Mike W. Blottenberger, Chanel Dubofsky, Gary L. McDowell, Larry Rapant

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Mike W. Blottenberger has appeared in Baltimore Review, Christian Science Monitor, The James White Review, ONTHEBUS, and The William & Mary Review. He is currently compiling an anthology with Dr. Elie Fleurant of City College of New York that focuses on peace between nations and people.


A Barking Cat


In Tijuana I pay five pesos to see a barking cat.

I enter a little casa on the outskirts of town, where

the calico cat sleeps in a rocking chair. An old woman

moves the rocking chair with her left foot. The cat

yawns and licks its paw, and the old woman meows.


Chanel Dubofsky lives in New York City, where she writes, wanders and organizes young Jews around social justice issues. Her fiction and poetry has been published in Quick Fiction, Zeek and Big Toe Review.


What Keeps Us Awake

On Friday evenings they play Scrabble, a whole crowd of them. They use books to keep score, page numbers, instead of a long column of pencil scratches. They organize themselves into teams; the English majors all together, versus biology, history and horn players. She and he are on the same team, heads tipped close to one another. He hums under his breath as he fingers the tiles,  searching for possibilities. It reminds her of opening a teapot and finding the basket of berries and leaves there, nestled in silver mesh, like a secret. Together they spell “sepia,” “zeal,” “hex” and “cynical.”

The themes at the poetry reading they attend together seem to be sex, dead bugs and hooded sweatshirts. They sit beside each other. His body folds up neatly, politely into the corner. He does not crack his knuckles or fidget, preferring instead to chortle under his breath at appropriate intervals. He looks down at the carpet and notices that she’s wearing sandals with holes in the bottoms, held together with duct tape. She will tell him one day, as they amble through the woods, that in these sandals she climbed a mountain.

Her summer is spent making ice cream cones and wearing a purple t-shirt with a cow on it. She returns home at the end of each day with sticky hair and a sore left arm, which is becoming oddly muscular. At night, she drives around with the people who used to be her best friends, to whom she now has little to say. They sit on the football field at the high school, an ancient ritual preserved for the sake of familiarity.

She calls him very early in the morning, when they both agree to be awake. She sits on the porch steps, watching sunlight plod through hazy clouds. When it lands on the sidewalk near her toes, it seems weak and insincere.

He tells her about his father, who is trying to photograph all the Holocaust survivors in the state of Tennessee. This requires driving for hours to small towns, where he is served tea and cookies, sits on sagging couches in dimly lit rooms, trips over cats and great-grandchildren, rubbing his beard and running his hands over his graying, curly head, sighing deeply, thoroughly, trustingly.

The bedroom he has slept in for eighteen years is now a studio. Faces peer out from where his posters once were, canisters of film, piles of paper, micro-cassettes have taken over the bureau. His father organizes it, clearing up the mounds, tucking everything into boxes and manila envelopes, moving them into the living room, where they consume the coffee table, the bookshelves, the rug.

When his father isn’t around, he finds himself searching maniacally for tattoos, the seemingly purposeless combination of numbers and letters, macabre gematria that adds up to nothing. All summer, it seems, he waits for his father to leave the room, the house, so he can look for the numbers. At night he lays the pictures end to end on the dining room table. He finds scars, birthmarks, moles, wrinkles, hangnails, every fathomable imperfection, but no tattoos. He stayed up half the night, looking at those pictures, hunting, inspecting. They are a blur in his mind now, a tangle of arms and hands and faces.

She imagines him bent over a kitchen table, brow rumpled, studying a pile of photographs. Everything hangs on him a little, except his kippah, which is always firmly ratcheted to his head. His curls spring up around it, reminding her of a mushroom surrounded by moss.

She says, “When we get back to school, I’ll help you look.” It is the strangest offer he has ever had. After they hang up, he rests the receiver next to the pile of pictures, as though the residual proximity of her might bring something to the surface.

At the end of August, there is an exhibition of the photographs, in a room in the art gallery at the university. They are arranged at different heights on scarlet red pillars. People shuffle through quietly, speaking in hushed voices, as if they were at a funeral. His father stands in the center of the room, nursing the same glass of wine, nodding modestly at compliments, squeezing hands and offering comfort. Later he says, “It was supposed to be a celebration.” He frames three of the photographs for his son, two men, and a woman.

His room the following semester is small and rectangular. He fills it with books for decoration. They take over the drawers, the windowsill, the closet. The three photographs hang on the wall at the foot of the bed.

Often there’s a thumping upstairs, right above his head. It’s probably sex, she says. He doesn’t like thinking about that, about who it could be, someone from Politics, someone he sees everyday in the dining hall. Instead he imagines a dead body being dragged around the room, the head whacking against the bed, the doorframe, the desk. In his mind, he tells her, a dead body always looks so neat, like a sleeping person, instead of what it really is, slowly becoming more dead. He has never seen anyone die. Even in his dreams, death is only a legend.

