Issue #12, 2013

Price: $10.00

stringtown12

Table of Contents

Kristofer Nelson, Illwaco
Kristofer Nelson, Naselle River (sample)
Gary Lark, Without a Map
Gary Lark, Night Fishing
Gary Lark, This Side of the Road
Lilian Duval, Prodigy
Casey Charles, Deeper into Basin (sample)
John Harris, Sloppy Drunk in Bologna
Judy Bebelaar, Lowpensky Lumber
Judith Skillman, Salt Marsh (sample)
Judith Skillman, Renaming the Dahlias
Judith Skillman, A Little Piety
Eileen Hennessy, Truth in Teaching
Doug Wilcox (art—bones)
Lara Parker, Peach Pie
Jan Priddy, Why I Run North
Jeff Dunn, Of Cranberries and Kelp
Jeff Dunn, Of Trespass
Aaron Brand, Bus Poem #2
Rachel Scheiner, Darby's Day Out
Jeff Gerhardstein, In the Harmonics of an Afternoon, I Draft a Thousand Lies

Matt Schumacher, Cornucopia
Julie Domonkos, Dr. Ernest
Fredrick Zydek, The Dreaming Universe
Fredrick Zydek, Whistling in the Dark
Holly Day, The Weight of It All
Karin Temple, Saint Valentine: Gravitational Force—A Love Poem
Larry Crist, No Santa
Judith Lavinsky, The Mother from Home (sample)
Jean Esteve, Oregon (sample)
Steve Cleveland, Shed
Steve Cleveland, In Shadow
Steve Cleveland, Bach
Doug Wilcox, (art—nude)
Steve Cleveland, In the Dark
Steve Cleveland, The Gold that Falls onto the Table (sample)
all sea creature cartoons by Rachel Scheiner

Excerpts

Kristofer Nelson

Naselle River

At 3 am it’s bleak.
The wrong truck stops
in front of me
& wisps of exhaust snake
from the tailpipe. Ted Nugent’s
Stranglehold stumbles out
& the hungry mouth
of a newsstand is stuffed
once more with freak storms,
scandals, shootings...
4 am. By now the tide
is gone
for a two hour drive,
but my friend,
fueled on coffee
& raspberry filled
doughnuts doesn’t consider
this, curving through
the back roads
like a flash flood.
Sunrise overtakes
the headlights, turning hills
into strands of trees
as we slope down
towards Willapa Bay.
A thin ribbon
of pavement lines the river
where we slide the boat
down a mud bank into water
that tastes like salt—
the ocean’s muscle
is still here, pulling
our small boat into the current.
The anchor, part
of a rusty manifold,
drops six feet
to a perfect fathom.
The ancestors
of these fish once fed
on what dinosaurs ate,
their sucker mouths
scouring the shifting
bottom of rivers
no longer here.
A dozen tails have
slapped the surface while
our herring comes up
mauled by crabs & bullheads.
Maybe it’s the hole
in the radiator hose
we have yet to discover,
the sturgeon sensing
impending stress,
maybe the lush green
we stare into, missing
twinges
at the tip of our poles,
or the gestures when
we talk, our hands
swimming the clear air.

Judith Skillman

Salt Marsh

Little by little the corpuscles
fill, swell, expand. Until,
distended and swollen, the hand
can no longer grasp
its own water, its greens.

Memory’s sponge-soaked
debris in brackish water.
The fingers reach, wiggle,
invite their own demise.

Saddled by low tide, shells
lie where they were thrown,
broken by osprey and gull.
A blue heron stands, one-legged,
as if reckoning.

Spider-crabs spill
from rocks to culvert.
The octopus clings to its dream
of orange-tendered black.

Balloon of foliage, sleep spirals,
Medusa-trussed, a spurned
daughter’s pregnant shape
want to rescue by turns,
and be rescued.

The fingers fill, empty, feather
another Ophelia’s face. Then
they learn histrionics: how to wave,
clap, burnish water’s mirror.

The salt marsh harvest mouse,
with cinnamon belly,
travels lightly across driftwood
and sand. Another blind
horizon, then extinction.

