September 2015

“Get Lit” by Geoffrey Young (Poem)
“Sympathy for the Penis” by Robert S. Pesich (Poem)
“Crazy Little Thing…” by Dixie Salazar (Poem)
“My South” by Wendy Taylor Carlisle (Poem)
“Poem That Ends With An Overheard Line” by Wendy Taylor Carlisle (Poem)
“Cowboys, Ballgames” by Wendy Taylor Carlisle (Prose Poem)
“Jimmie Durante in the Afterlife” by Wendy Taylor Carlisle (Poem)
“My Way” by Paul Dunlap (Short Story)
“Sonata” by Michael J. Vaughn (Prose Poem)

Get Lit

Let’s put it this way: Disco and I
barely noticed each other
back in the 70s. While the many headlines read
“Donna Summers Reigns Supreme!”
“Dance Goddess Whips Cream!”
“Pop Diva Steam Cleans!”
I remember wondering (at so many beats per minute)
if Laura stopped at the Co-op to buy milk and diapers.
But oh so much Rolling Rock and Elvis
Costello and Robert Altman have passed
under the Bridge of Sighs since those New Book
dance parties in rented halls where we Small Press
language nuts and our poet friends
broke legendary sweats for the lyric love of it all.

Geoffrey Young was born in Los Angeles in 1944, and grew up in San Diego.
Before settling in Great Barrington, Massachusetts in 1982, Young spent student years in Santa Barbara (UCSB), and Albuquerque (UNM), then lived for two years in Paris (a Fulbright year followed by a six-month stint working for La Galerie Sonnabend), and for seven years in Berkeley where his two sons were born. His small press, The Figures (1975-2005), published more than 135 books of poetry, art writing, and fiction.

His own recent books include The Point Less Taken, The Figures (2013) with images by Lucas Reiner; All the Anarchy I Want, Lonely Woman, (2013), Dumbstruck, Yawning Abyss, (2013), with paintings by Daniel Heidkamp, and Get On Your Pony & Ride, Non-Fiction (2012), with paintings by Chie Fueki.

He has directed the Geoffrey Young Gallery for the last 24 years, as well as written catalog essays for many artists.

Click here for Phil Johnson’s DNA interview with Geoffrey.

Sympathy for the Penis


I heard she chopped off his penis.
Drove away with it.
That she forgot about the deflated member
until the intersection
where she paused,
then whipped it out the window
to the broken shoulder of the road.

I imagine she boomed up the radio:
Shostakovich symphony no. 7 Leningrad,
thunder of drums, oboes, tubas.
Floored the gas, gave up all her dust,
left the penis behind
to decide for itself
which road to take
for a new life.

        You know this story.
        You know officers arrived,
        provided borders for the scene
        as if this would contain the language.
        They circled the evidence,
        Corpus delicti: knife,
        moisture and feathers,
        penis, pointing to the river.

2. Raccoon

She came when the crickets resumed.
She had never seen such a thing along the road.
Humid smell of fish,
soft like a sponge,
no spicules. She took it.
Rubbed it in the cold
mineral grip of the river
to clean off the motor oil
and scent of bourbon in the blood,
but the ball-stud
was firmly fixed to the foreskin.
She licked the tip as a taste test.

There are many strange things,
a penis is no exception.
It was still alive,


Corpus cavernosa
flooding with water.
In this surprise quickening,
it escaped.

3. Owl

Bobbing in the river
it appeared to have a gill fold
and a small mouth.
Or maybe a drowning mouse?
Bleeding, anyway.

You went down on it,
gripped the body and flew.
Corpus spongiosum ballooned with air,
sinuses filling with barbules of feathers.
It whistled in the tight embrace of your talons,
revealing your silent path through the night.

You dropped it back to earth.
Crow might take it tomorrow.

4. Coyote

I recognized it immediately.

A suspicious situation.
I wanted to avoid trouble.
You understand.
But I provided some medicine-power anyway:
a quick lick,
a spray of urine,
a brief salsa.


