background stars background text eye to the telescope tour of alternate worlds spacer

 

Webmaster

Issue 20 • April 2016
Family
edited by Josh Brown

Table of Contents

Editor’s Intro • The Meaning of FamilyJosh Brown

Experiments in Creation • John Reinhart
Exploratory Colony 454 ­ 15th May, 2052 • Lore Bernier
Why Grandma Weeps • Greg Beatty
Family Album • Sandra Kasturi
The Robot by the Fireplace • Ken Poyner
Crew • Denny E. Marshall
The Butcher of Ballantree • Deborah Guzzi
Cloud Adoption • F.J. Bergmann
Apocalypse Reunion • Jennifer Crow
When Brothers Go Wandering Off • Shannon Connor Winward
Ey Who Kissed the Sun • Charles Payseur
Life on Venus • Christina Sng
Primed to Dream Apocalyptic • Mark Danowsky
Baby God • Maxine Kollar
untitiled • Marcie Tentchoff
Dysfunctional • Francis W. Alexander
Prepare Her • Shermie Rayne
Knights of the Kitchen Table • David Barber
Keep Hugo Stormed • Karen Bovenmyer


Experiments in Creation

peering down over his labcoat,
father saw something
was wrong

his work splicing, invoking
and praying over DNA
wasted

the original map, his unlaid plan,
was nowhere to be seen—
strand unraveled

looking innocent, the secondhand
original shrugged
nonchalantly

“I am not my brother’s keeper”
hands in pockets
deceptively

wringing hands over cluttered table,
father wondered what
went wrong

he backtracked in the replication process,
seeking and praying for
the errant gene

—John Reinhart


Exploratory Colony 454—15th May, 2052

The light on the panel blinks steadily,
surely,
more reliable than any heartbeat.

It casts a glow on your face,
green and sickly,
and when it fades out,
leaves you looking healthier than ever.

It's a sorry comfort,
but it's folly to not take comfort
where you can get it.

The sensors finish their hourly sweep—
all clear.

And we are here.

We are here in the cold,
waiting for word that may never come,
hoping beyond hope that we have not been forgotten.

We'll survive.

One way or the other,
whether we like who we become
to do so
or not.

Whoever we become,
we'll change together—
all of us limbs of the same beast
born of cold and isolation.
The same beast,
born of necessity and survival.
The same beast,
one heart, twenty seven minds,
and a crying baby that never shuts up,
but we all somehow love anyway.

We love ourselves too;
enough to keep breathing,
and eating,
and doing the jobs
we signed on to do.

You cover my hand with your own,
and smile softly at me in the semi-dark,
and we may have never seen ourselves here,
struggling to hold our own
in a world so alien it has no real name.
Struggling to hold our own
in the boys' club
of this company's team.
These boys who have become like brothers,
who have ribbed, and jostled,
and laughed with us;
whom we have helped,
and who have helped us.

Struggling to accept that
maybe the second we left
we already knew
there was never any going back.

Maybe we aren't even sorry.

You're staring out into the night,
over the craggy landscape—
a friendlier sight
now that we know all of its dangers.

I ask you, if it was up to you
what would you name this place?

You squeeze my hand
and say

"home".

—Lore Bernier


Why Grandma Weeps

For the most part, ogres die
unmourned, unshriven, and undressed,
sinsausage fingers falling soft to moss
that welcomes them for the first time
in long unholy lives. Goblins, too,
and banshee howlers, are slaughtered
with silent, distinct lack of tears.
But sometimes, once in a rarity,
the maiden sings out, "No!"
as blessed blade bits scale, hot
blood and breath flow, then gutter
out like God's own candle, and hoards
accumulated over three kingdoms'
lifetimes are itemized for taxes.
And sometimes, after, those maidens
rub their wrists and dream of dragon
claws, hot upon their flesh, when cold
and virtuous in Christian marriage wed.

—Greg Beatty


Family Album

Mysteries are always held in old trunks,
kept in cottages by the lake. Summer
lives, packed away for winter dreaming.

Trunks big enough to hold the bodies
of small children, their hands smudged dirty
from newsprint and soured on milk cartons.

Children disappearing into adulthood,
drowning in lakes or memories,
vanishing into deep woods, or under icecrack.

Taken by the mysteries of worms and earth,
of hard starlight, summer shadow, hidden
behind cellar doors, in cyclone shelters.

Running from natural disasters, human storms:
limbs flying, the teeth of jaw and saw
biting equally sharp.

The wolf shadow on the wall,
made of hands, rough fingers woven
into hair and history.

Creeping in that space between,
the gap under the summerhouse;
that trap door to memory, traitorous spider.

Decaying photographs developed
in paralyzing venom: wrong exposures,
heads missing, lens flares.

Sepia tinctures of missing years—
past lives, like the lost handles
of cracked cups. The memory well
ever dry to the thirsty.

