“And, so, it is proven that too much sun causes skin cancer,” the anchor on the evening news said, looking past the camera, and, Lorrie felt, right into her soul. “Without a doubt,” he emphasized.
She picked up the remote and turned the set off, the anchor’s words, “Without a doubt,” ringing in her ears. Well, you didn’t have to tell her because she was a firm believer. Sunlight was bad, and Lorrie was done with it forever.
It had all started with a simple getaway with her boyfriend, Ron, to Florida that past February. The Minnesota winter was dragging on and on with endless cloudy days, freezing temperatures and an unrelenting, brutal north wind.
“Let’s go someplace warm,” Lorrie had suggested. “Get away for a while.”
Ron, ever the jokester, grinned and said, “I thought you’d never ask.”
Two weeks later they were lying on the beach in Fort Lauderdale, soaking up the rays, sipping cold drinks and, in Lorrie’s case, not being too diligent with the PSF 50 sunscreen. One day later she was writhing in agony in their hotel room, suffering from a second-degree sunburn that covered her body with a blistering rash. Her skin felt like it was on fire, like sharp needles pricking into her every time she breathed.
“I’ve never burned like this before,” she complained to Ron after they’d made an emergency stop at a clinic before returning to their room. “I’ve always just gotten a really nice tan.” She grimaced as sat up when Ron held a cup of ice water to her blistered lips.
As she drank thirstily, he took one look at the oozing pustules on her blistered skin and fought back a gag reflex. “Well, there’s always a first time,” he managed to comment, an observation she didn’t think was very sympathetic.
He set the ice water down and stood up briskly, obviously in a hurry get out of sight of his par-broiled girlfriend. “You take care. I’ll be back later. I’m going to the beach.” He quickly stuffed sunscreen, a floppy hat and a beach towel into a canvas bag while doing his best to avoid looking at her.
No, not sympathetic at all. “Thanks for nothing,” she yelled, but didn’t think he heard her due to the slamming of the door as he left her to her misery.
A week later she was back in her apartment in southwest Minneapolis. She worked writing technical manuals for an electronics control manufacturing company. The doctor at the clinic in Florida said that she’d probably experience heat sickness for a while and she definitely was, feeling nauseous and generally out of sorts twenty-four seven. She was also still sore from her burns. Fortunately, her boss understood her situation and told her she could work from home.
“Take your time,” Fran told her over the phone. “Just get that project done and we’ll take it from there.”
“Sounds good, Fran. Thanks. I’ll do my best.”
Lorrie settled into her ergonomic chair, flipped open her laptop on her desk and began working on her new project, writing detailed specifications for a new energy saving thermostat. A week went by, her burns were on their way to healing, and she was pleasantly surprised at how much she was enjoying the peace and quiet of working at home. She could focus on her project much better without all the extraneous office racket, and there were no interruptions to break her concentration. It was quite nice.
I would take the train to 23rd Street and you’d buzz me in.
You had that record with Janis Siegel singing Chanson D’Amour
and we’d sit in your tiny kitchen and drink our sodas, or sometimes tea,
and no cocktails, or wine or weed would be required for the events to follow.
Even now, those steamy nights of youthful excess
remain pinprick articulations in the melody of life.
Words of love — never spoken, never needed, never sought.
Sometimes I watched your bedside clock, waiting for dawn to hurry me on my way.
Phil Huffy is a reformed attorney from Rochester, New York, USA. Before turning to poetry, he hobbied for years as a songwriter and solo performer. He often writes from personal experience as he would like to remember it. Recent placements include The Lyric, Gold Dust, Lighten Up Online and three haiku journals.
The clock adds a minute, subtracts the next. Its half-hearted ticking convinces no one, Least of all you. Here where the echo Precedes the cry, you lie in bed. A cobweb sags and comes apart. You watch its gentle progress down the wall, Then get up and negotiate The house’s hesitant geography. You’re not surprised to find yourself Caught briefly in a chaos of doors.
Outside near the feeders a chaffinch Reworks its song. The dawn rain lingers. You look out at the backs of buildings, Note the squint of their upstairs windows, The complicity of their walls. Further off beyond the empty motorway A sparrowhawk banks over a bare track. It darts down and its claws close tightly round Imperfect life. Below a fox crouches In the lee of its name, then pads away.