Surgeons sterilized the exposed tissues,
performed microsurgery
articulating member to stump.
Successful, minus the numbness
and potential for graft-vs-host disease.

They failed to notice the saliva,
river water and wing barbules
compacted deep in the sinuses.

Now, the man is listed under missing persons.
His suit, hard leather shoes, and briefcase
left in Barstow.
His stint as a porn stud only paid the rent.
Last seen in Needles drinking with a hooker
who was originally a man
before her sex-change operation.

His truck was found abandoned on the edge
of an arroyo
in New Mexico.

Robert Pesich is the president of Poetry Center San José, coordinator of The Well-RED Reading Series, and editor/publisher for Swan Scythe Press. His work has recently appeared in The Redwood Coast Review, Aperçus Quarterly, Slipstream, The Bitter Oleander, Skidrow Penthouse, Red Wheelbarrow and Círculo de Poesía (Mexico) among others.

In 2009, he was awarded the Littoral Press Poetry Prize, a fellowship from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and was a resident at the Djerassi Resident Artist Program as well as in January 2013. In 2004, he was awarded an artist fellowship from Arts Council Silicon Valley. In 2001, he authored the chapbook Burned Kilim (Dragonfly Press). A second collection of poetry, Model Organisms at Zero Hour is in submission.

“Crazy Little Thing…”

“People do not know how dangerous love songs can be.”
James Joyce

When his cousin twitched her hips,
ran pink lips over virgin
ice cream in time to piano
licks of “Great Balls of Fire”
Jerry found out how dangerous
that sweet verb could be. Better used
as a noun, solid
as the rear axle of Elvis’ gold limo
when he rocked alone,
whispering “love me tender”
into the capsule of smoky glass—
the same notes rising
and falling, condensed
on the back windshield
of a classic Chevy, warm breath meeting
cold glass, drawing a thin membrane
between the stars. She gasped,
a quick, orgasmic torch
like a breath of fire, or the flip
of a Zippo in the wax museum
where the hunk of love burned
under a cool glaze of wax,
and unchained notes smoldered
live as embers in the Graceland grate
blue hot as magma layered with ice.

Two lovers kiss
in the shivery walk-in
of Apetito Fuerte, neon
blinking, “Caliente y Rapido.”
He’s melting in her ruffled arms
dissolving like a pelvis bone
in the boreal Memphis ground
where the feverish caretaker
prunes the King’s roses. Coughing
up blood, he sucks his cigarette,
a cold, red rose lit against the night.
He whistles the broken melody
of Piaf’s gypsy who steals and kills
for love, follows his lover
into the bowels of earth, the tunnel
of love, filling like an aorta.

At ten, smoking in the mouth
of the abandoned fire escape,
we divided love into two spheres,
the kind you like and the kind you marry.
Those who are lucky get both, balance
on the brink of a cold “ring
of fire,” ready to fall
or dive in head first, despite
every song rising from the flames.

“Crazy Little Thing…” appeared previously in both The Montserrat Review and Blood Mysteries (University of Arizona Press)

Dixie Salazar has published five books of poetry: Hotel Fresno by Blue Moon Press in 1988, Reincarnation of the Commonplace, (national poetry award winner) by Salmon Run Press in 1999, Blood Mysteries by University of Arizona in 2003 and Flamenco Hips And Red Mud Feet also by University of Arizona in 2010. Limbo, her novel, was published by White Pine Press in 1995. Her newest collection, Altar For Escaped Voices, was published by Tebot Bach in February of 2013. A young adult novel, Carmen And Chia Mix Magic, was published by Black Opal Books in 2014. Dixie is also a visual artist working mostly in oils with an extensive showing record in the Central Valley of California, Merced, Sacramento, San Francisco, Las Vegas, Nevada and New York.

