Truth is a Green Rubberband by Garen Zakarian

Because we need more / Chinese helicopters / to fight famine in Ethiopia / and Italian submarines / for the Western Sahara.

Because we need more
Chinese helicopters
to fight famine in Ethiopia
and Italian submarines
for the Western Sahara.
Don’t ask how or why
because they’ll make a movie about it
and when they make a movie
then it’s true.

And who needs jobs?
Everything has been premanufactured
prepackaged and shipped in.
Now we create stories about
things we used to make
and purchase things,
unpack and trash
to justify our sense of touch
and perhaps possession
Because very soon happiness
will be assembled
and shipped in aluminum cans.
And it will be rechargeable
and very “green.”

Interrupted by Garen Zakarian

You talk / I listen / then I nod / I draw a line on a piece of paper /You spill the coffee

You talk
I listen
then I nod
I draw a line on a piece of paper
You spill the coffee

I drop the needles on the record
It’s Bach … it’s black … it’s plastic
But it’s perfect
D minor doesn’t sooth your mood
You are an ‘A’ flat with a suspended seventh
laid over burnt sienna dipped in cobalt blue

I crash-land to negotiate
and offer numbers: 2 … 4 … 8 …
But you withdraw into your prime
Rebel with: 9 … and 47

We’re disconnected
Line’s dead

Confused we look for rust
The gold was real
but the finger chose to leave the ring
The ash has smoldered the best of memories
Sinks drained the rest

What’s left of our tastefully composed duet
diminished into a solo tennis game
Go hit the wall
We’re interrupted.

Happy Days by Garen Zakarian

Some days you won’t brush / your teeth going to bed / those are the crazy days

Some days you won’t brush
your teeth going to bed
those are the crazy days
because we are preoccupied
brushing off each other

And some days
I won’t take the trash out
you’ll come home
and find me [assed out
on the couch
Those are the busy days

Some days I’ll walk out
onto the balcony
stare at Van Gogh’s bright sky
and ask      What now?
You’ll sneak behind me
wrap your arms around my
docile shoulders
We’ll stand here
listen to the silence of the moon
Those are the happy days

We Who Are Left Behind by Michael G. Springer

must tighten the cinch / wrap up the reins and open the shoot / eventually this rodeo will buck / us all to the ground

for my brother Greg

must tighten the cinch
wrap up the reins and open the shoot
eventually this rodeo will buck
us all to the ground

it won’t matter much
at that time
who gasps in the stands
if there is a little blood

we won’t cry
if we live long enough
between now and then
we may welcome the thud

perhaps if we cowboyed well
when the moment arrives
we’ll be allowed to be
with the ones we’ve loved

after the clowns come rescue us
from the raging beast
that is this life

Going Home by Leland G. Heathco

One last road to follow, one more hill to climb / You won’t need your tools this time or a thermos to fill

For my Father

One last road to follow, one more hill to climb
You won’t need your tools this time or a thermos to fill
There’ll be nothing to build; you’ve done your work; it’s time to rest
The foundation has been laid from the most precious of stones
The walls are up and the roof is on, and it’s waiting for you
The builder made everything straight and true as can be
It is worthy of a man like you; one last road and you’re free
There is a chair on the porch; have a seat; you’re finally home.

 

Childhood Memory by Ruben Garza

It’s dark and it’s late, downtown modes to scare me at night / Streetwalkers and drug dealers lurk in the shadows /They sing the song of sirens luring men to their doom.

It’s dark and it’s late, downtown modes to scare me at night
Streetwalkers and drug dealers lurk in the shadows
They sing the song of sirens luring men to their doom.
I sit alone in the car anxiously waiting for my father’s return
I spot him in the sea of the crowd and thank God he came back
Such relief, I exhale. Had I held my breath all this time?
No matter, I’m safe now. Fear removes its hold on me.
The cabin light comes on when he opens the car door and goes
out when the door shuts after taking his place behind the wheel.
“Dad, where were you?” I asked, trying to sound like a big kid,
but there was no hiding my tear-stained cheeks.
He looked at me and smiled with sadness in his eyes. “It’s okay,
son, I’m here now,” he replied as he leaned over and kissed my
forehead. A father’s love and affection was all the reassurance I
needed.
He pulled a crushed beer can from his pocket and placed it on his
lap using its bowl-shaped bottom to prepare his fix.
I watched as he drew it into a syringe and tucked it into his arm,
dumping its dark contents into a vein.
“Dad, what are you doing?” I saw shame on his face.
“Nothing, son, nothing.” He began to hang his head.
He didn’t look at me, but I didn’t care. I had him here with me.
The presence of my father was all I needed.
Though he is reckless and broken to pieces, I’ll travel any sea
with my junkie Ulysses.