—Sandra Kasturi


The Robot by the Fireplace

This I can take care of:
Small homunculus on the roof, a pack animal
Pulled conveyance, and entry through the exhaust shoot.

I am not so sure I was supposed to overhear
The details of this plot, to catch uninvited the briefing
About this expected home invasion, though I wonder why.
Protection is part of my programming.
The safety of the family’s offspring is a persistent subroutine,
Running even when I am in recharge state:
The first memory location upgraded, the highest
Interrupt, the largest amount of direct access allocation
Set aside for any of my subroutines.
I am not designed for security, but, at the last,
Every extremity I am capable of is allowed in progeny protection;
And I suspect there is even some code hidden within me
That, upon recognition of severe enough threat,
Would swap into my execution registers and turn me

Fierce. I can take care of this.

I ignore the excitement, assist with mechanical professionalism
The laying about of greenery, the installation
Of lights, the festooning of fire-retardant coated
Garland. I calculate with idle processor time
That I will be able to hear animals on the shingles,
Even trace the lithe footsteps of anyone who could fit
Greaselessly down this relatively narrow chimney, and that I will be ready
No matter the agility or commitment of the intruder.
The family, they have admitted, will all be in bed,
Bedecked in foppery set aside for the season.
I would typically be away in standby. The house
Locked down would normally be as secure as rain.
This new endangering vector, though I do not understand it,
Seems to have not been properly considered.

Entry through the chimney?
Not my choice of ingress. This curls
More of a ruse, more of a process designed to
Fool, with an agent decked out to resemble
Immature fantasies of the little people who roam
The littered imagination of human history. A wink
And a nod and a child might be sucked in,
And adult momentarily set aback.

Left would be only my industrial grade programming,
Unimpressionable and beyond folk lore,
Running in core to keep this family from ruin, from all of them being
Assimilated into whatever druid plan the rogue
Gift-giving criminal might have in his deliriously twisted holiday engrams.

The innocent conversation about this openly expected visitor
Has been anything but menacing: no worry, no defensive preparations,
Nothing to indicate that the projected territorial violation will cause
The least bit of alarm. It is good that I have solid
Auditory fidelity, and wide enough data pathways
To act independently, decisively on my perceptions.
I report nothing of my fears; but this night I will stay
On auxiliary power, show everyone I am worth the price of upkeep.

Even now I am listening overhead for those tiny, murderous hooves.

—Ken Poyner


Crew

My choice
For Mars mission
Clint Eastwood
Chuck Norris
Charles Bronson
Dwayne Johnson
Steven Segal
Christie Brinkley
Wonder Women & friends
Maybe me
Time Machine
Late parents

—Denny E. Marshall


The Butcher of Ballantree

Hermione had the bad luck to be strikingly touchable.
Born of incest, she was saddled with a killer body,
and fire-touched hair; she was of Scottish blood.
“Touched” but ripe with plump lips, and flawless skin.
Her husky voice was a siren’s song sounding.
Everyone wanted her; she simply wanted to run-a-way.
Herbert, her twin, her undoing made her run!
He was scarab-fright to her firefly light, a loadstone
of torment, a terror whose pinchers lanced without sound.
They came from a heritage of murderers, body-snatchers.
The great grandchildren of Sawney Bean were skin-walkers,
Hermione served as bait; she was a victim blooded.

Ballantree’s folk were food for Herbert’s bloodlust.
Herbert and Hermione lived in a shanty near a dirt-run
to the sea caves. Hermione craved the sun on her skin
simple as a child, you see? To see her so—alone was touching
in the high grass near the sea path where the lane parts.
Herbert’s friends paid him often to hear her bird-like sounds.
The men Herbert brought, they had need of the her soundings;
To pleasure, they rose; then followed her hot-blooded
as she wandered to the caves through waves body-deep.
[Herbert liked his meat salted.] They trailed. Out Herbert ran,
herding them toward the grotto screaming, Don’t you touch
her!
He raved. Hermione, get to the cave, cover your skin.

In Delphian darkness, Hermione ran. He followed, skinning-
knife in hand. The tide rose and roared, the chamber sounded.
Herbert cornered the men and cut them down. His Hermione’s touch
was not to be had. Like a rabbit, she leapt. The butchering blood
ran. Her naked skin crawled, salt crusted her hair; shoeless she ran
crying. No, God no, not again, still—hooks hung with bodies.

Inside the dank cottage in pickling jars were limbs disembodied.
Herbert used every piece of this he was proud. His satchels of skin
fetched high prices in town. Sure of Hermione, sure she would run;
for he’d driven her mad, he’d taken her tongue. Soundless,
she wandered gathering herbs to spice his blood-pudding;
she hawked Sausages, fresh sausages—witless, and touched.

