|Photography by Dianne Roberson Hendrix
By Heather Ann Schmidt
Don’t worry, spiders,
I keep house
casually. ─Haiku by Issa
A poet sits in the corner of his home at a low table and watches a spider crawl
across the sheet of rice paper in front of him. He gently picks up the paper and smiles, watching the spider stop. He rests
the paper on the table, letting the spider finish his trek. Once the terrain is cleared, the poet fills his brush with ink.
Heather Ann Schmidt is an adjunct professor at Oakland Community College
and teaches creative writing at Pontiac Creative Arts Center. Her books are Njaa
(Recycled Karma Press, 2009), Channeling
Isadora Duncan (Gold Wake Press, 2009), The
Owl & the Muse: Collected Tanka (Recycled Karma Press), and The Bat’s Lovesong: American Haiku (Crisis Chronicles Press,
2009). Forthcoming is a full collection of poems from Village Green Press and Transient
Angels. She received her MFA from National University and is a PhD. student at Union Institute.
By Lis Anna
“Cotton,” my grandmother yelled from the back porch. “Where are you, child?”
The back steps were rotting so she wouldn’t dare come looking for me. For awhile I’d
pretend not to hear, but eventually I’d be forced to cross that great expanse of backyard from past to present. The
family dog, Oswald, named after Lee Harvey, was always waiting on me. A neighborhood cat had kittens in the old washing machine
in the basement. Now she’d moved them under the porch. They were feral. “Just like you,” my Grandmother
She had just bought a glass table that had fallen off the back of a truck. Everything in the house
was stolen, including the medication. Uncle Stan was at the table eating Thorazine, green beans and fried chicken. I looked
down at the drummie on my plate.
“What’s wrong?” Granny asked, mashing potatoes.
“She’s been back there eatin’ them figs all day, Mother.” Stan said, smothering
everything on his plate, swimming in gravy.
“Have to. I seen you.”
“Well, that’s okay,” Granny said. “Adam and Eve ate figs.”
“Shoulda eaten snake,” Stan said, pleased with himself.
That evening I climbed up on the old porcelain sink in the bathroom and stared down at the tree.
It was as old as the Bible. It grew in faraway lands. Somehow it had made its way across a vast sea … to our backyard.
“Cotton, how many times have I told you not to climb up on that sink? It’s going to
come loose from the wall.”
I shimmied down the porcelain with a frown.
“What is it with you and that tree?”
“Where did it come from?”
“It was here when we moved in. A long time before you were born.”
I was sure the tree had been taken from the Garden of Eden by a travelling salesman who rode on
a magic carpet.
I stole the key to the old carriage house to look for clues. There was nothing out there except
for dust, nails and a musty smell. I locked the padlock, put the key in my pocket and climbed the tree.
A bright blue calm day in the Empire. I picked honeysuckle flowers just to taste that one drop
of sweetness on my tongue. Then I ate a fig, sweet, tasty with its colorful inside and seeds. Twilight was upon me. The locusts
began to sing that rhythmic song and the crickets chirped. I felt so high in the air, lingering next to the clouds.
Tomorrow it would rain and the ditch would swell like the Nile. I knew. I’d seen it before.
Lis Anna’s short fiction, films, screenplays, and novels have all been nominated and won awards.
She is a five time WorldFest winner, a Wurlitzer Grant recipient, a New Century Writers winner, Second Place Winner of the
Thomas Wolfe Fiction Award, First Place winner of the 11th Annual Poet Hunt Award, a four time Accolade Film
Competition winner, and a finalist in the Nicholl Fellowships, the Doris Betts Fiction Award, Chesterfield Film Project and
the William Faulkner Competition. Her fiction has been published in Word Riot,
The Blotter, Petigru Review, Hot Metal Press, and The MacGuffin Literary Review. Visit Lis at
www.lisannafilms.com or www.lisanna.net.
By Eric Bennett
up, Adama” mum-mum whispers. “A calve has fallen into the well again.” I rouse, feeling the heat of the
day before I open my eyes. I’m already sweating and my skin is hot to touch.
There are two rooms in my mud and palm thatched home―I leave my younger brother asleep on the mat in our room while
my pap and little sister sleep in the second. Mum-mum hands me a sesame seed honey stick and I hustle into the wide bright
day squinting. A muscular sun makes the air vibrate like water ruffed by the wind.
