Author: Michael Tucker

Haiku By Angela Byrne

Haiku By Angela Byrne

We are all broken

Pieces becoming artwork

A kaleidoscope


Angela Byrne is currently in her last year at HCC, majoring in Early Childhood Education. She is honored to be a part of the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and along with her degree, she will graduate with a Certified Childcare Professional Certificate. Angela has always found writing to be the most enjoyable form of expression. As her career goal, she hopes to cultivate this same love of reading and writing in her students from a young age. “Readers are leaders and leaders are readers.” (Howard G. Hendricks)

A Man of No Small Coincidence By Jack Donahue

A Man of No Small Coincidence By Jack Donahue

Let’s just say his name is Charley. That’s not his real name, but it will have to do for now. It’s not that I’m afraid I’ll be sued for defamation of character because for the most part I only have good things to say about him. Well, maybe good is not the most accurate word to use. The things I have to say about Charley are all true. I don’t know whether you would consider them good or not, but I do know they’re absolutely true because every single thing I’m going to tell you about him I personally witnessed. None of it is hearsay.
Another reason for choosing a fictional name is that once I start describing what “Charley” has done, some of you will probably recognize who I’m talking about anyway. I knew a lot about him when we both lived in Chicago. But I never had the privilege of meeting him there. I met him for the first time last week in Indianapolis. Well, maybe privilege is not the most accurate word to use to describe how I felt about meeting Charley, but I can’t think of a better one right now. You see, Charley is not the nicest person in the world. A celebrity for sure, but one that you’re probably better off not encountering real close up. He is all he is and nothing more and, in my opinion, sometimes a lot less.
Here’s another word I’m not crazy about using, coincidence, but it does describe my first encounter with the celebrity, Charley. I was a last-minute replacement for the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the American Dental Association. The original speaker who dropped out at the last minute (some joked he had an abscessed tooth) is arguably the nation’s top expert on developing methods for detecting mouth cancer in dental patients. Certainly, he would have dazzled the audience with the latest findings on this significant subject. But when I got the frantic call just days before the conference was to open, I could not promise so lofty a topic. You see, my specific expertise is indicated by my chosen speech: “The Most Efficacious Way to Advertise and Promote Elective Dental Implants.” I was assured by the ADA staff that the ballroom would be filled for my talk.
At least the lights would be dim enough so the moment I walked onstage to the lectern I would be kept in benign ignorance whether the room was filled with fellow dentists from all over the country eager to hang on my every word or only the first few rows were occupied by ADA promotional staff members. The golf and tennis tournaments weren’t scheduled until late afternoon, so I had at least a fair shot of attracting a ballroom filled with my peers. I mean, dental implants provide a huge profit center for the local dentist. Even though they are frightfully expensive and not covered in any way by most dental insurance plans, the appeal to a patient’s vanity is quite compelling. In my talk, I make sure to emphasize how often the dentist should subtly make the comparison between an old man’s removable choppers versus the new, natural looking permanent teeth locked into your jaw just like the ones God gave you.
Anyhow, I’m getting way off the topic telling you about myself rather than my encounter with the celebrity, Charley. The coincidence I referred to earlier concerns a magazine article I had just read on the plane about the very subject itself, the mathematical certainty of coincidence. The article was short and simple, but the editors did strive to present opposing points of view about the pro-coincidence movement as well as the position that there is no such thing as coincidence. “The world is so big,” one expert stated, “lots of things happen in every corner of the world every day. When they happen to us, we take special notice. Therein, lies the difference between coincidence and a commonplace occurrence.”
Fresh from the airport taxi ride to the hotel, I had to endure a mild inconvenience when I learned that my room would not be ready for another hour or so. Having that time to kill, I walked into the bar only to see Mr. Coincidence himself, Charley. He was in the process of regaling a few bar patrons with one of his legendary blowhard stories while I order a double scotch on the rocks (doctor’s orders: better than Anbesol for toothaches).
The fact I just read the magazine article on the subject of coincidence, coupled with the unexpected encounter with my fellow Chicagoan, Charley, in this hotel bar on Waterway Boulevard in Indianapolis, was worth noting. At least I thought so.
