A combined Winter/Spring issue is apt for the unseasonably cold weather we—and many of our readers—are experiencing. It’s been a year since our last issue, and more than a few people have been asking if we, like spring, would ever be seen again.
First of all, we’re flattered that our absence registered at all in these turbulent times. There are so many platforms seeking to push words at us—too many virulent and divisive—that a WordPress literary journal feels almost quaint, like a hornbook seen at a museum. I thought a lot about platform as I assembled this issue: WordPress feels clunkier every time I use it—which, admittedly, hasn’t been much. Every issue, I feel that Gloom Cupboard deserves better. The same goes for Facebook: we all deserve better.
I’ve known it for awhile. But in deference to the demands of work and life and serving others, I’ve allowed things to slide by the way they’ve always been.
Inertia, as I used to tell one of the biggest enablers I’ve ever met, is a choice. Not a good one, but it’s a course of action. And in a world (cue cinematic voice-over) where people produce content—some of it lovely and necessary—and others fight to be featured in it (that’s us, writers), who’s the audience? Who’s listening? Who’s not? What should we choose to reject inertia? (Responses welcome).
~T.M De Vos, Editor
At the Lagoon by J. Thomas Burke
Llakis: The Weight of the Past by Lisa Pierce Flores
Really? Again? by Tricia Knoll
Why Love Almost Rhymes with Dumb by S.D. Lishan
Fun House by Rochelle Jewel Shapiro
Other Mothers by Rachel Tramonte
Intimate Monsters by Jonathan Travelstead
From the footbridge, I watch the rain
stir the lagoon like diminishing voices
agitating history. Folks always
told me What a memory
you’ve got. Now sodden, I recall having
forgotten everyone who said this.
Gar surface, swallow
bugs, splash. Fishermen pull in, park
at odd angles in the grass, jump out
their trucks, cast and wait, cast
and wait, catch or don’t,
climb back in, take off.
Drenched on the bridge with no pole, I stare
just below the surface,
listening for the unseen.
I recollect nothing—each neuron’s death
cuts me off like snapped neon green
fishing line, shattered—
until a turtle climbs the depths
with slow strokes. Her head emerges.
Over the iron rail, I lean and she sinks,
disappearing in her untold story.
—J. Thomas Burke
In 1898, I called you
and the apparatus with which I phoned
had an earpiece like a cone
with a flat spherical end
encompassing my entire ear
and it would have allowed me to hear you
my ear resting inside waiting forever
The mouth piece or the part
that allowed me to speak to you
you to hear me through the miles
was long and had the shape of a horn
one might get at a kid’s birthday
party or a new year’s eve fete
smoothly polished not tarnished
slim at the start and evenly wide
at the opening sweetly hollow
The thin end firmly held itself to a large
box that was the phone
which stood on a pedestal
a throne for the majesty of the first
whisper the first words of your reply
The mechanical ingenuity rested in
the round heavy metal
disc with holes and numbers
for dialing; the index finger fits right
in the perfect openings designated with
perhaps an 8 say or 2
and I did that- I dialed you
I was calling and calling
for a first attempt
at a two step
through wires above our streets
calling, calling you
I reached around with my finger
numerous times reaching and
winding my hand around with
a whir and click whir and click
Didn’t you hear the ringing?
I’ve been calling you ever since.
My mother’s skin after a day in the sun
warm and brown, she sits at her dressing table
making a dangerous journey on the top of her head
cliffs and dales high peaks rounded sweeps I touch
her back where her bathing suit left a mark
where her bra has pressed a permanent trench
another precipice she calls from
another treacherous trek she happened to manage
She teaches me silently—smiling at her daughter’s wonder.
When she had agreed to Hospice instead of continuing
her worrisome travels, she asked sheepishly if she could
still have her showers; the sponge baths given by the young
male orderlies—we laughed, but knew her skin still
warm and brown needed the touch of soap and sponge
washing her cleanly from here to there.
My parents didn’t read to me
from the cloth-covered book with colored plates.
Instead I found Nature’s Ways on the bookshelf,
discovered them as soon as I could read.
In certain fish of the family Ceratidae
the female carries her husband permanently attached
to her head. Together, the pair roam the dark ocean,
discussing the news, attracting prey
with flashes from her phosphorescent nose.
