Friday, July 02, 2010

Pyromantics by Chella Courington

the father
the boy
who twirled a baton
tipped in red
while the father
long rods of fire
snuffed out somewhere
past lips
and over tongue
hidden behind teeth
yellowed from nights
tasting sulfur
as giants and dwarfs
with floppy orange shoes
into dollhouse windows
dangling toes
between me and the boy,

who looked about nine
when I was nine I
over hot coals
from the grill by dad
who bet ten bucks
i couldn’t do it
and i said i would
if he would
and i did
and he laughed
wiping his hand across his mouth
me standing in burnt feet

and saw myself
branding his back
as skin sizzled

his fingers
tapers in a church
that i lit

First Published: Oregon East Magazine 37 (2006).
Ed. Caitlin Mack.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Blood Moon by Chella Courington

Sophie tickles my cheek with her tongue, and I give her my right arm. Like the Virgin’s mantle sliding over my shoulder, she rolls her muscles to the drummer’s heartbeat, washing me in light. Mama calls my boa a serpent, and me a dirty coochie dancer. Jesus lives in covered-dish suppers at the Boaz Baptist Church. But I believe Jesus lives in Sophie. At the Bottoms Up Bar she first appeared—eyes milky, scales ghost white. Just slept on a cover under the sink and refused to eat for six days. On the seventh, clouds evaporated. Clear dark eyes and bright brown body. Three days later, she rubbed and pushed her nose against the back screen until the skin broke. All day she pressed against the linoleum floor, never letting up. At night a translucent ribbon lay on the quilt—eye caps on top.

Doorknobs short fiction first-prize winner, Doorknobs and BodyPaint (Issue 55, August 2009).

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

September by Chella Courington

Fog on the horizon
hides hard island edges.
Close to the patio
sprinklers swish: streams rise
in sun before falling in the garden.
Six plastic-pink flamingoes
parade by the sago palm.
A pair of dolphins, together
still after twenty years, watch
from the granite fountain.

Stripping an apple, peel swinging
in air, I think of Mother
who sliced what grew around her.
From wood the size of playing cards
she whittled small animals:
our cat on haunches, neck turned.
She carved a woman
on her knees, mostly stomach,
hands buried her bowed face.

Santa Ana winds blow dry
and scatter dust in their wake.
Hummingbirds circle coral bells.
Their wings, shadow puppets
on stucco. Heavy with petals,
dahlias bend to rocky dirt.
Once I caught a Regal Moth—
panes of ruby and jade.
For three days, she flew.

Tonight my namesake calls
like Linda Blair from The Exorcist:
voice gravelly, emerging
from Minnesota. At 25 Satan
and God crowd her head.
No meds can wash them out.
God will kill you for leaving me.
I squeeze the receiver
not forgetting her butterfly nightshirt—
wings pressed against me.

First Published: Touchstone (2007-2008). Ed. David Murphy.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

When Berryman Died by Chella Courington

He left his shoes, scuffed loafers,
on the bridge. A cordovan pair
he could have shed
anywhere: at the university,
beside his desk, under Tate’s coffee table,
at the foot of a lover’s bed.

Every night he thought, tomorrow.
Mornings, he remembered
his suit at the cleaners, his essay
on Marlowe, students waiting
outside his office. January 7
reasons ran dry.

He bathed and trimmed his beard,
put on a new shirt.
In eight degrees he walked
to the bridge.

First Published: Touchstone (2007-2008). Ed. David Murphy.