Snoring Cellies on the Road to Parnassus by Eric Toso

The men in the workshop are not what I would call sensitive types. The tattoos and tough poses make it hard to raise such topics, but once raised, the inmates are not afraid to talk or to listen. One of the men said that the thing he dislikes most about being in prison is that he is never alone, that he has no inner life. He has to work from 5:30 AM until 6:30 PM, stay out of trouble, and keep up his guard. “The place is noisy, always distracting,” he says. “My cellie talks and snores. When we were locked down, he went to solitary and I actually had some time to think, to think about my family outside, and read. I read the whole copy of the Missouri Review. It was good; all those guys know how to write, technique-wise anyway, but I have to say I’m not smart enough to get half of what they are talking about.”

From Rain Shdaow Review II (2012)

It was a good workshop today. One of the yards was still locked down after a two hundred man race riot the week before, so the workshop was smaller than usual and more solemn. We read the poem “What the Doctor Said” by Raymond Carver. Carver depicts in the poem his being told he has advanced lung and brain cancer. He writes:

He said it doesn’t look good
He said it looks bad in fact real bad
He said I counted thirty-two of them on one lung before I quit counting them
I said I’m glad I wouldn’t want to know
About any more being there than that.

His unsentimental conversation portrays the ways we deny and avoid our mortality, until it knocks on the door of here and now. Many of the men in the workshop have medical conditions, some of them serious. The poem struck a chord of empathy and the no-nonsense, understated gravity of the subject fit with the rules of the conversational road that govern prison discourse.

Later in the poem, the doctor asks:

Are you a religious man
Do you kneel down
In forest groves and let yourself ask for help
When you come to a waterfall
Mist blowing against your face and arms
Do you stop and ask for understanding at those moments?

While I can’t imagine these actual words passing between doctor and patient, they pushed the poem from medical bad news into spiritual questions, the kinds of questions literature and the arts, if they are good, deal with. I told them about William Carlos Williams writing “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” The gist of the discussion became one about ways that the arts are a way to cope with the big questions, the hard issues – tragedy, trauma, loss, and love.

The men in the workshop are not what I would call sensitive types. The tattoos and tough poses make it hard to raise such topics, but once raised, the inmates are not afraid to talk or to listen.

One of the men said that the thing he dislikes most about being in prison is that he is never alone, that he has no inner life. He has to work from 5:30 AM until 6:30 PM, stay out of trouble, and keep up his guard. “The place is noisy, always distracting,” he says. “My cellie talks and snores. When we were locked down, he went to solitary and I actually had some time to think, to think about my family outside, and read. I read the whole copy of the Missouri Review. It was good; all those guys know how to write, technique-wise anyway, but I have to say I’m not smart enough to get half of what they are talking about.”

Join the club, I thought to myself. That is much of the fashion of academic literature these days. Some of it strives at times to be as opaque as possible, with labyrinthine structures that make finding meaning difficult at best. But that’s another essay.

His other point about an interior life is one well-taken. Whether in prison or out in the “free world,” quiet and focus are in short supply. Writing is one of the better ways I gain access to those inner spaces. But writing does not always serve to connect the inner with the outer.
Another man stated that he only lets down his guard in the workshops. “I can talk about things in here. I’ve known some of these guys for years. We help each other when we can.” I did not need to point out that the lines that divide races in prison blur some in the workshops. We all struggle with ideas, with ways of finding the words that will do justice to our subjects.

“Write clearly and well about what you want to write about.” I said. “Having a message is not a bad thing, but don’t let a simple message get in the way of the art. Your writing doesn’t have to preach or clobber your reader over the head with your point. But don’t let high flying flourish and art get in the way of a message if you have one.”

We talked about what makes writing art, as opposed to, say, journalism or porn, and about publishing and what kinds of writing will likely make it into our literary Magazine, Rain Shadow. One of the men asked if he could tell it like it was on the streets, “having to break doors down and stuff. Don’t people need to know that? Would they read about it?”

I asked “Are you kidding? Look at half the stuff on television and film. People love that stuff. But I won’t publish cheap shots or sensationalism that has no literary merit. No glorifying violence or drugs. No bragging about crime. There’s plenty of that, but not much quality writing about the hard truths.”

