HERMAN MELVILLE DECIDES ON THE COLOR OF HIS WHALE
Herman Melville dangled his legs over the end of the pier.
His boots nearly reached the rolling waves beneath him.
He felt elated. His big book was almost done.
He’d sent his sailors out to sea and killed them all except one.
He liked the final touch, his so-called narrator saved
by the savage’s coffin. Coincidence? Yes, but why
wouldn’t the box float to the surface, whether near the drowning man or not?
Only one other question harassed Herman,
brought down his mood: the leviathan’s color.
The entire novel—everything—depended on that decision, that vision. He’d scrolled through the rainbow spectrum tens, hundreds of times. Red for the American native. Orange for fire. Yellow for sunlight. Green for seaweed. Blue for sky and ocean. Indigo and violet (close enough) for veins and arteries. They all had potential,
each had its own merits but highlight one
and diminish the rest. Moby Dick consummated
every potential, the peg-leg captain trafficking life, death, and every mollusk and cormorant in between.
Then there, floating toward him, a dead fish, borne aloft by its very immobility, its dearth of struggle,
as if to stop resisting raised it up, allowed it to lounge. Did it hold the Answer, this Atlantic cod sweeping toward him, its dorsal fin invisible? In death,
its body had turned, its underbelly baring
every wondrous, inexplicable, invisible color.
Herman leaned out, plucked it out of its sea’s casket, and kissed the slimy, smooth skin reeking worse than cadaverous gutter rats on a rainy day, then slipped it back into its grave, the novel finished, the whale white.
(Richard Holinger’s books forthcoming this fall include Kangaroo Rabbits and Galvanized Fences, a collection of his newspaper columns, and North of Crivitz, a first book of poetry focusing on the North Woods and Upper Midwest. His work has received three Pushcart Prize nominations, and his Thread essay received a “Notable” mention in Best American Essays 2018. Not Everybody’s Nice won the 2012 Split Oak Flash Prose Chapbook contest, and a chapbook of innovative fiction was published by Kattywompus Press. Among other journals, his fiction has appeared in Witness, The Iowa Review; creative nonfiction and book reviews in The Southern Review, Crazyhorse, Northwest Review; poetry in Boulevard, Chelsea. He lives in the Fox River Valley west of Chicago. Degrees include a Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Illinois at Chicago. Please go to https://www.richardholinger.net/ for more on the author and for ordering books.)
my bell jar
I'll give you a nice bell
me inside I didn't place
the glass around I more
humanely would have
used a porous element
so I still politely breathe
beyond the fifty years
I choke at now vacuum-
packed and freeze-dried
I didn't mind the womb
it was opaque and I was
obsessively guarded by
the only one who ever
loved me but this glass
cruel everyone sees me
mourn trip tremble bang
they point hear nothing
I'm endlessly vocalizing
I thought it was crooning
but no a life death mating
scream the worst of glass
is seeing prettier people
exhale twirl laugh beside
lovers touching tossing
unshattered children in
the autumn evening air
beneath strings of lights
orange purple I remain
guilty chaste confused
gray within this grave
I believe the rip gape twist
of god will be done soon
o believe what an empty
verb I'm a damp pouch
with a soul that traveled
nowhere we are tearing
contraptions wanting to be
more than chemical thank
you last O2 molecule thank
you last ray thank you all
(Marc Darnell is a custodian and online tutor in Omaha, Nebraska, and received his MFA from the University of Iowa. He has published poems in The Lyric, Blue Unicorn, Shot Glass Journal, The HyperTexts, Ragazine, The Literary Nest, Runcible Spoon, and elsewhere.)
Second Round of Chemo
My brother wants to remember
our life—the marshmallows
we roasted on a stick,
browning them, their soft, sweet
taste in our mouth,
the coals beneath, soft and warm.
He wants to hold
onto Yesterday as I want to hold
onto him, but I’m not with him.
I’m twelve hundred miles away
where, after the call, at dawn
I go out to pick the blueberries,
some pale green, some plush blue
that fall from clusters into my hand,
each with a round mouth puckered at the end.
I go stem by stem, the weight of berries
bend the branch. I lighten the load.
It’s the least I can do.
Then to the raspberries,
I stick my hand deep into the thorny stems,
red juice of them staining my fingertips,
whole fistfuls giving themselves up,
fall in the bowl,
like Eve with those apples, the smell of them,
wanting them all in her hand,
the ripeness, the sweetness,
this the third week in July
when the cancer came back, not good,
the insistent cells proliferate
as those of the fruit in my hand.
Tomorrow, I will pour
them over my granola, the blue red
staining the whiteness of milk
the bittersweet taste of fruit
as my brother, back in a sterile ward,
has the metallic aftertaste in his mouth,
his skin desiccated
like those marshmallows that flamed, too hot,
melted, ashes to fire.
(Bruce Spang, former Poet Laureate of Portland, is the author of two novels, The Deception of the Thrush and Those Close Beside Me. His most recent collection of poems, All You’ll Derive: A Caregiver’s Journey, was just published. He’s also published four other books of poems, including To the Promised Land Grocery and Boy at the Screen Door (Moon Pie Press) along with several anthologies and several chapbooks. He is the poetry and fiction editor of the Smoky Blue Literary and Arts Magazine. His poems have been published in Connecticut River Review, Red Rover Magazine, Great Smokies Review, Kalopsia Literary Journal and other journals across the United States. He teaches courses in fiction and poetry at Ollie at University of North Carolina in Asheville and lives in Candler, NC with his husband Myles Rightmire and their five dogs, five fish, and thirty birds.)
Sonnet for the Long Married #3
There ain’t no cure for love, sings Cohen on
the playlist. Both dogs barking: hate the music?
want a treat? You crank the sound and drink
your meds, these cool strong beers. Linguine bubbling,
damp dishtowel your epaulet: Commander
of the Kitchen Sink. The rain, the time
tick-ticking down, hung leashes drip, unfinished
dissertation shelved, and Hamlet essays
still to grade. Your wife still at the stylist’s:
takes him eons. Darkened windows glint
like sequined mirrors. All these years refracted
and redacted, water droplets, life
support. You wipe your hands and glasses: why
so warm and wet? Love’s IV on slow drip.
Chorizo, couscous, thin-sliced gala apples
in a bowl: a bachelor’s hash a husband
married many years can love, with spiky
jazz (that’s Braxton morphing Monk), cold beer
in front of you. Your wife has turned in (headache),
so it’s you and Trey, adopted greyhound
black as dreamless sleep. Linked memories,
your private myths—first Ali-Frazier fight
(on German radio), a gradeschool English
teacher and the story of his scar,
Andromeda’s bare bottom in a painting
by Burne-Jones—rise glistening as boulders
in a river. Have you journeyed well
enough to know the boulders, be the river?
(Thomas Zimmerman teaches English, directs the Writing Center, and edits The Big Windows Review https://thebigwindowsreview.com/ at Washtenaw Community College, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. Poems of his have appeared recently in Ephemeral Elegies, Grand Little Things, and Trestle Ties. Tom's website: https://thomaszimmerman.wordpress.com/ )
The Beautiful Space-