Monday, May 10, 2010

From the poem, "Under Siege," by Mahmoud Darwish

If you are not rain, my love
Be tree
Sated with fertility, be tree
If you are not tree, my love
Be stone
Saturated with humidity, be stone
If you are not stone, my love
Be moon
In the dream of the beloved woman, be moon
(So spoke a woman to her son at his funeral)

Mahmoud Darwish (1941-2008) was a very highly esteemed & prolific Palestinian poet.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Prairie Spring by Willa Cather

Evening and the flat land,
Rich and sombre and always silent;
The miles of fresh-plowed soil,
Heavy and black, full of strength and harshness;
The growing wheat, the growing weeds,
The toiling horses, the tired men;
The long empty roads,
Sullen fires of sunset, fading,
The eternal, unresponsive sky.
Against all this, Youth,
Flaming like the wild roses,
Singing like the larks over the plowed fields,
Flashing like a star out of the twilight;
Youth with its insupportable sweetness,
Its fierce necessity,
Its sharp desire,
Singing and singing,
Out of the lips of silence,
Out of the earthy dusk.

---O Pioneers! [frontispiece]

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Billie Holiday by RL Greenfield

Billie Holiday

Now what
Now that I have Billie Holiday inside me
Now what do I do
Now that I have become Billie Holiday
I’ve got a bellyful of Billie Holiday
All morning pouring into me
Like a gigantic oil well rolling into my veins
Now I am full to my eyeballs
Brain heart hips groin legs feet
I am full up to the hairline with Billie Holiday
I guess it’s time to take a vacation in the desert
Some place where there is no life at all
So I can push the button & turn Billie loose on death
Just let her roam & croon & ooze rich wine on the dying world
Billie Holiday does not belong in the green world of spring
The green world of spring already has its greenness
Billie belongs in the starkest desert where there is no hope
Let her mourn & groove & chew away at the heart there
Let her bleed from the eyes songs of the keening throat
Let her cry her milk-less milk & silk-less silk
Let her alone, America-----leave that woman to herself
Billie Holiday has to ooze God out of darkest darkest wine

RL Greenfield printed in Santa Barbara Independent

Thursday, April 29, 2010

At the Maximum Security Prison for Men by Chella Courington

Students come to me from solitary confinement
concrete oven set on high—
they come to me
a young woman from the University
who wants to talk about Paradise Lost.

They want to talk too.
Tony says when he broke in, he spotted a dog
and shot a man. Thought the house empty.
Billy Ray says he just needed money from the girl
at the ATM. My hand shook and the trigger went off.

They know why Milton’s God
clips Satan’s wings and kicks him out of heaven.
The man can’t take much lip. Just like my own daddy
knocking me three ways into Sunday when I say no to him.
Knuckles kneading my cheek blue till I cry stop.

The students ask if Satan’s the hero. And I wonder.
Did he endure that heavy hand one too many times?
Punched and mauled like a yard animal
taken behind the barn
left in darkness to find his way back.

First Published: Carquinez Poetry Review (2006). Ed. Ruth Blakeney.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

In Honor of Mootie, JT & Miss Rhoda

Sister Cat
by Frances Mayes

Cat stands at the fridge,
Cries loudly for milk.
But I've filled her bowl.
Wild cat, I say, Sister,
Look, you have milk.
I clink my fingernail
Against the rim. Milk.
With down and liver,
A word I know she hears.
Her sad miaow. She runs
To me. She dips
In her whiskers but
Doesn't drink. As sometimes
I want the light on
When it is on. Or when
I saw the woman walking
toward my house and
I thought there's Frances.
Then looked in the car mirror
To be sure. She stalks
The room. She wants. Milk
Beyond milk. World beyond
This one, she cries.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Diana loved anything orange by Chella Courington

Diana loved anything orange

—cats, lipstick, hunting vests, nail polish, hard hats, life jackets, water guns. When she slipped through her mother’s legs, almost butting the doctor’s stomach, her skin turned a yellowish red. I did crave pumpkin, her mother said. Before my water broke, I ate a whole pie, crust and all. It took eleven days of being rubbed in olive oil and resin, her mother’s fingers lightly massaging Diana’s new skin that capitulated to air in March before trout season, before her father deserted them for Pennsylvania streams. Her eighth Halloween she painted her nose and toes tangerine and swathed herself in a sheet, RIT-dyed sunshine orange, that her mother soaked in white vinegar until the bleeding stopped. Even then in third grade, she knew what they didn’t. How we climb into our wombs at night, sheets over our heads and wait for the water to float us back.

