There was something about the ocean that made 12-year-old Emily Dunn happy and sad at the same time. She couldn’t quite figure out why, but her mother had a theory.
Monkeydemon is the reason I stand on this bridge above a man-made lake in the middle of which sits a man-made island. It is 10:30 on New Years Eve. Anticipatory bangs, pops, and shouts stumble in the pitched distance. I parked in a cutoff in fog-laden brush. No cars passed as I carried my package … Continue reading Monkeydemon
The world has lost its beauty
Once filtered through your eyes.
Sunset, sunrise, falling fall leaves
Shift now into a dimmer space,
But I still seek cohesion
With evidence of things not seen
And the scales that fall will weigh.
Do I really need these videos?
These unnecessary glass totems?
Memories swoon, drift and die
Then rise at the oddest moments.
My tickets on the River Styx,
But everything else needs to go.
How do you weigh stuff against spirit?
We were both such able thrower-outers,
But look here at this refinancing pack,
Long ago digested by other deals.
“I won’t ever let you go!”
I think as I dismantle
Rooms, chimneys and the backyard fence.
“I just … just cannot stand it!”
Echoes against walls that used to be.
We meet in the afternoon. Since Amy raises a young child, she’s the first to leave. I linger. Twice I stop at the hotel bar but it smells like formaldehyde, and after that I usually head back to the Vault—to where we began. Inside the Vault, business people unwind and I study the list of … Continue reading The Vault
Sure, I lie. Just to calm her down. I squeeze her shoulders—she on the ground, now—and I don’t even ask “Are you choking?” or “Do you need help?” like they teach in first aid. Because she’s beyond frickin’ choking to the not breathing part and somebody sure as hell better help. I tell her, “I … Continue reading The Deposition
Attention Must Be Paid to a Quiet, Decent Man’s Life
Chances are you knew the place. Maybe you’d wandered in lost, looking for the way to Route 1 or I-95. Or maybe you were a regular, who buzzed in and out several times a week. Part of the routine. No one is ever going to call a gas station a landmark, but Stan’s Mobil came … Continue reading Attention Must Be Paid to a Quiet, Decent Man’s Life
Remembering My First Newspaper Boss: Marilyn Schaefer
I said good-bye to factory work, and being a cook, and delivering snack food, and a lot of other kick-around jobs when I got a part-time position as a reporter with the Northeast Times in 1984. I would stay for a year and now remember, as the Times celebrates 75 years of publishing with this … Continue reading Remembering My First Newspaper Boss: Marilyn Schaefer
I Want to Live!
Finding these drugs is like suddenly coming across flashing detour signs. Everything changes. I am here in this suburban nook of a playground because I’d read in the weekly that cops had busted teens right by the sliding board and swings. The news had been accompanied by an editorial stating that the scourge of addiction … Continue reading Vapor
Gum Factory Memories Offer Some Lessons to Chew On
I worked at Fleer bubble gum factory in the Logan section for three years in the late ’70s and early ’80s. That factory closed about 10 years ago and last week the Mount Laurel based Fleer was sold to its rival, Upper Deck, for $6.1 million. The sale reportedly included Fleer’s name, trademark, and sports … Continue reading Gum Factory Memories Offer Some Lessons to Chew On
Hard Lessons of the Deadly Flu Epidemic of 1918
My grandmother died in the mid-1970s at the age of 94. She had lost a son in the Spanish influenza outbreak of 1918. Slumber visits the very old at any time of the day so that dreams and reality begin to merge, like cream and the tea that it’s been poured into. However, some facts … Continue reading Hard Lessons of the Deadly Flu Epidemic of 1918
Unknown Winter Soldiers Not Forgotten
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE PHILADELPHIA EVENING BULLETIN IN DECEMBER 2006. It is about 325 steps, depending upon the length of your stride, from the door of the tavern, to a wedge of hallowed ground at the corner of Flowers and Bellevue avenues. Here, in Langhorne Borough, rests the gravesite of approximately — by the local … Continue reading Unknown Winter Soldiers Not Forgotten
The River of Doubt
Gary Doyle sips his beer. It is a Friday in winter, late afternoon fading like a holiday hangover. Gary peeks at the camera over the bar, imagines the feed speeded up. Silent comings and goings, sniffles and laughter, cute meetings and ugly breakups. Life. A couple about his age enters, looking for seats. “I’ll move … Continue reading The River of Doubt
“Begin.” “Father, I…” “Look down.” “Father?” “Haven’t been here for a while, right?” “Yeah.” “Well, I’m very happy that you’ve given us another chance. Giving the church another chance. “Father I…” “There’s a plastic card. Right above the hand rest. On the wall. See?” “Yeah.” “That should help.” “Bless me father for I have sinned. … Continue reading Confession
‘God … said no’
AUTHOR'S NOTE: THIS ARTICLE WAS PUBLISHED ON MONDAY, MAY 1, 2000, IN THE PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS. A Vietnam story The Vietnam War ended for the United States 25 years ago yesterday. As other wars have, it left a lasting mark on the country and the world. And on families. More than 58,000 American men and … Continue reading ‘God … said no’
When I get to the cemetery, I crunch through the ice-encrusted snow as wind rumbles over the expanse. I am not dressed for this. My fingers ache, and I keep blowing warmth into my cupped hands.