A sandpiper calls for a mate:
three pure tones repeated
six times. The man walks
ahead, his form always

falling into the mangrove.
Until sun reclaims its last gold coin
and the full moon rises.
mother-of-pearl swathed
above Protection Island.

Casey Charles

Deeper into Basin
after Richard Hugo

You wonder why this town’s still on the map.
The gold’s gone, smelted or sent to Wales,
abandoned shafts boarded up. Quartz veins remain,
poor man’s El Dorado. For most motor homes,
the Merry Widow Health Mine has hookups.
Five days of radon could cure what ails you.
Sign spans the gulch like a surprise party,
slung across pines, welcoming arthritis.

Why buy a doublewide in this depression?
On the highway from Butte to Helena,
four lanes of blacktop levied and cycloned,
skewer the river. What’s left of it.
Semis go eighty a stone’s throw away.
Like living on a runway, in a barrel—
your ears filled with friction. The nearest gas
ten miles north, a truck stop stocked with corn nuts.

There’s nowhere else to go. Not much left here.
The Silver Saddle serves drinks to bikers,
hirsute and fat. Pizza place has gone down hill.
New owner—stars and stripes in the window,
pickups parked outside, ranch dressing on iceberg
wedges. Most are just passing through, on their way
to float or fish, build a trophy home near Bozeman,
reclaim a mine with peat moss. Some just lost.

Locals hang at the High Note, beside an old stone home.
Eat scones and quiche with the girls. Handsome dykes—
Briar and Nan and MJ. Carved out their tract
ten years back, started the Artists Refuge
in the Masonic Temple. Now turpentine
and tortured brushes fill the space. New Yorkers.
The girls serve scrambled eggs and talk. About fires,
mostly. Up Jack Creek. Ten percent contained.

Parched lodgepoles, bark infested with beetles.
Forest thick as a full pegboard, a truck
of illegals headed east to pick beets.
Smoke opaques the slopes of the bowl, stings ducts,
erases contours. A Stage Two Alert
in Deerlodge, ready to ignite August,
a state on fire. Dry lightning. Drunk campers.
An arsonist out to see his name in print.

And dogs. Down Main Street St. Bernards lumber
like they own the place. Poodle named Jake flits
around like a gay waiter. Could use one
out here where men curl bills and drive three-wheelers.
Sex looks best in the mirror. Teens in tanktops
ride two to a bike through gap-tooth alleys
full of dusty Rottweilers, beer cans. You stay
inside, read rust: Rex Flour faded on brick.

You’re a refugee. A grasshopper eating
mullein, yellow as you lurch. A wooden bird
amid the marigolds. You don’t belong.
The lark who banged the pane, too stunned to eat
white bread. Your only friend a hummingbird
who left when the sweet water dried up.

On the fence, a sign says “Art Show” in front
of garbage. Beyond burnt siding and the red roof,
aspens shimmer through indefensible space.
Winds shift the heart-shaped leaves, yours beats fast
before the plain man, thin and suspendered,
sleeves rolled, on the road with his broad-rimmed brood.
You wonder what he thinks of your pumped calves,
your lifted wrist and smile. Will he shun you?
Could you take him down to Boulder River,

across a white quartz field to the deep pool
where you cast your line and feel trout pull?
If you asked, would he hike with you? Hop stones
smooth, warm, anchored in rapids, where fish hide,
wily and stressed? Join you on the granite
where you lie naked? Would he swim with you
in the churn, stick his head under the falls,
spread his arms, long and white, against the current?

The Mother from Home

As he was falling asleep he heard the phone ring. Annoyed with himself for not turning off the ringer, he got up too quickly and had to wait for a moment at the edge of the bed while the dizziness passed. He heard the answering machine click as he entered the kitchen. Curious, he listened to see who would call him at this time of night. A prank, a wrong number. He heard the caller breathing into the receiver in hiccupping sobs. The sound was familiar.

“Éva?”

“Yes.” Between sobs.

“Where are you?”

“At the Safeway near Tom’s.”

“What’s the matter? Are you all right?”

“No.” More sobbing.

“Do you want me to come?”

“No. I just need to talk.”

“Tell me what’s wrong.”

“There’s been a terrible fight. I couldn’t stand it.”

