Robert Marswood – The Letter

The Letter
from Book II, Chapter 2 of Out of Zion
by Robert Marswood

“Fifty dollars for one lousy letter!”

“You want to make sure it’s sent from the other end of the country—and no one finds out you’re here?” Joe said raising an eyebrow.

Brad suddenly realized that Joe could not only send the letter, but also betray him. He felt sweat in his armpits. “How much could it possibly cost to get one of your air-steward friends to take it on his next flight to the East Coast?”

“Not much. But of course, this letter isn’t important to me. It’s important to you. What’s it worth to you?”

“How about 25?”

“How about forget it.”


“Not even warm.”


“And you buy me a drink.”

“I’m always buying you a drink every time I meet you in a bar.”

“That’s what people do in bars here. Buy each other drinks. Get drunk. Take each other home. Have sex—and leave the next morning. I guess you haven’t gotten the hang of that yet.”

‘And I hope I never do,’ Brad thought. He raised his hand and caught the bartender’s attention. A tall man with a military buzz cut and a strong jaw leaned over the bar to take Brad’s order. “A white Russian and a 7-Up,” Brad said.

“You remembered!” Joe said acting genuinely surprised.

“Yeah, that’s what happens when you don’t kill too many brain cells in a place like this.”

“You know just how to make a girl feel special!” Joe said as he picked up his white Russian. He stirred the ice cubes a few rotations with the little, red, swizzle stick to mix the cream on top before taking a sip.

Brad said nothing. He just watched the video playing on the screen above the bar. It was Madonna’s Vogue. The dancers wore 1930s or ’40s clothing and struck poses. ‘How appropriate,’ Brad thought. ‘Just what everybody in this bar is doing—posing and acting—badly.’ Brad turned his attention back to Joe who had quickly emptied his glass.

“Buy me another one, Jethro, and I’ll do it for free—if you show a girl a good time.”

“As appealing as that offer is, I think I’ll pass. Let’s just keep this strictly business.”

“If that’s the way you want it. So, how’s your new place on Haight Street working out?”

“H-H-how did you know I moved there?” Brad stuttered.

“Your super called to have the ad pulled. I asked who moved in. So, are you enjoying the roach motel?”

Brad was afraid and ashamed that Joe knew where he lived and that his apartment was a dump. He could tell the police exactly where Brad lived if they ever came calling. Brad was so unnerved by Joe’s comment that he almost walked away before giving Joe the letter.

“Sorry to cut things short, but here’s the money.” Brad counted out two twenties and a five into Joe’s outstretched palm. “And the letter. Make sure someone sends this within a week from the East Coast.” Brad handed Joe a thick, white, security envelope that wouldn’t reveal its contents when held up to a light. His mother’s name and address were typed on the envelope and Brad had affixed a first class stamp. Inside was a postcard of Times Square’s neon signs with the short message. “Living in New York City. Have work and a place to live. Hope you are well. Love, Brad.” He hoped that his mother would be the first to collect the mail as she usually did at noon when she walked the three blocks from the store to the house to make his father’s lunch. If she did get it first, Brad knew she would keep it a secret.

“What’s in here?” Joe asked as he waved the envelope in front of Brad.

“None of your business. Just make sure it gets mailed,” Brad said finishing his 7-Up. Then he walked out of the bar unaware of the half dozen men who watched him leave.

Joan Z. Shore – Stay Home! A Tirade Against Tourism

Stay Home! A Tirade Against Tourism
by Joan Z. Shore

The world’s population is exploding; the world itself is shrinking; and travel is becoming a nerve-wracking, back-breaking, soul-crushing ordeal.

So why is everyone on the road? Or in the air?

Why, when television, computers, iPhones and iPads are bringing the world into your living room, are you still booking flights to Paris and cruises to Cancun?

Why are you struggling to find the lowest fares, the chic-est hotels, the newest restaurants, the sunniest beaches when in the end you’re going to return home disappointed, exhausted and ready for another vacation?