In madness Hermione felt freed; one day she led townsfolk to sea.
With torches, bloodhounds and skins of scotch-whiskey, they found
Herbert’s bone piles; she pointed, you see. This once, she didn’t run.

—Deborah Guzzi


Cloud Adoption

Of course there were many forms to fill out,
fees to pay (to say nothing of outright bribes),
but the in-person interview was by far the most
stressful. We prepared carefully: we didn't want
to seem too elated or too serious, to talk down
or give an impression of intellectual privilege
or excessive opacity. In order to appear neither
too pale nor too dark, we settled on gray wool
suits for both of us, with a thin silver pinstripe.
The waiting room held only amateur nephology
journals with garish ads for cheap hygrometers
and anemometers. We were finally ushered in
to the desk-bound presence of a gloomy entity
whose mien was mostly thunderous with few,
fleeting flashes of sunshine. Our interviewer
regarded us from a lofty height for a moment,
then nodded, glancing significantly toward what
we had thought was a mirror, which swung out,
and our cloud entered the room. It looked lonely.
We held out our arms and it rushed to hug us.
Our laps were immediately soaked, but we didn't
care. Sniffling vigorously, we could not tell whether
raindrops or grateful tears ran down our cold cheeks.

—F. J. Bergmann


Apocalypse Reunion

What more is there to say, once Dad’s eaten the kids? Awkward
silence falls over the ancient world, the remaining spouses
and stray children that escaped cannibal attentions making plans
for vengeance, the taste of ambrosia bitter for once on the palate.
Some strong son will tame his father’s relentless hunger,
and free his generation, only to waltz back over the abyss
with his sword unsheathed, taunting fate.
Not enough magical weapons or mirrored shields or winged steeds
to keep the peace, and venom will flow down the slopes
of their fair mountain home as rumors gather
like building lava, like boiling floods. Birds with the heads
of angry women swoop at any unguarded gaze. The myths we keep
name silver-eyed stars, gather them in skeins of story
that might, somehow, burnish this nightmare family
into a semblance of sanity, or channel unhealthy passions
until something builds itself from the wreckage of Olympus.

—Jennifer Crow


When Brothers Go Wandering Off

If you get lost, I will search for you.
If you call, I’ll answer.
If there be gates, I will look around them.
But I will not cut off my finger to give you a key.
 
These spells you are ensnared in, Brother
these witches that you fall for—
they twist new shapes out of your intentions,
and smudge your countenance every time.
 
Here as a bird I find you, bound
to a table set for kings.
The liquor from her goblets lull you
into forgetting about the chains.
 
I weep my little heart out
for your manifold misfortunes,
I grieve to see the once bold hunter
eating carrion for the Queen.

—Shannon Connor Winward


Ey Who Kissed the Sun

We found each other where sky met sea,
where your ship landed
and you cried yourself hoarse saying
you'd found the sun.
I believed,
could see how your lips burned
from where you stole its kiss,
could feel its warmth in you.

We tattooed rings on our fingers,
found new ways to hold
the dark within, the dark without,
and every place you kissed
on me lit my flesh
until I glowed
hot
with the feel of you.

We cried before you took off,
your rocket a streak of light
no dark could touch.
You could not live
without the stars
and I would not keep you,
knew better than to
try and cage an ember.

—Charles Payseur


Life On Venus

Venus sings
The most mournful song.
Her children have been
Eaten alive again,

The acid burning
All the way through
To the steel core
Of their bones.

Evolve and try
Once more, she begs,
But they melt away
In the sulfuric haze

Swirling around
The husk,
Exhausted,
At peace at last.

—Christina Sng


Primed to Dream Apocalyptic

Last night I dreamt of an apocalypse
where we trudged underground sewers.

I was in search of the next shower.

The men wielded machetes.
Ornamental, they said.

The men were in charge, of course.

We waded through sewage for water
to keep humanity alive.

I was a fighter, but ineffective.

At night, stories were told:

You turn a corner and find
a place never before seen
with preserved water. Safe
water. It sounds too much
like being lost in the desert.
Mirages.

—Mark Danowsky


Baby God

Baby God held the universe in the glass ball between his chubby fingers
He shook it and watched the colors and constellations swirl
Laughing as the stars flared but then
A supernova, bright, blinding caused Him to drop the ball
The crash, the cries had Mother God and Father God rushing in
They were spun across the universe away from Baby God
Swimming through gases and rocks across the ever expanding span
Baby God was alone and lonely and missing Mother and Father God
He found a spark of life and helped it grow to console Himself
He made them in the image of Mother and Father and Himself
He watched all the mothers and fathers and babies and hungered
He pictured Mother and Father leafing through the layers of the universe
Like searching the clothing racks at a large department store for
One small child hiding
Hiding in play or fear as one becomes the other
Heart quickening as the voices grow more frantic
Many times he heard cries of ‘God where are you’
Never knowing if they came from the people or from Mother and Father
He hid

—Maxine Kollar


 

lonely here in space

my daughter cries for lost friends

I soothe her to sleep

—Marcie Tentchoff


Dysfunctional

Veiled behind the warmth
of her white smile
and that reassuring hug,
the skeletons in the closet rattle.
 