She has also taught extensively in the California prisons and the Fresno County jail. Currently, she is involved as a homeless advocate and shows her art at the Silva/ Salazar studios at 654 Van Ness in Fresno, California. website:

My South

On the left, the Atchafalaya, so black, so burnt inside,
silent as a pot. Down here, our lips equal silt
and common bliss. Down here, we carry our graves folded
in our pockets, a cardboard hunger, a box and shards.

The woman beside me in this food line wears a skintight skirt,
has a back door man. Down south, we have the right
to cliché and gossip, to numbers and pawn. Down south,
we observe the bendable rules that stand in for bone.

Below Missouri, we have a chicory bias. Low blues
and “Jolie Blonde” are the national anthem. Down here,
I learned acoustics from Professor Longhair, religion
from the Mardi Gras Gods, patience in February’s

saxophone wind. Like Buckwheat and the Meters,
I adjust my heart-beat to the pulse of the tune.
Despite the hunter, I am the snake half of the gator.
Despite the facts of jazz, I’m as romantic as a bad house band.

I still think of salvation every time.
Night Train. Sugar cane. Soufflé. Etouffé.
The key to muddy silence is under my tongue.
Where your world gapes open, darlin,’ I shiver in.

From Discount Fireworks (Jacaranda Press)

Poem That Ends With An Overheard Line

We drove a Ford van with built-in beds.
We carried a Coleman and three guitars.

One of us had a mandolin. We all brought
Levis and extra shirts. We were chasing

gigs and soprano singers. We ate beans
and rice and not much else. We were headed

out to West Virginia where we heard the hills
sighed their white knees up. We played all

the fiddle tunes anyone knew and made up
some more from smoke and old strings ‘till

the morning showed and we went out of tune.
We were scared and kind and kind of mean.

It was decades ago; we were nothing but kids.
“To tell you the Truth, Who Knows What I Did?”

Cowboys, Ballgames

Noon, and a dozen regulars under 20 TV’s tuned in to b-ball at the airport’s Club Cowboy, home of cheap Lone Star and burgers and a crowd who, without trying, remind me how easy it would be to roll off my life, as if it was a mean pony; how I’d only have to choose the wrong plane from among the planes sizzling on the tarmac and vanish like the monorail’s blank face. Without a long war afoot, all any airport patriot can do is shut up and shuffle across the dirty public floor, take off their dusty boots and move toward the girl-guard with the gloves for close inspection of their intentions. I step out of my ropers like I could step out of my life and try not to act suspicious of my fellow travelers or question the voice that hums above the cello on the plastic headphones, the voice that instructs me to buckle up, to stay the course and not imagine myself blown out of the short boots I so recently shucked. But where does that voice come from, taking over the airwaves between our ears, diverting us from the sight of clouds piling up over the wing of this gemutlich flying room, the mystery voice that explains and comforts us with lists of places to avoid and people to dismiss but never says how or explains that all of us are tilting, rising, lifting away from the desert and the asphalt, leaving everything behind—cowboys, fast food, ballgames, rockabilly and noon.

Jimmie Durante in the Afterlife

Jimmy Durante has memories of himself,
A lothario, his lips slick

under that schnozzola, an awning
that shaded his chin from the predatory sun

and protected him from a cold-chisel
profile like Gable’s.

He still says goodnight
to Mrs. Calabash, wherever she is.

He still plays piano, calls himself,
“Ragtime Jimmy.” The name fits better

now that his clothes have shredded on his bones.
But, even dead, he declines to inka dinka do

off the darkening stage and into the wings.

Wendy Taylor Carlisle lives in the Arkansas Ozarks. She is the author of two books, Reading Berryman to the Dog and Discount Fireworks (both Jacaranda Books). Her most recent chapbook is Persephone on the Metro, (MadHat Press, 2014.)
For more information, check her website.

My Way

“Thanks for meeting me,” she says, and she circles the table, prepares to land. She disturbs just enough air to make the coffee mix with her perfume, the same stuff she’s been using since her last birthday. Bathing in it.

I finally have work again, but I don’t tell her about it. I don’t want her thinking of me as a chicken.