“Many years ago,” Charley started telling his star- struck fans, who were munching on peanuts and gulping down bottled beer, “I was vacationing with my family on the New Jersey shore, just driving along when my wife says out of the blue, ‘You know, Tommy’s regular temperature is 98.5 whereas Peggy’s is 98.6 like the rest of us.’ At that exact moment, I look to the side of the road and see milepost 98.5 on the Garden State Parkway. Then I pull into the Mobil station and the posted price for gas is…”
“98.5 cents,” one of the admiring fans answers automatically. The others make all the expected exclamations of how strange Charley must have felt. As was his custom, Charley pooh-poohed the suggestion the experience was out of the ordinary. “That’s nothing,” Charley says enthusiastically, “Listen to this. I pull up to the gas pump, open the car door, and take a look at the coke spill on the ground the previous driver just made, and the shape of that spill is a perfect rhomboid. At that moment, I look through my front windshield and the sun’s rays refract a perfect rhomboid on my seat cover. But here’s the weird part. The attendant comes over and asks if I’d like to apply for one of those Mobil speed passes. I look at the application on his clipboard and the coffee stain on the paper is a perfect…”
“Rhomboid!” the same volunteer hollers.
“How are the twins?” I called out from the other end of the bar. Charley does not turn
around. “Tommy and Peggy, how are they doing?”
The mention of the kids’ names got Charley’s attention. He swivels around to see where this question was coming from. The other patrons didn’t know, but I know. Charley had a local TV show for a little while back in Chicago, and he used to waltz his wife and kids in front of the TV cameras just, so those cute and adorable little people could verify his sometimes outlandish claims of high coincidence. You see, Charley was no mere teller of 98.5 cent gas price and rhomboid shaped coke spill stories. He was a bona fide seer. He predicted these things before they actually happened. And he didn’t go around trying to make them happen. They just did. In great abundance. Enough so that Charley got noticed by a Chicago TV producer, and soon, he found himself starring on a popular primetime TV show, “Mr. Coincidence,” featuring reenactments of actual events in his life. He is legitimate. No question about that. But after I mention his kids’ names, he tenses up.
“Did you hear what I just told these folks,” Charley said, staring me down.
“Yes, I did,” I dutifully respond.
“What I didn’t tell them is that if anyone of note was around to listen I would have told him that the 98.5 phenomenon was about to happen just moments before it did. And I knew about the coke spill, and the sun refracting through my windshield and the coffee stain, all before they occurred. As I watched that guy dump the contents of his plastic cup on the ground, I saw the shape of things in my mind. I know these things.”
“I know you do. I used to watch your show every Tuesday night at eight o’clock. I was a regular,” I say out loud but think to myself, ‘His wife and kids must not be of any note. I think I touched a sore spot without realizing it.’ His demeanor takes a nasty turn as we continue to converse. I was beginning to sense that my mere presence bothered him. Sometimes, his dark side would come through on his show. Even though it was taped, they could not edit out all of his telltale facial expressions. We all want our seers to be upstanding citizens, or, at the least, nice human beings and maybe even intellectuals with an aristocratic bearing combined with a common touch for more earthly beings such as myself. But he is none of these things. He turns his back on me and begins to tell his fans another story. One of them gives the bartender the sign for another round of drinks. I was not to be included in this little ensemble. But I press forward; order another scotch on my own tab, forty-five minutes away from gaining access to my room. Still bored, I decide to perform some surgery on him, in a congenial way I thought, by shoving another implant into his raw, bleeding gums. “Whatever happened to your show in Chicago?” I ask, touching an exposed nerve. He ignores me as well as any cat ever ignored his duty-bound owner. “I swear. I watched your show all the time. You deserved those high ratings. I heard you were close to syndication before … before it all ended so abruptly.”
Charley didn’t answer me then and I never heard from him what happened to his show. I was forced to stare at his back. He lowers his voice into one of those hushed tones where every word seems to carry the gravitas of exclusive, profound thought. His gathering of devotees, however, continues to laugh out loud and make all the appropriate gushing exclamations befitting their illustrious host. I didn’t know what Charley’s plans were or what business he had in Indianapolis, but it occurs to me that this little scene of his, holding court in a hotel bar, was a step down from national sponsors and millions of loyal TV viewers. When I should have been using this time to go over my speech on dental implants, I become more and more curious about Charley’s situation, even though it’s none of my damn business.
I pick up my drink and walk over to the group, taking the brunt of some cold, nasty stares. What they didn’t realize at the time was that I could stake claim to celebrity status myself, being the keynote speaker at a major convention. I stepped right in front of Charley. I had to know some things, but struggle to find the right words that would trigger a meaningful response.