The Megapode dislikes raising young.
She lays her eggs in hot sand, covers them
with vegetation, and departs. From the moment
they hatch, nestlings must forage for themselves.
Otherwise, the Megapode would be extinct.
The froghopper is an ingenious little bug.
As a larva, he can’t run away. So, with his tail,
he beats each word from his mouth into a bubble.
This protects him ‘til he grows jumping legs.
But, have you heard of the mother wasp
who lays her eggs into her first larva’s gut?
Eventually, these curses hatch,
eat their older sibling from within.
This is not what you paid good money to see.
Instead of cherub winds puffing their pink cheeks
or the dead rising like helium balloons
when you untie them from your slender wrist,
nothing hovers before you.
Over the cliff in empty air
the view is not filled with mist or lit
with stars or sun. The sky is empty.
Any child could paint this
complains your father in memories
leaking out moment by moment.
Scribbles is his last word.
All the mastery which art can offer
exhales. The speck in the background –
is that an angel winging toward you?
No, says the guard, stopping you
from leaning in too close it is
a dried-up spider that crawled
between the glass and frame and died.
I remember Mother, her hair tightly knotted,
taught me Modern Romance Languages
and Latin. I went to school for free,
lucky me, conjugating as the rich girls sneered.
To remember, in Spanish, recordar
from the Latin re-cordis,
“to pass through the heart.”
She taught me to cook,
to point the handles away from the edge
so no passing child I might have
would ever spill
the hot liquid
the steaming stove
splattered eye, pain-pocked skin
rawed out. That day
it was tomato sauce I was scorching. Later,
while Mother was slowly dying, I stayed alive
by swallowing down tomato juice,
the act of chewing made me gag.
The Chilean Indians have a word
to describe our hidden despair,
Llakis, a sadness thick as stew,
Llakis, the thoughts that pierce your heart,
scalding as they enter.
And your heart, defenseless,
opens to swallow them.
You become a pot with no lid,
the child’s hurts coating
its deepest diameter, ready
to receive the new pains, endlessly cascading.
Por eso, mi vida, recuerda,
no pot can ever empty itself.
Someone has to grasp the handle.
And if no one takes hold,
if we point all our handles away
and out of reach, then all our pain is there
forever. Even if you’re born lucky —
a llakis pot the size of a tub —
every pot has its limits. One day the hurt spills
over. And you are the stovetop,
the countertop, the floor, the scalded child,
sated to gagging on the salty stew.
—Lisa Pierce Flores
I already wrote the dead bee poem.
An ode to husks and stripes on a parking lot.
Furry feet up. Dry shells the wind sweeps.
Bees on safaris.
Opening compound eyes
to a million blooms,
to the bounty of branch,
a game stalker bringing back
images. Shared visions.
I already wrote the dead bee poem.
Who is still spraying?
The Valentines of ghosts are like imperfect
love poems written to actual animals by kids
dressed up for Halloween. I mean my beggar’s
cup of city rain was full, and my ancestors,
the clean ones anyway, were spending their time
and grocery money building birdhouses
for sparrows and luna moths,
so why not, I thought, write valentines
on cold days like these? It’s the reason why love
almost rhymes with dumb, and why I don’t
mind the mess that comes from pressing hard,
because, really, I am, pressing hard,
trying to love you. Maybe that’s why God
has put me on hold all these years without even
a heart-shaped card or a SweeTart to ease the stings.
A wailing of omens against the panes to say
Winter leaden on the world like a stone.
“Crows!”…. I told myself and sighed, alone,
And now on the horizon heavy as lead,
It snows gray.
Like the horizon, my mood is dark as the day …
The wildest, loneliest of all this world.
— With a feather, I dust the hearth grown cold …
And on the horizon heavy as lead,
It snows gray.
Plâns de cobe pe la geamuri se opri,
Şi pe lume plumb de iarnă s-a lăsat;
I-auzi corbii! ― mi-am zis singur… şi-am oftat,
Iar în zarea grea de plumb,
Ca şi zarea, gândul meu se înnegri…
Şi de lume tot mai singur, mai barbar,
― Trist, cu-o pană mătur vatra, solitar…
Iar în zarea grea de plumb,
So many nights I’ve heard the rain.