So Great a Cloud of Witnesses
I am sitting in the Slaughtered Lamb after playing a double-header. I munch wings, watch the flames flicker in the fireplace, linger over craft beer. I’m not on the roster for tomorrow’s game. Professor Kathy Crawford sits with her back to me, at a table across the restaurant. She waits for her order, her stillness … Continue reading So Great a Cloud of Witnesses
“What’s the worst
job you’ve ever had?”
Banter ignites in
a near-empty newsroom
after the paper’s to bed
The hours-long slump
from leaving barbecues,
and family in mid-sizzle
To schlep off to work
recedes to memory like
last week’s mild hangover
The scanner’s crackle
punctuates trash talk
don’t even bother
nude model, and —Yes! —
chocolate factory worker
Now we’re cruising
When Grump mentions
driving a Philly cab
One Labor Day
and getting stabbed
twice in one shift
“I would have called
it a night after
the first stabbing.”
Emma actually stopped Paul on the church steps. Blocked his way. Emma, Paul’s former sister-in-law, and her posse had been waiting, though Paul had not given indication to anyone from the old neighborhood that he’d be attending the funeral. He’d been disconnected from his troubled history for like … hell, forever, it seems. Still, they … Continue reading Trash Picker
I walk every afternoon to get reacquainted with the outdoors, and then—enough’s enough—hurry back to my duties. One day, Kenny joins me. He’s going to ask Jenny out. “Work is where a lot of couples meet,” he says. “You are colleagues,” I insist. He shrugs, spreads his hands to the late summer sky under which hazy figures … Continue reading Discordant Maps
Finally the family seems to be crawling out. This is the early 1960s. Dad gets a job with his brother-in-law. Good position in a new company. A break. You are living in the suburbs, going to suburban schools, hanging with suburban kids. Problem: Dad’s a blue-collar guy who can’t kiss ass in this white-collar world. … Continue reading Father’s Day
“Some old bag probably just lost her old bag,” Mike Feller decides with a shrug. He had just turned onto Godfrey Avenue when his beams swiped an object. At first Mike thinks it’s a dead animal, then realizes it’s a bundle of some sort. It could be a pocketbook; it’s laying on the yellow line … Continue reading Beggar
The Love You Take
Old men live in shadow; it’s old ladies who pull up shades and open windows. But Bill Doyle likes the light. When I enter he’s where he’s at: on the couch and laying aside a book he’s reading. The sun diffuses him, makes him translucent. When he looks at me, I think of aquarium fish … Continue reading The Love You Take
To lose a laughing woman
Acquaints you with a silence
That memory cannot fill
Until… Until… Until…
To love a laughing woman
Who’s suddenly taken from you
That’s not the greatest loss (I know)
Although… Although… Although…
Laughter can be manufactured
Unlike happiness, that ghost
Staring across infinity’s field
Conceal… Conceal… Conceal…
To love a laughing woman
Then to lose a laughing woman…
Oh, she’d get tired of this song!
“Move on! Move on! Move on!”
