SQUIRRELS

by Tony Rafalowski

 

The remnants of a hurricane blew through my yard

Late one September afternoon. You would think

West Tennessee and its cotton fields far enough away

From the tropical storm warnings of the gulf coast.

 

Not so much, as evidenced by the two juvenile squirrels

Tossed from the security of the large old sugar gum tree

Beside the driveway, abandoned by their parents, I guess,

Who heeded the forecast and found other shelter.

 

One died on the concrete and had to be carried away

By my son in law, laid to rest at the bottom of the creek

That runs behind our property, swollen in the morning light

With the run off from rains that flooded south Texas.

 

One survived, the stronger sibling, Cain or Romulus,

Crawled down the driveway and into the garage

Under the Toyota where we found him the next day,

Crying for justice in the dark light of the dawn.

 

Using garden gloves we laid him in a box

Pillowed on an old towel ragged but soft,

Stroked his gray fur with our fingertips,

Sought to pray away the hurts, his and our own.

 

We gave him to a friend who had done this

Before, nursed an injured squirrel back to life.

He died in the late afternoon, but not without

Love, the soft comfort of having mattered.

 

The rest of us could be so lucky.

TOMBIGBEE STATE PARK OCTOBER 8th, 2017

by Tony Rafalowski

 

In a state park on Sunday afternoon,

the hill country of east Mississippi,

my dog and I stop to watch a young couple

flying kites in a vacant baseball field.

 

They’re not having much luck, the wind is

swirling, black clouds melting the sunshine,

raising a storm to usher in the fall;

their own dog dances on a leash at their feet.

 

Rabbie stops to watch the dog and the kites

while I naturally follow the girl with my eyes.

They’re married, I think, and too young altogether,

something out of a Hollywood montage.

 

She’s fighting to get her plastic kite aloft

on the trickster breeze that tosses her hair,

dodging the dog in cut offs, midriff bare,

eyes glowing brighter than four o’clock gold.

 

I look at him, wishing I could tell him

you will remember this day thirty or forty years

from now amidst the slow beeping of machines

and the whispering hush of a ventilator.

 

Rabbie looks up at me with head cocked aside:

he’s done watching and so am I. Turn away,

walk on down the lane where the storm waits.

I wonder if she ever got that kite to fly.

IT’S A SOUTHERN THING

by Amanda Pugh

 

Small towns form the backbone of the South. It is where we get our character, and our spirit, and most definitely where we get our color. You can find some of the best food, people, and stories in our small Southern towns.

And you know something else you can find?

Festivals.

We can take any place or thing (bonus points if it is particular to the neighborhood) and by gum, we can make it a reason to party. Of course, growing up in West Tennessee as I was most fortunate to do, I can tell you about some of the most fun (and unusual) festivals you have ever had the pleasure to encounter.

One of the best known in this area is the Humboldt Strawberry Festival in Humboldt TN.

Strawberries.

Yep.

Told ya.

It is a week long event with pageants and parades (I marched in the Grand Floats parade all four years I was in high school with my marching band, even with strep throat my senior year) celebrating all things strawberry. The citizens of Humboldt and Gibson County take great pride in this annual event and it shows in the care they take with the details and the pride that shines from their eyes during the first or second week in May, depending.

Depending on what you might ask?

Well, that brings me to the next well known event in West Tennessee, the World’s Largest Fish Fry in Paris TN. The Strawberry folks usually try not to have these two events overlap because of the crowds (and the revenue) they bring their respective towns.

There is not a catfish in the state safe the week this party- we’re talking vats of fish fillets, hush puppies, and all the trimmings. And yep, there’s a parade at the end of this festival (and yep I marched in this one) too. It’s a week of good fun and good food.

Next up I have to tell you about the Teapot Festival in Trenton, TN. Somehow, Trenton wound up with a beautiful teapot museum and so in grand Southern tradition, they decided to celebrate it with an annual festival. It IS a beautiful collection, so I can’t say as I blame them one bit for wanting to celebrate them-I would too.

 

They also have the Iris Festival in Dresden, TN, which started out as the town’s Easter parade and evolved into a huge event that draws big crowds every year, honoring Tennessee’s state flower.

