Bewitched

- Caroline Morales

Allowed to choose again, she’d christen me
baby Tabatha, mother proclaimed.
She loved the name, and, hey, you could say
I was kind of a witch. But let it be clear,
mother dear was no sweet Samantha,
though just as many schemes roiled the seams
inside her sleeves, threaded with jealousies,
ambition, an obsessive/compulsive disposition
with a smattering of ADD, some of it passed
down to me, who as a child began to realize
my true potential.  There was the episode,
mom insisted I be placed with the gifted kids,
though all my test scores spelled out
a different answer.  Snout twitched into more
of a snarl than wiggle, she faced down the vice
principal, and there I was, snap of the fingers
in Mr. Higgle’s advanced class, where,
let’s face it, I was too dumb to contend.  Slumped
in the back row, stewing resentment, humiliation
with applied concepts of retaliation aimed
at the baffled teacher who simply ignored me,
I muttered curses, maledictions, conjured
a wish list of afflictions to befall him. 
And when word came the man beloved
by his brightest pupils, revered by colleagues
and staff, left for home after last class, and hung
himself from an attic rafter, I stumbled
from school, lungs constricted, legs buckling
into knotted ropes, throat choked with shame,
sat in view of the TV’s canned groans, wrote down
the name of our favorite show, crossed out
the E’s, the W, the D, and renamed myself.

 

The Stob of Ob

- Sandra Hunter

In the tiny village of Ob, one of many villages that kept their distance from one another in a small country, there lived a poor man. He was so poor he didn’t have a last name. He gave his son the only gift he could: a name that would set the boy apart for greatness: The Stob.

This was the last in a series of final straws for his wife,

—You know this child will be The Stob of Ob? That doesn’t bother you?

She wanted to leave the man and his seven children but, staring into the baby’s narrow grey eyes, she couldn’t bring herself to it. Wasn’t it bad enough to have the stigma of his name, let alone the stigma of growing up without a mother?

The other children saw nothing strange about The Stob or his name.

—The Stob, it’s your turn to take the garbage out.

—I hate you, The Stob.

—Come here, The Stob, I’m going to pound you.

During his babyhood, she tried calling him The Stobbie to soften the barbarity of his name. He was an odd-looking creature. He had the same body type that distinguished their village: long arms, short legs, thin chest. But The Stob had wide meat-plate hands, a lozenge-shaped head with a whorl of dark hair that stuck up in the middle.

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nyrbclassics:

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Writing is a way of making the writer acceptable to the world—every cheap, dumb, nasty thought, every despicable desire, every noble sentiment, every expensive taste. There isn’t very much satisfaction in getting the world to accept and praise you for things that the world is prepared to…

The Grave Soul

- Dan Beatty

Some days, the smell is unbearable.

Of course, if the bodies are pretty old—say, eighty years or more—then you hardly have to worry. Most caskets back then were just cheap lumber, wooden boxes, plywood—and the smell isn’t bad once you get in. It smells hardly different than the earth—the soil itself—that’s been settling around the casket for decades. The wood has decayed, is soft, brittle to the touch. And the body itself—nothing but bones.

But if it’s a recent grave, with those new-fangled caskets that are designed to preserve the body—although morticians tend to exaggerate this—the smell is almost unbearable. What morticians fail to explain to their unsuspecting new customers is that embalming only keeps a body fresh until the funeral is over. And while these new “protected” caskets do keep water out—which sounds like a good idea in theory—these caskets do not keep the body from decomposing. Not at all. In fact, if the casket is sealed as well as advertised, it only interferes with the natural dehydration that would otherwise occur. Fluids and gasses are released from the body as it begins to decompose, and the casket is likely to rust out or rot from the inside. The wealthier people tend to buy these protected caskets more, because they cost more and the poor can’t afford them. Apparently, the wealthy takes solace that their loved-one’s body in death won’t fester—no matter how badly they treated the person when she was still alive. It’s strange. Why anybody would care the way his dead relative’s body is stored is beyond me.

It makes much more sense to go into the older caskets than the newer ones. Even though the merchandise you find in the older caskets may not have cost as much when purchased, it might bring in more in the long run. Of course, the antique factor helps, especially for wedding rings. Plus, the quality is usually better—sterling silver, 24 karat gold, quality diamonds. And, as I’ve said, it’s much easier to get into these caskets, and the bodies are usually nothing but skeletons. Easy on the nose.  

What many people may not know is that you don’t have to dig up the entire top of the casket to get into it. You really only need to dig a hole about 36 inches in diameter, about where the neck to navel would be on the body. Then you just take your spade or your HoeDag and break through the top of the casket. If the person was wearing jewelry when buried—which I generally already know from my research—the jewelry will almost always be between the neck and navel. Funeral Directors typically fold the hands of the deceased across her chest, which makes my job much easier.