Runner-up in The Collagist's 2009 Flash Fiction Contest

Monday, March 22, 2010

Memoriam to AI by Jerry Williams

March 21, 2010

In Memoriam to Ai (1947 - 2010) by Jerry Wiliams

When I was in high school and college I started seeing work in literary magazines by a woman with this exotic name who wrote what every other poet seemed too afraid to write—disturbing poems, violent, sexy, unspeakably moving, grief-stricken, harrowing, cutting, beautiful, and yet the verse seemed skillfully controlled and peaceable. For me, most other poets sat in the back seat and Ai drove (which is ironic because she never in her life, from what I understand, possessed a driver’s license). I sort of mythologized her, and I knew I wanted to be her kind of poet—if the world would let me be one—fearless. I know it might sound extreme, but why waste time on flowers when you have knives? As I learned more about Ai, I read her many books, felt her influence growing in me. Years and years later, I ended up at Oklahoma State University where Ai taught creative writing. She blurbed my first collection of poems, served on my dissertation committee. I have taught her books in many classes, and I included three of her poems in the recent breakup and divorce anthology I edited—a great honor for me. Last July, we spoke on the telephone, and I sent her photos from my wedding. We e-mailed occasionally. I always wanted to stay on her good side. This past Saturday afternoon, when I was sitting on a bench in front of my apartment building in Co-op City, I got a call from a friend on the faculty at Oklahoma State. Sometime on Wednesday, March 17th, the poet Ai checked into the Stillwater Medical Center with pneumonia. As it turned out, she had reached a very advanced stage of breast cancer and passed away comfortably in the company of her family early Saturday morning, March 20th. Upon hearing this news, I completely broke down, and I didn’t understand why. I’m supposed to be tough (knives not flowers), but I could not stop crying. I feel that Ai was something of a poetic mother to me. Later that afternoon, one of her closest friends asked me my age and told me that my kundalini had dropped or opened up or uncoiled and released some new emotion in me. I cried a little watching the movie Step Brothers this morning. What is wrong with me? I assume that the chaos will now ensue. Oklahoma State will get bombarded with telephone calls on Monday. Ditto W.W. Norton & Co. Services will be arranged. All that human stuff. But the poems, Ai’s poems, will remain as immortal as ever. Here’s exquisite proof:

Conversation by Ai

We smile at each other
and I lean back against the wicker couch.
How does it feel to be dead? I say.
You touch my knees with your blue fingers.
And when you open your mouth,
a ball of yellow light falls to the floor
and burns a hole through it.
Don't tell me, I say. I don't want to hear.
Did you ever, you start,
wear a certain kind of silk dress
and just by accident,
so inconsequential you barely notice it,
your fingers graze that dress
and you hear the sound of a knife cutting paper,
you see it too
and you realize how that image
is simply the extension of another image,
that your own life
is a chain of words
that one day will snap.
Words, you say, young girls in a circle, holding hands,
and beginning to rise heavenward
in their confirmation dresses,
like white helium balloons,
the wreathes of flowers on their heads spinning,
and above all that,
that's where I'm floating,
and that's what it's like
only ten times clearer,
ten times more horrible.
Could anyone alive survive it?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

It Is A Spring Afternoon by Anne Sexton

Everything here is yellow and green.
Listen to its throat, its earthskin,
the bone dry voices of the peepers
as they throb like advertisements.
The small animals of the woods
are carrying their deathmasks
into a narrow winter cave.
The scarecrow has plucked out
his two eyes like diamonds
and walked into the village.
The general and the postman
have taken off their packs.
This has all happened before
but nothing here is obsolete.
Everything here is possible.

