "Oh, whatever, whatever. I don't know what’s wrong with you people. You want your job to go easy, just stick around, willya?  This is where all the reports'll come in," Leamons said.

                Rufus spotted the county judge, who had cleared the throng from a circular space he had claimed and slapped at a megaphone and asked a baffled sheriff's deputy if the thing had batteries.

                "Will the coroner be up here?" Rufus asked.

                "Too busy," Leamons said.

                "Eh . . . may I have your attention?” the county judge said into the megaphone in his thin wire of a voice. "We have refreshments that have been provided for those who need them. Also, food will be served over there in the corner--I need to have your attention.” The judge, cleared his throat as thoroughly as he had the crowd in his space, dipped his megaphone down and stared down some chatterers in a corner. They ceased their chirps and squawks and gave him partial attention like a crowd of pigeons spotting a crouching but obese cat.

                "Good. I also need to announce that temporary shelter will be set up in the Ouachita Teacher's--I mean the Ouachita Baptist University gym," the judge said. "So if you have need, go ahead and set things up over there. We have blankets, cots and whatnot set up.

                "I have heard from the phone people," he continued, smiling with nearly every tooth and dimple. "The phone people say not to use those cellulars. It takes up channels emergency people need. So don't use them.” The judge kept his smile on throughout his announcements.  Rufus looked around. Boyd was the only one in the room who had a cell, and he was intently absorbed in whatever powder he was brushing from his pants.

                The judge paused, and peered over to Leamons, muttering. Leamons shrugged. "I guess we don't have anything else to say right now," the judge said.

                There was a slight rumble of male talk from near the entrance. The judge began to raise his megaphone, in evident irritation, but thought better of it when he saw the state senator coming in, dressed in a light gray suit, wearing the same color gray in his thick hair like a nimbus. The senator, whose real estate office had lost a window, but whose law firm had been well away from the blasting winds, as Rufus recalled, had not loosened his tie, had not untucked his brilliantly white shirt. The senator's mouth twitched as he sighted the center of the room and, seemingly in one stride, took it, leaving the three shaven law clerks standing by the entrance with glistening jaws, looking lost inside the brown and blue sweaters they wore. Rufus expected the senator to plant a flag. But he only asked the judge if he could borrow the megaphone, "if I may?"

                The judge grinned. He raised the megaphone.  "Why, it's Senator Butcher. He's got something he wants to say."

                Butcher hefted the megaphone to his face. "I think we all know--" he began, but here a drone of feedback cut him off. He shook his head, as the judge grabbed the megaphone's stock and switched the sound off. "No good,” the crowd heard Senator Butcher mutter. He put the megaphone on the floor, propping it on its bell, then stood for a moment, taking a sweeping look at the audience. “Boyd?” he said.  Boyd got his tape recorder off the donut and coffee table and made a great show of pressing record, then winking.

                "I think we all know," the senator began, "that what we've seen tonight is beyond compare to other tragedies this community has known.  They can't be compared with what we've seen tonight."   Rufus winced.  Hadn’t the Union Army come through here?

                Senator Butcher paused, swallowing once and surveying the crowd. What he saw obviously inspired him toward further heights.

                "There has been death here, I think. And there may yet be death." he said. Rufus knew him to be a big Hemingway fan.  "But when it's so sudden and from a damn tornado, it's harder to accept. There's no doubt about it," he said.

                "So what I say to you tonight is that this community will rally, and I have a strong faith in that, just like it rallied during those mid-80s shutdowns. Where you see devastation today, there will be new, bustling, busy marketplaces. Where there is heartache today, there will be opportunity tomorrow,” he said.                

                Rufus checked his own tape recorder and found he’d left it running. All this would fill in three or four whole paragraphs. It was possible he could get 200 words out of it. Quotes, paraphrases, and setups. But why?

                "To take advantage of this opportunity, every one of us here, that includes not only you who are in leadership positions, but you who labor every day, has got to seize that opportunity when it comes. We have to start right now. If we wait around, it charges right through us, just like this tornado did tonight, and will hurt us every bit as much. I can guarantee you.” At that, the senator unbuttoned his sportcoat and removed from the pocket an envelope sized scrap. He proceeded to scrutinize it. As he did, a fluttering ebb of talk rose from the crowd.