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Transfigured

- Allison Grayhurst

Each day I wear my grief
like metal mesh. I see you
as spirit burdened to speak.
You try to comfort this field
of wounds. You tend the amputees
and bound the screaming with soft song.
But it is hard for you to stay,
to not let go completely into the light.
I let you go. I make this year my bridge.
Though my heart has ruptured and cannot heal,
though forever overcome with this sadness
of our love silenced by brutal, unnamable death,
I will build a new house, dive with both hands
into my yard until the evergreens grow.
I will contain you as more than memory —
in my harvest will bloom many sunflowers
of your great generosity. And your fiery blood
will sprout the roots and flesh of passion fruit.
The maple tree will grow large like you, protecting all
within its strong and tender shadow. And children
will be drawn to this yard, to play there amongst
the tall dramatic grass, and then sit still to watch
with wonder the many shades of sky, reflecting
the warmth of your paternal sun-setting colours.

The Sculptor’s Funeral

- Willa Cather

First published in McClure’s, 1905. The story also appeared in Cather’s short story collection, The Troll Garden and Selected Stories.  

A group of the townspeople stood on the station siding of a little Kansas town, awaiting the coming of the night train, which was already twenty minutes overdue. The snow had fallen thick over everything; in the pale starlight the line of bluffs across the wide, white meadows south of the town made soft, smoke-colored curves against the clear sky. The men on the siding stood first on one foot and then on the other, their hands thrust deep into their trousers pockets, their overcoats open, their shoulders screwed up with the cold; and they glanced from time to time toward the southeast, where the railroad track wound along the river shore. They conversed in low tones and moved about restlessly, seeming uncertain as to what was expected of them. There was but one of the company who looked as though he knew exactly why he was there; and he kept conspicuously apart; walking to the far end of the platform, returning to the station door, then pacing up the track again, his chin sunk in the high collar of his overcoat, his burly shoulders drooping forward, his gait heavy and dogged. Presently he was approached by a tall, spare, grizzled man clad in a faded Grand Army suit, who shuffled out from the group and advanced with a certain deference, craning his neck forward until his back made the angle of a jackknife three-quarters open.

"I reckon she’s agoin’ to be pretty late ag’in tonight, Jim," he remarked in a squeaky falsetto. "S’pose it’s the snow?"

"I don’t know," responded the other man with a shade of annoyance, speaking from out an astonishing cataract of red beard that grew fiercely and thickly in all directions.

The spare man shifted the quill toothpick he was chewing to the other side of his mouth. “It ain’t likely that anybody from the East will come with the corpse, I s’pose,” he went on reflectively.

"I don’t know," responded the other, more curtly than before.

"It’s too bad he didn’t belong to some lodge or other. I like an order funeral myself. They seem more appropriate for people of some reputation," the spare man continued, with an ingratiating concession in his shrill voice, as he carefully placed his toothpick in his vest pocket. He always carried the flag at the G. A. R. funerals in the town.

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The Houses of Parliament 1881

- Alan Catlin

Winslow Homer: watercolor

Darker shades of
grey on black,

industrial pollution
thickening into an

encroachment of night,
deadening last

silvering sunlight
on River Thames;

rowers bent about
their last diurnal

task, unaware of
ghost shadows

restructuring
distant shores

Steam Locomotive Before the Deluge

- Alan Catlin

in the manner of Turner 

An intensity of
yellow lights,

fallen moons
disperse forming

liquid black
clouds,

smog & smoke.

Dread machine’s
hoarse mechanical

breathe completely
withdrawn, silence

clings, the dark
moves its feral

eye

 

 

Rockwell Kent’s Killer Whales Resurrection Bay

- Alan Catlin

Almost surreal horizon
swathed in midnight sun

light,  a halo of primary
colors above white

snow peaks;
in the bay the whales

are breaching,
their songs echoing

across still
water.

 

Happy Monster

- Alec Solomita

There goes Godzilla, destroying the city.
Again. The glassed in poster in Davis Square
mirrors a see-through phantom me, looking
kind of squirrely as lesbians rattle by like
smug bumper cars and the tattooed man
in the sideshow is every other guy.
“In the Valley of the Lost,” the movie should be.
Reefer drifting like sweet exhaust.
Texters on the street who walk like dreamers.
The indoor life bruited about on the cellular sidewalk,
“Ah don’ care what that ho’ said! That bitch
is dead to me! You know I mean it!” As do we all,
young man, as do we all. Oh where are we?
Tokyo should be so crowded and who is
lonelier in a crowd than Godzilla?

I begin to grow. I begin to change. Hipsters
become alarmed as I become engorged, enlarged,
enhanced, happy. I swing my arm and the
fusion restaurant across the street crumbles.
Like Japanese extras, the ice cream strollers
scramble for safety, wherever that may be,
stumbling over each other (and their little dogs, too!)
terrified through their interesting eyewear.
Mike’s Pizza is gone with a back kick. And
the little shops I snuff with a thumb—Magpie,
Davis Squared, Buffalo Exchange,
JP Licks, Comikaze, Blue Shirt Café
Every move I make is a catastrophe.
Every step I take is a disaster movie:
blinding dust, heaping bricks, shattered glass,
the screams of the dying, the stench of the dead.
There goes Godzilla, destroying the city. Again.