I’ve heard matter, weeping, complain…
I’m lonely, and thought sweeps me again
Back to those poor shacks by the lake.
I seem to sleep on the wet boards.
A surging wave drenches my back —
I shudder in my sleep and worry
I’ve left the drawbridge over the gap.
A dateless void dulls around me.
The usual weather drags me under.
I fear that in rain this relentless
The heavy pilings might crack asunder.
So many nights I’ve heard the rain,
Shuddering, waiting in vain…
I’m lonely, and thought sweeps me again
Back to those poor shacks by the lake.
De-atâtea nopți aud plouând,
Aud materia plângând…
Sînt singur, și mă duce un gând
Spre locuințele lacustre.
Și parcă dorm pe scânduri ude,
În spate mă izbește-un val —
Tresar prin somn și mi se pare
Că n-am tras podul de la mal.
Un gol istoric se întinde,
Pe-același vremuri mă găsesc…
Și simt cum de atâta ploaie
Pilonii grei se prăbușesc.
De-atâtea nopți aud plouând,
Tot tresărind, tot așteptând…
Sînt singur, și mă duce-un gând
Spre locuïnțele lacustre.
—George Bacovia, translated by James Owens
I grip my father’s hand and will my Mary Janes
to keep up with his brown, wingtip oxfords
his Russian shoemaker polished blood red.
The face of the clown, the blackness of his maw,
the painted uvula like the entry to a tunnel
you’ll never get out of, the evenness of his teeth,
the gleam on his ball nose.
Inside, teetering on uneven floorboards,
my stomach reels. I shriek when skeletons pop
out from darkened corners, and a cackling man
pokes me with a shock wand.
Mirrors make me tall and thin or wide,
and wavering as if underwater, drowning.
All this and the nightmares after
just to hold my father’s hand tightly
the half days he closed his grocery
on summer Sundays.
—Rochelle Jewel Shapiro
These are not the boardroom mothers. These are the bored mothers
who stay at home like it’s 1955. These are the mothers who cook and clean
less than their mothers’ mothers and work five hours a week from their iPhones.
These are the mothers who pass their pressed doppelgangers
in the corridors of American elementary schools. They skulk down
supermarket aisles collecting quinoa, free-range chicken, and ghee.
These are the Athleta-Beyond Yoga-Old Navy-Onzie moms
whose wardrobes shift day to night, night to day.
These are the mothers who have the guilt and the time to help Ms. Gordon
the school librarian. Ms. Gordon is done taking care of children.
Ms. Gordon is a peacock with feathers of blues and golds and greens.
Her children FaceTime her from Iceland, Asia, Latin America.
Ms. Gordon tells the mothers what to do. After you shelve the As
shelve the Bs. Then Cs, Ds, Es and Fs through Us.
When your daughter, the one with the sparkly green eyes
and stars in her hair, asks, How long does life last?
It depends on the strength of your heart and the number
of the different lives you create starting today.
Even tonight withdraws from me, lip curled
as rain spackles the bedroom window with canine vowels,
my crisp sheets. You will always be alone.
Black magic clenches me as I find the stoop’s concrete
wet, abrasive against my bare feet. Alone, yes.
Unsure as the drunk who awakens on a Texas beach,
fumbling for his wallet, what it is that got him there.
The sliver of moon is also unkind,
paints Clarke Street a waterway where heartaches
bang their hulls, gentle against my curb. A line of skiffs
bob, glowing in blues & greens, sterns scrolled
in gold leaf with names of women I’ve loved. Brooke,
Juliette, & so on. Alone, yes. It’s dark,
so it’s hard to believe the Persian fable’s denouement:
this, too, shall pass away. Thoughts, just chemicals
diffusing oily, prismatic film. All love is writ in water.
I speak, & toe my memories’ prows into the current,
banishing the babies Moses of my life down river
where they can’t scratch or bite. Not one of my selves
turn, look back, or see me standing on a dune
at water’s edge. I smell wet fur, rot. Devils
older than my own approach on Norse wind & gondolas,
fill the empty places. My chest: goatskin & stitched leather
a velvet fist beats upon. Their cat irises slit,
hold me parenthetical as their prows run aground.