“So what is it with you, Charley. Is it all just luck?”
“Hardly,” he answered curtly.
“Coincidence then?” I asked.
“Barely,” he said.
“Providence?” I offer.
“Rhode Island,” he says smartly which sends his gaggle of geese into a paroxysm of overly loud amiable beer laughs and a fit of contagious knee slapping. In that moment, the convivial atmosphere in the bar turns harsh and unwelcome, for me at least. I knew it was time for me to exit while I still had some of my dignity intact. I just wish none of those red-faced, knee-slapping drunks were dentists. But the odds are some of them are. Any mathematician would tell you there’s a one in seven chance one or two of them share my profession. But few odds makers could readily pin down the betting formula for what happens next.
I pay my tab, leave a tip for the bartender, and then pick up my briefcase. I head toward the exit. Through the spindle wood and eggshell glass barrier separating the lobby hallway from the bar area, I notice the vague outline of a woman and her two children about to enter into the dim light. I study them through the etched design of a swan, wings spread wide, alighting upon the water. The graceful bird seems to offer this fragment of a family temporary protection in the brightly lit hallway. As I drew closer, and the growing awareness of the identity of these three people start to sink into my scotch-soaked brain, I stop short of the exit and sit down at one of the small round tables.
The woman escorts her children into the far corner of the bar and settles in at a little round table just like mine. Oh my God, I think, it’s Tommy and Peggy, Charley’s twin kids and that’s his wife, or ex-wife to be more precise. Here’s a situation where I have a unique perspective. I knew I was about to see a scene unfold, just moments before it did. I could almost predict what would happen next. Charley would not be so dismissive of this little threesome as he was of me. Also, I’m not sure his bar friends would be as unkind in their silent treatment toward a woman and her two small children. I watch the kids closely. The girl sits obediently still, doing whatever mother commands. The boy has other things on his mind. He becomes restless. He makes several attempts to get up to greet his father, whose back is turned against his family. It seems that Charley is only aware of the entertainment value of his last remark, in all likelihood a retelling of some remarkable coincidence predicted by him for all the world’s historians to note.
The mother, I find out later, works as a receptionist for one of the dentists in Chicago. He is on the ADA Board of Governors, so he paid for her to accompany him to the convention. All she had to do in return was work the registration table one of the mornings. She agreed to go as long as she could take her children. After all, their ninth birthday fell on that same weekend. One morning at the table, check credentials for all dentists A through D, and the rest of the weekend she was free. Free to do what, I do not know. I am sure there is a lot to do in such a big city. A big city not that far from Chicago. I mean, Charley and the young, pretty TV producer he hooked up with could have run further away than Chicago. Yet, in Tommy and Peggy’s little minds, their father was as far away as the moon. He abandoned them and now there was the issue of unpaid child support. The TV producer, as much impressed with Charley as his current fan club at the bar, had some family as well as business connections in Indianapolis.
I noticed that Tommy tried to call out to his father, but his mother cuffed his mouth. She would be the one to speak first. I observed that at least his son still had feelings for him. Charley must have spent more time with him than the girl. Anyhow, it was sure building up to be an awkward moment for Charley. To be confronted with his past, the specter of the disenfranchised wife, the deeply hurt, neglected children, the near success of this phenomenal seer who must have known that someday there would come a moment way beyond the commonplace, weird shapes of coke spills and milepost numbers notwithstanding, when some extraordinary coincidence would take place in his life. He had to know that, given his exceptional gift for predicting the future. But Charley is no mathematician, so I am sure he was unaware of the odds of his estranged wife walking into this bar, with kids in tow, it being his stage for the moment. In a city that is not his current residence. On his abandoned kids’ birthday. The anti-coincidence theorist would say the odds were in favor of this exact thing happening, that his former wife had to get a job somewhere, and a dentist’s office was as good a place as any. The Chicago dentist paid her well. The job offered good health benefits which she certainly needed for herself and the children. And the dentist was kind to her. She needed that kind of treatment after Charley stung her so deeply. The coincidence theorist would most likely say, “Wow! What a coincidence!” I don’t know which side I would agree with, but I feel that somehow I am an integral part of the outcome.


