“First and Final Session” by Michele Flom (2014)
Your perfectly dusted Pottery Barn decorated office is lovely, Doc. But your big words are just small talk.
“Chimposium” by Paula MacKay (2015)
Dar bounces off the walls and bangs on the window each time he passes. Tatu lies a few feet from the crowd, staring at our faces as though into a broken mirror. I sign “hello” and “friend” from behind the bulletproof glass, trying hard not to smile. Smiling, we’ve been told, might be perceived as aggression.
The public viewing area faces a room filled with toys, climbing structures, magazines, and oddly—a toilet. Chimps Dar and Tatu, saved years ago from the much crueler fate of biomedical research, are famous for having mastered American Sign Language.
What can it feel like, having two-dozen people flash signals to you all at once?
Are we really?
For what, exactly? For spending your life in a cage?
Later, Dar perches on a platform in the outdoor enclosure, peering down at my companions and me on the sidewalk below. A skateboarder rides by and Dar cranes his neck to watch him disappear around the corner. As we turn to leave, I can’t help myself. I raise my hand and wave goodbye.
“From Bagram With Love” by Tom Cantwell (2014)
On Sundays we Skype. I shower off the dust, put on my civvies, and sit in front of a computer. My little girl is still all goofy-grinned, but my boy is growing fast. He’d rather be playing a computer game. My wife is better at filling the silence. I can’t look into their eyes. I can look at the camera, so it looks like I’m looking at them, but I’m just looking at the camera. When I look at the screen, I’m not looking at them. I want to punch the screen, wrap my bandana around my knuckles and cave in the computer, but they might see the flash of my arm before they lose the connection.
“Things My Elementary Students Said in the Tutorial Center Where I Worked in Belmont, California, 1993” by Tarn Wilson (2008)
Everyone’s Chinese these days. Florence Nightingale has to be a woman; I can tell by the last name. Pre-teen sounds like some sort of torture device. I don’t want to be an alcoholic when I grow up because then you have to sleep on the street. I don’t live in a compartment anymore; I live in a house. I thank God that he made the world round so all the people could fit on it. I’m going to marry my mother. My friend and me ate pink glue sticks; we glued quarters to our foreheads–but when you take them off, you have wrinkles. When we were in a hotel when I was little, I looked over at my mom and saw her spirit rising out of her; I touched her and it went back in.
“He – Helium 2” by Marj Hahne (2015)
When J. Norman Lockyer discovered helium in 1868 in the spectrum of a solar eclipse, did he inhale the bright yellow line, hold his golden breath, then squeak “Eureka!” into the New Moon silhouette of day? Did he breathe it in again and again, turn to his patient lover and pip, “Hey there, hot stuff!” then break into fits of high-pitched laughter until she just had to leave him, more munchkin than man? Did J. Norman buy up every balloon and blimp he could find, suck them inside-out, suck his helium-junkie self inside-out until his umbra became his penumbra and he eclipsed himself? (Even from afar, it hurt her eyes to look at him. Through her lace of darkening fingers, she viewed him dappled on the ground.)
“Cemetery Land” by Pat Craig (2009)
I study the billboard, a retro ad for NYC–the Statue of Liberty wantonly misplaced next to a skyscraper. In the foreground, a cheesecake brunette making nice-nice with the hood of a yellow taxi. It’s of zero interest, but I keep looking. If I don’t, I’ll have to do something. I look harder at the taxi. No driver. Slap!
Spiffy-clean and dentless, firm regard in the shape of its radiator and the slant of its headlights. No passengers. Slap, slap, slap. What if I put Ms. Brunette in the back seat? Slap! She won’t go. Alright, what if I get in and drive the damn thing myself? Slap! No keys. A hand enters my right pocket. No cell phone. Fingers fiddle with the change, then sort and count. Somewhere there’s still a pay phone. Right? Somebody bends over, picks up a handful of gravel. Somebody-not-me pitches gravel at the right-angle lights above the billboard. Miss, miss, hit. It feels good. A tilt, a whimper–somebody-not-me begins to weep. The slide begins. Somebody is going now–to cemetery land–the burying place of childhood dogs and wrecked first cars and all the love that’s been fallen out of.