“Tom? Did he hurt you?”

“No, no one is hurt. He was fighting with Mama. She was fighting with him. He was fighting with me. Mama wants me to move back to Budapest. Tom wants her to leave. It’s all a mess.” The little fast sobs gave way to the deep ones.

“Wait by the phone. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

He pulled his trousers over his pajamas, changed the blue flannel top for the wrinkled blue shirt. As he bent over to tie his shoes he felt the pressure from the tumors on the right side of his liver. Reminded, he dropped the bottle of pain pills into the pocket of his shirt. He had a small fever. It would only get worse.

The drive was quicker at this time of night. A long stretch on the parkway was perfectly empty of cars. As he swung into the grocery store parking lot he saw Éva waiting in the entry, smaller than he remembered, pressed to the glass. He gathered his strength and got out of the car.

He bent to kiss her on the cheek, the kiss without touching they brought with them from home, but she embraced him, holding on as though her tears would sweep her away if she let go. He had forgotten. Years ago, at the start of their marriage she had held him and cried. He had forgotten the feel of her body, thin and frail, almost as small as a child’s.

“There, there,” he said, patting her. “What’s going on?”

“They started fighting about dinner. It got worse and worse.”

“How could they fight about dinner?” he laughed, trying to cheer her. “It’s only food.”

“You know how they are. Mama gets so upset. Tom won’t give in.” Her sobs were farther apart. She let Gabe release her and give her his handkerchief.

“How many plates have they broken?” he asked, trying to get her to smile.

“Tom threw the burritos against the dining room wall. We just painted it, too.”

“Burritos?”

“Tom knows how to make good ones. But Mama and Dad wouldn’t eat Mexican food.”

“I can imagine,” Gabe said. Éva’s parents suspected the food of any culture poorer than their own. “Where was Max when Tom threw the burritos?”

“He had already gone off to play video games with my Dad.”

“Wait. Your father plays video games? Has the Messiah returned?”

She started to laugh in spite of her tears. “Can you just come back to the house for a minute? Maybe when they see you they’ll calm down.”

“Sure.” He had expected this. “I’ll be the Messiah. Tell them I’ve come to turn water to wine.”

He followed her car out of the parking lot and into the dark suburban streets that led to Tom’s house. When they divorced, Gabe thought to himself, he should have insisted that she keep their house. Making the payments would have been difficult, but the mortgage was in his name and the lender had made him check the box on the form for a life insurance policy. For a few hundred a month he could have left them a house free and clear when he died. Instead they had sold it to pay off the debts, but the housing market had faltered, and the debts were still mostly unpaid.

The front of Tom’s house gleamed on the darkened street. Every curtain was open, every light in the house was still on. Éva’s car disappeared into the garage whose automatic door descended while Gabe was still parking his car.

Éva’s mother answered his knock. “What are you doing here so late at night?” she exclaimed, worried and glad all at once.

“Everyone’s up. I came for the party.” He bent and kissed her once on each cheek, carefully dodging her lacquered coiffeur.

“There is no room in this house for a party,” she began, ready to launch her attack. “Not so long as my daughter lives with that vandal.”

“Wait, let’s sit down like civilized people and talk about it together.” He led her into the living room. Through the doorway to the kitchen he saw Éva and Tom. Their voices were low, but he recognized the signs of a fight in progress and guessed from her tears that she was already on the losing end. “Éva, can you make us some tea?” he called, ignoring Tom for the moment.

“Daddy?” Max called from the top of the stairs.

“Are you still up?” Gabe turned to his son. Before his illness he would have run up the stairs and pretended to chase Max back to his bed. Now he stood at the bottom, braced to receive his son’s flying embrace.

“Everyone’s up,” Max said. “Tom threw burritos on the dining room wall.”

“How will he clean up the mess?” Gabe asked.

“The dog came in and tried to lick the wall.”

“Burritos aren’t good for dogs, are they?”

“Grandma says that’s all they’re good for.”

“It’s time to get into bed,” Gabe said, trying to keep a straight face. “You have school in the morning. Let’s say goodnight here and save me a trip up the stairs.” He knelt down and gave Max a hug. “Sleep tight,” he said, kissing his son’s silky head.