Because of this
perhaps a young girl has laid down
her winter clothes and has casually
placed herself upon a tree limb
that hangs over a pool in the river.
She has been poured out onto the limb,
low above the houses of the fishes
as they swim in and out of her reflection
and up and down the stairs of her legs.
Her body carries clouds all the way home.
She is overlooking her watery face
in the river where blind men
come to bathe at midday.

Because of this
the ground, that winter nightmare,
has cured its sores and burst
with green birds and vitamins.
Because of this
the trees turn in their trenches
and hold up little rain cups
by their slender fingers.
Because of this
a woman stands by her stove
singing and cooking flowers.
Everything here is yellow and green.

Surely spring will allow
a girl without a stitch on
to turn softly in her sunlight
and not be afraid of her bed.
She has already counted seven
blossoms in her green green mirror.
Two rivers combine beneath her.
The face of the child wrinkles.
in the water and is gone forever.
The woman is all that can be seen
in her animal loveliness.
Her cherished and obstinate skin
lies deeply under the watery tree.
Everything is altogether possible
and the blind men can also see.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Match Dot Com by Ted Chiles

He stroked her hair as she lay next to him. The sheets pulled from the north and south, gathered about them like a large loincloth. The air smelled of secretions and effort. Unconsciously, they both had the same self-congratulatory smile of the novice distance runner who had finished the race. Neither spoke. Each thought they were catching their breath; but truly, it was the apprehension of being the one to shatter the mood, to ground the flight into the reality of its aftermath. And this reluctance became uncomfortable in these passing moments, much like the delay when asked if the dress flattered the wearer.
He spoke first, with a simple question managing to avoid all expected clich├ęs.
“What can I do for you?”
She smiled because he had not finished with “now” and almost ruined it by saying “again.” Instead, she asked for some water.
He came back to the bed with a single bottle. No glasses. This assumed intimacy pleased her. Passing the bottle back and forth, they drank. She, then he, used the bathroom, both brushing their teeth: he with his toothbrush, she with her finger. The limits of intimacy established and acknowledged by her actions. They held each other, slowly drifting into sleep.
He woke before her. During the night they had separated, creating a space between them. She slept in the middle, face down, with her left arm reaching toward his shoulder. He on his side, facing her, with a pillow trapped between his knees. But these positions were just the randomness of the hour since both had been elsewhere fifteen minutes earlier. Kicking the pillow to the floor, he leaned over and kissed her hair where the part disassembled. Standing nude, he marveled at how right the morning felt and set out to make coffee.
The movement of the mattress started her process of awakening. Her eyes opened to see his receding buttock, gracefully shifting on its way to the kitchen. Momentarily, she considered feigning sleep until she could safely dress. But she didn’t because last night had not brought the anxieties of her failed choices into the morning. He was what she had been hoping for during the last year of reading profiles of boys’ inflated dreams – of who they were and what they hoped to be. She always suspected the computer program possessed an inherently male design. You only need to see the inventor shilling away on TV. Witness her queue of potential partners. She should have known.
He came back into the bedroom, carrying a tray of coffee and all its additions, mismatched pottery and a plate of toast with a small jar of jam. They were both still nude. The fact that he had not dressed, not unbalanced them, and that he was not perfect, sagging and bulging in all the expected places, lent her the courage to drop the sheet. They drank their coffee and ate toast, not caring about the crumbs. If only they could have kept quiet. Not become nervous, not searched for some verbal marker: she for the endearing comment, and he for the clever phrase. The one, years from now, they would recount at anniversary dinners.
“I wish you had been on,” he said.
The pause was evident.
“I was,” she said.
And there, out in the open, it stood: they began to wonder what hidden incompatibility, detected by the algorithm, separated them. And when would this flaw become evident? Slowly, in centimeters, they began to create a space between themselves: he shifted the sheet, as did she.

Ted Chiles's short stories have appeared in Lynx Eye, Nilas, Prism Review, and The Binnacle. In September 2007, The New Short Fiction Series of Los Angeles selected four of his stories for a performance entitled Love During Economic Times. He is an avid doodler.