I haven’t talked to her in two, maybe three weeks. Haven’t seen her in twice as long. Just as well, though. If I had it my way, I’d just put the check in the mail and be done with it. But she needs it sooner, needs it now. So we meet at Starbuck’s. Neutral territory, you’d think, but she hates coffee. Hates it that I drink coffee. Or at least she used to. Who knows, now.

“Get you something? Water, coffee?” I slide my chair back, start to get up.

She arches a brow but doesn’t look up from her handbag, some new snakeskin job he must have given her. “Phil, you know…”

“I know, I know. ‘If it tans cloth, just imagine what it does to your insides.’ Just offering. It’s a gesture of civility. Kindness. You might have heard of it?” I cross my arms over my chest, but then I undo them quick. Don’t want her to say I’ve got angry body language.

“Jesus, Phil.” Now she’s looking up from the bag. “See? Already so angry, and I just got here.” She pulls some mail out of her purse and slides it across the table, right through the coffee drops. “Sorry. Some mail came for you. I thought you put in your change of address.”

“I did. Maybe it just takes time.” Junk mail. “They don’t forward this shit. Only you.”

“Please, Phil.”

“Look, let’s just get to it. I’ve got to get going.” I reach for my wallet, but to get it, I have to slide further from the little table. I’ve kept it in my front pocket since ninth grade. Fear of pickpockets, I guess. I open it to get out the check, and before I can close it, she sees the picture. Of us. She pretends not to notice, but I know she’s seen it. Her ears are red, just at the tip.

I unfold the check and give it a tug from the edges, making a nice little snap. She just looks at it and then down at her nails, newly painted, hovering over the table. I wait for her to hold out her hand. This was her doing, so she has to make the gesture. When she does, I put it in her hand but am careful not to touch her. Never looking down, she refolds it, takes out her wallet, puts it in, clicks it shut, and puts it back in her purse. All smooth and fluid like she’s been doing it for years, not just four months. Five, if you count the first before anything was final. But that was just a goodwill gesture on my part.

I don’t say anything, but I look her in the eyes. Try to – she’s pretending to take in the people, the paintings, everything. “So.” Her eyes light on mine, then back to a colored canvas someone calls art.

“So,” I repeat her. I shouldn’t, I know, but when someone just says “so,” what do you expect? She snorts her little there-you-go-again snort. “Like I said, I’ve got to go.” I scoot the chair back, and it stutters shrilly. But I don’t go. I bought this coffee, and I intend to enjoy it. I sip it loudly, even though it’s no longer hot. Then, I drink it down in full swallows, like cold water. I crush the cup in one hand. I don’t know why, it’s probably pretty dumb looking, I know. “All right, thanks,” I say, but what for, I don’t know. “I’ll be going now.”

“Yeah, I’ve got to hurry, too,” she says, and she gives her lips the little inverted smack she does after she’s put on lipstick.

I shouldn’t ask, I know, but I do. “Where are you off to?”

“I got a new job. Can you believe it? I didn’t think I’d know what to do with myself, but I’ve got one. Listen to this: it’s product demonstration. I get to demonstrate things. Kitchen goods, household things, even some lines of clothing. Today is knives,” she says, and she reaches in her purse for her keys. She never keeps them in the little pocket or on the loop like I’ve told her for I don’t know how long.

“Knives?” I say. I guess I sounded a bit sarcastic, but I didn’t mean to. She’s just not the most careful person with sharp things.

“Yes, knives. Good, sharp ones. Wustof, just like ours are. Were.” She starts to get up.

“Where?” I ask, and I get up, too. I start to reach for her chair, but I stop myself. She can get her own chair.

“Where what? Can you buy them? Any good department store. In fact, Nordstroms is having …”

“No. Where are you giving this, what did you call it? Product demonstration.”

“Oh. In the mall. Right in front of Nordstroms, under that beautiful new skylight they took forever to put in. Noon to six. Come by, if you like.” When she says this, I raise an eyebrow in exactly the way she hates. It’s involuntary, I swear. “You won’t, will you? You’ve never supported my work. Oh, you always said you did, but when it came down to it, No.”

