Someone to Clean

by Walter Cummins

When the hospice nurse came down into the living room to tell Mason that Virginia had died, his first thought was to call Lila and ask her to clean.   Even as he followed the nurse back up the steps to the guest room, he wondered why of all things that notion came into his mind when he had to inform his children, some friends, and then the funeral home.  He hardly knew Lila, rarely saw her during the ten years she had arrived once a week to scrub and polish for Virginia.  She had been there the past Monday, sitting on the edge of Virginia’s bed, speaking softly.  From the hallway, Mason, working at home, had watched Virginia gaunt and ashen, barely nodding.  Then the nurse came, and Lila left without even dusting.

The nurse was a sturdy woman, hair cropped short, reading glasses dangling from a chain. At the doorway, she touched his arm, eyes soft with sympathy, but said nothing, just gestured toward the bed where she had pulled the covers up to Virginia’s chin. His wife’s mouth was open, jaw contorted as if she had made one last gasp for breath and froze in the midst of it. Had she wanted him to call Lila? Were those her last words, gasped to the nurse because he wasn’t there to hear? He shook his head, aware that he was being foolish.

Mason phoned the children, miles away, forewarned and awaiting his message.   He called the two daughters and a son in the order of their ages, the way he always did in an attempt not to pick favorites.  They had visited separately a month ago, spending time alone with their mother, saying their goodbyes, and Mason gave them privacy.  But despite the doctor’s predictions Virginia had lingered, and Mason put off sharing his own farewell, wanting more time as he rehearsed the words in his head, not believing he would ever have to speak them.

This night the conversations with his children were brief, his gulp of hesitation and then, “She’s gone.”  Soft sobs from both daughters despite the inevitable.  He could feel them squeezing their phones, groping for words.  He promised to give them details about the funeral tomorrow.  “All right,” they told him, both of them speaking in the same tone of voice.   It struck him how alike they had always sounded.  His son asked the exact time his mother had died, and that struck Mason as odd.  He hadn’t thought to look at his watch.  The nurse would know.   She was writing on forms in the next room, giving him privacy, but he could hear the tap of her pen.

While he waited for the undertakers, alone, the nurse gone to make another visit, he wondered if he really should call Lila, this stranger whose name had popped into his head. But she wasn’t a stranger to Virginia, who spoke of her often, recounting their weekly conversations, shaking her head at the endless series of miseries in Lila’s life. For all those years the day Lila was due to clean, his wife had left her work at the shop for an hour to unlock the door and talk over coffee before Lila began her chores.

“Do you consider her a friend?” he had asked Virginia once.

The question seemed to surprise her,  “I never thought of it that way, but I suppose she is.”

The word “suppose” echoed in Mason’s memory as he opened a kitchen drawer and searched through Virginia’s address book, realizing he didn’t know Lila’s last name.  But there was her number, under L, as if Virginia had not known either.

[Lately when sorrows come]

by Susan Laughter Meyers

                                                —with a line from Sappho

Spring 2012

Lately when sorrows come—fast, without warning—
whipping their wings down the sky,
I know to let them.
Not inviting them, but allowing each
with a deep breath as if inhaling a wish I can’t undo.

Some days the sky is so full of sorrows
they could be mistaken for shadows of unnamed
gods flapping the air with their loose black sleeves:
the god of head-on collisions,
the god of amputated limbs,
the god of I’ll-dress-you-in-mourning.

Is the buzz in the August trees,
that pulsing husk of repetition, an omen?
I hear it build to a final shaking. I hear it build
louder and louder, then nothing.
Like a long, picaresque novel that’s suddenly over.
Like the last inning of kickball until the rain.

What falls from the sky is not always rain
or any kind of weather. Call it precipitous.
I’m fooling myself, of course. Wearing sorrow
is nothing like skin shedding water.
It’s more like the weight of a cloak of crows.

And yet the sun still shines on the honey locust
arching its fringe over grass. Lit, too,
the pasture and its barbwire strung from post
to leaning post. See how the stump by the road
is rotting and how the small yellow leaves, twirling,
catch light on their way to the ground.

Susan Laughter Meyers, of Givhans, SC, is the author of Keep and Give Away (University of South Carolina Press), winner of the inaugural SC Poetry Book Prize, the SIBA Book Award for Poetry, and the Brockman-Campbell Book Award. Her poetry has also appeared in The Southern ReviewBeloit Poetry Journal, and other journals, as well as Poetry Daily, and Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry column. Her blog is at http://susanmeyers.blogspot.com.