Numerous short stories and poems written by Jack Donahue have been published in journals such as: Newtown Literary Review; Prole (U.K.); Palo Alto Review; The Main Street Rag; China Grove; Folio; The Almagre Review and others throughout North America and Europe. Mr. Donahue received his M.Div. degree from New Brunswick, Theological Seminary, NJ in 2008. He is married and resides on the North Fork of Long Island, New York.

Fair Weather By Luke Samra

Fair Weather By Luke Samra

Her eyes, stars. Both are beautiful yet distant from me.

I remember her through embers

Like sunburnt leaves.

Her lips resemble an October horizon

As rich as her thick hair that

reflected the moon.

She left at the first frost.


Luke Samra is from Kalamazoo, MI.  His work appears in: The Tipton Poetry Journal, FishFood Magazine, Local Gems Press (Bards Against Hunger), The Charleston Anvil and Flying Island.  Luke is a tennis instructor and musician.

Renovations By Valentina Cano

Renovations By Valentina Cano

He smelled like a furniture store,

like the surge and ebb

of bodies around upholstery.

His face, rough like the cheapest carpet,

rubbed her eyes into debris.

Into metamorphosing sand.

It was a Sunday moment,

bubbling in her stomach.

when he smiled.

It was the fibrous coat she would have pared off.


Valentina Cano is a student of classical singing who spends whatever free time she has either reading or writing. Her works have appeared in numerous publications and her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Web. Her debut novel, The Rose Master, was published in 2014 and was called a “strong and satisfying effort” by Publishers Weekly.

 

Blemishes By Rudi Randall

Blemishes By Rudi Randall

“Your hair knots and crinkles too much”

“Your eyes rage with too much ambition”

“Your skin bears too much resemblance to a dirty copper coin”

“Your blemishes overpower any beauty you could possess”

 

But what beautiful thing is truly perfect?

No graceful flower standing amongst the weeds is completely symmetrical

Each majestic, steadfast tree carries uneven branches that carry imperfectly shaped leaves

All sunsets, with their harmonious blending of vivid tangerines and goldenrods, are marred by

uneven and cloudy skylines

 

How can you measure yourself against skewed standards?

Why would you shelter your uniquely twisting tresses,

Your unbridled drive to succeed,

Your radiant, pigmented skin

Like they’re blemishes to be erased?

I propose a new standard:

 

Beauty lies in the beholder,

So behold yourself like a one of a kind painting

Maybe not as a Manet, ordinary, traditional

But as a Picasso, with your blemishes adding dimension to your allure,

Eccentric and wild and gorgeous and completely beautiful.


Rudi Randall is a student at Hagerstown Community College.

 

Underwater Algebra By William Doreski

Underwater Algebra By William Doreski

When the lakes have frozen over,
equations smoke from the mud
and tickle the fancy of trout.

You didn’t know that algebra
occurs organically when leaf
debris rots on the bottoms

of lakes deep enough to care
about the future unevolved.
You didn’t know that fish, being

natural mathematicians, delve
into problems even atomic
computers belch out unsolved.

December’s brief afternoons flicker
as I tense my scrawny muscles
against sudden onset despair.

You ignore indulgent symptoms
by toting firewood to flatter
the cats cuddled at the woodstove

with tails entwined and twitching.
You ignore my assertion that deep
in the region’s lakes the fish

outthink us in primary colors
we rarely see in the winter
because our shadows occlude us.

