..:: CONTENTS ::..

..:: POETRY ::..
Joanne Kyger
  The Distressed Look
  Sunday in the Storm Era
  San Francisco March Against War on Iraq January 18, 2003
  "Not In Our Name"
  Look! new moon
Forrest Cole
  Poem Seller
Stephen Ratcliffe
  from Cloud/Ridge
Claudio Perinot
Jamie Galgana
  Water Cycle
Christopher Arigo
  Catalogued evidence
Virgil Suarez
  Bone Soup / Sopa de Hueso
  In the House of the Birth of Christ
  When Rain Speaks of War
David Krump

..:: PROSE ::..
Han Quek
Kenneth Pobo

..:: ART ::..
Wes Tilson
  Cycling Mandalas

..:: ETC ::..
  Contributor's Notes

..:: ARCHIVES ::..


Kenneth Pobo


     When Steve gets up, he puts on his glasses, slides into shorts, walks downstairs to feed his two cats, makes coffee, and then goes out to the garden, his amusement park of petals. In summer, possibility surges through each stem, winks from buds. Winter twists in chains in a locked box under the garden.

     He has few rules for his garden. He wants flowers to bend spring, summer, and fall around stems. He plants nothing he can eat, but makes an exception for nasturtiums, which can be put in salads (which he hates).

     Another rule is: weed! Quack grass pokes through tangling nasturtiums. Weeds remind us of all we can’t control. Steve wants to control his life, his demons. So he weeds. And the weeds return.

     Each year he adds more nasturtiums. He began with a few orange ones. They did well, so the next year he got some striped ones. Yellows came the next year. He builds his symphony instrument by instrument – each variety improves the music. This year he has some crimson ones, grown from a seed packet given by a gas station as a “thank you” for patronizing them.

     When he first visits his garden, he walks quickly past glamorous roses and necks-held-straight foxgloves, wants to see how many blossoms are on the nasturtiums. He hasn’t gone as far as writing down the number each day, but he revels in color waves drifting up to the shore of his feet.

     Neither of his parents had much interest in gardens. His dad loved NASCAR racing and his mom loved indoor decorating. Even as a kid, Steve wanted to grow flowers, and they didn’t stop him, though his father worried that Steve wasn’t a “normal” boy. His mother was pleased it wasn’t anything dangerous.

     He remembers his grandmother Ada, who died when she was 89, his favorite relative. An only child, he was often the center of adult interest, the toy child for the grown-ups to play with. Ada was different. At family parties, she’d sneak away from the rest of them, usually her three sisters and their husbands, her son, her daughter, and their spouses.

     “Where’s Grandma?” someone eventually piped up.

     Grandma was in the back yard, on hands and knees, showing Steve the secret world of soil, a magic entrance anyone could find between petals of most flowers. Ada was particularly fond of nasturtiums. When she died, she wanted no glads, no roses. Her coffin was surrounded by potted plants. Steve brought a pot of nasturtiums to Lang’s Funeral Home.

     When he grew up and moved away from Dayton, he got a job sorting mail in a post office. He had followed Jim, his partner who he had met in his senior year of college, to Donalds, South Carolina. He and Jim rented a ranch house. Jim had a job in nearby Greenwood and enjoyed gardening, but not as much Steve.

     The first day he was there Steve started digging up the soil around the house – a 95-degree June day. Jim and the movers were putting the furniture in place as he sank the shovel into the unworked earth. He felt guilty about not being more help in the moving process, but couldn’t resist digging right in.

     Steve and Jim were the only people with jobs on their street. Most of the residents were poor, and some had terrible family situations. Others had rotten health. He knew he was a curiosity, weeding, planting, deadheading, transplanting. Over the past couple of years, a few neighbors got jobs and a few moved away. Now whenever people drop in, many remark how beautiful his garden is, pointing to cardinal flowers, cosmos, and roses. Few ever mention the nasturtiums. Some flowers get taken for granted, lost among larger or brighter blooms.

     And nasturtiums have hardly any smell. With a rose, people like to linger, sniff. Often roses are tall. Nasturtiums huddle around ankles and calves, names rarely known. A rose may get named for a famous person: Helen Traubel, Billy Graham, Dolly Parton. The nasturtium is not a magnet for the famous.

     But each nasturtium offers its silent room. Steve can shrink himself to less than half an inch tall. It’s not hard. He just closes his eyes. It’s not magic. It’s like eating or breathing.

     He finds a nasturtium with a crimson hallway leading into a crimson room and closes its doors behind him. There he relaxes almost completely. It is difficult to walk back out through the crimson door to the world where he is six feet tall and has to work. The post office doors are metallic, not soft doors of a flower which are strong enough to keep thunderstorms from destroying the whole blossom.

     Once inside the metallic doors, relaxing is forbidden. Steven thinks of tigers kept in cages in old zoos, how they would look out with terrified, angry eyes, needing some place to walk, to run, but finding only the lock and bars. They hear constant human footsteps during the day, sounds of other creatures at night.

     While at work, Steve yearns for the crimson room, sometimes tries to shrink himself and enter it in his mind, but it doesn’t work. Wanted posters, missing children posters, customers, the press of mail coming in, needing to be sorted – this world is designed for the large. To shrink here would put him at the mercy of carnivorous stamps and poison-tipped pens.

     Even the crimson room isn’t always safe. One day Steve went inside it and heard a terrible noise followed by screaming. He looked out of a window and saw a basketball from the kid next door had bounced onto the nasturtiums, smashing several rooms. Steve’s room was spared, but maybe next time the ball bomb would fall on him, the crimson walls now forming his coffin.

     And rabbits. Growing so close to the ground, nasturtiums can be places where rabbits stop to rest or, sensing danger, to stay still. They flatten the flowers, break stems.

     But those are outside dangers. Sometimes when he feels ready to let go, breathe deeply and rest, demons come. Steve knows that closing the door means nothing to a demon. If he can become half an inch tall, demons can become thinner than paper and slip under a door like a note.

     Demons never say when they’ll stop by. They might stay away for weeks, but other times when Steve enters the crimson hall, they’re already there, making tea, playing guitar. It’s too late then. They surround him, tease him, make threats. The crimson walls take on the color of blood. When Steve looks at his skin, he thinks he sees them, smaller than freckles. He flees but can’t escape. He knows only the demons can free him, calls out for help, but the same silence he treasures when they are absent also blocks any rescue.

     Nameless, the demons can adopt different faces from Steve’s life outside of the crimson room. The faces merge, blend, split apart, become another face. His father becomes his mother. Jim becomes a thief, sometimes a killer. Steve closes his eyes, waits.

     Eventually, they leave, slipping back under the door. At least so far they have always left. Steve wonders if the peace that comes by entering the room is worth the risk of these attacks. He could stay outside remain tall, but demons appear in that world too. They have no borders, so hiding isn’t possible.

     He knows they’re going to return but goes to the post office. Then he comes home to the crimson room, hopes for the best, and usually the silence opens before him, a flower within a flower. He falls asleep, dreams. Crafty demons drive speedboats in our bloodstream right into our dreaming brains. We think we’re entering a world where we’re free, but there they are, on the pier, waving as we arrive.

     The nasturtiums are large this year, bigger than ever, above round green leaves. Steve dreams of them as lovely places he can explore. Till winter. In January, he spends hours going through the many seed catalogues that arrive almost every day. Sometimes he says the names of his favorite flowers, relaxes in their syllables. But even there he isn’t safe. Even then the demons sometimes come.

     A sound of chains rattling, steel locks breaking. Snow falling on abandoned rooms.


//   Advance   //