L. B. Sedlack

The Blue Curtain

The ER is different

than I remember

the waiting room divided

by sheets of plastic

and the myriad of

questions

do you have a fever

have you been tested

have you been around

anyone who tested positive

do you have chills

loss of taste

these questions asked at

the door, at the check in

counter by the nurse

who wheels my Mom back

behind the blue curtain

and asked again by the

phlebotomist and finally

by the admissions clerk

these questions ringing in my

ears like bullets to the head

we sit and wait behind the

blue curtain

and I am not Oz

we are not in Kansas

there’s no red heeled clicks

to save us here

the shoes, their shoes are

all different colors

(red, purple, white)

but the uniforms all

blue, dark or sky

I sit in the room

behind the blue curtain

on a blue chair

while my Mom lays

on blue sheets

enduring needle pricks

and blood draws

over and over

I count the number of 

blue gloves on the wall

the screens flicker numbers

I don’t understand

and it is quiet except for

the hum of machines

and the ambulance calls

to the center of the room

I have a patient

has a fever 

has tested positive

can I bring her in

they tell him NO

NO the Covid hall is full

I sit double masked

sunglasses on to protect

my eyes from “it”

and read poetry

every book I have

(I didn’t bring enough books)

and I write a few

lines

enduring the myriad of

people appearing and disappearing

from behind the blue curtain.

L.B. Sedlacek’s latest poetry books are “The Poet Next Door” (Cyberwit Press), “The Architect of French Fries” (Presa Press), and “Words and Bones” (Finishing Line Press.) Her first short story collection, “Four Thieves of Vinegar & Other Short Stories” was published in February 2020 by Alien Buddha Press. LB’s poems have appeared in numerous journals and zines as “Adelaide Literary Magazine,” “Harbinger Asylum” “Cloudbank,” “Dash Literary Journal,” “Pure Francis,” “The Broad River Review,” “Mastodon Dentist” and others. Her short fiction has been published in such places as “October Hill” and “The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.” She teaches poetry at local elementary and middle schools, publishes a free resource for poets “The Poetry Market Ezine,” and was Poetry Editor for “ESC! Magazine.” LB also enjoys swimming, reading, and playing the ukulele.

Ian Bishop

I Spy

In lock-down there is nowhere to hide. You can keep going to the shops, well yes, but when you get there everyone is watching everyone else. Keep your distance! Imagine a spy in lock-down. No freedom to suddenly blend into a crowd, to push through passengers on a platform, hide on the train then walk out into another city, or perhaps onto the train, but–straight out the other side–into those gathered to travel in the opposite direction, go with that flow, or move on out of the station altogether, free at last, the tail having lost your trail. 

    The children and I have been playing I Spy. One o’clock, on the dot: beans on toast, a cheese sandwich, a piece of savoury pie. To follow: an apple or banana, or a biscuit, if there’s one left. My drink is tea and the children suck juice through straws. We never I Spy our food, or our clothes, or the second floor balcony where we sit. Every lunchtime we sit and eat and we paint the picture out there.

     T is for tree. P is for pavement. L is for leaves. R is the road that runs down the side of the square. S is for seeds, scattered over the pavement – the flying kind, little pairs of wings. S is also for the square. P is for parking. B is for bird: where? It was there, you missed it! 

     I try to weave silent letters into our game.

     M is for moorish architecture. P is for politician. There is of course not one in the square, but I was plagued by I is for inconceivable; how the pandemic caught us up and will leave us go.

     The children see her, they said she was K: K for key worker; but by the time they’d said that, she was gone. 

     W is for woman. 

     W is for window! The square is boarded on three sides by flats with windows. S is for sun reflected in the windows, splashing in their eyes. R is for rubbish, cylindrical bins, stainless steel and placed around the pattern of the square. C (every now and again) is for: Oh there’s a car! R is red car. B is blue. G is for grey.

     W is for woman. T is for tall. C is for her coat, heavy for the time ofyear. W is for walk. S is forscarf. Some lunchtimes it’s wrapped around her face.