                "So do you know how many are dead so far?" Rufus whispered to Leamons who still stood nearby.

                "I think there's probably four confirmed. Two that I know of and two I heard about."

                "Now, when I mention opportunity, I think I should define my terms, tell you just what I mean," the senator said. "In Washington, we have a president from close to here. There are so many resources under his control that we would be amazed at what can be done and how quickly it can be done.” The senator resumed reading his envelope, the crowd resumed its weak exchanges of words.

                "You said there were two on the roof?  Where was that?” Rufus asked Leamons.

                "I don't think I should have mentioned that anyway, eh, Paul."

                "It's Rufus."

                "Oh yeah. Okay. I'm sorry. Had you mixed up with the guy who had the job before you. What happened with him anyway?"

                "I want to say that I've called upon the governor to declare this region a disaster area," continued the senator. "And he himself told me this would be a federal disaster area shortly. That would make low-interest loans available, and there'd be a federal office set up here. They'll help you with whatever you need."

                The senator folded up the paper and looked directly at the hundred or so emergency workers sitting in chairs eating, the thirty or forty scrappily dressed, dusty men, women and children standing in a scrambled clump. "I can tell by the talking and so on in the middle of my speech that there are better things for you to think about right now. But I've given you something else to think about, and I'm going to keep doing whatever I can.” He then left, followed by the three younger men in nearly identical suits. Rufus assumed they all got into the vast, dark Range Rover and drove straight to another planet.

 

 

 

Yvonne Tomek  Poetry

Katharsis

Lion tamers guard the columned

Cells of every treasured thing,

But slow as time, the hinges

Fall to rust and seams

Crack loose.

 

And drunk we are to oils

That for a while announce

Anointed space.

 

But things are stirring in

Lock boxes and keys

Have disappeared.

 

Become accustomed to

The gleam of clean

Exteriors, for they

Are what in the

End will last.

 

The polished tiles,

The made up bed,

 

Paper to cover rock,

 

Rock to break the scissors,

 

Scissors to tear the sheets

 

In bits to hoard into the boxes,

 

And the lion tamer at the gate

Guards yet these other

Treasures

 

While he himself

Haunches in the blood of

Martyrs and poises now and

Forever in the mode of

Maul.

 

 

Rosedale on the Map                                                                                                             

Lost in a dying town are the sounds of

Last year’s drought and serene undertakings of

Back road levee bootlegging

Wheeling and dealing.

 

The harbor shut down years ago and

Store fronts are broken with

Abandon.

 

On Sundays we drive down streets that

Recall to mind a third-world country

After the earthquake, with bricks

Strewn about in

Vacant lots.

 

Far from Washington, no one

Is hurrying to help, and far too many towns

In the Deep South resemble this one

For it to be rapidly

Singled out.

 

Our little church community named

Church of the Sacred Heart

Reposes before a blue

Madonna.

 

And a few parishioners come to

Mass amid old-world lace, tablecloths, stained

Glass and golden goblets for Communion

Bread and wine.

 

Our lectionary selects songs everyone will know and

 

“Peace Is Flowing Like a River.”

 

It is a wilderness stretch from our

Hometown, of flat, empty fields of grass—

Enough space to be a drop off the face

Of the Earth.

 

Enough space to become sacramental as

We think of the glimmer on the oak leaves,

The sounds of the Mississippi Waters, and

The voices of the harvest within.

 

 

Dancers on the River                                                                                              Yvonne Tomek                       

               

                                                                                         And there shall be a tabernacle for a

In summer heat                                                                shadow in the daytime from the heat,

Weight takes a claim upon the                                         and for a place of refuge

Spirit                                                                    

                                                                                                        (Isaiah 6:4)                                                                                        

But all life

Ventures toward the

Greater charm.

 

Not light, nor wind,

Ever remembering will

Station a dew-tipped feathered

Thing.

 

The tilt of day

Into the night will

Bring anew the grey fog

Ships of dawn

 

And the flapping

Winged songs from overhead,

And down below, their

Reflections gleam  --

 

Those hundred dancers on the river.