It is nearly three in the morning on a Sunday when they finally find it, in the photograph of a woman with white hair and a sharp chin. The frames have been dismantled, the glass placed on the bed, the pictures on the floor. Freyda Rutstein (his father has written on the back) is looking off to the side, instead of at the reflection of herself in the camera. In the corner of the picture, almost cut off, is a number, smeared and blue, like ink on the heel of a hand, a tiny bruise.

He pushes his glasses onto his forehead in order to get as close as possible, and when he pulls them back down, there are little grease smears, like dimes, on the lenses. He is too wired to sleep now, roused by their discovery. This was his summer, this obsession, this is what he had done while other people were scooping ice cream and making movies and losing their virginity. Another person, he knows, would have abandoned him long ago to write a paper, or smoke a joint, or just because they wanted to. But she has stayed and together they have crawled, stretched, bent, looked from every conceivable angle.

It is getting light outside. She is slumped in the desk chair, paging through Leaves of Grass, reading aloud occasionally. When she reads something familiar, he moves his lips, turning the words over on his tongue. His eyes close a little, lashes hovering. He stands beside her, his hands in his pockets, thumbs poking against the worn corduroy. He sways a little, and when she finishes, his eyes stay closed.

It is a quiet, gray Saturday when they wander together. They take a road that isn’t paved, covered with nettles and twigs and pine cones and full of small holes, big enough for a ground hog, perhaps, or a small package.

The gateway to a parallel universe, he says, when they come upon a tree that’s bent into a sharp triangle. He holds an arm in front of her so that she can’t pass. They won’t be the same once they cross underneath it, he warns. They practice pronouncing their names spelled backwards, as they will certainly be in the parallel universe. In a few years, she thinks, he will be a crazy old man. The other boys, they have more time.

--First published in Zeek

Gary L. McDowell is currently the Assistant Poetry Editor for Mid-American Review. He's the author of the chapbook, The Blueprint (Pudding House, 2005). Gary's poetry is forthcoming in The Southeast Review, Ninth Letter, The Yalobusha Review, Caffeine Destiny, and The Eleventh Muse and has appeared recently in No Tell Motel, Pebble Lake Review, Bat City Review, and others. He also has work forthcoming in The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel, 2nd Floor (No Tell Books, 2007). Mr McDowell was recently nominated for a Pushcart Prize. 

Everyone Agreed It Was Windy That Day

The bell in the town square swayed, though it made no noise,
its tongue impotent and sterile.  Three tons of copper and
tin.  The bell's belly swallowed the breeze through its flaring
mouth.  Ate wind. 

And a man fell.  The gymnastics of dying spread upward through
his spine.  His vertebrae exploded like pollen seeds bursting
in hot summer air when he hit the ground.  He bled from his
mouth and his ears.  From his tear ducts.  And down his nose. 
His lips were parted.  The oceany hue of his tongue.

How did he end up a pile of skin and broken calcium? Did he
hope someone would grab him before he fell from the window,
think he’d be able to go back in time and change his mind,
think he’d be spotted on his way down and be saved?  Did he
give God too much responsibility?  Or did he leap?  Or was he
the one who thought that given enough chances one man would, in
mid-flight, grow wings, and sail away where eyes and hands no
longer mattered, where the striking of bells marked increments
of time.

Larry Rapant (speedpoets – flash flooding – 971 menu – “remark” – mannequin envy – sein und werden – Adagio Verse Quarterly - Sunken Lines) is having a good October.  His first book, SMARTASS Volume IV, will be out toward the end of September in 2035.  He once got 35 of his poems onto one page.  He lives in sin. 





it turns out the guy who comes over to fix my leaky shower once interviewed Jacques Derrida, plays a mean jazz piano, slept with my first wife – poorly, just like I did – is wearing a halo of mosquitos, murmurs that the country has gone from a level 3 sax offender to the madness of King George II, can sympathize with my carpal tunnel, gives me some tips about cooking salmon, delivers the most convincing argument I’ve ever heard for the existence of an omnipotent and merciful God, one in which ground black pepper and aerosol spray cans play a prominent role, writes me a scrip for some gentle hallucinogens, is an advocate for a more widespread use of the semi-colon, had been in Chicago in ’68, has a recurring dream about Jerry Garcia ice cream, claims that pharmaceutical companies are responsible for the death of his favorite Chevy, is going through a difficult separation from his fourth plantar’s wart and is on the verge of finding a cure for bladder cancer, all for the ridiculously low price of $212 an hour, this week only!