“Here’s some bad news,” I continued. “There is not much of a market for quality writing. Happy endings, the good guys winning, the world going to hell in a hand-basket – yes, but not complex human stories.”

Sometimes, I think, I write for the sake of what needs to be said, no matter whether or not anyone will read the words, art (if I can call it that) for the sake of itself, or for the artist, or for the desire to connect. I tell them so.

Then one of the inmates read a poem “If Yes Were All That Was” about what his world would be like with opportunity. It was a good poem and I will type it up this week. Other men were writing ideas on their writing pads, the illegal materials of marking a life. We had broken through to something, something bordering on magic, on timelessness, on touching something as subtle as it is elusive.

The workshop ended as a guard rattled his keys, a sign to shut it down.

We returned desks and chairs to their original places, and packed up the magazines, books, and folders. I carried the tub out of the room as the guard closed and locked the door.

I followed the inmates down the hall to the door that leads to the gate before opening onto the yard. From the back they walked like any group of students I have seen after a good class. They were the ones that made it that way. Muses have a way of finding these moments no matter where they take place.

 

***

Broken Glass Heart with Fresh Flowers by Tommy Antrez

Shattered into a thousand
Tiny pieces shaped
Like a maze
A kaleidoscope design
Carved by two soft
Smooth hands
With French-tip nails
Cold as seashells
Stuck in white sand
My wild scented
Rosemary

Shattered into a thousand
Tiny pieces shaped
Like a maze
A kaleidoscope design
Carved by two soft
Smooth hands
With French-tip nails
Cold as seashells
Stuck in white sand
My wild scented
Rosemary
With short mostly red hair
Now floats
With dead leaves
In a dirty stream
Of a sidewalk gutter
Sun-ray beams
And tasteless rain
Nourish
My new bouquet
Of beautiful bloom’d
Lilies, jasmines and violets
With color’d green-eyes
Music
Pours into the vase of a
Broken glass heart to seal the cracks
When I sing to my new
Flower
Named Daisy at
The park

Lessons from an Infant by Steven P. Arthur

She could’ve easily been mistaken for being asleep, but I knew she wasn’t. Ambulances and paramedics don’t get called for sleeping babies.

In loving memory of my father, my friend, Lyle A. Arthur Jr.
A simple man, completely loved, and eternally missed.
Oct. 9, 1944-Nov. 21, 2016

Looking at her silent, motionless form on the queen-sized bed made her appear impossibly smaller than she already was. Brightened by the blush of the mid-morning sun, her balled up fists at level with her closed eyes and careless face, mimicked a serenity that only an infant can possess. She could’ve easily been mistaken for being asleep, but I knew she wasn’t. Ambulances and paramedics don’t get called for sleeping babies.

I was early spring in Oklahoma. We just shook off an especially cold winter, and were thankful of the reprieve. The past year had been a busy and exciting time for my wife, Christy, and me. Shortly after exchanging our vows, I graduated paramedic school and began my new career. Which enabled two very excited young adults to purchase out first home. But all of those great happenings paled in comparison to the blessed arrival of our healthy baby girl.

It was my day off and the three of us were outside enjoying the weather at our modest starter home, when the call came in. I was still laughing and smiling at something my daughter had done when I answered the phone. It was the emergency dispatcher from work and immediately I knew it couldn’t be good. As I watched my wife and daughter play in the yard, the dispatcher explained the situation. My smile faded.

The dispatcher said there was a 911 call for a child not breathing. The closest ambulance was responding but it was more than ten minutes away. Eons in paramedic time. Compounding the terrible situation, the small volunteer fire department that would normally respond was out of town on a brush fire. Fortunately, the local police had a unit en route, but I knew they were ill equipped and minimally trained to handle this type of emergency.

The dispatcher, a coworker and family friend, was aware that the emergency was just around the block from our home and asked me to first-respond.

While I threw on my work uniform, I relayed all this to my wife. It took no convincing her that I had to go. She was a new mother; she shared my urgency to help the baby and rushed me out the door.

So quick was the trip, that I arrived at the residence in my personal vehicle before it even had time to warm up. I hadn’t much to bring with me. Only my stethoscope and penlight, none of the basic equipment a paramedic relies on. Those things were still miles away in an ambulance speeding to my location.

I rushed up the concrete steps and found the baby’s mother at the front door, still on the phone with the dispatcher, who was giving her first aide instructions. Without hesitation, and only a quick glance at my uniform, she let me in. She spoke rapidly as she led me through the house. I don’t remember her exact words, but she was terrified.

