The Well

upon which cup of thirst

should i pour

beverages essence of dhkir

rinsing to cleanse the conscience?

 

gulping various

potions of sentence

to slumber of sanity,

fantasy jostling

in positioning

space unknown to nuance,

unattainable is the light

of enlightened and knowledge of self,

in between the distance and proximity

at the peak of nirvana’s love

tribulation in substantive sufferings

 

upon which cup of thirst

should i pour

beverages essence of dhkir

in facing the shadow of Allah?

–Noor Aisya Buang

Aisya has been writing poems since 2011. Her poems and short stories have been published in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia newspapers. Her first poetry book Kastil Aisya (Aisya’s Castle)  has won book prize in Malay Literary Award, Singapore 2015 and shortlisted for Singapore Literature Prize 2016. Her second Malay poetry book Cahaya Dalam Sunyi (Light in Loneliness) has been published recently. She is now in preparation to translate her poems in English and publishing her first Malay short stories. She can be reached through email kastialaisya@gmail.com

 

The Scent of Lavender Petals (or Mary)

By R.C. Carter

The wicker chair creaked on the porch as Idris Schopenhauser pulled his stomach in and pushed his shoulders back. He foraged through his pants pocket for his matches, his tobacco pipe on its side on his knees. With an unsteady hand he brought the pipe to his lips, striking the match against the between his ring finger and thumb. He hovered the flame over the tobacco, the brown leaves burning as he inhaled. He coughed, cleared his throated, waited, then coughed again and grunted.

A shuffle of feet echoed off the wooden floor. Mary, in a long grey dress, rubbed her greasy hands on her white apron. She curtseyed, her gaze meeting his for a moment before fixing her eyes on his breast pocket.

“I heard you, sir.”

“When’s dinner going to be ready? I had a long day today. You understand, Mary.”

Mary stared at his pocket for a moment longer before looking over her shoulder at the stove. The water in the pot hissed and spat, hot bubbles rising to the surface.

He nodded without looking at her, striking another match against the box between his fingers.

Mary went inside. She wiped her damp forehead on the back of her hand. She pushed the ledge of the window over the sink up again, though it was already as high as it could go. The air was thick with a hot, pungent dankness. She twisted her face towards her underarms. She had showered yesterday, but she smelt just as everything she did.

Beads of sweat trickled into her eyes. She squeezed them shut. A blonde woman basked in the sun, smiling, her arms raised above her shoulders, her palms open and chin tilted up. She picked up the yellowed book off the chair beside the lavender flowers, reciting strange words by a playwright who lived long ago. It was the last literature Mary heard that was not Biblical.

“‘Do you not know that I am a woman? When I think, I must speak.’”

The words twisted her stomach in knots. Mary grew dizzy, heaving. The Church and her neighbors had told her that this was shame, something all women were was supposed to feel for their bodies’ inherent sinfulness. But Mary had no aversion towards her body; strong and capable, it had willed her through countless days when her mind could not. She breathed in, the words still echoing as the scene faded.

Mary slopped a few carrots onto the wooden board, cutting them into thin slices. She dumped them into a bowl of ice and placed the bowl on the silver platter alongside Idris’s tea, bread, butter and beef stew. She dropped the knife into the soapy water bin, and it sunk slowly to the bottom. Mary watched her reflection in its silver sheen; her hair was limp, her face sunburnt and moist. But her eyes were different than the other women’s she had seen. Hers lacked fear. Some disease had infected the people around her, moving between them like a worm in the earth- her eyes were different because she saw it.

Mary curtseyed again before placing the tray on the small wooden side table besides Idris. He stared straight ahead, puffing his pipe, mindlessly tugging his beard. Mary got on her knees. She bowed her head into her chest she drew herself between his legs, her forehead inches from his groin, but not touching it. The air grew more stifling, the smell of perspired skin and moist cloth forcing its way past her closed lips and filling her mouth. She breathed as little as possible through her nose, forcing her spine to curl. She smelled just as she did. The routine was always the same, every evening when Idris returned home from work.