They gnaw at their own deflated breasts like avocado skins,
through mine. Older than words we fumble for soft,
& touch, they rut where I gave away
my beautiful, broken parts. These new monsters
dissect me from the inside, pounding each others’ backs
with every hard come, as they– like those before–
begin killing me in exquisite, novel ways.
In the Land of Beasts, humans are contemptible, the lowest of the low, cast out without compassion. Among the beasts, there are three unwritten laws too sacred to violate. First, all animals are equal, none takes a higher position than others. Next, each species of animal is sacred, and therefore no mating across species, no matter how desirable. Finally, if a half-breed offspring occurs as a result of mating between species, that beast is considered a lower order than even a human.
The punishment for being caught mating across species, or even thinking about or taking actions toward mating across species, is a spell cast by the king’s sister, a vengeful witch. The convicted animals are turned partially human. The amount of the transformation depends on how extensive the indiscretion. These half-human, half-beast creatures are called, unkindly, “Animus.” They are exiled to the most uninhabitable part of the Land of Beasts, called “The Medio,” where deep winter lasts eight months out of each year.
On one cold night in The Medio, while snowflakes swirled under eaves and piled up untidily against walls, the streets were empty, as the Animus had taken refuge deep in their huts and hovels.At quarter past midnight, across dirty streets and tired buildings, there was silence but for the wind, silence except for one structure that leaned and sighed. The Medio was where those who didn’t belong were forced to live, and this place, with a flashing neon sign on the roof, was permitted only at its very edge.
And on this quiet snowy night, the joint was jumping.
A thousand different voices spoke at volumes influenced by the pints of mead and flagons of absinthe doled out without reservation by the surly bartender, Grevish. His human torso bent menacingly over the bar as he poured, tobacco pipe leaking smoke toward his eye, giving him a half-wink smirk. His lower body, that of a zebra, stamped impatiently. The wet floor behind the bar made his hooves crack, and the cold air made it worse. All of it served to put him in an exceptionally bad mood.
He poured another pint for a roaring-drunk gorilla with the misfortune of retaining a gorilla’s head and legs, while his human mark of sin was a man’s arms, chest, and stomach. Sadly, it made the powerful beast look weak. Then again, their human flaws made them all weak.
The stag with one human arm was ungainly but at least managed to keep most of his true form. The Animus were jealous of those who had suffered only a slight change. They looked with pity on the creature in the corner, all human with just the front paws of a dog. He was shunned outright and drank alone.
On that chilly winter night, every seat and bench space was filled by an Animus waiting to see Serena, the most exotic of the exotic dancers.
The early acts on the main stage had been met with mild approval, but they were standard stock. The beast with odious women’s breasts (kept well covered), but the body of a lioness, was the most interesting so far. She prowled the stage, bending low on her forelegs as though to pounce, tail held proudly high, giving the room a good show of her alluring mating pose. The crowd loved it, and she was rewarded, but still they waited, filled with anticipation, for Serena.
Grevish saw that the lights on the main stage had gone dark, . He had seen Serena’s show three times now but was still tense in his belly.
Ricochet, the chimp with a man’s head, signaled to Grevish from the stage. Grevish nodded imperceptibly, then drew down the houselights.
As the room went dark, the crowd quieted to a murmur.
Quietly, slowly, the music came up. A chanting, ululating Middle Eastern sound filled the room and a spotlight switched on, fixing on the tall, narrow urn placed center stage.
The hushed crowd gasped. It was her. The most taboo of the taboo.
As the music began to loudly cry out, a tongue flick was seen above the rim of the urn. Slowly, deliberately, Serena rose from her coiled space beneath. Her powerful wedge-shaped cobra’s head rose straight up on her rigid body, well above the topmost edge of the urn, and held, a feat of musculature that earned applause.
Now bending, Serena slithered from her jar, flicking her tongue and staring into the wanting eyes surrounding her. The undulating rhythm as she worked her body out was mesmerizing.
There was a slight catch of breath when her lower third emerged from the urn but then a gasp of surprise when they saw how she’d camouflaged her untidy human part. In the stage lights, with her costume and makeup, she looked like nothing less than a complete, well-fed serpent, and the effect drove the crowd into a frenzy.
