A Commentary

By | John Samuel Tieman, Prose

I teach English at Soldan International Studies High School in St. Louis.   Last Thursday, a student asked one of those questions that are near impossible to answer.   Like, “Would Juliet have lived if Shakespeare had been a woman?”   Or, “Who’s the greatest poet who ever lived?”   Questions like that. Except last Thursday it …

Issue 5 | Summer 2009

Two Poems

By | Prose

Mütter Museum The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, founded in 1787, is the oldest professional medical organization in the country. Walking the stone steps, you trip the way you have in sleep, a jolt that wakes you up. Are these the steps you have been dreaming and falling up all your life? You turn around to look for the car that brought you, your husband’s face warm behind the windshield wipers, but he is gone. You’ve been left at the door. They’re hawking postcards of this inferno or is it heaven’s lobby, selling calendars of eternity, above the dates, full color photos of things behind the doors ahead? It’s a zoo of anomaly, an aquarium that won’t hold anything back. You walk through breath’s tunnel,  looking under the skin, not just of a body but beauty, base and lively, the conditions that twist and scrape what’s human into art. You’ve heard that some are more interested in the process than the finished piece. You’ve seen this when your child draws, when he smears paint over his body like a second skin. And here are smears and lumps of pigment floating in specimen jars, extra ears, piled sores, gangrene, the Siamese twin of birth and wonder. Your breath measures, measures, and you are suddenly aware of it. Aware of yourself standing in this crowd. There are children here. They are laughing. And it is funny, all this variation, all this decrescendo, crash, lift again, the jars glowing from their display cases, not like jewels but the nerve of jewels, the projection and meaning they take on during a funeral. You stand at the grave. There is a flash in your eye, syncope, desire to fall in a fit at the incongruity. One dresses for funerals. But you’re not dressed for this. Your pen won’t write and you keep shaking the ink down toward the tip, as if that would help. But this isn’t anyone’s funeral, this is not grief’s moment but its expansion, when life and death and much laughing roll up into one headless body, roll up into a baby you’ve been staring at like an angel fish in a tank, gilled, an infant without form, just a fetching mass of skin, whorled, with only one perfect foot to edge it from dream. Labyrinthus Auris A Case of Inner Ears The internal ear is the essential part of the organ of hearing, receiving the ultimate distribution of the auditory nerve. It is called the labyrinth, from the complexity of its shape… — Gray’s Anatomy In a glass box, hearing’s pivot and swivel, a case of labyrinths. Row upon row of slight, white depths throb and hum. In the first row : a silver spoon stirring sugar into the ear’s cup, …

How to Build a Poem and the Ars Poetica

By | Poetics, Prose, Susan Kelly-DeWitt

I’ve just been talking on the phone to my good friend Kathleen Lynch about her poem, “How To Build an Owl.” Recently Kathleen told me a great story about how she happened to write this poem, a fascinating tale which I won’t go into here because Kathleen is at this very moment writing a piece …


By | Prose

Once, my husband and his poker buddies teased me by claiming that, earlier that summer, they’d shaved my cat one night while I was out of town. “Sure,” Steve said, going into detail about it — the “here, kitty-kitty,” the cat on his lap, the shaving cream, the towel. I smiled politely; it was cute, …

The Patience of Poems

By | Prose

One of the things I love about poems is their patience.  They lie in wait until they are needed; you never know what line, image, stanza, or whole poems is available until something triggers it.  (Robert Frost said he wanted to lodge a few poems where they’d be hard to get rid of.)  Of course …

The Non-Cooking Chefs’ Daughter Blog

By | Prose

This is the Non-cooking Chefs’ Daughter blog.  You see, both my parents are chefs. They met at Johnson & Wales University, both in the Culinary Arts program, Dad soon to become an Executive Pastry Chef and one of the few Certified Master Bakers in the country and Mom soon to cook food so delicious that it …

Issue 4 | Winter 2009


By | Poetry

Wrapped in a glad baggie and taped to the plaster of my bedroom wall, my grandmother smiles at me from a seventy year old photograph. She cradles a shotgun, its head held gently in her left hand, her right supporting the butt.  She’s comfortable. I believe the fur coat that drapes her is brown, but I can’t tell in the grays and whites of the photo.  It sparkles, almost, and in this cold leaking through my bedroom window I wonder about its warmth.  She is smiling and her teeth are straight, bright, bought that way with the same bootleg money that bought her that coat, that gun.  This picture is from the depression era.  This night, my shoulder has woken me up, the scar there swollen, like it gets sometimes before the rain. The line of it is straight, bits of the flesh still folded on itself, strange for a gunshot wound, even one this old.  There’s this look in her eyes, a gazing, like it’s past the camera man.  I can almost see the lines of her mouth crinkle, speaking, “sleep, mijo, sleep” as I try for something other than awake once more.  I imagine her watching over me, shotgun light in her hands, her back and neck strong, eyes clear, daring someone.

Issue 4 | Winter 2009


By | Poetry

Right on Lincoln, left on Venice, half a block up. It is three o’clock on Sunday, and the streets of Los Angeles are heavy with people. The place still has the same coat of paint, same color at least. My wife rests her hand on my thigh, and asks, “Is this is it?” “Yes,” I say, “This is where he died.” We had been dancing that night, waiting for dinner to finish. Me, my sister, and Albert, three kids shoved into the small space between sink and stove. Then the windows caved in around us, glass like rain in hair and eyes, hum of bullets, piercing air like kisses, plaster hiccupping off the walls, and the scream of my sister, bacon grease splashed from pan to arm. My cousin, Albert, his face left me that day, went from cheeks, and eyes, and lips, to nothing. There was so little blood. Just a raggedness with teeth, clumps of hair and something dark like wetness. The radio never stopped playing, the thump of ranchero music echoing in the house. It’s been 20 years, and still this place is home. My wife and I drive by, hum of motor and music spaced between our silence. I close my eyes and try to remember his face, Albert’s, and I can’t. All I can see is the yard of the home, upturned, filled with holes where trees were pulled up, and nothingness was left.