Stop right there! You are never going to find the perfect vacation. Perfect vacations are a thing of the past: the Grand Tour of Europe, the Cooks Tour, the Roman Holiday…they have gone the way of the elegant French Line, when “getting there was half the fun.”

These days, unless you can pay your way or pry your way out of an Economy Class flight, you will be trundled into a kindergarten-size seat along with several hundred strangers, served a trayful of inedible muck and alternately chilled and roasted by the plane’s erratic ventilating system.

Or, on a ship as big as the Vatican, you will be lost among three thousand strangers who pass away the nautical hours eating, drinking and gambling. You might as well be home alone with a pizza, a bottle of Chianti and a deck of cards.

So far, I have been exploding the perennial myths about travel in light of present-day realities. Now, let me present the other side of the problem: the natives whose homeland is invaded by foreigners.

I am such a self-proclaimed native. Having lived in Paris for three decades, I consider it my rightful residence, my city, my home. Imagine, then, my utter despair when a caravan of tourist buses (half of them empty) navigates down a neighbourhood street. Inevitably, these mastodons end up at the Eiffel Tower, park there for a while, and then continue on their implacable rounds.

But of course at some point they disgorge their passengers, and these hapless creatures wander around the streets, map in one hand and camera in the other. Sometimes they have the temerity to ask someone for directions—and what a relief if I am the English-speaking native they happen to ask! I have helped Russians, Hungarians, Japanese, Finns and countless others whose English is just adequate enough to say, “Excuse me, please…?” and the finger points to a spot on the map.

There are other tourists, of course, who return regularly to Paris and who are more savvy: the fashion crowd, for example, who come for the Collections. They book the best restaurants for dinner, hire private limousines and take over the town like imperial warlords. I resent their presence, too, because they are appropriating my city and turning it into their private playground!

Listen, folks, Paris is not a playground. Nor is it a quaint leftover from your history books. It is a place where you can write, paint, philosophize, dream, stroll, eat, drink or simply lose yourself. If you wake up early, it’s sunrise on the Seine; if you get lucky, it’s love in the afternoon. I’m sorry, but your presence here in droves distracts me, distresses me, drives me fou.

And I remind you—you had a rotten trip over here, your hotel is a dump, the prices are outrageous, and you couldn’t get through the crowds at the Louvre.

Stay home! You can see the Mona Lisa on the Internet.

Marcus Slease – Karaman

by Marcus Slease

I am drinking Seftali Nektari and walking up a steep hill. White stones are glowing at the old gates. It has rained and the red clay sticks to my soles. The houses are built on top of each other and the hill is devouring them. They are colourful but crumbling. Like an old sadness.

An old, yellow dolmuş picks us up each morning and we drive by the mules and the wedding drums and the mopeds with negotiations on the fly. The city is under construction. The newly planted trees provide no shade. Students pack every morning into the dolmuş with peasants and workers. In the centre new buildings go up and look old before they are finished. Nothing matches.

When we first arrived, we found a small restaurant and drank some Turkish tea. The teas gave the glass cups a reddish tint. A gypsy girl kept calling us sir and madam from the road. I couldn’t explain to her that I am not a rich Westerner. There are plenty of people in this city with more money than I have. We ate our cheese gözleme as the dust blew around us and a man with a hose sprayed down the footpath. Women were collecting water near the mosque. The sign said it was built in 1292.

When we left the restaurant, the sun was scorching so we grabbed some ayrans. The crowds rushed by us cracking sunflower seeds in their mouths and spitting the empty shells on the street. There was music everywhere and ice cream. Turkish ice cream.

There are no pubs or alcohol in these parts. This is a dusty town. Men slick their hair and wear tight jeans. The women are mostly covered and there are a lot of old men with sticks. The few non-covered girls are modern with bright red lipstick and bleached blonde hair.