     R is for rain. T is for tree. S is for pavement covered in seeds. The flying kind. 

     F is for a foggy moorland cottage. A woman in long skirts is huddled proud and punished, her face has a cold look yet glows like a stove. She stays with her husband in the cottage. It is a romantic scene. Romance helps us cope with such bitter weather; there are always hidden hearts in a landscape so barren. Perhaps romance is born from drudgery. A life without letup needs to find some way of being a lighter 

     Being. Although it is the relation of the husband and wife that is 

     Bitter – as well as the weather that hangs over the distant crags, swirls in the early morning, unfurls its news of the growl that lives in the mountains.

     W! W! W! The children shout, but I’m slow on the uptake. Anyway it’s a false alarm – a repeat I spy. They gaze and munch, always on the lookout.

     In freezing weather she pulls her shawl tight. The cover makes it difficult to see her stoicism as shut away she breaths, walks the moorlands, while her husband is working. He attacks her body with his constant work, his inwardness. Cattle get fed – yet in the cottage the woman cooks the food and makes the beds – could he not have put a handful of straw down for her –  cleaned the latrine, sloshed a bucket of water against the moorland stones? During medieval times cattle lived inside and helped with warmth. The cottage on the foggy moorland holds onto its hard frost, even though the woman kept a fire burning day and night.

     She starts to sketch on stones with flint, sometimes scraps of paper she’d stolen – along with a pencil – from her husband’s table. Then, after the couple move to the city, she becomes a painter, finds herself acquainted with an art dealer who has a voracious passion for her still-life.

     Her husband sits and shrugs, still working, knowing in the larger way of things nothing untoward could ever happen to him or to the world in which he lives. 

     His wife has other ideas.

     One morning a lawman calls and serves the husband legal papers. 

     The woman is therein bound to live a single life, until the courts have ruled. She gazes at her lover from the back of a horse-drawn cab, as if it is forever, goodbye.

     C! – C! – I’ve got one. C is for clouds! 

     Oh yes! There – clouds – visible just, through the canopy of trees and the shelter of the tall buildings. 

     Pleased to have found a new piece to our picture, we clear the dishes and go inside. 

Ian Bishop teaches Philosophy and English in schools and colleges in Kent UK. His work has been published in Orbis, Interpreter’s House, Adelaide Literary magazine.

Sophie Amado

Talking Houses

Did you hear that? The houses are talking. 

They didn’t used to. Or rather, they were less chatty. A few homes showcased signs in their windows of rainbow colors or pinks and blues to denote LGBTQA allies. When I was younger, there was a sign with a dog in a detective coat letting children know if they needed help they’d be safe in that particular home. Signs bearing messages like “Hate has no home here” in seven different languages are pinned for a sidewalk passer to view. “We Call Police” signs demonstrate a kind of warning, a visible household dynamic. Every political season, last names show up on yards or in windows to denote favor. 

Not all houses talked. Just like not all cars are decorated with bumper stickers of uncouth messages such as DTF or Honk if You’re High. The talky houses and cars were typically people who wanted to flaunt their viewpoints, stage humor. 

My mother told me it was unsafe to adorn your house or car with signals, connotations, like posting a sign in the yard that says, “Home of a Bobcat” immediately is an indicator that you have a high school student in your house. Or car stickers of stick figures that aim to mirror the actual number of members in your family are types of clues my parents certainly wouldn’t want known to the public. Who needs to see that information in a world that is already too intertwined and unsafe? But I always enjoyed the things to look at as my homes and cars remained quiet. 

Now more than ever, though, I see signs or decorations on houses shouting silent encouragements, like “We’re All in This Together,” or “Smile,” or other directives.  

I never thought about houses talking before. Now, they have a lot to say. 

But sometimes they don’t talk. Sometimes there is just the adornment of a lopsided rainbow that a parent proudly hung up for pedestrians to see, a piece of art from their child. Or there’s a painting of a flower from an at-home art project flaunting itself in the window. There’s this cliché about how a picture stocks a thousand words but I find the images in the windows more cryptic because they are less political, almost as if to say, “Take me as you will,” or simply, “My child did this.” Something for a walker to view as they leave their home briefly for an errand.

