October 4, 2015

BLOCK PARTY – by Kenneth Pobo

(c) 2010, Kenneth Pobo


325 Oak Street talks with 318 Oak Street.  Marsha says, “I had to invite the gay ones.  It would look unfriendly if I didn’t.”

Belle says, “I just hope they don’t, you know, start kissing or something.  Jack would probably get a gun or something.”

“Or something.”

Both in their forties, Jeff and Jerry live at 345 Oak Street.  Yesterday, after Jeff got home from his job at Home Depot, he husked corn while Jerry put push pins through the porch screen which flops down whenever there’s wind.  From there it’s a quick leap to gay marriage, gay adoption, and the fall of the Western world.

Speaking of the fall, it’s early October.  A breeze lifts a few paper plates off the table set in the middle of Oak Street which has been blocked off for the annual block party.  Lemonade sweats in a ruby pitcher.  Hamburger patties, red as faces of sprinting runners, sit under a thin plastic wrap.

Speaking of the fall.  Of Western Civilization.  It happens all the time.  Western Civilization, nicknamed Wes, attends the block party too.  He sits on a thatched chaise lounge, sips a margarita, with salt, and moans to Belle about diabetes and why it’s so hard to put together a gas grill.  I mean, the box says, “4 Easy Steps” and you get in it and a billion widgets and whatsits fall out.  Honestly.

Marsha offers corn chips and salsa.

“Care for some chips, Wes?”

“No thanks honey.  I’m on a diet.”

Marsha breezes off–her kid Rodney knocked over the chocolate cake with vanilla icing she had made.

“Damn you, Rodney!”

The boy escapes over a hedge.

Rodney can’t stand his parents, especially his dad Charles, nicknamed Chuck, who smokes and his beer belly looks like a row boat on a choppy lake.  Wes likes Rodney, calls him a “scamp,” and thinks Marsha and Charles are the salt of the Earth, licking the edge of his grita glass.  He avoids Cara, the adopted five-year-old daughter of Maxine and Lila, 355 Oak, won’t even talk to her, just slumps in his chaise. A speed demon in his youth, friends called him “lead foot,” but that was long ago. Now his knees ache and it’s hard just to get up to go to the bathroom.


After stuffing themselves on dogs and burgers, Jeff and Jerry say goodbye and head back to 345.  Maxine, Lila, and Cara join them.  Jeff and Jerry don’t like kids, but Cara is “cute,” at least that’s what Jeff says.  Jerry considers kids to be tiresome interferences in adult conversation.  Maxine laughs like Tallulah Bankhead.  Lila likes colorful hats with broad brims.

“That Marsha,” says Lila, “her grande-dame at forty bit is getting old.  You could peel her smile off in layers, like mummy bandages.”

“She’s alright,” says Jeff, “but so nervous.  I don’t know about what.  She seems to have it all.”

“And that old guy, Wes, why does he have to come to these parties?” Maxine asks.

“I know, he’s a fossil, but Marsha wants to include everyone.”

“Did anyone ever like him?”  Jeff asks.

“Yeah,” Lila says, “he was married once.  To a beautiful woman, so I hear, named Felicia, but Felicia got bored and skedaddled all the way to Argentina.  I saw a picture of Wes when he was young.  Belle says he was some kind of Adonis.  Who knew?”

Dusk.  A pair of pink flip-flops walking between clouds.  A slapping sound of hand on leg from mosquitoes.

Jerry says, “Wes sounds like a pretty sad guy.  Jeff, maybe we should have him over for martinis.  I know he hates gays, but you never know.  Maybe he’ll come around.  So what if he’s thousands of years old?


Jeff: “You always…”

Jerry:  “I never!”

