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by Kathleen Sullivan
Each spring I find them lying there like the bones
of ancestors insistent on returning home.
Blue and white shards of English china—
a dark blue willow branch with feathery leaves,
a gate into a meadow, a castle, fragments
of the lives of women who, like me,
gardened here, watched for their husbands
to come ‘round the curve in the cove,
for children to come in from roaming
the marshes, combing the gullies.
Women who cooked here, used their best china
for parties, died here, their broken plates thrown
on the rubbish heap beside the barn
that long ago burned down.
Gathering up the pieces the frost
worked upwards, I wash off the glacial clay,
have a little conversation with Ann Porter, one of the
women who called this house home two hundred
years ago. Mrs. Porter, I say, did Captain Samuel Porter,
your husband, discover this china deep in the hold
of one of the18 British trading ships
he captured in the war of 1812? Did he think
of you, bring them home lashed to the deck
of the Dash, his ship, the fastest privateer in the fleet?
Did you love this house too?
Do you remember what is was like
when the ice went out of the cove in April,
and in the air the yellow finches rose
and fell over the marsh?
She never answers, she’s much too shy
but I like to think she can hear me,
and I show her my wedding china:
green and burgundy flowers on a cream background,
a shiny gold rim still circling the edges,
not a chip after 40 years.
Tomorrow I will walk into the dining room,
pile cups and plates on a tray,
smash them on the stone patio,
then bury them deep in the ground under the rose bush
and the blue lace hydrangeas.
Some day, another woman, also gardening
will come upon a broken
cup, its burgundy roses still blooming,
gather the pieces up in her apron,
carry them into the house,
set them down in the kitchen, and over tea
ask about my gardens, my children, my husband,
then show me around the old place before she drops
me into a bowl on the table with all the other mistresses.
(Kathleen lived at 4 Porters Landing, the house that inspired this poem, from 1974 to 2015)
My cellphone deficit disorder
by Sam Smith
Watching a woman pull her bag from the train overhead bag compartment, stuff some papers into it and make her way to the door – all the time never removing her bent head from the cellphone stuck between it and her shoulder, I noticed that she at no point opened her mouth. She might have been listening to a podcast or her favorite aria, but there was absolutely no reaction to whatever sound was emanating from the object.
The incident occurred not long after I had been alternately fascinated and beleaguered by a guy on another cellphone who hardly ever stopped talking between Boston and Newark.
It all raised a question that I have not dared to ask publicly for fear it might reveal a piece of personal paranoia. But in such cases I wonder: what if there is no one on the other end of the phone?
Could that explain the explosion of people in America who seem to have so many more friends, clients and business partners than I?
And if they really are talking to real people why do they not smile, frown, or look puzzled? Why do they say so little?
The ones who fascinate me the most are the couples who get off a plane or a train and immediately turn away from each other, start staring at their cellphones, and lose all reference to their physical partner. What’s going on? Are they checking in with their secret lovers?
Even before cellphones, I had enjoyed watching people in public places seriously attempting to look serious, especially when they’re walking. Their speed, determination, eye focus and don’t interfere with me look sets them apart. I sometimes want to go up and ask them what time it is but I’m afraid I might be charged with assault.
And so I just watch them silently, an inferior, friendless person without purpose in life waiting for a train while they speed on to their 2:30 pm appointment.
“My Cellphone Deficit Disorder,” by Sam Smith. Used by permission.
by Gar Roper
Pete saw things other people didn’t. I don’t mean to say he suffered hallucinations. No, he just saw things that others missed. I always knew that this friend of mine was different, and that was at least part of what drew me to him. In conversation, we would be going along normally, discussing, say, baseball and out of the blue he’d say, “I hope I get to visit Haiti someday,” and I would have no clue where the remark came from until two or three days later when he’d remark, “Remember George Holmes? He opened a baseball factory in Haiti and has done right well for himself.” Now I understood where Pete’s train of thought had gone leading to his comment about visiting Haiti.
This summer Pete and I decided we’d take a trip to see Paris. We flew out on a Friday night on the 10 PM flight and arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport about 6 AM the next morning. We took a cab from there downtown to a small hotel we had booked located not far from the Eiffel Tower. Due to jet lag were both exhausted and went to bed at this early morning hour. I slept for about four and half hours then got up and wrote a letter home to my wife. Pete slept-in another hour before he woke up. “I am so totally excited about getting to know Paris,” he remarked as he searched around the room for a light jacket he had brought along. “Let’s head out for a walk.” Pete fairly danced, as he waited for me to gather up my camera equipment, my Paris guidebooks, a walking stick, and my beret. “Come on, come,” he flexed his hands open and closed.