A full, complete animal was all any of them wanted to be and everything they wanted to possess. For any animal, the dream of bedding a serpent was by far the most tantalizing, the most unmentionable. That Serena hid her human flaw so well made her close enough to untouchable as to drive every male Animus wild.
She represented their fantasy and she knew it. Serena slithered up the carved wooden pole center stage, then gripping tightly, unwrapped her head and torso from the pole and lay back, neck exposed, hood flared, and let the boys take a nice long look at her underside.
The place went nuts. Money fluttered through the air faster than the snow falling outside, and every Animus in the room forgot about its toil, its sins, the curse of its human flaws, and however briefly, reveled in the perfection of Serena.
Grevish smiled and murmured wryly to himself, “God save the Queen.”
Christmas morning started unhappily for my grandfather. My mother found him sat on his bed in the guestroom, his old face puckered with confusion, his weak hands curled in the aftermath of anger.
“None of my clothes fit me. I’ve tried on every single one,” he said, shaking his head.
My mother scanned the bed for evidence. All her blouses were scattered across the sheets, the necks a little stretched.
“But I can’t have grown … can I?” he asked, the strength of his inflection registering just how profound this paradox was for him.
At breakfast, he was back in his normal clothes. He had a chastened air, glancing furtively at us over his cornflakes. He feared his stature had been undermined by the morning’s events. Once, he had been a great patriarch, an Ozymandias of the hearth. A family had been his, and he had raised wilful children from the cradle, made them straight. They had loved him, even feared him on occasion.
But he now moved too slowly for his subjects. They had grown tired of his fabulous, unvarying stories. He had no effective commentary on the modern world. They left him in front of the television for hours at a time, left him staring at a strange, vulgar world where people he had never heard of ate large insects or pirouetted gracelessly across ballrooms. And the disobedience had spread beyond the material realm. Anarchy was afoot in his mind. In youth, he had martialled vast quantities of information and used this information to fix cars, to build houses, to create plumbing that kept those houses warm and watered. Now his memories were becoming too diffuse to discipline. They were gaseous. He would regularly rub the back of his head, plagued by the sensation that his brain was very slowly slipping out of the back of his skull.
He took a trembling spoonful of cornflakes. A bead of milk ran unchecked down his chin.
Later, I went running in the forest, covering four miles. I came back splashed in mud, panting, my throat raw from the cold. I changed my shirt, looking at my body in the mirror. My mother was in the kitchen on the phone to her brother. She was talking about care homes, gnawing her nail.
Grandfather was asleep by the fire, smart in a shirt and tie. I sat down across from him. I lowered myself quietly, not wishing to disturb him. Partly, I feared yet another recitation of an all too familiar story. I looked at his face. It had little pockets of drooping flesh, prune-like—under the chin, just below each corner of the mouth, beneath the eyes. A slackness prevailed, never to tighten again.
I watched more closely. I hadn’t looked this closely for years. You never do with the very elderly. They totter invisibly through life, noticed only when they obstruct the pavement. His eyelids fluttered, like a child’s. His lips moved, and he swallowed, digesting dreams. His feet quivered. I leaned closer. Where was he?
Suddenly, he clutched wildly at something with both hands, as if catching a ball, his body suffused with fierce, unfettered movement. It was so shockingly youthful that I sat back abruptly in my chair. His sleeping face lit up, and a powerful smile flickered on his mouth, his cheeks retracting rapidly. He wasn’t here anymore. He was decades away. In the war, perhaps, or on a playing field. He had gone to some recess of his brain, a young place, an irrevocable place. A place that had once been his life. And I understood. I had thought him forever old. Worse, I had believed there was something dishonest in his recollections, something fraudulent. But it was all still there, and it was all true, all that youth pent up in the vaults of a declining mind.
In sleep he had become an infant again, a lover, a warrior. He foxed the linearity of life, tightened the flesh. All at once he seemed much closer and more familiar, yet somehow infinitely distant. I got up quietly, careful not to disturb him. Grandfather—wander on, walk to the end of the line, go to the corners of your life. Sleep again.