A lot of shopkeepers tried to speak German with me. You told me it’s because Turkish girls return to their hometown with Germans. They buy up cartons and cartons of cigarettes and purchase mobilya to ship back to Germany.

Today is our last day. We are watching the World Cup. Teenagers are in the corner drinking Coca-Cola through a straw. A former ship captain is feeding us popcorn, green melon with honey and white cheese.

Marcus Slease – Meat Sweats

Meat Sweats
by Marcus Slease

Last January I slept with two pairs of socks. The snow really came down. There are always wild dogs howling in the nearby forest. I was attacked by six of them on my first day here. Two of them were Anatolian shepherds. Of the ancient clans used for hunting wolves. I was listening to a Zen lecture on my iPod when they attacked. I thought by remaining serene and calm they would leave me alone but that only seemed to egg them on. I turned my back on them and walked across the road. That’s when they attacked. One of them jumped up out of the blue and sunk its teeth into my thigh. My calmness during the attack did not stop the attack. It happened regardless. A policeman came by on his motorcycle. I am not sure what would have happened otherwise. I was taken to a clinic even though I insisted I had my class to teach. I think I was in shock, but I thought I was being stoic. The clinic didn’t have any rabies injections so I took a taxi to a public hospital. The public hospitals were swarming with people. Like lost bees. This was a different part of the city. The women were mostly covered and the men were mostly old. The signs were not in English and it was a real labyrinth inside. A few weeks later I got a Facebook message that my grandfather had died. I grew up with my grandfather. His father was a gardener and he was a gardener too. Tending the rich Anglo-Irish gardens. My grandfather clipped his hedges, grew roses, and kept budgies. When I visited him in Northern Ireland, he was always watching some gardening show or other. One night when my grandmother had retired to bed, he confessed to watching Baywatch and wanted to know if women in America really looked like that. I couldn’t make it to his funeral. After I got the news, I went into the small room. The one with the narrow bed and no clothes in the wardrobe. One of the perks of teaching at university was an almost-free, two-bedroom flat. Furnished to Western standards. Which meant that the smell was bearable, the plumbing mostly worked and we were walled off from the rest of the city on a hill. I sat in the room with only a bed and tried to listen to the silence. I thought I was being spiritual and brave. There was no use in causing a ruckus. Just take things as they come. I was getting severe sweats. I thought it might have been bad meat. Later someone told me it was the vegetables. One advised me to wash them in vinegar. Washing them in treated water wasn’t enough. The natives are born with some kind of bacteria in their intestines and are immune. The Western teachers were always having stomach problems. A few days later Bedia brought me a Turkish rug. It wasn’t an expensive one. It was the kind you see hanging on walls near the castle where you had to haggle. I didn’t care if it was expensive or not. It added a nice touch to the place. Bedia held my hand in the kitchen and showed me how to make Turkish tea. There is one big kettle and one small one. One sits on top of the other. The big one is filled with water. The little one is warmed by the big one and has the black tea. The big one boils the water and the boiling water is poured into the little one. You have to wait fifteen minutes or so for it to brew. We drank it in little glass cups without the sugar. Bedia also helps the man across the street with his street stall. They make toasties together. When REAL shopping is closed I grab sandwiches from the stall. I had to visit three hospitals in the city to find the one that gave rabies injections. Four doses over the course of a month. I have to take a bus into the city. There are no trains. Everyone takes a bus. The buses, or rather the coaches, are luxurious. Like a small aircraft. A man or woman walks up and down and gives you drinks and small packages of fıstık. There is a television screen in front of you, pinned to the back of the person’s chair in front. At the front of the buses they are usually streaming ads about marriages. The faces of eligible bachelors from all over Turkey blink on and off on the big screen.