“Where we off to,” I asked. “You haven’t even looked in the guidebook.”
“I know exactly what I want to see.” And with that Pete headed out the door toward the elevator. He jammed the button with his forefinger repeatedly and when the elevator finally arrived, he dashed inside. When the door opened in the lobby he bolted out and then raced to a comfortable lounge chair and sat down.
“Pete, I thought you wanted to go out and see the sights.”
“Yes but I want to get oriented first.”
“You want to look at the guidebook?”
“No, I just want a moment.
Pete sat there quietly for several minutes, then said “Okay, ready to go.”
“Where to?” I asked assuming that Pete now had a destination in mind.
“Wherever. Lead on.”
Not knowing what to do, I decided to have us head over toward the Eiffel Tower. When we got there Pete sat down on the bench. I asked him, “Don’t you want to go up in the tower?”
“I’m fine, you go ahead.”
The line to go up in the Eiffel Tower was quite long and by the time I made it to the head of the line, went up the tower, looked out over the marvelous view of Paris spread out below me, and then returned to Pete about an hour and 20 minutes passed. “You missed it.”
“The panoramic view of Paris!”
“Hmm, not really.” Smiling broadly, Pete suggested we go to dinner.
We had a wonderful dinner at a small restaurant near the Seine and then retired early to our hotel. “What shall we do tomorrow, Pete?”
Early the next morning, around 6 AM Paris time, Pete and I were both up and wide-awake. We were clearly not fully accommodated to the new time but we saw no point in delaying our day’s adventure.
“Let’s have breakfast at that same café where we had dinner.” It was Pete’s suggestion and I was pleased because it seemed to indicate that Pete was getting into the tourists spirit.
“Good idea,” I responded, “and after breakfast we can cross the river and see what’s up on the left bank.”
From the café there was a nice view of the Notre Dame Cathedral. “Ah, Paris. Ah, Paris,” Pete enthused.
Breakfast of crepes was delicious and after paying the server, we headed out across the bridge. As we walked we decided that we would split up and in that way allow for each of us to explore in our own manner and then return back again after three hours. At the terminus of the bridge there was a bench along the sidewalk where Pete took a seat. Looking quizzically at Pete, I announced, “Well I’m off to Muse Dorsay. Are you all set, Pete?”
“All set!” Pete gave me a big wave.
Almost to the minute for our three hour designated exploration, I came back to the bench by the bridge. Pete was standing there gazing toward the Notre Dame. “I hope you haven’t been standing here the whole time.” I remarked struggling to keep some exasperation out of my voice.
“No, no, not standing the whole time. I’ve been sitting most of the time.”
I looked at Pete incredulously. “You’ve done it again.”
“Gone nowhere. Done nothing. Missed Paris!”
“Oh, no,” Pete exclaimed. “I’ve gotten an excellent look at Paris. I saw a nun leading seven schoolchildren each one taller than the child before her and the last one taller than the nun herself. I watched a young couple walk across the bridge with arms around their waists, stopping after two steps to kiss then preceding two more steps, then stopping again to kiss once again. In fact the two are still there standing on the bridge just looking out, kissing then looking out again. I saw man dressed in a suit and carrying an ornate cane which he raised over his head and waved here and there as he loudly declaimed in agitated French something of which I have no clue. I saw a fashionably dressed middle-aged woman walking, naturally, a French poodle. I saw a man on a bicycle with six baguettes tucked under his arm each seeming to be struggling to work its way free, while the man on the bicycle wove precariously in and out of traffic. I watched any number of taxicabs propel themselves down the boulevard on the strength of their horn and their fist waved out of the window. I actually saw a great deal more but suffice it to say that I certainly feel that I have seen the quite wonderful sampling of the sights of Paris.
“Seeing Paris,” by Gar Roper. Used by permission.
by Mark Evans
The large brass bell atop the town hall calls the archers to the field. Several times a year the village holds a contest allowing we, the archers, to put our skills to the test. The rewards are like that of many contests, money and prestige.
The field upon which the contest is held stretches out far into the distance. Excited villagers come to cheer and watch the competition.
