AN AFFAIR WITH DEATH AND WINE by Ashlie Allen

 

 

I had an affair with Zinfandel for three months. Her fuchsia color rippled in the clean wine glass, as if she was dancing for me. I took her inside the closet and let her swim inside my organs. I knew when I felt dizzy, she understood me. “That’s what I always like to feel, on the verge of mad laughter.” I confessed the first night she seduced me.

Merlot had been my first love. She pleased me many nights. One time when I burned my hand on the stove, she scooted herself toward the edge of the counter and dumped herself into a fresh glass. “Drink me.” She whispered. “You will think your blisters are funny once you finish.”

Tears slid down her bottle at the same time mine dripped from my cheeks. “I love you, dear.” I was shaking. “I’ll never hide anything from you.” She let me drain her until I fell asleep and forgot about the burning in my hands. There was burning everywhere though. I knew I couldn’t live without Merlot.

I don’t live with anyone. Once my parents passed, I inherited the house and all the ghosts in it. They never told me I had a sister, or that she had died in the closet. Anytime I became hysterical from too much wine, I went inside there to weep.

“Stop being a despairing monster. You are not the one who is dead.” She said when we first met. My eyes were bulging with fury and fear and my lips were burgundy from the Merlot. “You look like a vampire. Are you sure that isn’t blood you are drinking?”

“Oh dear. I have taken it too far this time. I am delirious.”

“I know who you are. I’ve been in this house a long time. No one ever told you about me, but I am a part of you; you are a part of me too.”

“Tell me the secret.” I begged. “I want to be close to someone.”

“You have a sister. I am she. I choked to death inside here.” I hid my face. I did not want her to see my grief and horror, afraid she’d have no sympathy. “Don’t worry. I am not a mean spirit, especially not to my big brother.” She wrapped her arms around me and kissed my chin. I was shivering so violently that all my wine splashed out of the glass.

I screamed when I realized it. “My love! I have wasted you!”

“You’re killing your organs.” My ghost sister said. “Wine is not a bride; it is a fatal seduction.” I threw my arms around her, wondering if she knew how scary I looked in my sadness as I wept behind her neck.

I bought more Zinfandel this evening. There was only one bottle left on the shelf. I felt nauseous at the thought tomorrow there would be no more in stock. “I’ll find you somewhere.” I said as I walked down the store aisle. “If I have to drive to every liquor store in town, I will discover you somewhere.”

I passed a bottle of Merlot before leaving the store. “I am so depressed. You find that sour taste better than me.” She glanced at my bottle of Zinfandel. Though there were tears in her eyes, she looked like a vicious animal.

My hands were trembling as I poured Zinfandel down my throat. I couldn’t help see images of myself going mad inside my head. One flash, there was my demonic face, the face of alcohol and misery combined, then the next flash there was nothing, only lifelessness. The last image was of me laughing like someone in the midst of severe hysteria.

“There’s the vampire sucking the life out of his own self.” I felt my sister’s cold hands on my chest.

“Why did you say that?” I asked. “I am very happy actually. I have a new lover! Look at how lovely she is!” I lifted the bottle of Zinfandel and sniggered, desperate for approval and compassion. “You do not agree with me?”

“What happened to you, big brother? Why are you like this?” I slammed my hands down on the counter, trying to suppress my woe.

She put her palms against my cheeks, forcing me to look at her. “Tell me the secret.” She whispered, her eyes watering like she might cry.

“Don’t ever hate me, please.” I pleaded. “I killed them.”

“Who did you murder?”

“Our parents. They did not understand my troubles. They smacked me every time I cried for help. They did not know my mind was unorganized and that I was extremely lonely. One night, they tried to smother me. I only wanted them to give me medicine, something to make me drowsy so I could get away from myself awhile. I came into their room and begged for mercy, but they were already tired of me. Both of them put pillows over my mouth until I couldn’t breathe. Though I was very sorrowful, I was afraid to die.”

“How did you do it?”

“They had an empty wine bottle on their dresser. You can imagine how I must have defended myself.”

“So that’s where the love of wine comes from.” My sister said with a doleful look on her face.

“Are you mad at me?” I asked, holding tightly to her, afraid she’d want to get away from me now that she knew I was a killer.

“No. They succeeded at killing one of their children. I am happy one of them survived.” I nearly collapsed with shock. She picked me up, her tiny body trembling. “We are close now, do not worry, vampiric brother. Finish your drink. I believe a little numbness is necessary right now.” She held the bottle to my lips and watched as I desperately chugged the Zinfandel. She looked just like me, only a girl, eyes so dark they looked like one giant pupil, cheek bones so deep they made her jaws look beautifully hollow, hair black and shiny like a healthy bear’s fur. I wished that she was alive and I was dead. I also wished she could drink with me and fall in love with delirium. “I do not fear you, big brother. In fact, I wish I was you.” My sister said while hugging my drunken body.