Idris took a small sip of tea and put it back down. He dabbed his lips on his napkin before eating. At thirty-three he was now an established gentleman, a high ranking Ministry member with two cars and his own house, but only one woman, Mary. Most other men had at least three to five- one to three for household duties, older women with grey in their hair, and shriveled wombs, though not much older than Idris; and one or two for childbearing, usually women who had just started to bleed, cursed with Eve’s Burden, to those a little younger than Mary. Idris’s friends from the Ministry said Mary was a poor housekeeper and worse cook, and almost too old to bear any more children, but Idris wouldn’t hear any talk of getting another woman. He was loath to share her with anyone; for her own good, he said.

Mary had served Idris since she was five and he was eight. She started by making his bed in the morning, cleaning up his toys in the afternoon, and washing his clothes at night. When Mary was thirteen she finally bled. The red spot in her undergarments ignited not images of Adam and Eve, but curiosity about her body. But Mary had to be silent. She wove together the loose threads of Idris’s old shirts to plug herself with, washing her stained clothes and bed sheets in the dark morning hours when everyone else was fast asleep. But Idris’s mother caught Mary washing her linens on her third month and locked her inside Idris’s bedroom without food until she was with child three days later. Idris’s son was now away at school, learning about the Ministry where Idris worked; Mary pictured the boy at his wooden desk with a pencil, taking notes on mastering households and women. Mary had only spoken to the boy when necessary, and the boy only knew her as Mary the servant, his father’s most prized possession.

Mary had never said a word or acted out against Idris or his parents, nor had she ever gave her opinion or disagreed with the Schopenhausers. She tended to Idris’s son, she was obedient and submissive without fault, a model woman of silence. And so she sat still between his knees with the setting summer sun against her back, not even stirring to wipe the sweat from her brow.

She knew when to get up to take the tray away. She had spent her life patiently waiting.

       *************

Mary stirred the lavender scented bathwater as lavender petals floated in a long circle across the rim of the tub. Idris undressed, handing her his clothes as he stepped inside. She placed the clothes at the foot of the stairs to be washed before she went to bed.

“Mary, come. I wish to have a conversation with someone of the fairer sex.” He sighed, sinking into the steaming water.

She knelt beside the tub, her chin tucked into her chest. He motioned her to come closer, so his lips almost pressed against her neck.

“Mary, do you know why I would never dream of getting a second girl? Have you ever wondered?”

Mary remained taciturn, not letting any emotion contort her face, shaking her head.

“It’s because of the way you smell. Isn’t that funny?” He paused, pressing his finger on a petal. “Especially- although it repels me on some level- when you have not bathed. It is the smell of work, – hard, menial, repetitive labor. It is the smell that best distinguishes those who work with their minds- reading, writing, counting money- men, like me- from those who work with their bodies- cooking, cleaning, bearing children- women, like you. But you are the only woman I have smelled that captures this distinction so perfectly.” He closed his eyes, running his soapy hands through his mass of dark curls. “I’ll be in the bedroom soon.”

Mary, her head still bowed, curtseyed and left the bathroom. The smell of lavender permeated the hallway and she lingered, inhaling the scent.

                                             *************

Idris arrived home from the Ministry in the late afternoon. He took his seat in the wicker rocking chair, his stomach in and shoulders back. He rapped his fingers against the wooden side table. He handed his pipe to Mary to be refilled. She packed the tobacco tight, keeping the soft, brown leaves away from her nose.

Idris puffed on his pipe and cleared his throat. “Mary, I don’t think I’ll want dinner tonight. Just stay out here, by my side, and keep me company.”

He looked up at her. She kept her eyes on his breast pocket before she knelt down, drawing close to his groin without touching it. He took a deep breath in and sighed, stroking her head and twirling her blonde hair around his finger. He took out the small, leather bound bible he kept in his pocket, flipping through the pages before he spoke.

“‘But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. I suffer not a woman to teach, not to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence.’”

Mary breathed in little sips. Her heart pounded against her ribs, her lungs hot from the lack of fresh air. Mary closed her eyes. The blonde woman was no longer smiling, but screaming as two men in black robes, wearing crosses, stormed across the yard, knocked the book out of her hand, and dragged her across the yard, crushing the lavender flowers. Another scream rang out alongside hers, the cry of a young girl, repeating one word, the name of the woman.

The woman disappeared inside a black car. The young girl never saw her again.