Max started up the stairs. “Daddy?” He stopped.

“What?”

“Are you still sick?”

“Yes.” Gabe tried to guess what he knew.

“Oh.”

“Oh what?”

“I just thought maybe you were almost well.”

“That would be very nice.” He smiled at his son, reassuring him. “I’ll try to arrange it. Now get to sleep quickly.”

After Max disappeared around the turn of the landing, Gabe drew a long breath and turned back to the living room. In the kitchen doorway he saw Éva watching.

“The tea is ready,” she said. “Tom wants to finish cleaning the mess he made.”

“I thought that was my job,” Gabe said. He followed her into the living room, switching off lights as he passed. Before his mother died, he remembered, half of her widow’s pension went to the electric bill each month. Even in prodigal America, he found it necessary to turn off some lights.

Eszter’s complaints greeted him. “This man is no good for my daughter. Help her get out of here. She should leave him at once.”

“To go where?” Éva cried. She dropped the tea tray onto a low table. “I have no one to go to. No money, no job except for piano lessons and the trio with Tom.”

“Gabe will help you until you get on your feet.” She made the words a commandment, delivered to him.

“Gabe can’t help me, Mama. Those days are gone.”

“The question is not whether I can help,” Gabe interrupted, trying to soothe them, “but whether Éva wants to go. We also need to think about what’s best for Max. It can’t be good for him to know his whole family is down here fighting in the middle of the night.”

“Some fights are worth having, even at midnight.” Under her helmet of hair Eszter was resolute.

“How does Tom feel about this?” Gabe asked. “Does he want you to leave?”

“Ask him,” Éva said. “He won’t speak to me.”

“All right. Where is he?” Gabe stood up, coughing. The pain killer he took was a cough suppressant as well. When the coughing returned the pain would soon follow. He felt for the bottle in his pocket. To be on the safe side he stopped in the kitchen and swallowed one of the pills.

He found Tom in the garage, angrily sorting his camping gear. When he saw Gabe he paused for a moment, embarrassed. He had been one of Gabe’s chamber music students when Éva had cried on his shoulder about Gabe’s long absences on quartet’s tours.

“She shouldn’t have dragged you out at this time of night,” Tom said by way of apology.

“She was pretty upset.”

“I guess we all were. It’s not so easy with Eszter and Mattias judging my every move.”

“I can remember,” Gabe said, sympathizing in spite of himself. “They were always protective. And my situation adds a lot to the tension.”

“Yeah, Gabe,” Tom finally looked up. “I’m really sorry about that. I meant to say something, but. . .”

“What can anyone say?” Gabe shrugged. He hadn’t expected even this much from Tom. “Still,” he continued, “it isn’t easy for them. They want to see to their daughter’s security. If I’m not here to provide it, they look to you.”

Tom stopped sorting the camping gear. “Éva knows I never meant for this to be a permanent thing. After you guys split, she was struggling. She didn’t want to ask you for help. I felt sorry for her.” He turned back to the camping equipment. “My folks picked up this house for an investment. I was supposed to keep it in shape and rent it for income until my rock band takes off.” Gabe remembered being invited to hear his chamber music student’s other ensemble. Éva’s enthusiasm had taken him by surprise.

“I never wanted to live out here in the ‘burbs.” Tom looked around the garage as though the building itself were to blame for his troubles. “I just wanted to help her out. Now I have to put up with the mother who orders both of us around and the father who doesn’t speak English and watches TV day and night. I have to do things for Max, but if I say the least little thing—go do your homework, pick up your socks—the three of them come down on me in two languages.” He began stuffing the pile of equipment into a cavernous backpack.

“Her financial situation is far worse now than when she moved in,” Gabe began, trying to ignore the irony of defending his ex-wife to her young boyfriend. “I can hardly pay child support, much less the maintenance she’s used to. Now she’s afraid she’ll come home from my funeral and find her things on the street.”

Head down, Tom continued to work on the backpack. Evidently, Gabe thought, Éva was right to be worried.

“I can’t protect my son from the grave,” Gabe continued. “If you want to break the relationship, do it now so that I can see them make the transition while I’m alive.”