While stuck working from home or staying inside, we’ve transitions from the political talky houses kind of people to encouraging everyone to post visuals on front lawns and windows. Balloons by the dozen curl along home railings as though yelling that it’s someone’s birthday. Some people have put out of place holiday blow up decorations on the front lawn just for fun. The class of 2020 is united by their urge to stay home yet they still seek the recognition they deserve. More signs are posted for celebratory reasons and recognition as the world locked itself up during a global pandemic, demonstrating how much humans seek attention, normalcy during times of uncertainty, and, in my opinion, perform small acts of kindness as we navigate new territories. My city’s mayor is frequently found peeking out of windows via a life-sized cardboard cutout or her figure printed on paper as if to say, “Don’t be here right now. Stay inside.” A few months ago, seeing her in the windows would have been rather odd. Now, she’s a figure of rules and regulation.  

Restaurant windows are the chattiest, begging passersby to order take out. To go beers, to go food, to go cocktails, to go specials, to go courses, to go growlers, to go hand sanitizers. Yes, we’re open. 

Restaurant window talk is a more familiar entity. Prior to covid-19, the windows lured you in with open signs or signs of what beer is on draft or the allure of their signature quesadilla pizza or home of the giant bloody mary topped off with a whole chicken. But these days, the signs I see are there as if to say, “Help us or we’re doomed.” 

The windows of my apartment are empty. I’ve been thinking about if I should place something there, but my mother’s reserved German roots nag at me. Keep your politics to yourself. Don’t share too much about yourself before getting to know someone. In these times, though, it feels like I should place something for someone to view in a similar fashion of how I smirk when I see a sign of reassurance or applauding medical professionals, much like how cities now pause at 8:00 pm and clap to motivate nurses and doctors. I mull this over, what to place there, because what one posts in their own window, in any kind of time, feels like it says a lot about the self, just like how outfits are an outward flaunt of style. 

When I see something deliberately placed on someone’s house, even now when it’s more common, I wonder what’s happening inside the house. Perhaps the someone who posted a “Hate has no home here” sign, meant to encourage immigrants that they are welcomed in a country that so often doesn’t welcome them, is living in a home inhabiting an abusive spousal relationship they cannot very well escape while the world is on hold. Or someone with a “Stay Home” sign visible for outsiders may be someone making up their own rules and not following guidelines. I think I’m using the signs as a distraction for all the horrible ways the world is being affected right now. When I see a sign telling me to smile, which in real life is a command that when spoken aloud to me I find repulsive and sexist, I do smile and don’t put my focus on the unemployment rate, the number of people sick and dying, the domestic abuse facing many victims, violent racism, the lack hope in this world. Rather, I hope the person who posted something reassuring or pleasant is placing it there to make me realize that this too shall pass, is a visible demonstration of the good left in this overly connected and chaotic world. 

I find myself remembering and fixating on the rainbow picture painted by someone’s child. 

Activism is defined as campaign to create political or social change. A five-year-old distracting himself with art to distract us from unpleasantries can suddenly feel like a moment of activism in a world in which we are adjusting.  

What is going on inside the talking houses? And what pulses people to post things on their homes or cars? Perhaps it’s as simple as a small act of activism, to bring recognition to something we’re all traversing, connecting homes and neighbors and strangers, and to realize a message we’ve all heard but often forget: we are not alone.  

Sophie Amado graduated with her MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing at Columbia College Chicago, where she taught undergraduate writing and rhetoric. In 2014, she received a Fulbright grant to Madrid, Spain to teach English to high school students. Her work has appeared in The Rumpus, Gravel Magazine, and more.

Thomas Elson

Breath from Strangers

His hands trembled as he reached for a shopping cart. He had avoided life for the past five weeks. Now, wherever he looked there were threats. He saw it in the way people veered to the left or the right. He saw it in their eyes. 