“That is a terrible wish. Look at how sloppy and disconsolate I am.” I replied, imagining I was inside a bottle of wine.

 

 

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BRUNELLO by Jerry McGinley

 

 

Quiet autumn afternoon

in a grove of olive trees

near Montalcino,

we drink Brunello wine

and absorb the Tuscan sun.

Above the horizon

over a walled hill town

seven miles away,

storm clouds blossom.

It’s a long walk back

to our rented villa

but the bottle is half full.

A low steady bass line

of approaching thunder

and neon streaks of lightning

stir warblers from the grove.

We should head back,

but the deep red wine

with hints of leathery dried figs

begs us to stay, so we

refill our glasses and tell

ourselves it will be fun

to call ol’ Jupiter’s bluff.

SKATING by Steve Fortney

Skating
He leaves marks
On its surface
Scratched glass
The pond below
Sleeps. There are
Some fish there
And weeds 
As he goes 
The bottom falls
Out of sight
He skates on
Thinking this
And that
His children
The state 
Of the world
How cold it is
Though the sun
Shines brightly
There is no
Thinking below
Or if there were 
He wouldn’t
Understand it
Still, he must
Avoid thin ice
To break through
And find out
A  danger
Skating alone
No-one near
To help him.

The Base Runner’s Bodhidharma by Steve Fortney

The Base Runner’s Bodhidharma
                                       For Stephen Batchelor
He’s in the game punching a fast ball
To the far corner of right field.
Racing  toward first base,
He pulls a muscle in his left calf.
Touching base, the hurt bites.
 He achieves second, turns to third.
Between second and third he wants
To quit, but separates himself
To merely watch the pain.
If only he could get there! That
Would be a triple. But there
He turns, and watches himself see
The agony: only one path to home.
Come on, man, do it! Get’er done!
Keep at it, push yourself, you can do this!
After eight giant limping steps, he slides,
Beats the throw! An inside-the-park 
home run! Yes! and springs up muddy,
And dances his dance! His teammates
Dash to him, leaping, slapping high fives.
It’s only the bottom of the fifth,
There’s a game to play yet; inning 
by inning, game after game,
Living after living. He envisions
This circuit, through joy and pain,
Again and again, each dance new,
Win or lose, each step confident.  

Two New Poems by Dave Benson

 

Desert Ship

Heaved up from the bowels of Mother Earth,

her crowded decks upon the massive hull set,

carved and molded by eons of wind and rain,

painted by the hand of the Great Spirit,

the majestic liner plows the desert waves

with her crew of lizards, falcons and bats,

jackrabbits, coyotes and snakes;

she sails far without embarking,

and forever returns to port

 

 

 

Valley of the Kings

From the heights of the great red cliffs,

the craggy, rust-skinned, rain-etched,

wind-swept faces of the ancient kings

stare out over us in stoic disdain,

for our blasphemy of their valley of many moons,

while their petrified people stand in the foothills,

frozen in time, awaiting the return of the reign;

and an arrowhead of condors soars afore them in reverie,

then turning in pristine harmony they fade into the past,

to where the wind goes after it howls and blows

Summertime Concert by Steve Fortney

 
 

The first notes of spring, white snowdrops;

And then flowers the redbud tree

In contrast, to sound the themes to come.

Rhubarb, in Tibet, thought to be small

Red-bodied wrinkled Adams, play with

Rembrandt embouchure, the first tulips.

 

 

The hall is columned with black locust,

Wild cherry, autumn blaze, witch hazel,

Muscle-wood, oak, Norway spruce; the colors

Echo sweetly off those wooden pillars, their

Leafy vault; annuals play like string sections

Constant but anonymous from spring to frost.

 

 

One follows another: large bows of hosta strike,

Cello notes. With wind-time nods the bass

Peony; and piccolo alyssum, tiny among rocks,

Drowned by the trumpets of turk’s cap lilies,

The middle movement; followed by the third:

Where chrysanthemum and asters bloom.

 

 

We are its concert masters, we orchestrate this,

Where colors and scents and themes flower,

Each blossom is first chair; with cadenzas of peppers

And tomatoes that feed us–music, the food of love!

Ripening, first, to middle movement: then the finale!

As the Conductor batons the last downbeat of fall.