“Can we not do this. Please. Not here, not now, not ever. Just when things were going so well.” I feel my right arm gesturing big. I put my hands in my pockets.

“Anything you want, Phil. Just like always.”

“That’s bullshit, and you know it.” She’s always hated it when I swear. “For the love of Christ. Stop.”

We head towards the door. I let her go before me, even though it puts me in the wake of her perfume. I hold my breath.

I don’t tell her that I’ve got work, too. I don’t tell her that it involves singing, even though I know she’d be happy. She always said she liked to hear me sing, but I don’t think she would have been too hot on the idea of me really pursuing it. Just as a hobby. Now, I’m doing it, even have real gigs, but I don’t tell her anything about it.

I feel like I should say something else, something witty or final. Or do something, something big, a dramatic gesture good or bad just to wrap things up. Closure, she’d say.

But I don’t. We just wave coolly and walk our separate ways.

I didn’t really think how I’d look when I got the gig. Some guy said it was a special occasion for a colleague. I was still in my pajamas when my I took the call on my cell. I was sitting at my dining room table – it’s just a card table – trying to eat some corn flakes. I was hoping they’d settle my stomach.

I started to tell him about my usual songs, even got into the spiel about costumes before he interrupts and asks if I do chickens.

“Excuse me?” I let a spoonful of soggy flakes drop from about four inches into the bowl.

“Chickens. Can you do a chicken? Like, in a suit with feathers and a beak. And you’ve got to cluck. Clucking’s a must”

I’ve had some weird requests before, I admit, but they’re usually made at the gig, like someone wanted a particular song sung with some accent or in the style of, say, Rosemary Clooney or Elton John. Never chickens. That was a whole new deal.

“Sure,” I said. Like I said, I didn’t think much about it.

“Can I hear?” he asked. He was practically giggling.

“What? My cluck?” I was about to hang up. Maybe should have.

“Yeah, come on. Please,” he paused, probably looking at my name on the business card. “Phillip. Just one cluck. Gotta know what we’re paying for.”

“Sorry, man. You’ll just have to trust me. You want me or not. I’ve got other gigs, too, you know.” I got up and dumped the corn flakes into the sink.

After some muffled noise and what sounded like women laughing, he came back. “We want you. Yes. We definitely want you.” More muffle, more laughing.

I almost changed my mind when he told me the location: a high school. Not just any high school, but the one we sent our kids to. But, I figure I won’t know anyone, so what’s the harm?

I’m running early, so I stop to fill up the tank. Problem is, I already have on the suit, everything but the rubber beak.

People are staring at me, I know. Hell, I’d stare at me, too. I don’t look up from the nozzle the whole time, not until I’m ready to put it back. But then I hear someone cluck. It’s hard to miss a cluck, especially at a gas station with no chickens for miles. No non-human chickens, anyway. I must move too quickly or jerk or something. All I know is that I get gas on me, a streak from my knee down to my big yellow foot. I try to dab it with those blue paper towels they leave for your windows, but that only smears it. I don’t have time to go home, but it doesn’t matter: it’s not I like have a closet full of chicken suits ready to go.

Pulling into the school parking lot makes me think, let me tell you. Think about how many times I’ve done this before, taking my kids to school. Jenna let me drive her right up to graduation, but not Ian. Half-way through his freshman year, he decided he’d rather ride his bike. Even in the rain. Even when he had to take an extra pair of pants in case he got the “freshman stripe,” the line of dirty water up his back. The only times he’d ask for a ride were when he had a project to carry or when he was late. Maybe we should have talked more. Maybe I should have offered more.

I pull into the first empty spot, but I don’t shut the motor off. I just let it idle. I look over at the Forerunner next to me and smile at the girl before thinking about my outfit. I can hear her music through the closed windows. The light on her window splits her face, covers an eye. She rolls down the window and turns down her music. I figure she’s going to ask me who I am or why I’m dressed like a chicken. She leans out the window and her hair blows in her face. First, she puckers. Then, she clucks. I can’t see anyone behind the smoky windows in the back, but I hear her friends laughing – must be four or five. I go to give her the finger – childish, I know – but the feathered gloves just makes it look like I’m counting to one.