At family meetings
has anyone protested Pluto’s demotion,
like a midget reclassified
to dwarf human? 
 
Does jealousy reign, Pluto,
the Cinderella shunned
by her evil stepsisters,
four of them envious
of her four moons?

Prodigal son, Nibiri,
a ninth planet,
taking a long time to visit,
and when it does come calling
does so at a distance.
 
Uranus, black sheep hippy,
swimming on its side.
Venus spins like a ballerina.
She conspires with Uranus
to move direction opposite
from the other siblings.
 
The universe sees one big happy family,
but we know differently.

—Francis W. Alexander


Prepare Her

It was only a year ago
I crept down the hall and heard,
Whispers leaking from Mama and Papa’s door.
 
Papa bristled. “We have to tell her, and soon.
She’ll be called upon, ready or not.”
Mama’s steady voice countered, “How can we know
This is her year? Maybe more time as a child is best …”
 
They never said a word,
Months and many months passed,
Until I felt its twitching begin.
 
I turned thirteen and bled like a woman.
Mama turned pale when I told.
Days and days after, distracted and busy.
“Planning,” she said.
 
Nearly a month later, we took a weekend trip.
Our cabin in the woods. I sketched the next afternoon away,
Drawing the jig-sawed hills and lapping lakes beyond.
 
I heard the first car door shut,
A loud crack of lightning through the valley.
Then more crunching on the gravel drive—
Numerous cars and trucks arrived.
 
Many paced the lawn: some relatives, some friends of my parents,
Some I didn’t recognize at all, yet oddly seemed familiar by scent.
A few of the elderly ones sat, but no one entered the cabin.
 
Older kids gave wry side-glances,
Wanting to ask me something—yet couldn’t.
I imagined them growling in frustration.
 
Adults smiled knowingly at me,
Almost as if they were proud. Like Mama and Papa did
When I placed in school cross-country meets.
 
Twilight came early, meeting the long shadows—pushing the golden light away.
A lofty man with a beard of salt-and-pepper wire, came from the woods
Into the gathering, people parted and bowed slightly.
 
He took my hand, wrapping warmth surprised me.
“We have waited a long time to welcome you, my child.
I’m sure your parents informed you well in our ways,”
He said, turning us to the forming crowd.
 
“We’re laced in the noir of uncertainty
As each month’s Moon commands,
Condemning us to the lore of our kind.
Tonight another joins us …”
 
He let go, I went quickly to find my parents.
Running into the kitchen through the open patio door,
Papa was holding Mama, rubbing her back as she sobbed.
“Why do they have to grow up so soon? I just wanted more time to … warn her.”
 
A cacophony of howls echoed through the valley.
I froze and Mama looked up meeting my eye
Just as the lofty man’s voice boomed,
“It’s time! Prepare her.”

—Shermie Rayne


Knights of the Kitchen Table

It was a game we played then. Whoever can pull
this silver knife from the butter and hold it aloft
is king of the table and has adventures with peas
and a mashed-potato Camelot. While sausages
still smiled and everyone was famished,
there was little time for stories of Lancelot
 
unhorsing his friends in an incessant rage
to be the best, or how the Orkney clan never
held their knives and forks properly, and Guinevere
chewed with her mouth open and was faithless.
Merlin was never asked how all this came about—
something only first-rate magic could make happen.
 
In the end, Arthur must have grown so weary
of settling quarrels and throwing good food away
—knowing in his heart a kingdom is a fragile thing—
to avoid the slaughter he packed them all off
in search of the Grail. None of them returned, except
Percival, who came down for a glass of water.

—David Barber


Keep Hugo Stormed

My big crazy family is
Having a fight right now
A drop-down and dragout
A real eye-bruiser.
 
Some sad and rabid puppies, canines
With designs, stormed keep Hugo
Where the metal of our mettle is tested
And forged into bored swords (they say)
So a troll with a scroll
slated some unawares to win top maker
or faker, who can say, the stakes were high
careers blacklisted, insisted
 
And the social justice warriors pulled Tasers and lasers
To fight the slobber bloggers, supposed homophobes
And Neo-fascists, by character assassination
Or maybe it was suicide, patricide, infanticide
The family homily
Laments the cement shoes of resentment
And the unkempt contempt
Of our unwashed masses.
 
Unity, divinity,
Escapes in the insanity
Of voting “no award”
Online, the war rages on
And the black sheep of peace
Goes baa baa baa
To empty space
And vacuum

—Karen Bovenmyer