Jerry enjoys parties, Jeff doesn’t, and living room walls don’t dare to take sides.  It’s the evening they’ve waited for—Wes has finally agreed to stop in for drinks. Jeff sees him walking up the driveway.  Jerry and Jeff have been cleaning all week.  Everything has to sparkle.  That’s what Jeff says, sparkle, summoning up a word his mother used to say every Friday when she’d move all the furniture, even the couch, to get any errant dust fleck.  She called herself The Dust Assassin.  Jeff and Jerry usually live just to the north of squalor.

But for this one day the house sparkles.  Diamonds, and we don’t have to tell anyone that they’re phonies, glint on the mantle and light through the bay window shows that how even the mother-in-law’s green straps shine.

“Hi Wes, how are you?  Hope you’re well,” Jerry says, opening the door.

“Hello,” the voice cold, like a fork found under snow.

Jeff brings in chilled martinis, very dry.  Wes grabs one, downs it, grabs another.  Jerry and Jeff trade glances, laugh, and Wes begins a tirade.  Every other sentence starts “I don’t like….”  Jeff tries to change the subject, but the subject never settles.

Jerry fluffs a pillow and just as he’s about to bring it to Wes, he slumps.

“Wes!  Wes!  What’s wrong?” asks Jerry while Jeff skitters to the phone.

Too late.  When the ambulance arrives, Wes is dead.  A heart attack—of course in a queer house.  Uh, oh, what will the newspapers say?  And worse, what will Marsha say?  He declined and fell even before the garlic bagel crisps made it to the coffee table.

Neighbors gather outside of 345 and watch three ambulance guys haul Wes away.  Some weep and shake their heads.  A cloud.  Of suspicion.  Hangs.  Over 345.

Marsha and the others, like waves receding from a water lily, drift back to their houses.  “Heart attack, ha!” Jerry hears Chuck say.  Blame’s sperm meets Guilt’s egg.

A new world forms.  And in the morning, the kids must be driven to band practice, haircuts happen, and jobs open their unlipsticked mouths for many on Oak Street to sidle up and kiss.

~~ ~~ ~~

Check out Kenneth Pobo’s poems in The Queer South (Sibling Rivalry Press).


~~ ~~ ~~

September 27, 2015

Living Together – By Evelyn Deshane


 (c) Evelyn Deshane, 2015.

the back breaking labour

of climbing up and down stairs

of sweating profusely during the dog days of summer

the one bedroom apartment, swelling up and over

a moving truck van. rent it now for $19.95 –

(plus services and fees).

nothing from no one is ever really free.

except for shared laughs about the things that I’ve kept

the moments remembered, smoking on steps

we go out to dinner and then grab a pint

but can’t fuck at night because we’re tired and sore.

we’re living together now. I worry it’s all boring,

so trivial and mundane. I don’t believe in soul mates

& we’ve never kissed in the rain, like a 90 minute romance movie.

what’s a happily ever after ending, when i’m still alive to see

the dark after the credits roll, and we’re stewing in our seats

wondering if our non-belief is enough to create something good?
even if we’ve both read what plato says about love
being nothing but a joke, i still hope that in this one bedroom

apartment (with way more stairs than before), we’ll share

the fights and the problems, the times we can’t keep it up

the flues and epidemics, the coughs and night sweats.

here’s something different, something else that I’ve learned

through duct tape and yearning on bathroom floors

hung over from longing, bore for bore:

I want the ordinary, like the keys in a lock

the name on a lease, a stray blue sock.

I’m doing laundry at midnight because the sweat has soaked us through

and this time, maybe,

a one bedroom apartment

can be made for two.



** ** **

Evelyn Deshane is a queer poet living in Canada. Their chapbook, Mythology, was released in 2015 by The Steel Chisel.


** ** **



September 8, 2015

Simple Insomnia – By Eve Francis

(c) 2015  Eve Francis

“What do you think?” Alison said, flicking off the TV. “Should we head to bed?”