She pulls her head back in the car but keeps staring at me, her mouth back in a pucker. She backs up and almost hits a Mercedes full of boys. She brakes, looks in the rearview mirror, and then back at me. She shrugs her shoulders. Then, she flaps her arms and is off.

“Oh my God, he’s perfect,” a woman says when I walk into office. I guess she’s in her late twenties. She’s wearing a tight sweater. When she turns to the side, I can see the lines of her bra, and I imagine her in front of a class, the boys seeing that sweater, thinking about what’s under it. Joking about her in sexual ways. Why she’d want to teach high school, I don’t know. She is attractive, poor kid.

“Look at those feet,” a man at the back desk says. He’s got a travel mug in his hand, pencil behind his ear.

“The beak, the beak is just beautiful.” It’s the voice from the phone, the one who hired me. The one who asked for a sample cluck. “You must be Phillip,” he says.

“Cluck.” I figure it can’t hurt now that he sees me in the flesh. Or, in the feathers.

“Burt,” he says, and holds out a hand, but when I offer my wing, he just laughs. “Okay. Awesome. Now we’ve just got to get a couple of things … Karen, you’ve got the eggs?” He turns his head both ways looking around for Karen.

Sweater woman is kneeling before a mini-fridge. “Got ‘em. And they’re all-natural brown.” She opens the crate, holds it up like an offering.

“I, uh, usually get paid first.” I set down my bag and look from Karen to Burt. “I think I told you that on the phone.” He arches a brow, distracted from his appreciation of the beautiful brown eggs. “Cluck?”

“No worries, chief.” He pats me on the shoulder and then makes a big deal about smoothing my feathers. “Marc? Got the check?”

“Cash is better, if you don’t mind.” I try to do a little chicken bow, more of a curtsy, but I bump the desk behind me. The vase of flowers wobbles, so I have to lunge to catch it. “Second thought: check’s just fine.”

“Thought so,” Burt says, like he’s beaten the hell out of me. I take the check before Marc even offers, and I put it in my bag. “Okay, let’s get those eggs out there. Jen, ready to call?”

“Eighty-two twelve,” she says, the phone poised and ready.

What they do is they make a trail of eggs from the office to a classroom. It’s not far, about a hundred yards, and they put an egg every few feet until they run out. When all the eggs are laid out, Karen calls what must be the room of the birthday teacher. At least they said it was a birthday; by this point, I’m beginning to wonder. “Please come to the English office immediately,” she says.

“He’s coming,” Marc says, and they all dash like mad to their desks, taking out papers and pens to look busy and nonchalant as hell.

When the door opens, it’s not a teacher at all, but one of the boys from the Mercedes. I lean against a wall, try to hide behind a bookshelf.

“Mr. T sent me. He got a call,” the boy slouches, his pants barely on his hips.

“Please tell Mr. Tibaldi that he’s needed here,” the guy who hired me says. “Okay?”

“Mm-hmm,” the kid says, and he’s gone. But then, what he does, he starts picking up the eggs. One by one until he’s got them all scooped in the hammock of his T-shirt. You don’t need to tell me that that’s one scary sight: a teenage boy armed with raw eggs.

Then nobody does anything. They all wait around watching. The man at the back desk slurps from his travel mug. Karen picks lint off her beautiful sweater. Marc even picks his nose, pretending like he’s just pinching it. The fluorescent lights buzz. After what must have been five full minutes, Karen says, “Plan B?”

“Plan B,” my boss says, and they all get up. He looks at me, motions to the door. “That’s you, Phil. Big, bold, beautiful plan B. In yellow feathers.”

“Look,” I start, “maybe this isn’t such a good idea. My deal is to sing, plain and simple. This, this seems like … well, I don’t know, but I just don’t know.” I hold up my hands, the three-fingered gloves palms up.