Past sliding doors into an open area designed to protect customers from winter blasts and summer bursts. He walked around stacks of bottled water, boxes of mac and cheese, and sugared cereal, then to a second set of doors. Clerks who had once smiled now resembled bank robbers – their faces covered and eyes swerving. One employee pointed to a sign. 

  • Stand here.
  • Hold out your hands.

A glob of cold gel descended. 

  • Rub your hands together.
  • Have a good day.

There were new rules: Don’t look but stay alert. Eyes down but see what’s in front or sneaking up behind you. No contact. Avoid the other. Don’t touch. Don’t even let them breathe on you.

Follow the signs. Brightly colored cards with bold print. Words. Sentences. Decals. 

  • Stop. 
  • Do not move forward until called.
  • Only two people beyond this point. 

The decals on the floor echoed the signs.

  • Wait.
  • Stand back.
  • Stand here.

More words on signs and decals.

  • Don’t …
  • You are required to …
  • Always …
  • Remember …
  • Wait until …

Unspoken rules: Avert. Veer. Dodge. Unmentioned rules he had internalized years earlier. Behaviors so ingrained they seemed autonomic. When a familiar face approaches – Stay alert! Should a friend draw near – Be on guard. If a child runs by – Beware. A sneeze, a touch, a rushed exhalation – A problem. Other folks – all folks really – threats, menaces, oppressors maybe, or just something to fear as if dodging bullets or knife thrusts.

The smell of disinfectant blanketed the produce aisle. Fresh produce on the right, pies and cakes on the left, meat counter farther down across from the bread and just before the frozen seafood, then turn left.

  • Is the pharmacy open? 

Go straight ahead. All the way to the other end and turn left at the milk. Pharmacy at the very end. He walked as if in a fog – cautious, eyes alert, then, at the final moment, mirror the person oncoming and glance away.  

Past the cereal and prunes, he sighted the coffee section. He had stocked up on everything except caffeine.  

A family of four rounded the corner bunched together. They didn’t stray from one another as in the past, when a husband without the grocery list would mutter items as he wandered to the next aisle while his wife looked at the coffee and their children lagged behind, or ran away to be found later in the candy aisle pleading for some brightly wrapped item. 

Walk around the mother, avoid the children, turn head, nod at the father, pretend to look at the coffee pods so his back would be turned when the father passed. 

Remain wary of simple touches from those who may have brushed another. He felt intimidated by slight coughs, bullied by breath from strangers. There were asymptomatic carriers everywhere. Cut right, then left as people approached. Zig, then zag. Go straight. Be elusive. Be alert. Recognize pattern. See the gap. Find the hole. Breakaway. Move forward. Stay alert. Repeat. 

He approached the pharmacy, refills in hand, ready to repeat words said innumerable times when he needed prescription refilled. 

What he saw, he had worked to forget. The pharmacy tech in a blue uniform, name tag prominent, cloth over mouth and nose, voice muffled. His reflection in an acrylic u-shaped barrier – a thirty-inch-high splash guard with a six-inch ledge separating person from person from the threat each carried. 

He read the same words as years earlier, when, after months, he was taken from a  small room – a tomb really, led through narrow hallway into smaller rooms with concrete walls, and a window with a ledge. He was directed to wait on the opposite side of the window where a man in a blue uniform, insignia and badge prominent, raised his hand and pointed to a sign.

  • Do not move forward until called.

His hands trembled.

THE END

Thomas Elson’s short stories, poetry, and flash fiction have been published in numerous venues such as Calliope, Pinyon, Lunaris, New Ulster, Lampeter, Selkie, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, and Adelaide Literary Magazine. He divides his time between Northern California and Western Kansas.