 

 

GIFT                                                                                                      

                for  Jacob

The river glides in silence –

 

Mississippi near us that you have 

Yet to see.  It is time that runs

Alongside us

 

And lands of wilderness where you were

Born and we now share. Not because you

Are my own I love you,

 

But that a power of grace forms us in union

Like a wooden top I bring you from my journey I 

Hope will light your childhood days—

 

Little top, bright red and solid, engraved by 

Craftsmen to enrapture children, as I delight

In pleasing you in love that embarks

                                                Non-ending.

Will you still love me

 

                As we grow older, in centrifugal  

                                Forces of river and toy through 

                                                 Motions of galaxies

 

Spinning with stars?                                                                                                                                                                                                                

 

 

Wetlands                                                                                

The olive branch,

in the beak of the 

bird

 

so many years

ago, resides as a

shadow on the

wall,

 

flickering from the

branches outside of my

window.

 

One day given

again here, to reconcile

a loss of

Eden,

 

a few miles South,

in the deep waters before

night 

 

does its slow fall

into the black

tides.

John Zheng

The Last Days of Richard Wright through His Haiku

 

When Richard Wright was sick in his final years in Paris, he became obsessed with haiku, saying he could not give up “those damned haikus” (Fabre 54). His daughter, Julia, reminisces in her introduction to Haiku: This Other World that Wright wrote haiku “at all hours: in bed as he slowly recovered from a year-long, grueling battle against amebic dysentery; in cafJs and restaurants where he counted syllables on napkins; in the country in a writing community owned by French friends, Le Moulin d’AndJ” (vii). This short essay will analyze a few of Wright's haiku that use natural images to express his feeling and attitude toward illness.

 

SYLVIA BEACH AND ULYSSES

 

1

In summer 1920, at André Spire’s party

I met James Joyce for the first time.

After supper, I roamed into a room

Lined with books and saw him.

We shook hands, his limp hand

In mine, a tough little paw.

He said he just arrived in Paris

On Pound’s suggestion, and I told him

About my bookshop. Suddenly a dog’s bark

From across the street made him uneasy.

He had been afraid of dogs since five

When a dog bit him on the chin.

Pointing to his goatee, he said

It was to hide the scar. The next day

He visited my shop. Seated in the armchair

Beside my table, he babbled his three problems:

Finding a roof for his family,

Feeding them, and finishing Ulysses.

2

One day Joyce came to tell me that

Ulysses would never come out.

So I asked if he’d let me bring out the book.

Hearing this, he smiled a colorful dawn.

Soon I printed a prospectus

Announcing Shakespeare and Company

Would publish Joyce’s Ulysses

In autumn 1921.

Subscriptions flocked in.

Some French friends amused me, saying

Ulysses would help them enlarge

Their English vocabulary.

One day Gide rushed in

To fill in a subscription form

To show his support to the cause

Of freedom of expression.

Pound put on my table

A subscription by W. B. Yeats;

Hemingway came for a few copies.

The prospectus I sent to Bernard Shaw

Angled his reply across the Channel:

“A young barbarian beglamoured

By the excitements and enthusiasms

That art stirs up in passionate material.”

About the time, Joyce struggled dreadfully

To make ends meet. Then I noticed

The small sums from my cashbox

Went only one way, Joycewards.

3

A telegram from the printer

Came on February 1, 1921, telling me

To meet the express from Dijon

At 7 a.m. the next day.

I wandered the platform, and

My heart chugged when the train arrived.

The conductor got off with a parcel,

Looking around for someone—me.

In a few minutes, I stood at the door

Of the Joyces’ and handed them

Copy No. 1 of Ulysses,

A surprise on James’ birthday.

It was dressed in the Greek blue,

Bearing the title and the author’s name

In white letters. When all the copies came out,

I sent some to the American subscribers,

But discovered every copy

Was confiscated at the New York port

However, Ulysses sold well.

It went through printing after printing.

Some, to Joyce’s dismay,

Were in white jackets, like lackeys.

4

I didn’t see Joyce for a time in 1931, but

Almost every day an old friend of his

Dropped in to urge me

To relinquish my claims to Ulysses.

One day his remark floored me,

“You’re standing in the way

Of Joyce’s interests.”

As soon as he left the shop,

I phoned Joyce that he was now free

To dispose of Ulysses in any way

That suited him.

The baby belongs to its mother,

Not to the midwife,

Doesn’t it?

after Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company