Cora groaned. She had sprawled out over Alison’s lap as they caught up with Orange is The New Black. She didn’t want to get up, especially if that meant the night was over. Alison’s hand caressed the back of her neck, where Cora’s dark hair was gathered into a ponytail. Alison took out the hair tie gently, then ran her fingers through Cora’s hair.

“Fine. Okay. You always know how to win me over.”

Alison only grinned as Cora got up, and the two of them headed to the bedroom. Just as Cora shut the door, Alison slipped off her day clothing and slipped on a pair of boxers to sleep in. But nothing else. Cora grabbed her tank top, and gym shorts to sleep in.

“Really?” Cora asked. “Just the shorts for you?”

Alison raised an eyebrow.

“I don’t want to do anything,” Cora said. “We actually really do need sleep. Early shifts tomorrow.”

“I know,” Alison teased. “I haven’t forgotten.”

As they slipped into bed, Alison placed her hand on Cora’s waist, holding her close. She kissed her, but didn’t let it develop into anything more. Cora could feel how tired Alison’s body was, especially after they had both already worked a long ten hour shift at their cashier jobs in a department store. She slid her hand over the slope of Alison’s back, her fingers trailing over the skin lightly before she gripped harder.

“You’re so skinny,” Cora said.

“And you’re so beautiful,” Alison said. “So, is it a crime for me to stay naked like this? Sometimes I just like the way it feels. Not sexual, Cora. You should know that by now.”

“I do know that. It actually reminds me of a poem I read one time.”

“Of course it does. But tell me in the morning?” Alison yawned.

“Sure, sure.” Cora turned over in the bed, allowing for Alison to be the big spoon and for their skin to brush again. Alison kissed the Cora’s neck, and within moments fell asleep.

Damn. Even when I’m this exhausted, I can’t get to sleep that fast. When Cora and Alison went to bed at the same time, it always felt like an inevitable race to sleep—one that Cora had resigned to losing. She could never shut off the thoughts in her head, never just let go. At least, not like Alison did.

Cora shifted, allowing their bodies to become much closer. Alison didn’t stir. Maybe I’m not comfortable. Should I get rid of my top, too? Cora didn’t usually sleep naked. It seemed too risky to her. No one really came into her room without knocking, but she still felt exposed by the thought of it. Now, with Alison’s body covering her and protecting her like a shell, she liked it. But taking off my shirt means moving, and right now, I like where I am.

So Cora tried to remember the poem she had read in English class about the feeling Alison described. Was it e.e. cummings? He was always touted as one of the most artistic poets in her small group of friends at college, but Cora remembered finding an erotic collection of the work he had done. Yes, it was cummings, she remembered now. He had written a poem that was about being naked with someone, and fitting together like a puzzle piece. Or was that puzzle part from Hedwig and The Angry Inch? Which was really just a reinterpretation of The Symposium by Plato. Hmm. Now I’m not sure of anything anymore.

“Shh,” Alison said, turning closer to Cora. “I can hear your thoughts. They woke me up.”

“I’m sorry.”

“No, no, it’s fine. Just…” Alison touched Cora’s face, then pressed their foreheads together. “Just breathe. Don’t think.”

“Doesn’t breathing requiring thinking?”

“No. Stop this. You know better.”

Cora bit her lip. She did know better, but that was partly the problem. Night made her thoughts cascade forward and sound like cymbals crashing in her ears. And–and– she thought, then went to look at Alison, but she was asleep again.

So simple. So easy. Cora breathed in and out, then tried to remember just the poem. Then, just the sound of the room. Before long, Cora was remembering the first day she and Alison had met in a bookstore where their drinks had been mixed up at the coffee bar. Awkward conversations led to long discussions at night in Alison’s basement apartment, until they both transferred to the same department store, and Cora moved in with Alison. That had been, what, six months ago? Cora nodded. She started to count those days, all 183 of them, instead of sheep.

It still took Cora another fifteen minutes, but she eventually fell asleep.

~~~ ~~~ ~~~

More stories by Eve Francis  ~  Website

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