                     —————

When the sun set Idris stood and went back inside the house. Once his footsteps echoed off the top stair Mary rose and locked the door behind her. She went into the bathroom and drew the water for his bath, scattering lavender petals on top. Some floated on the surface while others sunk to the bottom. She closed her eyes and inhaled, straightening her spine. The pain in her stomach was gone, and her body felt strong and capable.

Idris came in and undressed. Mary didn’t put his clothes by the stairs but dropped them at her feet, only turning to lock the door.

“Mary, why didn’t you leave my clothes…” He stopped, waving his hand. “Never mind. Come sit.” He tapped the rim of the tub.

But Mary didn’t sit. She tilted her head up and looked down at him so their eyes met.

“‘Do you not… know that I am a woman? When… I think, I must …speak.’”

Her voice was quiet and awkward, breaking at the wrong syllables, but the echo from the walls made it loud and coherent. Idris sat still for a moment, cocking his head to the side.

“Mary, you have purple eyes. Were they always that color, or did I just never notice?”

He chuckled, then laughed and kept laughing, flailing his arms in a fit of hysterics, splashing hot water onto the floor. His shrieks stung her ears, but she didn’t shirk away. His cheeks were shining and bright red, his blue eyes wet with tears.

“Jesus, Mary! You have purple eyes! Purple like the petals…”

Mary felt like her tears, hot, sweating, pouring down herself, visible liquid shame. She saw it, Idris saw it, and so did the sunny blonde woman from years past. Mary closed her eyes, her hands around Idris’s throat cutting off his laughter. He thrashed and kicked, gurgled and spat as she forced his head underwater. Petals splashed onto the floor. One landed in her hair as a stream of hot water burned her cheek. But her grip was strong; she kept her chin up and her eyes fixed on his. His swollen face turned deep red, then bluish-purple. He gave one final jerk and was still. Mary released him as he sunk to the bottom of the tub with the rest of the petals.

She opened her eyes, raising her arms over her head, her palms open, inhaling the sweet musk. There was another voice, deep and booming. Mary fell on her knees to the floor.

“‘Do you not know that I am a woman? When I think, I must speak.’”

 

RC is a writer and musician from Connecticut. She has a penchant for all things dark and weird, and loves Lovecraft. You can follow her on Facebook  and on Twitter.

My Neighborhood

Interesting

Incantation

Trapped

Within

Feelings of

Blah!

 

Los Angeles

Is

At

Times

The city of

Immense

Despair,

Drifters

Wandering

Downtown

A depot

For

Crazies and

Junkies

 

While I reside above in the concrete confines of a rented loft

 

–Aaron B. Jackson

 

Aaron is a poet and writer. He has had his work published in numerous publications and anthologies. For more information please visit Middlepoet.com.

Lethal Love Letters 2

Dear Nicole,
Yes, it is true
I feel quite serene
I am the answer-
If you know what I mean!
You’ll shoot through the sky
You’ll feel like you’re soaring
When you shoot me
Life will no longer seem boring
I’ll take you to places that you want to go
I’ll put on a master piece-the world’s finest show!
With all of this magic that I possess
But, I promise my dear you won’t become too obsessed
I’m signing out now, but here’s just a taste
I also promise you this; not one drop will you waste
Yours, always, forevermore
This is Heroin here, on the step of your door.

Nicole D’Settēmi

Nicole is the author of Addictarium: A Heroin Abuse & Recovery Memoir. She is currently living in upstate New York, and is also the author of multiple pieces of lyric poetry, and other writing endeavors. In her spare time she runs a creative design firm, assisting others in need of artistic direction digitally. She loves painting, sketching, and reading when she isn’t busy working on her novels.

Never Far Behind

we are soft like water, but we don’t always flow like water. in tranquil motions among the rocks.

 

we are not always effervescent.

 

i like being by calm waters. water runs oppositional to a disposition with vast emotional tides.

 

water guides me. tells me to glide on through when need be.

 

moments exude transience, feelings are fleeting.

 

no matter how the sky aligns by the day’s end, the sun is never far behind.

 

–Lauren Suval

Lauren is a writer based in NY, and her work has been featured on Psych Central, Thought Catalog and Medium. Feel free to drop her a line at lauren.suval@gmail.com.