In the master bedroom, the frantic mother stopped at the bed and stepped aside. And there she lay in a shaft of sunlight, six-month-old baby Abby.

If a paramedic cannot control his emotions and suppress the natural physical response to stress, his effectiveness is greatly reduced. This ability becomes easier as one gains confidence from years of experience. But as any honest paramedic will tell you—no matter how many years of training—children are the most terrifying and heartbreaking of patients. And I was still very new.

Anxious and petrified are words that still fail at what I was feeling. Abby was only a few months younger than my own daughter. The situation hit close to home, and I was without my usual equipment. I had to do something. I had to think back to the basics.

She was lying on her back wearing only a diaper. I placed my ear on the soft skin of her chest. I caught the familiar scent of baby powder and shampoo. I listened for breathing and a heartbeat. I found neither. With no pulse or respirations, this little girl was clinically dead. In medicine, there are two definitions of death. One is characterized by the cessation of breathing and heartbeat, which, if determined within a few minutes, can be remedied. The other definition is biological death. This is characterized by an extended period of cessation of bodily functions, and signs of this include lividity (a black and blue discoloration of the skin) and rigor mortis. Abby showed none of these signs. Abby’s mother had reported that the baby was fine an hour before when she was laid down for her nap. I knew Abby still had a really good chance.

I began the only thing I could do: cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Unlike performing CPR on an adult, which is surprisingly difficult and physically demanding, performing CPR on an infant is easy. The difficulty is more emotional.

I covered little Abby’s mouth and nose with my own mouth. I had to carefully deliver just a puff of what my own lung capacity was. It would have been very easy to accidentally rupture her lungs with too much of a rescue breath. Abby’s mother was justifiably distraught and helpless, so I had to perform both rescue breaths and chest compressions. Adult compressions are performed with both hands stacked and placed over the patient’s sternum, using most of one’s weight to depress the chest wall approximately two inches. The infant patient requires use of only two fingers: the index and middle fingers placed over the sternum and compressions of half an inch.

Although I had only been performing CPR for a few minutes, it felt like an eternity. I was so focused on Abby that when a city police officer walked into the room, I didn’t realize it until he asked if he could help. By the look on his face, I could tell he hoped I had it under control. I have never before witnessed big, tough men become more distressed or heroic than I have when a child is in danger.

I picked up Abby, carried her outside to the front seat of the officer’s car, then asked the officer to contact dispatch for an estimated time of arrival for the ambulance. If it didn’t arrive in the net few minutes, it was my intention to have the officer drive us to the hospital.
Only a minute later, with the officer still on the radio and me performing CPR, I heard the approaching siren.

Now, after many years of working in emergency services, most of the personal thrill of the lights and sirens of emergency vehicles has faded. But, that day, when I saw that big, top-heavy truck come screeching around the corner, and despite the odd sight of having only one technician and who that was, I couldn’t have been more happy and excited.

I quickly loaded Abby; we were off to the hospital.

I later learned that the responding ambulance was farther out of town than initially reported, so the owner of the ambulance company, still a licensed emergency technician himself, staffed a fully equipped back-up unit and drove it to the scene.

I was so relieved to be in a controlled and familiar environment. I knew where everything was and finally had all of my equipment: cardiac monitor and drugs, endotracheal tube with bag valve delivering 100% oxygen. The ride to the hospital took four minutes. It couldn’t have gone smoother. Absolute textbook treatment of an infant in cardiac arrest.

Because of the quick-thinking and competence of the emergency dispatcher, police, and the company-owner-turned-temporary-ambulance-driver, Abby was soon in the care of the superb hospital staff.

Everything went right.

But we lost.

Less than an hour after I first saw her still and silent form, Abby was pronounced dead. She was the unfortunate victim of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

It’s been almost twenty years and thousands of patients since that day, but I still think about her from time to time. Especially when I consider my own daughter: healthy, bright, and full of life. I wonder what Abby would have been like if given the time, or what she would be doing with her life. Had they grown up together, would my daughter and Abby have been in the same classes, or cheerleaders on the same squad? Would they have been friends, or rivals for the same boy’s affection? The birth of my daughter matured me in many ways. But the loss of Abby was the first and most influential death that I have known.

Every life has value, meaning and impact no matter the duration. Abby’s little life was only a brief flash of brilliance, but she instilled in me that life, our very existence, is tenuous.