“All you do is, you go to the room, room 20, you knock, and when they open it, you go in and sing. Just like we agreed. Simple.” Karen giggles. She puts her hand in front of her mouth, as if that disguises anything.

“I don’t know,” I say, but they’re all standing around me by then, edging us all closer to the door. “Okay, okay, I’ll do it. Just a bit of breathing room, please,” I say, and this time I’m smoothing down my own feathers.

“That’s a good fowl,” Marc says, the wise-ass.

They all follow me to room 20, and when I reach the door, they duck below the window. I consider knocking but decide instead just to barge in, make an entrance. I figure any man wearing a chicken suit should make an entrance.

“Oh, excuse me,” I say in a funny high voice that is only partly intentional. I shuffle in, flapping my arms and clucking. “I thought this was my coop. You see, I’ve just flown it.” Nothing. I never claimed to be a comedian, but I can usually get some response. “Get it? Flew the coop?” A few kids snicker and look at each other. A girl in the front row rolls her eyes. “Cluck, cluck. Well, that’s just fine. I guess we can all flock together.” I feel my face flush beneath the rubber beak. I’m pure dark meat now.

“You must be the birthday boy,” I say. My voice cracks, and now they all laugh. I take out a paper hat from my bag. He’s tall, maybe six five, and when I reach to put the hat on his head, he just looks at me. I decide to hand it to him. I scratch my foot on the floor, then the other. I start to shuffle around the room, up and down the aisles. “Like a chicken with his head not cut off I say.” Now, they’re all laughing, but they’re also starting to talk. I go back up by the teacher and start to smooth his imaginary feathers. “Well, let’s get started. I’m no spring chicken.” I laugh a little, only with the rubber beak, it’s more of a snort. “So, to put the age-old mystery to rest,” I spread my wings and look out over the kids, right over their heads so they can’t see my eyes, “this chicken crossed the road to wish you,” and here I reach in my bag and pull out handfuls of little feathers and sprinkle them on him, “a happy birthday.” The class is starting to talk more, the noise rising like water. “Now, don’t count your chickens before they hatch. In honor of your birthday, I’m going to sing you a song. A little birdie told me that you like Sinatra. I guess, to be precise, it was a little chick.” More of them laugh. I lean towards the teacher and stage whisper, “and a hot little chickie, too, if you know what I mean. And I think you do.”

“I do,” he says, looking me dead in the eye, no trace of humor.

I take my kazoo out of the pocket I sewed in the sleeve and put it to my lips. I look out at the class again, this time letting myself look at their eyes. They’re all looking right back, even the ones who are talking. For a moment, I start to think about Ian sitting in a room like this, maybe this exact room, and I feel bad for him. I imagine him having to watch this spectacle: his old man in a chicken suit standing in front of thirty teenagers singing a birthday song. As I’m thinking about this, my eyes lock on one boy. He raises his brows and nods. I nod before I realize I know him: Aaron, the son of her boyfriend. I look away quick, but the nodding is done.

I give the kazoo a couple of quick buzzes, and then I notice that most have their hands on top of their desks, one cupped on top of the other.

“So, my little chickadee,” I say, holding the kazoo like a fat red cigar, “here’s to you,” and I nudge the teacher with a feathered elbow. I start to sing “My Way” – my least favorite Sinatra song, but it’s the one people think of first – only I half sing and half cluck. I’m just up to the chorus, clucking my heart out, my voice shaking a bit, when a kid says, “Now!” Like that, they open their hands. Eggs. The whole dozen and a half. Beautiful brown eggs almost shimmering under the institution lights. Mercedes boy is holding one, smirking. Aaron’s holding one. Even the teacher’s in on it, his held shoulder high between his thumb and index finger.

For a moment, I hesitate. I look from eggs to eyes, noting the door in the corner of my eye. I figure I can run if I need to.

What I do, though, is sing. Sing like I’ve never sung before. No clucking, no flapping, just singing.