Serenity

By Jennifer Benningfield

         “Ideal weather” is a myth. So the absence of wind that night represented nothing more than a kindness to the sensitive skin of my face.

         Sometimes I feel an intense gratitude that I lack friends who can reach me in the proverbial “hop/skip/jump.”

         “So what’cha been up to lately, Ally?”

         “Well, I watched a marathon of some ghost hunter show on TV, and while I’m pretty sure those guys are con men at worst and gullible morons at best, some of the stuff they do is pretty interesting. Like, trying to communicate with spirits? Anybody can try that. So I’m gonna try it, this Sunday Sunday Sunday. And if I dig it, I just might do it again.”

         I can imagine the reactions–glances askew, snickers barely stifled. Understandable. At first, even I was aghast at my own ghoulish interest. The day after I decided to dare, I attempted to find sufficiently dissuasive reasons NOT to, worried that I would be disrupting a peace beyond my comprehension. But I stuck to my pop guns: I’m gonna go record EVPs in a graveyard near my apartment. An undertaking that while frightening on the face (to some) strikes me as banal. What’s so special about being intrigued by spiritual plurality, of wondering about worlds beyond ours without discernible beginning or end?

         My curiosity has always bested my trepidation. (As my brother’s since-age-eight till-age-whenever limp can attest.) I’ve been through thirty-two years of knowing that I know nothing much. People who say, with total certainty, that ghosts do or do not exist tickle me. How do they know? All we have are hunches, vibes, anecdotes, and severely limited study data. For every yes comes a no, for every no arrives a maybe, and let’s be real, you can’t even put twenty people in a room, show them a turtle, and get them all to agree on what color it is.

         Standing at the corner of 3rd and 4th Streets, St. John’s Cemetery takes five minutes to reach, on foot. Coming from my apartment on 5th, I entered via the north gate. (The 3rd Street entrance is the main one, an attractive brick arch surrounding an iron gate.) Thursday 10 PM is never a hopping time around these parts, which was not only helpful for eliminating ambient noise, but kept me from feeling self-conscious about my gray sweatpants/sweater ensemble.

         Among the dead stashed within St. Johns are a handful of Revolutionary War soldiers, fifty Civil War vets, and dozens of men who fought in a World War. I agonized over the strained, haunted words I might pick up, the answers I didn’t want. It bothered me–still does–to consider that physical death does not guarantee the serenity unattainable in corporeal form.

         I glanced over the gravestones, wondering: Are they occupying a placid paradise, a wretched inferno, or something else entirely?

——-

         Some women knit. Some women hike. Some sell antiques, baked goods, advice, their bodies–anything to endure the crisis DU JOUR. I have no go-to release, not since a sobering doctor’s visit marked the beginning of the end of my passionate affair with fatty foods. I suppose I could have taken up smoking, or scrapbooking, but those activities involve me spending more money per week than I need to (not to mention leaving the house more than I want to). Whatever distractions I call upon, whatever decompression chamber I enter, I demand one-time payment and a one-person limit.

         Controversy only adds to the appeal.

         The more I looked into recording Electronic Voice Phenomenon, the more I couldn’t resist taking a shot at it. Online are dozens of sites devoted to the pursuit, with “proof” in abundance. For craps and chuckles, I listened to some EVP files uploaded onto the Internet.

         EVPs fall into one of three categories. Class “A” recordings are the goal, the Grail–immaculate quality, words loud and clear. “B” recordings are much more common, apparently–audible, but in need of enhancement via computer software. Lastly are the Class “C” recordings, of such poor quality they’d be accurately deemed “steaming gobbledygook.”

         No one who appeared to be a serious “hunter” boasted about capturing a “Class A,” I noted. Some of the “B”‘s were intriguing, but far from definitive proof of life after death. The “C”‘s were the worst things I’ve heard outside of spoken Turkish.

         These websites have forums, of course, where believers and skeptics alike clash over the very idea that the dead can speak. One poster’s passionate, paragraph-free retelling of a fruitful trip to an abandoned school (numerous Class B’s featuring children’s voices!) will be meticulously rebutted by someone drunk on 200 proof Logic, someone whose post will begin with some variation of–“Well, my Caspar-loving friend, there are all sorts of gadgets taking up valuable air waves, see….” He (I know, damn my assumptions) will then proceed to explain how static, rather than providing an energy that can be harnessed and utilized by otherworldly types for communication purposes, actually fools the listener into thinking they are hearing speech.