Malistic internal émigré, Assigné à résidence, you wait. Now the actual fattens, the wounds close And unclose, blur and become clear. A few ghosts dissolve. Belief refracts. You pace the room, expecting all the time The fever and the cough that never come. One day, under bleak insistent sunlight, Freedom shrieking in your ears, You’ll fall face first into yourself.
THE MYTHOLOGY OF MAN
It was here – we’re taught – that a god Planted earth and sky, then sat back to watch
The minerals expand and change their form, The arcs and whorls of nascent light;
Here he saw the continents unfurl, The seas and rivers nuzzle into place,
And set the weather running: Summer’s heat, then ice and snow’s retort;
And here, among the wind’s leavings, That mankind emerged; here men cradled
Their new-caught names, formed stunted vowels And stunted consonants, and persevered
Until their words astounded language Or crumpled to a question mark;
Here they first experienced The routine magic of a kiss,
The irreverent spasms of love, Or lead instead a life of solitude;
Here they inscribed their subtle laws And set in train their wild festivities;
And here their restless instruments, The machines that invent themselves,
And reinvent themselves, whose coarse music Torments and confuses, rebelled.
Centuries later men crouched Beneath exhausted constellations.
Flecked with lice and undefended, They parried half-imagined blows,
Hunkered further down and told themselves Passivity and deference are strength.
Their dull unintimate glances, their shame And anomie showed their age had ended.
Nearby their wailing abstract dead Had congregated – they showed it too.
We learnt all this; we see men failed To survive their own myth, that’s all.
UNWANTED CORRESPONDENCE: FIRST EMAIL
Apologies for stalking you like this – By email not in person or by phone – I’m shy, you see; you also ought to know This is my first attempt in fifteen years, Which means I’m rather out of practice too.
So in my role as one of Britain’s least- Prolific stalkers, let me take this chance To introduce myself to my new beau: My name is Jaspirel, I’m epicene In keeping with the ‘spirit of the age.’ Like you, I’m trying to revive the art Of poetry in almost-solitude, By which I mean a room above a pub In Kentish Town; it’s not ideal, that’s clear: The walls at ill-made angles to the floor, The boiler half-asthmatic and a rat That squats inside the cupboard like a god.
At night – in breaks from writing – I observe An isolated avenue of light Which holds lives shaped by money or its lack. Tonight though, curtains drawn, I’ve spent the time Examining the cut along my thumb And slipping further from sobriety. Warm brandy with Ribena is my drink. I find it suits my palate, and my guts: My waste is of a better quality; What’s more, my stomach cramps have nearly gone.
Oh, by the way, I’d like to send some poems For you to comment on. Is that alright?
Yours – J
Ian Heffernan was born just outside London, where he still lives. He studied at UCL and SOAS and works with the homeless. His poetry has been published recently in the High Window, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Cha, Antiphon, South Bank Poetry, London Grip, Under the Radar, FourXFour, the Moth and elsewhere.
Gary Beck has spent most of his adult life as a theater director and worked as an art dealer when he couldn’t earn a living in the theater. He has also been a tennis pro, a ditch digger and a salvage diver. His original plays and translations of Moliere, Aristophanes and Sophocles have been produced Off Broadway. His poetry, fiction and essays have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines and his published books include 26 poetry collections, 10 novels, 3 short story collections, 1 collection of essays and 1 collection of one-act plays. Published poetry books include: Dawn in Cities, Assault on Nature, Songs of a Clerk, Civilized Ways, Displays, Perceptions, Fault Lines, Tremors, Perturbations, Rude Awakenings, The Remission ofOrder, Contusions and Desperate Seeker (Winter Goose Publishing. Forthcoming: Learning Curve and Ignition Point).Earth Links, Too Harsh For Pastels, Severance and Redemption Value (Cyberwit Publishing. Forthcoming: Fractional Disorder). His novels include a series ‘Stand to Arms, Marines’: Call to Valor, Crumbling Ramparts and Raise High the Walls (Gnome on Pig Productions) and Extreme Change (Winter Goose Publishing). Wavelength will be published by Cyberwit Publishing. His short story collections include: A Glimpse of Youth (Sweatshoppe Publications). Now I Accuse and other stories (Winter Goose Publishing) and Dogs Don’t Send Flowers and other stories (Wordcatcher Publishing). The Republic of Dreams and other essays (Gnome on Pig Productions). The Big Match and other one actplays (Wordcatcher Publishing). Collected Plays of Gary Beck Volume 1 (Cyberwit Publishing. Forthcoming: Plays of Aristophanes translated, then directed by Gary Beck). Gary lives in New York City.