Adam Francis Cornford – Study in Chinatown, San Francisco (1886) Edwin Deakin

Study in Chinatown, San Francisco (1886) Edwin Deakin
by Adam Francis Cornford
for Genny Lim

Corner of Jackson and Dupont rough
awnings from crumbling masonry above
tall Chinese posters on crimson paper
alien then as messages from space
A merchant sells pots, pans, and shovels
imperturbably smoking a long pipe
sitting on a bench in baggy blue pants
his white sock-shoes resting on a box
scrawled with CHINESE MUST GO
Around the corner below a window
hung with more red banners inscribed
with the painter’s fake ideograms
white flowers bright in the windowbox
of the Union Chinese Mission School
a family mother father and little kid all
faceless in shadow and same baggy pants
is descending into a basement shop
under the faded signboard WING ON
and somehow in this little Orientalist
yet xenophobic exercise they do wing on
They are not going they’re arriving.

Adam Francis Cornford – Immigrants

by Adam Francis Cornford

Who airward lean straight, who bonetune cluster anywhere
who always infringing, who grey scrawl peel to ghost-rose
who spread and flaunt seethe tents above tatters

who remember motion and moon, tide-wide arriving
who fed koala, dark-lanterned with crows in the dry stars
who knew sand, who muttered pattern-crack creeks until they ran

who writhe skin characters downstroked in rain joy
who revel pale-jade cricket shade among these thicker greens
who winter rattle shards half off at crystal angles

who sun-scatter over us, who million-talon light into seafloor
who afternoon arcades name ocean as wish
who airswimmers gather summer oils, who flare in Santa Anas

who like other raggedy comers brought for crops assessed useless
who cross equator fireweed tree, who named invader
who infill and prosper, teach here hills a near-aspen speech

who blood-orange stumps gape along the truck ruts
who lopped, who backhoed up, who trunks chaindragged in stacks
who shreds and twigs roadway litter like refugee trails

who buttons dropped wait wheel-driven under mud
who sapling asylum inside live-oak maze, on maple steeps
who unerase, who flayed under crescent crowns keep rise.

Susan de Sola – British Air

British Air
By Susan de Sola

In the pocket of a British Airways
chair, an in-flight magazine in flight
flaps in its centrefold
a cartography of routes,
routed in red, an empire
of aeroplanes.

The arcs seem phonic
as Pisa lead to Tunis,
Newquay to Cork,
and Killarney can Kilkenny.

Jersey mimics Guernsey,
Glasgow ends as Carlow,
and Nairobi swallows Cairo.

Not imperial,
yet empyreal,
the panoply of red lines,
spokes of a coloured umbrella,
spreading out from London’s nub,
covering and eclipsing
British mails,
British rails,
cleaving happy ozone trails.

Susan de Sola – Box

by Susan de Sola

He went
and left
his things
where lies
a box
to bring
the things
he left
he left
no box
to bring
his things
the things
are here
but he
is not
this is
the box
that time
begot –
how can
it be
that mould
can mean
the form
of man
and yet
its rot?

Marvin R. Hiemstra – Mona Lisa: Triumph in Exile

Mona Lisa: Triumph in Exile
by Marvin R. Hiemstra

That heavy breathing person
tried to turn me into his
self-portrait. Get real.
Scruffy genius never wiped
anything, took forever to finish
me up while he babbled nonsense
about a horny old millstone
flying like a love-starved comet
and a heated mosaic floor: such
a cool aphrodisiac for the Pope.
That painter, a grunt at every dab,
wouldn’t let me wear my emerald
silk. Turned-on, he gave me the eye:
“You are the color, Signora.”
I wanted my little sour lemon
orchard behind me, not a wasteland.
After all that bother, he kept me
with him, face to the wall
in a dusty corner, until the end.
I really hated France then.

Now I smile and stare down
those wimpy mobs of hungry eyes.
I always win. Thanks to my smile.

Jason Mashak – Bratislava Airport

Bratislava Airport
by Jason Mashak

There are people for whom airports
are small communities
visited only by tourists
and merchants with coins for eyes.
I am neither of these
and they sense this, go about
their dreams before me, as if
I am the witchdoctor who can help them.
Somehow I’m horny now.