         The frequent rottenness of the faceless aside, doubters serve a grand purpose. Indeed, most of the so-called “evidence” for paranormal occurrences is easily explainable as entirely earthly. But, we must all remember–once people stop asking questions, they stop finding answers.

         One poster on a forum asked: “Do magnetic fields mess with the brain and create the illusion of apparitions or do apparitions cause the fluctuations in the fields?”

         A fair question, one that cannot be answered to the satisfaction of a critical thinker–that’s all I needed.

         I went into this expecting nothing. So if “nothing” was what I wound up with–no skin lost. Still, in the interest of a good foot forward, I ordered the Spirit Box SB-11-8130 digital voice recorder after research convinced me it would be a nice device for an incipient hunter of residual energy.

         The Box was the only thing I took other than myself that night, clutching it in my right hand as though it received energy from the firmness of my grip. I traversed the  narrow concrete paths for a few minutes. The lack of wind kept the trees still; the grass struck me, alternately, as black or dark green or dark blue.

         Every dozen feet or so, I tugged at the hem of my sweater, hating how it tried to chum up with the flesh of my stomach. (My fault for inhaling a cherry fruit pie and glass of whole milk before heading out.)

         The dim moon rendered the floral arrangements colorless. I had to bend and squint to discern the names carved into stones. Although, really, the letters meant less to me than the numbers.

         Some depressed me (1865-1868, 1940-1987) but not as profoundly as the fact that human beings are not even equal in death. For every grave without a single flower is one with three baskets overflowing. For every stone lain flat along the earth is one shooting skyward, shiny and ornate, wider and taller, proving how loved the deceased were, how fortunate, how valuable, and how tragic their passing away was, so much more tragic than, say, Johnny Flat-Stone over there.

         A part of me–a considerable part, that part which still pulls at imaginary pigtails while ruminating over the reasons the 1980s represented the apex of American culture–hears the word GHOST and refers to the iconography of Halloween, those sheet-draped essences floating in the air, arms held out at the sides–kinda cute, kinda hair-raising, kinda not what a ghost really is, if a ghost really is. I suspect the dead continue on in a perpetual fog along staggered paths, no concept of time and no time for concepts. Once dead, we are nothing but what we were, and what we will be is no longer a concern, as it is no longer a possibility.

         I’d turned right, towards the 3rd Street entrance, when some limbo dweller shot a foot out, pitching me towards the pavement. Luckily I caught myself with both hands, saving my knees and/or head from even minor damage. A lesser broad would have tucked fuzz and Flo Jo’ed the scene. Being a greater broad, I took a few seconds to recuperate and proceeded towards the center of the graveyard.

         I was twenty feet from the main office building, mind occupied with thoughts as to what their carpet situation was like, when the next stupid scare happened. My cheek felt as if it had been struck by expectorate. I reacted in a normal manner, yelping and reaching out to grab some air.

         T’was a raindrop. Just a raindrop.

         I rubbed all four of my cheeks and peered at the peaks of the evergreens that looked so gorgeous in their daywear. A willow beckoned me from fifty feet away. It provided shade for a dozen or so final resting places, and I decided to make that my “spot.”

         No sooner had my back hit bark, then the desire to acclimate myself to my immediate surroundings brought me onto all fours. I made my gradual way to the grave directly ahead of me.

 

1935-2007

 

         It didn’t jut up from the ground; it was one of the humbler markers, belonging to a Driver 8 who took his final break the day before my big 3-0. I did not know him, he did not know me, but the thought that this evening’s experiment might change that  somewhat imbued me with an embarrassing warmth. Anticipating a sinkhole’s emergence, I scuttled backwards to the base of the tree.

         Reverie helped steel my reserve. I envisioned myself marooned on an island, just me, a tree and a jacked-up walkie-talkie. My jaw tightened from the yearning to hear the songs crooned by those trapped and timeless troubadours. The muscles in my forearms went momentarily rigid; I was overcome, briefly yet acutely, with the admixture of hubris, elation and dread that could only be felt by the last living person on the planet.