Meanwhile the plaiting of distance
warps the dying sky by shaping
ecstasies too remote for us,

and the ice reflecting that pleasure
isn’t thick enough to support us
no matter how gently we step.


William Doreski’s work has appeared in various e and print journals and in several collections, most recently A Black River, A Dark Fall (Splash of Red, 2018).

Halloween Terror By Alison Cloonan

Halloween Terror By Alison Cloonan

How much longer before we get to the motel?”  Stephanie asked. “We haven’t slept for two days!  If it weren’t for all the caffeine today we’d be arrested for Driving While Asleep!”

Jennifer laughed as she drove through the darkening evening.  “About an hour. With the big college game there weren’t any motel rooms near the city, so I got one on the way to my dad’s stomping grounds. It was a whole lot cheaper, too.”

“Cheap is good!” Stephanie said.  “I’m so tired of being broke, but I wouldn’t have missed this for anything.”

Passing houses, the road narrowed as they headed into a small town nestled in one of West Virginia’s many hills.

“Oh my gosh!  Look at those cuties!” Stephanie exclaimed when she saw the costumed children walking from house to house asking for candy.  She laughed. “It’s so cold the poor kids have to wear coats over their Halloween costumes! Sure is different than back home, isn’t it?”

“Everything is different,” Jennifer agreed, “I’ve never seen entire forests of reds, yellows, and orange.”

Leaving the town behind them, the car was swallowed up again into the darkness as it followed the black ribbon of asphalt. The women murmured softly in conversation, Stephanie occasionally fiddling with the radio to change stations as static overtook them.

Peering into the dark, Jennifer said uneasily, “The trees are so thick you can’t even see the stars! It’s Halloween so if we have car trouble there better be cell service, because I am NOT getting out of the car to go for help. I don’t want to end up being a campfire story.”

Fog rising from the ground dulled the headlights and made the curving road difficult to follow and both women began to lean forward, peering out the windshield, the eye-shine of unseen animals reflecting back at them.  Deer became goblins and possums were gnomes, shapes shifted, reaching down as though to block their way.

*   * *  * * *  *

Having finally checking into the motel, Jennifer threw her suitcase on the bed and herself next to it. “We’re here, we’re here! Oh glory, we’re here!  I should be ready to sleep, but I’m still wired from the drive and am up for putting on my swimsuit and checking out the Jacuzzi. How about you?”

“Oh, yeah!  I’m still knotted into a pretzel from the plane ride. Dibs on the bathroom!” Stephanie called as she zipped open her suitcase and pulled out her suit.

Exiting the bathroom she saw Jennifer in her suit, tossed her a towel, and they wrapped themselves up and headed out into the open walkway.

“Brrr!  It’s colder than I thought!” Jennifer declared, “We’ll be doing that Swedish thing of getting hot and then running out in the cold.”

Giggling and shivering, they ran, the slapping sounds of their flip flops echoed into the dark.

“Ahhhh,” Stephanie sighed as she slid into the heated bubbling water.  “This Jacuzzi is the perfect lagniappe for the start of some great memories.  Just one of those little extras that make life fun!”

Jennifer placed her towel behind her neck, resting it on the edge, her muscles relaxing in the warmth.  “If I fall asleep, don’t let me drown!”

Stephanie turned to look into the pool area. Windows enclosed the three open sides and she thought how pretty it would be to watch the snow or rain falling through them.  She turned back around to face the wall. Unfortunately, the jet was positioned where she couldn’t see outside.

The two soaked in meditative silence until Jennifer popped up out of the water and exclaimed, “If I don’t go in now I’ll be too limp to get to the room, I’m like a wet noodle!  You stay here for another ten minutes while I shower, and then you can take yours. That okay with you?” She looked down at her friend, grabbing her towel.

“Perfect,” Stephanie agreed. “I’m still working on this one kink in my back.”

“I hope I can make it to the room!” Jennifer said, staggering off.

Stephanie slid further into the water, closing her eyes.  The lights, reflecting off the pool, danced across the walls and glowed through her eyelids.

A change in the lighting perhaps or a sound she couldn’t identify caused Stephanie to open her eyes.  The clarity of the black shadow cast on the wall in front of her outlining the hat and trench coat left no doubt that a person was behind her and that it was a very large man.