But one of the most “huh?” inducing events each year would be the Doodle Soup Days in Bradford, TN.

Yeah.  Doodle soup.

Say what?

Bradford is famous for its doodle soup recipe, which (without giving up too much of the secret) involves chicken broth and seasonings and eaten with bread or crackers. They say that its main characteristic is a strong taste of vinegar (at least it does on the festival’s website). Bradford is quite proud of this decades old recipe- and as their website says, “Why not?”

That is one thing I love about the South- we can and will have a party at the slightest provocation. And give us a little bit of time and we will make the world party with us.

Y’all come join in!

 

(Originally appeared in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, September 2017)

THE DEMON IS HERE AGAIN

by Amanda Pugh

 

It’s here again

Taunting me

Mocking me

Shows up whenever it likes

Causes my mood to spike

In a downward turn

Makes my heart burn

I scream and tell it to go away

But it hangs around anyway

Telling me what it has to say

That I’m not good enough

Not pretty enough

Not smart enough

Reminds me of every bad time

Like a malignant chime

Draining my energy and hope

And all I can do to cope

Is crawl away from the blight

To save my strength to fight

But in my heart I always know

Even though it will go

The demon will come again.

FIVE SPOTS ON A WINDOW

by Mark Walls

 

Close an eye,

They appear imposed

on the world

or on the black oak by the fence

at least.

 

Five spots on a window

specks of pollen

or a bit of some insect,

a dried-up raindrop or two,

fossil records from a liquid era

before this August’s desiccation.

 

Focus.  They rise and move

like stars

portending something.

A religious mystery?

Waymarks for journey?

Cosmic rotation?

 

Connect them.

They become a truth,

a constellation,

some incarnation.

 

A lucky seven, a boot, a peasant’s scythe,

an inverted question mark, a man with a ponytail

jumping on a pogo stick–

 

auguries on glass

meaning too much

and too little, both.

THE MIND IN ITS OWN PLACE

by Mark Walls

 

So,

Milton said

the mind

is its own

place.

 

But its corners

aren’t true.  Joists swoop and sway.

 

Lines

don’t

align;

gaps greet

converging angles,

dark spaces for spiders

to hide.

 

In building their

own places

in heaven or hell,

minds

swing off marks

like plumb-bobs catching wayward edges,

winds,

or careless helpers’ shoulders or cap brims,

or,

lacking another excuse,

the maddening

spins

of nylon

strands

that twist

always

just an eighth of an inch

off

plumb

dead-center.

HOPE

by Mark Walls

Hope

floats

in

or

out

of reach

like milkweed tufts.

 

It has no

mind

no plan

for time.

 

Following,

our eyes

see

the invisible

breeze

that promises

all

and

nothing

at all.

 

WHEN I FIRST SAW YOU

by Powell Franklin

 

When I first saw you, you were no larger than a loaf of bread

Fresh-baked, red, and a bit crinkled.  I held you in one arm,

Your head nestled into the crook of my elbow,

Your bottom, diapered for the very first time, in the palm of my left hand,

And your crying stopped as you gazed into my face, with a look of wonderment.

 

This morning, I rushed you off to school, freshman year.  You were

A bit impertinent in your hurry, a bit aloof with your newfound independence.

Your hair swishing side-to-side as you strode out the door, into the building.

You did not look back,

And my silent tears slid down my cheek as I watched you go, with a look of wonderment.

UNTIL SHE WAS GONE

by Amanda L. Pugh

 

He never realized
How much she meant
To him, his heart, his soul
Until she was gone.
Out of his reach
But still on his mind
He could still see
Her smiles, her tears
Share her happiness
Share her pain
On the social media page
But he never realized
How much that woman
Meant to the man
He wanted so much to be
Until she was gone.

 

 

Walnuts

Walnuts

By Tony Rafalowski

 

The walnut tree

outside my window

(that I thought was something else)

yielded fruit for the first time

this autumn.

 

Accidentally planted

by an unknown breeze,

no one noticed it

until it had already

taken root.

 

For years mostly

it seemed a twig,

gray, barren, dull, mundane,

a budding branch or two

in late spring.

 

Until this year –

full of bronze leaves,

it covers the empty lawn

with an unlooked for harvest:

love is like that sometimes.