When I finish, I don’t move. I close my eyes for a second, and I wait for the eggs. I wince when I first hear it: the applause. They clap, the eggs rattling in the grooves on their desktops.

“Well, gotta fly,” I say and make for the door. I don’t wait to see their faces, to see what they do with those eggs.

Without really thinking, I turn onto Sunrise Boulevard. Traffic is usually crazy, especially close to the mall, but it’s surprisingly light right now. I’m glad; I don’t need every moron staring at my feathers. The suit is hot, and I’m still warm from my song or the threat of the eggs, so I roll down my window. That makes the feathers shake like mad; some shake loose and blow all around the car, so I roll the window back up.

I’m heading right toward the mall. I turn into the lot so fast the wheels screech. I pull right up in front of the main building, right by the big glass front and the arched roof. The curb’s red, but I park anyway. I get out of the car before I realize the beak is on the passenger seat, so I lean in through the window and grab it. Coming out, the knob for the door lock catches my suit. I’ve lost another feather. I put the beak on and turn to go inside.

I’m about to run toward the door, but some people have stopped to watch. So, I stretch out my wings, do a couple of exaggerated stretches and jumping jacks, and then march up to the big glass doors. They look as if you have to pull them, but they actually slide open automatically.

I walk through the atrium, under the big sunroof towards where a crowd surrounds a booth. I walk right up behind the crowd, pause to catch my breath, and then start to make my way forward, brushing people gently with a feathered hand until I’ve made it to the front. I’m standing right in front of the booth, the knives neatly laid out.

She hasn’t seen me yet. She’s busy working with the sharpening stone. I wait for her to stop sharpening. She’s quick and dramatic with the knife, making it seem as sharp and as long as possible.

When she’s finished working with the stone, she pushes it aside and raises the knife. It catches just perfectly, so it seems like it’s in my face. She lifts the knife so it’s eye level.

Then, I say her name. I lift my wings, and I wait.

Paul Dunlap’s work has appeared in English Journal, Image, The Greensboro Review, The Montserrat Review, Reed, and the anthology Proposing on the Brooklyn Bridge. He teaches English at Henry M. Gunn High School in Palo Alto, California, where he also advises Pandora’s Box, the student literary magazine.


“The well-known Arizona bark scorpion… is readily distinguished from all other scorpions in the area by having long, slender hands and fingers…”
— Judy Hedding,

Phygmalias adjusts his tuxedo and gives his manager, Juteson, a nod. Juteson carries him to the keyboard as the crowd at Phoenix Symphony Hall raises an applause.

Phygmalias takes a moment to loosen his orange fingers and study the field of black and white. He settles on B-flat, raises his hands and launches into the piece.

To his great shock, nothing comes out. He runs from black key to black key, pushing with all his might, but the hall remains silent. Gripped with panic, he scuttles up and down the claviature, thwacking the fallboard with his tail.

He finds himself in Juteson’s hands, lofted to the wings as the crowd stirs with whispers and shouts.

Later, working on his third cigarette, Phygmalias remains confused.

“I don’t know what happened. I just don’t understand. I worked so hard.”

“Perhaps,” says Juteson, “you are simply not suited for this work. Perhaps you should take up… stinging things.”

Phygmalias pours himself a martini and laughs. “Oh, Juteson! You are a card. Wait a minute. Was that piano a Yamaha? I expressly asked for a Bösendorfer.”

But perhaps, he thought, there was some truth to Juteson’s little joke. Perhaps Rachmaninoff was not suited to his skills. No, the thing was to go back to his roots. To Chopin. Or Liszt. Yes, Liszt would never let him down.

Michael J. Vaughn is the author of thirteen novels, including his most recent, Mascot. He is a regular competitions judge for Writer’s Digest, a karaoke Sinatra specialist, and drummer/singer for Exit Wonderland. His poems have appeared in more than 100 journals, including Skidrow Penthouse, The Chaffin Journal and Confrontation.