a poem by Bruce Harris

Waiting.
Nothing followed by tapping.
Cursing.
Smoking.
Phone ringing.
And ringing.
Nothing.
Waiting.
Fuel surcharge rising.

© 2011, Bruce Harris

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and in the bus station I don’t want to watch
men count how many barrels
they can throw, backwards
over a bar against the clock
bulldog squat, temples blinking
panic on all stations as they hurl

boulders topple planks lift tire
barbells load sacks haul monster trucks

and afterwards, wading jelly-legs
pinched cheeks and faraway gaze
of children lifting weights that don’t need
to be lifted toppling planks that hurling boulders
but stay with me instead he says
remember the curves
dangerous curves
road construction
and what does it mean to live
straight up: I’d be mad
if this wasn’t the plan, but don’t go, but

I’m kidding, what do you need
I can buy it for you at Wal-Mart
that’s serious, and can I pin
a note on you, right here, it says:
If found return to Sayulita, Nayarit.

How it could have been any different?
How it couldn’t have been any
different. After all we can’t
overcome ourselves.

© 2011 Rose Hunter

a story by Anne Borden

Sometimes I envy those chummy exes. You know, the ones who live together for a time after they decide to split, while the one gallantly helps the other one find an apartment? Who loan each other sweaters and meet for lattes on their lunch hour? Who have a seemingly amicable separation, and a downright jolly divorce?

On some days, I envy them. On other days, I think of them as sanctimonious f**s.

For most of us, it’s messier. We leave our homes alone one day – abruptly or after years of planning – with suitcase in hand and a cat tucked under one arm. Never to return, and certainly not for Passover. We remember each other’s birthdays, sure … but alone, and decades later those milestones still make us cry. We don’t live on the same street; in fact our lives are circumscribed by avoiding a certain café or club, or a certain street, or a rather large swath of the city.

Like, a normal breakup.

In the end, shared assets are divided, shared responsibilities delegated. The me in TEAM takes over. And it is the end. New beginnings are forged as individuals, and it becomes impossible for one new individual to reach out to that other, entirely new, individual. You think about picking up the phone to call, but you don’t.

Out of fear? Maybe. But also out of a hard-won respect for that new person. The stranger you once knew too deeply.

And so I found myself alone on a Saturday morning in the front yard of my ex-home (which we now rent to tenants), waiting for the tree removal service. A storm had blown down a beautiful, 6-year-old Serviceberry tree and the tenant had called me, breathless, at 8 am. “It’s in the street!” she’d gasped. I gasped, too, when I first saw those splayed branches in the street. Dogwalkers tiptoed across the sapling trunk. A busybody neighbour tsked: “Such a shame.” Another called out: “Hey, I think you can still save that tree…”

Mr. Kumar of Urban Tree Care pulled up in his truck.

“No, we can’t save it. It’s been sick for some time now; you can tell by the roots. All it took was one strong wind to take it down.”

“I never knew it was sick. It looked good.”

“ We can take it away this afternoon some time. The cost is two hundred and fifty.”

“Can I pay you cash?”

Perhaps, in some parallel universe, my ex and I would have met up at the house with a pair of lumberjack’s axes and made quick work of that soft, green wood. A tidy pile of logs that one of us would lug to… to the summer cottage, where together with our new lovers, we would gather around the fire and raise our glasses over a toasty pyre. From loss would come an enlightened catharsis, with grief turned to ash as our Serviceberry swirled in great clouds into the starry sky! …

Instead, there was me and the tree guy. The wind rustled through sun-dappled leaves. The sweet, dusty scent of life, forever stilled, enveloped us. Mr. Kumar sighed. I shed a tear. For lost love, lost opportunities? Maybe. But also, more simply, for that beautiful, lost tree.

© 2011, Anne Borden

I haul misery in a can, pre-packed sorrow in waiting. I pack ‘em in – their wires and tubes – ship ‘em where there’s daylight in the halls, where there’s rumors of miracles. I don’t need to know beyond this: keep everything straight, no touching, no talking unless they feel to; give a smooth ride. I watch for floods and droughts, keep plasma packs upright and flowing, check what the manual calls ‘signs of distress’.

If they’re conscious, partway lucid, we might trade words on what bit ‘em, how it hurts, what they think gives with the fable of upstairs. I heard stuff they tell these bedbugs: that this procedure got an eighty chance of succeeding; that this process scores ninety-two though not everyone comes straight. They get told the risks but not so they dwell. They all signed forms, they all got loved ones who said – on zero knowledge – it’ll be okay.

Loved ones are a pain in the ass. When I secured the bed wheels, levered shut the gates, loved ones stand down toe of the shaft waving or smiling though I see their faces breaking, trying so what’s in bed thinks upstairs is fine. As I freight them floor over floor cogent ones ask is the butcher a good butcher, is the place equipped with some techno-junk they saw in a docu-drama. What can I say: I press these buttons, hum sad tunes, watch the numbers rise.

What I ship in this cage got pain so bad the morphine is sugar for toothache. If they got strength sometimes you see them crunch down the sheet, fingers tight to brace the agony. I don’t say it’ll be fine upstairs. I don’t say nothing but what’s lame with local sports teams. I don’t say a thing to the ones I bring back.

The down run don’t stop at ground level; no need: this cage ain’t for tourists. Down shift is straight in the basement, hauling whatever missed the cut in theater. There’s no conversation on the way down, the paperwork ain’t my business and I can bust these wheels more harsh across the ramps. I get along better with guys downstairs than up among the white coats. I ship up chances to fail; I bring down certainties. Upstairs is aftercare and explanations; all the basement got is throughput. Through the furnace if no other ways.

Upstairs call me handling; basement call me traffic man. I like to traffic. I seen too much hope make that slow crawl to shades of disappointment. I wouldn’t risk hope if it bit me. I’m carrying: I pack a little certainty to help folks out of thinking that eighty percent’s a pro-bet. I carry for me: people fall sick too easy. I don’t wanna be a bug in this cage with the night shift guy giving me a smooth ride up where the white coats got revenge for redemption. I want done before the gates close: one way, certainty bound.

© 2011, Mark Wagstaff