Published: Pitkin Review, Fall 2007

Saturday, March 13, 2010

"That time of year thou mayst in me behold ..." By Maureen Duffy

Poets don't grow old gracefully:
recall old lusts with Hardy
or clamour like Yeats for new.

"How are you?" people ask them, meaning
"Goodness, you're still alive."
"Are you still writing?" signals
"If so, you're quite forgotten.
I haven't seen any reviews,"
and "Aren't you going gently yet
into your good night?"

Gower, his loins frozen by Venus,
piped of a king and his bounty of wine.
Did he who'd sung of every turn and twist
of love regret the arrow's sting he'd begged
Love's priest to tear from his heart
as he lay apart from his chaste wife?
Merlin the magus, besotted in old age
entombed in the rock by Nimue for his lust
must have been a poet too.
How else could he have cast such spells?

When David was old they brought him a virgin
hoping for a new Song of Solomon.
Help us all then Lady, Sappho's own goddess,
to sing your song until the last bittersweet note.

Born in 1933, Duffy, a poet, playwright and novelist, has published dozens of books, including five volumes of poetry.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

In Memory of W. B. Yeats by W. H. Auden


He disappeared in the dead of winter:
The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
And snow disfigured the public statues;
The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.

Far from his illness
The wolves ran on through the evergreen forests,
The peasant river was untempted by the fashionable quays;
By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs,
The current of his feeling failed; he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered among a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections,
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
Are modified in the guts of the living.

But in the importance and noise of to-morrow
When the brokers are roaring like beasts on the floor of the Bourse,
And the poor have the sufferings to which they are fairly accustomed,
And each in the cell of himself is almost convinced of his freedom,
A few thousand will think of this day
As one thinks of a day when one did something slightly unusual.

What instruments we have agree
The day of his death was a dark cold day.


You were silly like us; your gift survived it all:
The parish of rich women, physical decay,
Yourself. Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry.
Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still,
For poetry makes nothing happen: it survives
In the valley of its making where executives
Would never want to tamper, flows on south
From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs,
Raw towns that we believe and die in; it survives,
A way of happening, a mouth.


Earth, receive an honoured guest:
William Yeats is laid to rest.
Let the Irish vessel lie
Emptied of its poetry.

In the nightmare of the dark
All the dogs of Europe bark,
And the living nations wait,
Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace
Stares from every human face,
And the seas of pity lie
Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountain start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How to Teach Grammar by Chella Courington

How to Teach Grammar
for denis johnson

i don’t care about their commas
rarely can’t follow an essay
with a run-on sentence
or is it run-away

words colliding in white space
f r a g m e n t s
as if anything comes out whole
like this morning

i race to the committee on ethics
leave in the middle of class
gulp peach smoothie
eight live active cultures

stillborn sentences
turned upside down slapped
on the ass shoved into sound bites
not breathing yet

to hell with grammar
david sleeps in the parking garage
at perdido & salsipuedes
sober most days last thursday

he saw a boy shot
fifteen his son’s age
anna’s clean six months
january her daughter starts second grade

ready to write i yell turning to the board
write naked write from exile write in blood

First Published: Studio (January 2008). Ed. Rishma Dunlop

Monday, January 04, 2010

Museum Pastel by Chella Courington

Girl, just look at those painted orchids. Green and yellow swimming together, spilling over the edge like rainbow sherbet Mama made in July and spooned into glass cups. They slipped from sticky hands, crashing on black & white linoleum.

Just look at those petals fringed in lavender. Feather boa she tossed over her shoulder, cascading down a satin back Saturday nights. Daddy dipped her to radio blues with us praying for long legs, praying to stay up past nine when Ella & Billie brought it on home.

Never cared for real orchids. Hothouse types fussed over and still didn’t bloom, like those purple flowers Mama loved to wear on her birthday. Afterward, she stored them in the icebox till the petals turned brown.

First Published: Phoebe 19.2 (Fall 2007)