         Success depended upon presence. Negativity and aggression are to be avoided. Respect is vital. As there exist mean, untrustworthy people on the planet, there are bound to be specters of unpleasant demeanor, who might view me as a breather, a beater, with a sense of entitlement I’m too dense to appreciate, who might consider my visit as a sort of home invasion. (I would have been greatly tickled to pick up a “screw you, bitch.”)

         A warm greeting, an icy threat, secrets tips and tricks, the location of the treasure–I had no clue what I would capture. I wet my lips, adjusted the hem of my sweater,  and switched on the Box.

         I asked each query calmly, leaving seven seconds of silence in between each, since it’s my favorite number.

         “Anyone here?”

         “Hello. Hi. My name is Ally. Short for Allysa. Two L’s. First time here, in case you were wondering. But enough about me. Who are you?”

         “Was anyone here an only child?”

         “Does it bother you that people step all over your final resting place?”

         “Does it bother you that many people doubt your existence?”

         “Is it better, where you are?”

         “Does anyone here in the air tonight know the Muffin Man?”

         “If Allan is here…do you have anything you’d like to say?”

         “Okay, that’s all. Time to bid you fine folks adieu. Thank you for listening. And, hopefully, for talking.”

 —–

         This life–this upright, uptight life–isn’t so terrible. A world of spleen in the soup and gremlins on the wing seems appealing when ennui hurls a high ‘n’ tight one, but enough baleful glances from resentful sideliners has given me a profound appreciation of the old routine, moving from one chalky outline to the next, tapping and rapping with the other names and numbers.

         It was 11 when I arrived back at the apartment, the next pitch still a half hour away. (Had it been midnight, I still would have resisted the temptation of a thin thing under me and a thick thing over me.) I downloaded the recording onto my Mac. I knew nothing other than I would give it a fair listen. (I fancied myself impervious to the temptation of auditory pareidolia. I have no agenda, after all.)

         I’d grabbed some free audio analysis software from a site that took pride in assisting “ghost hunters on a budget.” (How many multi-millionaires/billionaires unwind with trips to haunted houses/abandoned asylums/graveyards?) As anticipated, the majority of the 112 seconds was gobbledygook. Here and there, I thought I could make out short intelligible bursts, but I suspected I was indulging in wish fulfillment.

         Then there was 1:01-1:02. Within this second-long span, I heard a male voice “answer” my final question–gruff, gravelly, begrudging. I enhanced the audio; the extra filtering robbed the voice of its “charm” but made the “words” much clearer.

         Three words. The three that save the day, sweeten the pot, spin the world. Easy to say, difficult to feel…unless they’re difficult to say, easy to feel.

         Everyone’s different.

         I should be delighted to have captured a “Class B” on my first attempt. I’m not.

         Dead two years, and now he tells me.

         I’ve played that 1.2 second part 528 times in four days (per the exceedingly helpful software). I’ve reached the point of constant return, where I have to listen before my first coffee of the day and before my last conscious action of the night. Forget auditory illusions; I’m beginning to see things in the sound waves. Iced-over cauldrons, a mountain of unused trash bags, a dancing dog, a sleeping fish.

         Did I really hear what I thought, or only what I longed to hear? Strike that second one; I haven’t craved that particular approval since I entered grade 9 and stuck the desire to hear him say a damn thing ever again underneath my desk like a tasteless wad of gum.

         At times I want to invite someone else to check it out, but, who? I could send the WAV file to a friend, with a minimum of preamble and no leading language, and then what? Emojis and memes. I could send the WAV file to a family member, but that would require I grudgingly acknowledge a blood tie. I could share the WAV file with strangers online, and then immediately begin slicing my wrists with used toothpicks.

         No. No to all of that. Whatever I heard, whatever I thought I heard, is mine. Simultaneously the best and the worst secret I will ever decide to keep.

         Before my maiden voyage, I was undecided as to if there would be any to follow. I know, now, with certainty.

Jennifer has been in the (mostly) benevolent thrall of words since receiving “Green Eggs and Ham” as a birthday present. She is either writing, reading, or in a situation where she wishes was either writing or reading. Currently, Jennifer is working on her first novel. Her blog can be found here.