Languid from the heated water, her brain muddled, she was unable to move and the scenarios of all the horror movies she had ever seen flashed before her eyes. She saw her body dragged away, raped and murdered, her family never knowing what happened to her; her best friend finding her in a Jacuzzi full of blood, her hair spread out from her head as she floated in the water; she envisioned the shadowy arm lifting up a large knife and it striking down on her again, and again, and again.

In her head she was screaming, silently screaming, but she, herself, could make no sound.  Struggling to open her mouth, the horror of not being able to scream became as terrifying as the looming shadow in front of her. Her eyes, the only part of her still able to move, widened, the pupils dilating across her green irises as she watched the shadow shift, shrinking as it moved further down the wall as footsteps echoed off water and windows.

Her heart, beating so loudly in her head her ears vibrated, she almost missed the sound of a weak, quivery voice, call out, “It’s a nice evening out tonight, isn’t it?”

Rolling her head around toward the voice, Stephanie saw a small elderly man with a very gentle face, wearing a fedora and overcoat against the fall chill, standing across the pool, the bright floodlights luminescent behind him.

“Yes,” she wheezed out the breath she had been holding, “Yes, a very nice evening.”

He smiled, nodded, and continued his evening walk.


Alison Cloonan is a 60-year-old emerging writer who has completed a college creative writing class at Hagerstown Community College.

Tucked Away By Matthew Longerbeam

Tucked Away By Matthew Longerbeam

since that summer day
God, how I loved her then
at a park
in the coolness
of a lake,
we swam
she stepped on a dollar bill
brought it to the surface
between her toes
and for some inexplicable reason
I found that particularly endearing
when it had dried
I tucked it away
in my wallet, kept it
everything has changed
since then
she is married now
and happy
probably never thinks of me.


Matthew Longerbeam is a native of Maryland. He was a victim of violent crime in the 1990s and has spent most of his adult life in recovery. Matthew is currently working on a degree in Human Services at HCC and lives in Williamsport, Md with his wife Tabby and his cat Hobo.

Shimmering By Joan McNerney

Shimmering By Joan McNerney

That summer I wanted to

take off all my clothes.

Be naked under the sun.

Tango all over warm grass,

so warm, warm.

 

Noontime perfumed berries

and lush grass.  Beneath honey

locust through hushed woods

We found this spring,

a secret susurrus disco.

 

My feet began two-stepping

over slippery pebbles.

Threading soft water, the sun

dresses us in golden sequins.

 

Your hand reaches for me.

 


Joan McNerney’s poetry has been included in numerous literary zines such as Moonlight Dreamers of Yellow Haze, Seven Circle Press, Dinner with the Muse, Blueline, Halcyon Days and included in Bright Hills Press, Kind of A Hurricane Press and Poppy Road Review anthologies. She has been nominated four times for Best of the Net.

Last Century’s Couple By William Doreski

Last Century’s Couple By William Doreski

The room whispers to itself

in a hundred subtle tones.

Your dress hangs in a closet

in a panorama of sighs.

The ordinary light can’t ease

 

the sorrow of the bedclothes

crumpled to suggest the ghosts

that smoke from the graveyards

every resurrection eve.

Maybe after the moon rises

 

and wood fires sizzle in houses

enlivened with small children

the dark will seem less daunting.

Today I walked a dozen miles

in a forest devoid of birds.

 

The silence so inflated me

that like a great parade balloon

I arose from the leaf-litter

and assumed a posture ripe enough

to propel me into a future

 

in which absence is no longer news.

You preferred a day of books

thicker than legs of lamb and

almost as meaty. I assume

you learned something angular

 

so you shed your dress in a huff

and crawled into bed and wept.

Now the seams in the sky open

to reveal that pearly undercoat

we’ve always hoped to acquire.

 

But instead of consoling ourselves

in each other’s bodily aura

we pose on the cusp of extinction

as if enjoying this moment

of competing shades of musk.


William Doreski’s work has appeared in various e and print journals and in several collections, most recently A Black River, A Dark Fall (Splash of Red, 2018).