“It’s not that I want to end it,” Tom said, avoiding Gabe’s eye, “but I can’t commit to her the way I would to a wife.” He swung the pack up onto his shoulders, testing the balance and weight. Gabe doubted he could have lifted it even before the cancer.

“I need some freedom,” Tom said, finally meeting his eye. He leaned the loaded pack up against the side of Éva’s car. “I’m clearing out for a few days. When I get back, I’ll keep a low profile until her parents are gone.After that, we’ll see where we are.”

Gabe followed him back into the house. “Éva,” Tom called. “I’m going camping for a few days. What kind of food can I take?” Seizing the opportunity, Gabe went to his mother-in-law in the living room. “You know this is a fragile relationship,” he began, speaking under his breath as though Tom might actually understand them were he to hear. “One little push and you send it over the edge.”

“And what would be wrong with that?” His mother-in-law’s style was as forceful as her stiffly waved hair. Even her prayers were a list of demands.

“Everything. What would she do? She doesn’t make much playing music for weddings. I can’t help her. When I’m gone there will be some government benefits for Max, but almost nothing for her. Would you have her live in a shelter for homeless people?”

“There she could find somebody better than this one.” She bit back a curse.

“I don’t want to see her dragging my son with her from one man to another. If this one is bad, the next one could be a lot worse.” His voice was still soft, but his intensity made Eszter pause.

“They should come home to us,” she said finally. “They could live with us, Max could go to a real school and not this American kindergarten that’s a waste of his time. Immigration!” Éva came to the doorway to see what was going on. “What good has it been? You are sick, she is poor and defenseless without her mother to help her. My grandson is being raised by a man who thinks that burritos are food. He gets drunk. He sits at the table and laughs when nobody’s talking. In the morning when you used to work he staggers around drinking coffee until noon. Feh!” She spat into the crook of her elbow. “Convince her to leave him and bring her son home.”

Gabe drew in a long breath. He had lost track of time, but he knew he had not been up so late for months. “If I die,” it was difficult to form the words, “when that happens, they can go back to live with you if things don’t work out here. But now, in the meantime, I would like to be able to spend what’s left of my life with my son.” Behind him he knew that Éva was listening.

“Eszter,” he took her hand in both of his own. “I beg you, don’t make life impossible for your daughter and this man, or your grandson will suffer. If you have ever loved me,” he paused, watching her face intently. “If you care now about me, don’t put this burden on them. Give her a chance to work things out with Tom. Give them some peace in their home. For my son’s sake. For mine.”

Beside him, under his gaze, his mother-in- law began weeping, and the little gasping sobs were like the ones Éva had wept into the telephone a few hours before. In the lamplight that illuminated their corner of the shadowy room he could see the phantom of Éva’s expression in the grocery store lobby, the mixture of grief and love and dependency that still wrung his heart.

In the upstairs hallway Gabe started switching off lights in the empty bedrooms. From the end of the hall he heard the low murmur of voices in the room Éva’s parents were using. His father-in-law had fallen asleep in front of the TV, lulled by the sound of a language he didn’t understand. The light in Max’s room was on, too, but as he expected his son was asleep. Dimming the rheostat he’d installed when Éva and Max moved in with Tom, he entered his son’s room and stood by the bed. Max, curled on his pillow, smiled in his sleep. Relieved that his son’s sleep was peaceful, Gabe began to relax. He smoothed the quilt around his son’s shoulders. Behind him he heard Éva enter the room.

“What’s this?” she whispered. Gabe turned to look. Max’s half packed suitcase lay open at the foot of the bed. In it he had stuffed most of his clothing, his album of baseball cards, his video games. On the floor next to the suitcase were the video player itself, detached from the basement TV, and the portable CD player Gabe had given him for Christmas.

“What was he doing?” Éva whispered.

“Packing.”

“Why?”

“Probably for the same reason Tom’s filling his backpack.”

The thought of Tom’s leaving distracted her. She took a canteen from Max’s closet and disappeared into the hall.

“Huh?” Max sat up in his bed, mostly asleep.

“Just checking on you,” Gabe said. “Go back to sleep.”