The Valley of the Cats
Name’s Paul Magner, by the way. My work, my house, and my wife, Kate, rest within a five-mile radius. I am an editor/writer at a trade publication for doctors who become businessmen, the people who run health insurance companies. I am also a great undiscovered genius, or at least I tell myself that when staring at an empty screen that dares me to produce a story or a novel or anything that any publisher will want. So far, no go.
Here’s the setup. Flex’s nephew, Jake (his brother’s son) is married to Paula. Paula’s brother, Danny, kills himself. Danny is—was—artistic, brilliant, funny, and even joyful, but emotionally fragile. Then this manipulative, conniving young woman swoops into Danny’s life. This Stacey Lark. Talk to her and you would think that butter wouldn’t…well, you know. But that’s … Continue reading Forty Percent
a short-short story by Frank Diamond Published today (July 3, 2020) in a little literary magazine called The Red Wheelbarrow Review HERE IS THE TEXT BELOW A nurse comes in, checks the monitor at Jeffrey’s bed. “Comfortable, Jeffrey?” he asks. Jeffrey sighs. “Jeff?” “He’s comfortable,” Alison says quickly. Jeffrey hates being called Jeff. The nurse … Continue reading Love Story
I once tried to count the times that Joey Crackers spat in my face. My therapist didn’t think that was such a good idea, but she didn’t order me to stop. Therapists don’t order, they guide. She said: “Erica Johnson: Do you really want to go there?” “You know something? I don’t!” And in the … Continue reading Joey Crackers
“Only a dream,” Sonja thought. She listened to the clock dripping the tick-tock-tick of reality. She sat up and swung her legs over the side of her bed. “I am thirteen,” she thought, holding her head in her hands. “I turn thirteen today.” Is this what being a teen is about? Wasn’t … Continue reading Dreamspace
My very first hit I’m like 13 years old. I never even smoke a cigarette before, but I’m a Kat Borkowski wannabe, and she’s the one hands me that joint. This is at Newt’s on Blair Street back in the day, before it got cleaned up and put on airs with some calling it Shissler Playground, the official name.
The Killer of Second Chances
I get the call at 1:17 a.m. “Jerry?” “Ben,” I say. Just stating fact. As I stand, I hear snow brushing our house. My wife, Dominique, rustles the bed, sits up, flips on the light. Her big blue peepers flash a question. “Ben Plankton,” I mouth. She squints, shakes her head. I hold up an … Continue reading The Killer of Second Chances
Good Night Moon
“You’re new to this, aren’t you?” says he. I swallow. I say: “You are in fact my very first call, sir.” Connect! “Tonight?” “Ever, sir.” Because how can you connect if you lie? Then, hurriedly: “Sir, I could switch you to somebody else if you’d like, sir.” One-Mississippi-two-Mississippi-three-Mississippi. “You’ll do,” he says, and I hear: … Continue reading Good Night Moon
Scented Beans Destroy Themselves
Chick Ernest had been chatting with other parents when his son nearly died. The basketball season ended around Thanksgiving and the Sharks went to Kat’s Kradle, the name on the T-shirts. Coach Taylor made a speech in which Chick, assistant coach, finished his sentences. Everybody got a trophy (they’d won zero games). When Gene Tarantino—Taro—held … Continue reading Scented Beans Destroy Themselves
The Tears of the World
I am Brenda McNally, and after work me and Dustin Biggs rumble into Rotten Ralph’s on 2nd Street. Another couple’s going as we’re coming — “Dibs!” — and you know, baby, we grab those barstools like they’re Black Friday door-busters, a happy-hour coup. I order craft beer. Dustin goes Coors Light, as usual. We chat as … Continue reading The Tears of the World
Cain bushed out the Serengeti.
Neanderthal and lonely, after feasting
for days on his latest kill. Blood and
bone and plenty. Is faith, fear? Fear, faith?
Does it ever really matter?
Squinting across a sea of green
and nearly thinking, “Something’s missing.”
Waiting for the question coming
as he rubs his belly and listens
to a hunter claw a tooth still insisting.
The Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life
root stonily in the garden. There’s no kill
like the first kill. No will like free will.
No still like the still of waiting
for judgment surely coming.