Eight households share our compound: six families and two single men. Though the yard is stripped bare of
village men, I can make out their wavy figures in the heated horizon and hear them calling to one another and whooping.
I run to join the bunch trekking to the well. Long leg strides make my heart bang in the back of my throat.
I follow their dusty foot stamps waving my arms, the thrill multiplying even as my stride falters and my thighs quake and
stall. Slowing to a walk, I listen to the river running through my neck, waves of blood pounding in my ears.
Seeing me from afar, the men turn and smile at my flapping arms.
“Courir petit peu.”
“Run little one.”
Their cheers pull me like a rope and eventually I catch up.
The tribes across the river call us farmers, but we farm only because our cows died in the drought. The small
rivulets which should cradle fast brown water this time of year are nothing but mud. And the women draw water straight from
the Niger, tongues clucking.
The cassava shrubs are dead and leaves fall from kapok trees, making yellow moons on the ground beneath their
branches. I’ve learned that the desert loves death more than it loves trees. So, I’m careful to be kind to the
kapok, to the baobab trees. I give them names and treat them like old people.
All of the wells have dried save one―and it is for this one that we pass through browning grass
over baked earth, my feet becoming numb. Finger sized lizards climb long stems to soak in the sun while I look to the sky,
praying to Chiuta for rain.
As Kalifa tells Aly how he’s already seen five dead Oliphant this season, we hear the calve squalling
in the distance. Listen to the little beast, I think. And even though this is my
first outing with the men, I’m convinced I’ll singlehandedly free the calve and earn the respect of the entire
village. Today, I tell myself, my feet are
on a new path.
I run to the well ahead of the men. Vetches and nettle grow around the edge, a sign that water heals the earth.
And there, submerged in the mud, is the young Oliphant I’ve come to rescue. Reaching desperately for the water at the
bottom of the well, she lowered her trunk, toppled in, and remains trapped in the sweltering heat. She bucks and rears, heaving
herself up the muddy banks only to slide back, exhausted.
The men round the lip of the well, suspiciously eyeing the herd of restless Oliphants 30 feet away. Soon,
a plan develops and the men set to work tossing rope from one bank to the other. They’re gesturing clumsily but assuredly
while wrapping rope around the calve. Strong hands violently take hold of every inch of the cords―it seems there’s
no place for mine. Dejectedly, I step away from the flurry of activity, my chance to prove myself a man slipping away.
From where I stand, I can see that the calve’s eyes are barely open, but it seems she’s looking
at me. She moans low. I approach the edge of the well and kneel. Bending down, I take the oliphant’s course trunk in
hand and squeeze. I hum soft and low to the frightened center of the animal. My knees begin to slip, but I find traction and
continue to stroke the trunk and hum. The sun bites the back of my neck and the broad flesh of the calve’s ears. I smell
the heat in the waxy weeds and in the shimmering air. Yet I remain constant, stroking and singing comfort to the young animal
while the men work to free her from the sucking mud.
Hours pass and eventually the young calve is freed. She staggers toward me as if to show her thanks, and then
stumbles in the direction of the herd, which has been nervously standing by all morning. A raucous cheer goes up from the
men. My chest is heaving. I can think of only one thing to say: “I am Adama, the man who silences Oliphants.”
The men laugh, but they slap my back too.
That evening, mum-mum cleans and salts fish and then peels the potatoes to fry. My sister pounds black pepper
and garlic together and adds it to the pot. Typically we would just eat rice with fish sauce, but today, mum-mum is celebrating.
Having heard the tale of how I used magic to silence an Oliphant, like me, she believes I have become a man.
Mum-mum looks at me with pride and says, “Tell me the story yourself, Adama.”
Full of smiles, I do.
Eric Bennett lives in New York with his wife and
four children. He loves fierce wounded things and beginning sentences with the word “and.” His work appears or
is forthcoming in Dogzplot Flash Fiction 2009 Anthology, Why Vandalism?, Gloom Cupboard, Bartleby
Snopes, Smokebox, Apt, decomP magazinE, The Battered Suitcase, Dogmatika, Up the Staircase, Dogzplot
Blogspot, Foliate Oak, Poor Mojo’s
Almanac, Tuesday Shorts, The Oddville
Press, The Smoking Poet, ken*again,
Prick of the Spindle, Long Short Story,
Stirring, Ghoti Magazine, Foundling Review, DiddleDog, Bewildering
Stories Old City Cool, PANK, Slush Pile,