“Daddy? I don’t want to live here anymore.”

“How come?” He sat down beside Max on the side of the bed.

“They’re always fighting.”

“Who?”

“Everyone. There’s too much crying for me.”

“Where will you live then?” He stroked Max’s hair.

“With you. I was packing my things.”

“Who would take care of you if you came to me?”

“You would.”

“You know I’m still sick.”

“Then I could take care of you. I can put things in the microwave. Mom showed me how to make the washing machine work.”

“Is that why they had to call the repair man?” Gabe said, trying to make the earnest boy smile.

“Be serious, Daddy. I want to get out of this place.”

“I’m too sick to take care of you now.” In spite of himself, his answer was serious.

“Couldn’t someone stay with you and take care of us both?”

“Who do you think that might be?” He heard Éva’s footsteps again in the hall. “You have to stay with your mother, Max. I need to live alone right now.”

“Then after you’re well,” he insisted, “then maybe Mommy and I can come live with you. We can take care of each other so that nobody gets sick anymore.”

“That’s enough talk,” Éva said from the doorway. “It’s two in the morning. It’s time to get back to sleep.”

Gabe followed Éva out into the hall and down the stairs. “How much did you hear?” he asked.

“Enough,” she answered. “Gabe, when the time comes, when you can’t manage alone...” She paused at the foot of the stairs.

“I will make the necessary arrangements.” He hoped that his firmness would close the discussion. “Now you need to make yours. Do you think you and Tom can continue? What do you really want to do?”

“Things were OK before my parents got here. Maybe not perfect, but good enough.”

“Then wait until they’re gone. Try to be patient with him for now. I can remember it was not always easy to get along with your mother.”

“But she always loved you.”

“Most of the time, yes, but not every minute.” He shook his head, remembering.

“Is Tom still in the garage?” Gabe opened the connecting door. A blast of cold air blew in from the driveway.

“He’s already gone. He’s going to camp for a few days up in the mountains.”

“In all this snow?”

“He took his winter gear.”

“Why did he take the Honda?”

“The Bronco’s tank is on empty. There’s nowhere to get gas this time of night.”

Gabe heard a small note of doubt in her voice. Tom’s favorite camping places were far off of paved roads.

“OK. When he gets back, sit down and talk to him. See what you can work out.” He yawned. “I’m tired. We all need some sleep.”

“You can stay here if you want to. We have all those rooms.”

“Gabe?” The voice from the top of the stairs was his father-in-law’s.

“I thought you were sleeping,” Gabe said, greeting him.

“I was until someone turned off the TV. What are you doing here at this hour?”

“Éva invited me to the burrito throwing contest.”

“Such a problem, that boyfriend of hers.” He came down the stairs, walking stiffly. His arthritis, Gabe noticed, was becoming worse. “Why did you ever let her get out of your sight?”

“Daddy, you know the marriage was broken a long time ago,” Éva said. “It’s not my fault or Gabe’s, it’s just how things are.”

“You say that, but it still isn’t right. In my time, things were different.”

Gabe didn’t answer. Neither of their parents’ marriages matched Gabe’s idea of a family life.

“I’m going to bed,” Éva said, embracing her father and offering each cheek to Gabe for a parting kiss.

They watched Éva disappear into the downstairs bedroom she and Tom shared.

“Come and sit down.” Mattias took him by the arm and drew him towards the living room. “I want to talk to you seriously, just for a moment.”

“For a short time,” Gabe said, suddenly feeling the weight of the night on his shoulders. “I’ve used the last of my pills.” He held up the empty bottle of pain pills. “For my cough,” he said.

“Éva said you start another round of chemo next week.”

Gabe nodded. “A little different this time. They plan to put a tube in my chest and give me the medicine around the clock. They think it will be more effective.”

“What makes them think that, Gabe?” the old man said gently. “They’ve given you, how many treatments now? Since before Christmas? And what good has it done?”

“For a while it was helpful,” Gabe said. This was a subject he preferred to avoid. “They think this kind of treatment might make the tumors shrink. At the very least they won’t grow as fast. And there’s no other treatment to try.”