Targets are placed incrementally farther and farther away from the shooters line. The rewards for hitting them become more lucrative the greater the distance they are away. Some targets are so close it is almost absurdly easy to strike them. The archers risk very little in aiming at these. The rewards are as minimal as the risk. They are considered safe and reliable, but no glory or cheers will be heard from placing your arrows into them. Some archers choose this target not willing to risk their precious arrows. Better to have won something than to have risked, and come away with nothing. It is also a favored target of those with bows of poor design, or an arm without the strength to pull the string far enough to reach the greater distances.
The next targets are smaller and father away. You need more skill, strength, and experience to hit these. Sometimes though, even the weaker participants will find luck on their side. They will win the prize that was actually beyond their real skill. This line of targets has, of course, much more reward. This is why less skilled archers are willing to risk taking aim at them. The better archers will often shoot for the middle distances. The jingling of coin in their pockets attests to their skill.
The farthest target is way off almost out of sight. The reward for hitting it is staggering. Perhaps only one archer in ten years of contest will claim this prize. That is not to say that it is not shot upon regularly. Many an archer will waste an arrow if he feels his quiver is adequately supplied to warrant such a risk. The young and foolish often shoot at this one, only to watch the arrows fall short. They do not even understand the limits of their strength and accuracy, until they are humbled in front of the crowd. Oh what a spectacle when an arrow hits this lofty mark. The wealth, glory, and fame are intoxicating. The stories and songs that fill the tavern after this triumph will be spoken of for years to come. This is why so many archers are willing to take aim at it.
The contest is about to commence. My turn will not come until long into the afternoon. My strategy has been to play it very safe for several years. This time however, I will set my goals upon the middle row. Oh I may land a few, just to be safe, in the closest ones, but I am more ambitious today.
I watch one by one as the other contestants stand before the crowd and shoot their arrows. The first participant is a wealthy man whose quiver is full to the brim. Those wealthy enough to afford more arrows have much more opportunity to be successful. He has no reason to play it safe. He does not shoot any arrows at the close safe targets. His aim is at the middle distance, of which he often hits. With his wealth and skill, he also shoots plenty of arrows at the farthest mark. It is of little consequence to him. Already he has plenty of gold from the middle distances. Try as he might though, he does not strike the farthest target, even though he shoots many arrows at it. He is much more interested in prestige than money at this point. The onlookers enjoy his attempts, but there is little excitement because he is expected to shoot for this prize. His turn is done, and he has used is brimming quiver to brim his pockets as well.
Then next archer approaches. This archer is well known for their skill, only they have very few arrows in their quiver. One after another the closer targets are struck. Disappointed looks pass among the audience. Such a skilled archer, and yet they take the safe and easy path. The onlookers show little respect for this archers careful use of what little resource they have. The crowd lives for excitement, all the while they are not risking anything themselves. The audience did not come here to see safe, they have come here to see glory.
It is now my time to stand before the range. As I approach the shooting line, I take notice of a young man standing very close by. He is well know about our village. Dirty and disheveled, his appearance displays his fate. He has no family or means of prosperity. Like the other archers, he has a bow, but in his quiver, there is not a single arrow. He seems strong and able. I am sure he could muster enough ability to hit the closest targets, if only he was given an opportunity.
Time after time I launch a salvo into the middle and closer targets. I have lost a few arrows, but for the most part, I am quite successful. I reach down one last time and feel the rough and misshapen shaft of my last arrow. It is old and week, but it is probably good enough to fly to the nearest marks. Instead of placing the arrow to my string, I turn and with a self righteousness place it in the poor man hands. I smile and beam as if I had just saved the mans life. The crowd cheers and waves their approval of my generosity.
A hush comes over the field. All eyes watch as this final archer places the crooked arrow into the bow. All know he can not afford to shoot at any but the closest target. We fully expected him to take aim at the nearest goal and earn his pittance. Then hopefully he’d return the favor and thank me for my kindness.
Before anyone had time to think, the man pulls the bow full back with all his might, then lets fly his arrow. I thought for sure the paltry shaft would shatter with the force. His intention is for the farthest target. Not a breath could be heard as everyone watched his arrow in flight.
The village will never forget this day. The poorest archer taking his only opportunity, and shooting his arrow risking it for all, or nothing. Maybe he will be rich, or maybe he will not. The one thing we know is, he risked more than anyone this day.
The question your going to ask is, did his arrow find its way, or did it fail to achieve? To tell you the truth, it does not matter. The only thing that really matters is why the arrow’s owner chose to send it on this course.
© Mark A Evans 1/20/2016. Used by permission.