Shorty’s Cellarette

by Robert Gibb

Kutztown, 1969

Winter 2017

When we left we ascended into the light,
sun- or street-, depending. Outside steps
like stairs of the ladder, its heavenly
two-way traffic. My first semester back
from the Air Force. At 15-cents a draft,
I could spend the night for what felt like
pennies on the dollar, all on the G.I. Bill.
A horseshoe-shaped bar. The low ceiling
of tobacco smoke that spread its cirrus
above us—locals mostly, including Evie
and Althea, townie sirens bee-hived
and bluejeaned since their 1950s teens.
The neon script of beer signs lit the walls
beside Norm the bartender’s warning,
“ONLY L.C.B. CARDS EXCEPTED,”
which elicited Shorty’s sorrowful tsk.
We slathered slices of ring-bologna
with umber mustard, ate red-beet eggs
whose purples bled into golden yolks.
We were treated to a non-stop jukebox
among whose offerings were the same
two songs—Hendrix wah-wahing his way
through “All Along the Watchtower”
and Marvin Gaye’s bewildered plaints
in “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.”
Just two of the deaths blocking the way
back to then. A third: the bar-wooed lover
I saw off and on again for years
(her last house surrounded by cornfields,
whose hair was the color of their silk).
A letter sent to me in care of the Cellarette
actually got there, addressed by a friend
from Texas, who had misplaced my own.
Kuttstown his misspelling. First Street,
which didn’t exist. The place a cynosure
all that winter into spring. I even got
a big hug from Shorty himself one day:
“I love you, you goddamned hippie,”
which I wasn’t really, though I let it pass,
heavened at the foot of the ladder.

Robert Gibb

Robert Gibb’s books include After, which won the 2016 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize, and Among Ruins, which won Notre Dame’s Sandeen Prize in Poetry for 2017. Other awards include a National Poetry Series title (The Origins of Evening), two NEA Fellowships, a Best American Poetry and a Pushcart Prize.

Bloodmoon + Supermoon + Total Lunar Eclipse

by Kerry Trautman

Winter 2018

Tonight’s September sky is busy,
and the world gazes up,
knowing only what the internet tells them,
what news anchors describe with tv graphics.
We watch the white sphere greying slowly
into its holy auburn coma,
lacking any sacrificial ritual or gods.

Seventy miles away from me
my grandmother is dying,
asking her slate-faced doctor if
she could please just lie down, please,
when in fact she hasn’t risen from
bed in two weeks, hasn’t stood
beneath the sky in at least three Julys.

My father would have wheeled
his wide computer chair out to the grass
rolling over these earliest brown leaves,
with a bottle and binoculars,
would have willed away the clouds—
whose names he knew—
obscuring everything heavenly.

My cellphone camera documents only a blotch
of somewhat-glow behind clouds where,
a moment ago, I swear I saw
that last curved sliver—like a clipped toenail—
wink through clouds, attempting to cling
to its mother body, then relenting to the black
we all can agree is there.

Kerry TrautmanOhio born and raised, Kerry Trautman has had her work appear in various anthologies and journals such as Midwestern Gothic, Alimentum, Free State Review, The Fourth River, and Third Wednesday. In 2017, her poem “Pixie Cut” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize by the editors at Slippery Elm. Her poetry chapbooks are Things That Come in Boxes (King Craft Press, 2012), To Have Hoped (Finishing Line Press, 2015), and Artifacts (NightBallet Press, 2017).

Humakind Needs Larger Birds

by Justin Jannise

Winter 2022

Humankind needs larger birds:
red-tailed hawks scaled up
to pterodactyl proportions;
twelve-story great white egrets,
spear-sharp bills puncturing
our roofs like giant stilettoes;
a helicopter hummingbird or two
always hovering, thirsty for us
to make just one wrong move.
We need more natural predators
to humble us into greater regret,
more meaningful action. We share
too little of the terrestrial burden
that camels, mules, and antelope
bear. Let the crow outgrow
our bomber planes. Let the great
horned owl outsmart us.
And let them be, as we are,
locked doors unto themselves,
their hearts grand ballrooms
of sinew and mystery, their brains
locomotive engines of synapse
and being their own worst enemy.

Justin Jannise is the author of How to Be Better by Being Worse, which won the A. Poulin, Jr. Poetry Prize and is forthcoming from BOA Editions, Ltd., in April 2021. His poems have appeared in Best New Poets, Best of the Net, Copper Nickel, Yale Review, and New Ohio Review. Recently a recipient of the Imprint Verlaine Prize in Poetry and the Editor-in-Chief of Gulf Coast, Justin lives in Houston, where he is pursuing his Ph.D.