One Night in Harpoon Henry’s
When my first wife died I withered and withdrew
And lonely did I scale the couloir of grief
Curling about myself like that indolent snake
Confronting that first wife with cancer’s last claim
Just an overgrown garden snake parked upon our drive
A brown arm’s-spread length of languid reptilian still
A critter I’d never seen before or since that meeting
Curled into a taunt that he hurled at my own girl
Coiling tighter in delight: “The hour’s come for you!”
She died soon after when the siege broke through
And I never really heard the music until its absence
Of delight in all creation—that’s how her voice fulfilled
So what torched despair’s fingers until the grip gave out?
One night in Harpoon Henry’s I kissed a pretty woman
A nice, friendly girl I’d been working with for years
Mouth-to-soul resuscitation seasoning bloodless sleep
That kiss—alone, apart, about. A prelude to nothing
Except the entirety of life. A kiss. That’s it.
Interceding like prayer to caulk my brokenness
Did I ever tell that girl what that kiss delivered?
I now forget (surprise!) how she wriggled off the hook
Can’t even recall the name, just drops of smiling eyes
I am deaf, now. Blind. Can’t bend to tie my shoe
A salty wind-whipped spray gentles this old wheeze
Lets me taste that kiss once more and that is what I’ll ride
You may release your servant, Lord. It is time for me to die.
Playing Wilt Chamberlain
Based on the exploits of William E. Lindsay in the 1953 Philadelphia high school basketball championship game. And then there was Wilt. He did not play in freshman year this game he deemed for sissies. Too shy to let greatness break out. His contained talent whispering like radiator steam. But in 1953, the Overbrook Highlanders’ … Continue reading Playing Wilt Chamberlain
Evil People Are People Who Love Evil
Uncle Joe fumbles with two cigarettes — one unlit, the other sputtering out — while turning off of Hunting Park Avenue. His long, thin, tobacco-stained fingers conjure a connection. He steers with palms and elbows and inhales before his lips even touch the paper. Ignition. “The torch has been passed,” he says, punctuating with a … Continue reading Evil People Are People Who Love Evil
I snag Styrofoam cups and that gnarly-ass napkin with lipstick marks from under one chair. Straighten out them old magazines and leave that newspaper just alone because you know as soon as I toss it, someone’s going to come looking for it. News is on. Connie, at the desk taking calls from the OR, tells … Continue reading Hospital View
Grief plays by its own rules
An awkward grace works through
“If there’s anything at all I can…”
You could point me toward the surface
For life underwater pre-empts my tears
“Thanks for coming. Thanks. Coming. Thanks.”
Navigate the void each mourning
I made her laugh right ’til the end
Now chisel that on my gravestone
Oh, we were not the perfect couple
But heavens! Did we have fun!
Laughter like that gets God’s attention
Lets his awful grace play in the sun
On Me, Nephew
Why is there something instead of nothing?
Search for an answer in this foreign brew
Let’s ignore the fallen angels for now
What’s a heaven for? God, that’s who
Something or nothing? Maybe science knows
Sitting dignified, set up for slapstick
Mumble, mumble, mumble — at the end of the bar
Your uncle wants to hear you say
You won’t give in, you’re going to stay
I will never proclaim, “Embrace affliction!”
That would probably get us flagged
Please, please, please — I won’t get through it
Let life wrap you like unredeemable grace
And let’s toast to tomorrow before leaving this place
It’s on me — you just take care of the tip
Beyond the solicitous plains
Rumor rolls like the sea
Revelers behind Gomorra’s walls
Sit at the right hand of progress
Pleasure, comfort busk easily
In fields our spoils harvest
These last six decades now
Mankind summits in our valley
The sun, the rain, the never-ending plains
I should so like to welcome tomorrow
The problem is me not you
But I am so out of place in Gomorra
Where traders, merchants give Ba’al his due
We throw away those old broken hearts
Placing our salt upon the altar
Placing our children upon it, too
I am so out of sync with Gomorra
That I do not know what to do
Memories and money fade; love endures
Dementia has robbed him of function. Caring for him has left her in debt. But she has never forgotten the man she married. A part of her seems etched in his brain, too.
Dougherty’s fallen won’t be left behind
As school closes, Vietnam memorial needs a new home.