A love-struck artist crept out in the moonlight
when the streets were quiet. He crouched
near one of the concrete barriers
circling the park, the exact location where
the incident had occurred, and stenciled the words
SAW YOUR BEAUTIFUL EYES HERE
in navy capitals.
The proper city authorities dispersed
within the month, blasting
chips of color from the wall with water.
Content, the workers wound up their hoses,
loaded their truck, and puttered away.
That was a year ago
The Johnsons started it all with the fountain, a marble statue of an embracing fish and woman. It was nearly two stories tall. When I first saw it I regretted living alone. We’re talking erotic. The paperboy paled when he pedaled by on his ten-speed. I could hear him swallow from my breakfast nook. The fish shared his frightened expression, the wide-eyed terror of someone trapped. The woman gripped the fish relentlessly, her lips parted in lust. Her manhole-sized nipples bore down on us like great eyeballs. It was a challenge. A velvet glove cast at our feet. We turned critical eyes onto our own yards.
The valley is not lonely
without me. I have made
my own winter pathway,
cold and uncertain, to a waterfall
that does not care whether I
witness its falling, that gives
its cascade to sky alone. What gift
to break like that. To be broken even
before the crash. I want
to be split and to fall
without ceasing, not knowing
how to rise. To lie down
and keep on lying
Get your copy of RiverLit 15!
Writing by Sharma Shields, Kathryn Smith, Beth Cooley, Laura Kaminski, Luke Baumgarten, Brooke Matson, Ceilan Hunter-Green, Diane Sahms-Guarnieri
Art by Austin Stiegemeier. Comics by Sam Mills and Joshua Covey.
He made two hot egg sandwiches, carried them upstairs to her bedroom on a wooden cutting board, two sunny-side ups over mixed greens and a slice of ham. Buttered toast wasn't good enough.
"Don’t go away again," she hissed, dentures crunching through the thick layers as she lay between downy blankets, sleeping cap covering red dyed curls. "Don’t leave me like your father did." She coughed, wiped the crumbs from her pursed lips with a paper napkin, her pinkie held in the air like a queen.
"Don’t worry." He glanced at his watch. How long before the arsenic takes effect?
Noah says it again slowly, from the beginning: if he were a superhero and he were fighting a boss—or, not a boss, like, a supervillain—he couldn’t beat, he’d call in Batman over Superman.
"Bruce Wayne's parents got killed. He's angry. You have to be... like... really strong to get over stuff like that. Mentally strong." And plus, Noah says, Batman’s just human. He isn’t super- anything, so he always has to be smarter than whoever he’s fighting. Superman’s never had to outsmart anybody. “He can’t be beat,” Noah concludes, “so he wouldn’t know what to do with someone who could beat him.” Against a foe as powerful as the one we’re imagining, Superman would go down and never get back up.
I stop walking and face Noah. He takes his hand off the joystick and turns his head to look up at me out of the corner of his eye.
I say, “Superman is a goddamned invincible alien, Noah. He has eye lasers.”
cracking the boughs of my neighbor’s pines
with your light—your first appearance
in what feels like months
Let me stand in my bathrobe,
one foot in the pantry,
the other in the kitchen, and lean
to the left
so your silken fire
finds my irises
An act of hope—I’d overcome
my teenage embarrassment
and dread at the Five and Dime
to buy a pack of Trojans,
and stuck one in my pocket that night,
that Friday night when, despite
there being not a girl in sight,
I’d hoped, as young men do, I might
get lucky after the football game,
or at halftime even, and win
the lose-your-virginity lottery—
and here was my ticket.
After it’s done, perfume of new
mown grass wafts to my bedroom
window which I’ve opened for this;
comes a bliss of lacy numbness.
But while it droned, the mower blocked
all other sounds from the house—
no crying baby, no staccato siblings
or playing horse in the driveway,
no canned laughter
spilling out into the living
room like cheap wine.
He searched by touch and found the GI Joe called Snake Eyes on his back with one leg buried up to the hip and his body bent around it in an excruciating way. He plucked Snake Eyes from the ground and washed away the soil and laid hands on the figure the way he had laid hands on Sally Martin when he made her knee better.
Tommy tended to each of his flock in turn—Gung Ho, Wild Bill, Ripcord—removing them from the mud and laying them in repose while he tended to their wounds. Cover Girl and Snow Job proved difficult. Snow Job was completely buried, and Tommy only found him by the invisible hand of God, which guided the boy the way it had guided him to Jami Reynolds, unconscious in a drainage culvert in the the woods past the hole in the play field fence. Cover Girl was bent in half and Tommy healed her back the way he had helped Andy Cummins feel his hands and feet again after diving head first through the hole at the top of the jungle gym.
i. You are the one solid the spaces lean on, envious—
your son, your father, your husband—
they were elusive as ether, and you were the fire
eating the dark in which they left you.
I take the first antidepressant of winter
and sit alone in my apartment,
watching the fire’s wavering wings,
and wait for you to rise.
Might I just explain to her how this happens from time to time? Might I just tell her this: "Look, you will meet four or five men in your life that you could commit to and be happy with. It's all about timing. When the time is right take the one who appears next and stick to him. And if it works, don't be wooed by the next one. Because the next one will come. This thing we've got happens sometimes. I felt it before my wife once; twice since I married her; and now with you. Our chemistry comes and goes. But if you act on it every time you end up alone. It's a metaphysical rule or something. I've seen it happen."
For some reason I can't say those words, Joseph reflected. Too personal. Those revelations come after having tasted her lips, after the tempest of your bodies has blown away all mental barriers. Then you truly connect. Then you share such intimacies.
They never get it right. A stranger will always cross your path. The lines in your palm say you have a choice—you can go left and find love, or go right and play Pick-Up-Sticks with chaos and/or hardship. It's always Either/Or. If you're a man, your Satin Doll will be all holy days, spicy, gorgeous, prick-ready, to "die for." She's your virgin, double-wedding ring girl, but a tigress. Believe this: she'll love your birth sign, savor your mayo-mustard Subway (which she hates), even dare to ride Coney Island's cyclone.
I have yet to survey the Irish grit
of my grandmother’s hands, to ask after her first
stumbles with needle and thread—the awkward outline
of butterflies drifting the pillowcase. I’ve struggled
to conjure the deftness of her youthful fingers
thrust between the thorns, as she ate blackberries
straight from the bramble. Now I wish I’d memorized
her tenor of silence or chanced being the grandchild
crouched at the crack in the kitchen door
[...] Leslie shows up in a dirty white tee shirt, size XXXL, that says Pig Farmers Never Starve, and of course no bra, which means her boobs are playing rugby with each other whenever she moves, and she’s holding a Bucket O’ Soda, because a Big Gulp isn’t big enough. And she’s with her boyfriend Andrew—her husband Dave’s away in prison for armed robbery. Andrew, a good old boy from Autaugaville, Alabama with a face like a vanilla Moon Pie, weighs 300 pounds and is not wearing a shirt.
It’s too hot for a shirt, Dolly, he whines, flexing his chest muscles to make his breast tattoos shimmy.
From RiverLit No. 11
A honeybee stung him and he dreamed
of caves deep beneath the Earth,
ballads of silk and honey,
sweet oil that burned an eternal fragrance,
and two amorphous shapes battling,
the every contour of one
the exact opposite of the other.
"And they never even touched."
From RiverLit No. 10