Virginia S Fesunoff

Pretty

I live on a pretty street
We live in a pretty house
I birthed pretty children
We make pretty good money
I am pretty healthy
We are pretty fortunate
I work pretty hard

                        but

My books are pretty far behind
The vegetables in the crisper are pretty far gone
I’m pretty sure I can just buy more
I’m pretty anxious when I leave the house

                        but

I’m pretty sure that
I’m pretty careful
It’s a pretty short drive to the store
My heart is pounding pretty hard

The line for the groceries was pretty long
That lady has a pretty mask
That guy looked pretty angry
I’m pretty sure I should avoid him

People are pretty angry
Standing on my pretty rickety deck
I could hear the firing of rubber bullets pretty clearly
I am pretty anxious that my son returns safely

It’s pretty hot outside
The billowing wildfire smoke seems so pretty
Our future is not looking pretty
I’m pretty certain we’ll get through this
Life might seem pretty great

It certainly is pretty

Born in San Francisco, Virginia has spent more than half her life in Riverside.
She is a business owner for money, photographer by education, gardener by love, paint-stripper by trade, and grandmother in joy.

Aiko Offner

Clean Me Please

Scrub, for 20 seconds
Between each finger,
The webby skin atop
My palm

Don’t forget the crook
Collecting dust
Between my thumb
And the body

Wring my wrist too,
Just in case
Kill the germs
Wash them off

Rid myself
Of sins from last night
My grimy phone screen
The infected air

Hidden
Particles in the air
That suffocate
Our every normal now

Scrub, for 20 seconds
Hope
That I’ll be clean
That we’ll be clean again

Aiko Offner is born and raised in Southern California, and writes mainly poetry and creative nonfiction. She’s been spending her time during quarantine holed up in her room writing away, about things that felt like nothing in a previous era.

Megan Wildhood

Boundaries with Pandemics

        My boss has seen my bed. So has my therapist. Just when I had set a goal to work on boundaries.
        Other subjects I have not seen effectively make it into the collective conversation as of the end of July 2020, four months into the COVID closures in the United States: the damage socially distancing can cause; quarantining with abusive housemates (a distinct subset of domestic violence that’s gotten zero attention comparatively); quarantining at home when you have no home; how completely ineffective shaming people is in changing their behavior and yet how proud many people are about practicing mask shaming; the jumbo mental-health crisis that already existed in this country before COVID, how much worse COVID is making it and the utter lack of any sort of national response or plan; just how literal we who joke about “time not feeling like a real thing anymore ha” are actually being and what that means for those of us who feel like some mental-health-crisis-sized desires of our hearts are being destroyed by COVID; how every American being considered about property damage is and accountability/tracking for how effective defunding police budgets is.
        Maybe most importantly, though, is just how not worth it life becomes when you let fear drive your bus. I’ve done this my whole life: I’m a catastrophist. On the one hand, there’s never a better time to be a catastrophist than during a catastrophe—I still have not needed to buy toilet paper since lockdown commenced because I am always prepared to be stuck in my house for at least two months, though, now that I think about it, that might have been wishful thinking on my part rather than conscious planning ha. On the other hand, everything I’ve always wanted is on the other side of fear. Until COVID, you might as well have told me that everything I wanted was on the other side of the rainbow: it was easier to amputate my dreams and reach for satisfaction through the false importance of busyness than to really try for something I might never get.
        Well, it was easier until it wasn’t. I know an explanation should come next, but I don’t have one. Maybe that’s what grace is: you get a thing you needed without being able to track where or how or why or even when, really. You can’t explain this new thing you have and yet, you have it anyway, and you get to keep it. I get to keep my inability to settle for life sans dreams that was cocooning during the worst of my life (2019 ha).
        So, while all conventional understandings of boundaries are being obliterated by executive mandates to stay home, I have the power to at least set this one: when a pandemic asks for my resignation-from-dream-life letter, I will say no. And I won’t let my lack of plans or my fear or even my socially-ratified desire to be “reasonable” write one behind my back.

Megan Wildhood is an empathic, neurodiverse lady writer, social worker in training and unique-earring collector in Seattle who helps her readers feel genuinely seen as they interact with her dispatches from the junction of extractive economics, mental and emotional distress, disability and reparative justice. She hopes you will find yourself in her words as they appear in her poetry chapbook Long Division as well as TheAtlantic, Yes! Magazine, Mad in America, The Sun and elsewhere. You can learn more at meganwildhood.com.