“Exactly. There’s no other treatment to try, and this one won’t help you either,” Mattias said bluntly. “You give it a try and you gain what, a month, two months, three? You lose strength, you lose freedom. Éva is breaking down with this guy, this American nothing. Your son can’t even eat his grandmother’s cooking. Put an end to this medical business and come home with us. Tell Éva and Max you want them to come. You can live like you did before this America business. You’ll get my daughter away from this jerk of a boyfriend. Your son will live in a peaceful home. And when you die, you can rest easy knowing Eszter and I will take care of them both.”

“Do you think this is what Éva wants?”

“How can anyone say?” Mattias shrugged. “Every day there’s fighting and crying.”

“If I may say so,” Gabe mused, “before you arrived they were getting along well enough.”

“Eszter has made things worse, it’s true. She’s brought the conflicts out to the surface. But this arrangement between them breaks her heart. He’s not a good man for our daughter.”

“Éva’s the one to decide that. She says she doesn’t want to leave him.”

“Under the circumstances, what else can she say? She has no other place to go. And you, look at your situation,” Mattias said, turning Gabe back to the subject he’d tried to avoid. “You’re living alone when you need someone’s help.”

“I don’t want anyone’s help.” He felt his throat tighten. “I’ll hire someone if I have to, a stranger, someone objective.” He drew in a long breath. “I don’t want to get weak and die in front of the people I’ve loved.”

Mattias looked at him. “Gabe,” he shook his head sadly. “This is not realistic. I saw your mother in the last stages. You weren’t there at the end. You don’t know what it was like.” He stopped, his face full of sorrow.

Even then, when his mother was dying, he’d been on tour with the quartet. He felt the guilt stab like the pain in his side.

“I’ll have to find some other way,” he said finally. “I’ll try the chemo pump, and if I’m lucky it will buy me more time.”

“You won’t come home with us?” Mattias shook his head sadly.

Gabe looked away from his father-in-law, across the dark room. Under the influence of the pain killer, bowed down by fatigue, by the futility of his best efforts, what could he say? In the darkest corner of the shadowy room he found no answer.

“I want to finish up as I’ve planned it,” he said at last. “If this new treatment fails, I’ll make arrangements that give the smallest amount of trouble to everyone.”

After his father-in-law went up to bed, Gabe circled the rooms of the sleeping house, turning off lights. When the last one was out, he set the lock on the front door and let himself out through the open garage. He found the switch for the light but not the one for the overhead door. Too tired to look further, he went to his car.

The headlights made the pavement glisten under the veil of frost. He drove forward and circled the cul de sac at the end of the street, then he followed his own tracks back towards the house full of his sleeping relatives. The garage door was still open, but he had no remote control to shut it. The Honda had left tracks in the frost as well, and, alone on the street, he followed their parallel tracings into the dark.

Jean Esteve

Oregon

Salem is the capital of Oregon.
Its streets make a grille.
Every fourth block contains a church
of one denomination or another
surrounded by its own parking lot
in turn circled by a phalanx
of rustic machine-lettered signs
stating all cars not lawfully parked
shall be towed away at owner’s expense.

If you turned a plat map of Salem on its face,
a network of steeples would gouge the good earth,
pointing crosses into its fiery hollow center.
Automobiles, whether culpable or sanctified,
would hurtle to molten anonymity.

A road trudges from Salem west,
boring a tunnel through the deep woods
until it comes to dunes. There stops.
In a shallow cave hand-scooped from sand
huddled a harem of Christ’s brides
boiling mussels over a wispy fire.
Blue half-circles underscored their eyes,
yet each smiled,

inviting me to share the orange meat.
They were waiting, they explained, for happiness.
It pleased them to be waiting for such.

The meal was tough and stuck between my teeth
though it tasted wonderfullly of undersea.
I wanted then to leave. They warned me of the beach.
“Full of sinkholes,” they chorused, “known to swallow horses!”
so convincing an image that I stayed,
became a mussel-gatherer, grew blue beneath my eyes,
waiting for happiness, and here am I today.

Steve Cleveland

The Gold that Falls onto the Table

It’s okay to take the gold
that falls onto the table.

Don’t try to calculate
your unworthiness,

or you’ll miss
this sunlight pouring through the window.