Sandeep Kumar Mishra

Corona -Vorona Days-Ways

The humanity is caving in slow corona motion
I like a sea mice back to my hide-hole,
Set an alarm every morn, lay in bed to ignore it
I stay, for what seems like minutes but becomes hours
Week and weeks in hibernation, am I a little lonely bear?

Sometimes I feel homesick in my home and
think I’m put in a home jail for not having corona,
It feels like a creepy clown chasing me
or I am being cornered by zombies,
I work from green home but the world is in red zone

As I log on for socialising and switch on to remote voice
Are vectors we all or postcodes alike,
My body robots repeat eat, sleep and eat
Is breakfast still breakfast if I have it at 12 ?
Is dinner still dinner if I have cookies for tea?

Now this thing is non-fiction- health vs economy
The virus does not care
for the digits in your bank account
or your total assets or the GDP,
And even the fiction is dark, but there’s still music

The relentless race of traffic and people
have been turned into marathon conscious breath,
Shopping has became tracking down others health,
Sanitizer in the pockets,wearing face masks
Sneezing is new way to attract attention,
Corona warriors on the front line,
but some people still curse and cry

I blink my eyes, focusing in on the horizon
as if concentration itself will transport me to another place,
Did I just see a butterfly land in that flower?
When kookaburras cackle flying over empty streets
When the crickets’ chirp sounds alone,
Do they know what is happening to us?
Am I noticing more than I did before?

The lungs feel clear, birds have replaced planes,
We venue out of the house to the garden and back in again
it’s made all of us hermits
The sky is blue now, or is it just me?
Now I understand less means more
Covid-19 is a hydra- headed challenger

to our modern modality to wake up
buying cheap tack from cheap labour,
I wonder why I feel a sense of guilt
when I see others suffering while I am not,
But I am now getting used to my pyjamas

 

Sandeep Kumar Mishra is an outsider artist, poet and lecturer in English Literature and political Science. He is the art instructor at Kishlaya Outsider Art Academy.He has edited a collection of poems by various poets – Pearls (2002) and written a professional guide book -How to be (2016) and a collection of poems and art – Feel My Heart (2016). Learn more about him by visiting his website https://www.sandeepkumarmishra.com/

Ragini Goel

Sterilized Muse

My door knobs are shining
All locks sterilized
My bathrooms are sparkling
My kitchen organized
I’ve put away my perfumes
I smell like Lysol wipes
Cleaning all day
I’m really sterilized
The Muse never knocks
On my door anymore
Cooking and Cleaning
Have become Mi Amor

I chat on the phone
As I always can
I jog in the house
Like I’m at the gym
I play bridge on the computer
Like I’m with real friends
I look in the mirror
And powder my face
I go to my closet
And try on some clothes
Then dress to the hilt
But nowhere to go

I say to myself
This can’t be true
I’m sad and lonesome
Not a creature around
Texting and phoning
Doesn’t do it for me
I’m dying to hear
A human sound
I long for the contact
I crave very much
I yearn for the healing
Of a grandchild’s touch

Where is my family
Where are my friends
Is this the same world
Is this where I live
I wonder and wonder
And ponder again
Confused perplexed
I’m going insane
Scratching my head
I start mopping the floor
When suddenly I see
The Muse exit my door.

Deenaz P. Coachbuilder

The space that binds us.

I keep washing my hands,
20 seconds they say,
20 seconds of

eternity.
From Wuhan to Milan
the breezes blow

invisible currents
connecting
microbes and mortals.

Safe at home, I convince myself,
lulled in the backyard patio
gazing at the remote

San Bernardino mountains
80 miles afar
yet closer than an eyelid’s flash.

This is the place where my soul strings loosen.
They float among double delight roses
sweep over decomposed granite walkways,

swoop, encircle,
then streaming out over caverns remote
for I am everywhere

and nowhere,
shedding bits of flesh I never owned,
retaining merely essence

the space between
an illusion
for there is no space

between us,
spiritual brethren
all.