corruption |
by Sheri Vandermolen


Sheri Vandermolen has served, for fifteen years, as editor in chief of Time Being Books. Her projects have included overseeing the compilation ofThe Complete Poems of Louis Daniel Brodsky, which comprises thousands of verse pieces, and managing four collected-works editions. She has also facilitated the publication of more than 120 individual poetry and short-fiction volumes. Her verse pieces have been published in various international literary journals, including Ashvamegh, Camel Saloon, Contemporary Literary Review India, Earthen Lamp Journal, Foliate Oak, Muse India, Jersey Devil Press, Papercuts, Shot Glass Journal, Taj Mahal Review, and Verse-Virtual.

Sorry |
by James Latka

guess, maybe, it’s time
a lesson was learnt.
No cryin’, now,
Or it’s a switch ‘n th’ whippin’ shed.
What’s it gonna be,
God ain’t yo’ momma,
God ain’t yo’ poppa,
God ain’t gonna save
no child in no burnin’ buildin’.
God ain’t no genie
ya’ll summons at will;
God ain’t no people pleasin’
people person.
He be unmoved
by pain ‘n sufferin’
‘cause it be yo’ pain ‘n sufferin’,
ain’t His,
He don’t need that.
God ain’t into fair ‘n unfair.
Tha’s people b’iness,
how they treats each othe’.
God ain’t got nothin’ t’ do
wit’ nat’ral disaste’s neithe’
‘cause they’s nat’ral,
get out th’ way!
‘N God cert’nly ain’t neve’
into no se’f-game,
God gots no se’f t’ play.
But you’s godlike,
ain’t ya child?
Ain’t none o’ that
gonna come t’ ya
‘cause He ain’t gonna
put up wit’ that kinda nonsense.
it be tailor-made
by yo’ se’f fo’ yo’ se’f.
Imagine that,
all this time
been runnin’
round here,
lookin’ here,
lookin’ there,
gracious me,
sit down child,
sit down!
I get ya some lemonade.
Like that, don’t ya?
Mercy sakes alive…
‘N don’t be puttin’ no feet
on no furniture, now,
hear me,

Retroactive Metaphor
A review of Keri Hulme's "The Bone People"
Editor Note by Ada Fetters

I genuinely cannot decide whether or not I like Keri Hulme’s The Bone People. The writing itself is beautiful. The characters are strong. The plot is intriguing. The resolution, however, bothers me enough to make me question whether I like the book.

The story revolves around three characters: Joe Gillayley, his adopted son Simon, and their prickly acquaintance Kerewin. All three are trying to escape their past. Seven-year-old Simon was found on the shore several years ago, the only survivor of a terrible shipwreck that left him so traumatized that he refuses to speak. Kerewin is estranged from her family, mostly her own fault. Joe has led a life of disappointment and also can't seem to come to terms with his Maori ancestry.

The book explores themes of culture, love, violence and loss. These things feel very real.
I think I accidentally found one of the influences for The Bone People, that is, the diary of Opal Whitely. Am not saying that this takes away from the writing or makes it less beautiful, just that the kind of person who would write a book like The Bone People would very likely have enjoyed the writings of Opal Whiteley. Also, it is plain that she drew other elements of the book from things around her: the name of Kerewin Holmes, the main character, is very close to the author’s name, Keri Hulme. 

There are strong similarities between Simon Gillayley and Opal Whiteley, or rather, between Simon and people's perception of Opal, which is surprisingly different from the reality.

For those who do not know, Opal Whiteley was born in 1897. She was from a logging town in Oregon but later claimed to be the lost daughter of French nobility. She published several books about nature. Then she published a "diary" she claimed to have written in her childhood, the veracity of which is highly dubious. So here are the similar points between the Opal of the diary and Simon Gillayley.

Opal claimed her biological parents died in a shipwreck and that no one knew who she was. She claimed she was given to the first person to take her. Simon's biological parents died in a shipwreck. No one knew who they were. He was given to the first person to take him.
Opalites (people who take her story at face value) say that Opal didn't make a bigger fuss over her situation at the time because she didn't know who she was or couldn't say. Simon literally "couldn't say," since he was traumatized by the shipwreck and refused to speak.

Opal claimed her real name was Francois. In his mental narration, Simon calls himself Clare or Claro (means "noble" or "bright.").

Opal claimed to be French. Simon freaks out if he hears French spoken.

In her "childhood diary," Opal claimed that her "adoptive" mother beat her and was abusive. (Though in an earlier work she described her childhood as idyllic. Probably the truth lies somewhere in the middle). Meanwhile, Simon's adoptive father does beat him, often, in uncontrollable rages. Again these are similar if your perception is that Opal was telling the truth.

Simon is mute and is teased for this but chooses to express himself in writing. Opal claimed that she was teased for her failure to communicate properly because she often spoke French. Her childhood diary was (she claimed) the expressive writings of her younger self.

Opal wrote a prodigious amount for a seven-year-old. She also uses precocious words, terms, names and so on. She says things that an adult would find charming for a child to say, such as describing someone as "a multiplication table of comfort."

Simon is also seven. He is extremely precocious in his written vocabulary and in his behavior, to the point that he almost doesn't seem like he is seven.

The Opal of the diary was a child of nature. So was Simon.

The Opal of the diary was willful and did things that made sense to her but that looked disobedient and odd to grownups. So does Simon.

Now that I think of it, the writing in The Bone People is rather like that in Opal's "diary." While reading it I wondered where I'd read a rhythm and phrasing like this before. To wit, Opal wrote, "By the wood-shed is a brook. It goes singing on. It's joy-song does sing in my heart."

Bone People has a similar sing-song, the same use of surprising grammar and "it does" verbs. In this case the writing works to the point that the book is mesmerizing.
Both Opal's works and The Bone People are concerned with the land, with nature, with human brutality to each other and to nature. Both feature societal misfits. Both want to take you on a journey of magical realism.

I enjoy magical realism. Calvino, Rushdie, Eco, Kafka, Marquez, and others expect a person to suspend disbelief and go on a meaningful journey. You want me to think about what happens when a man turns into a beetle in a real-life apartment? I'm game. Steven Millhauser, the author of Dangerous Laughter and We Others, is my most recent favorite in this genre. I can't recommend him highly enough.

Thus it was mystifying to me that I was tripped up at the end of Bone People. The world feels real, the interweaving of Maori culture with the mainstream is earthy without being pretentious, the characters are strong, multidimensional, and (mostly) lovable. Even Joe is not simply presented as an ogre, but as a person who has endured a lifetime of depression and frustration. Kerewin is a prickly person who understands the difficult, willful Simon better than most people. However, even when she finds out about Joe's horrible way of dealing with Simon's behavioral issues, she does not alert anyone. 

Whether you agree with her or not, the decision was handled realistically for that character. Kerewin finds that the little town already knows. Joe's relatives already know. They do not like it but they do not want to separate the two by alerting the authorities, which would mean Simon becoming a ward of the state. Would that really be better for a troubled child who had such a hard time becoming attached to anyone? Kerewin reluctantly adopts a "wait and see" approach, resolving to give Joe an attitude adjustment if she sees him treat Simon harshly.

Eventually the authorities find out anyway (more on that in a bit) and Simon goes to the hospital, Joe goes to prison, and Kerewin takes off for lands unknown.

So we come to the ending, which is what tripped me up.

At the end, Kerewin contracts a fatal disease and goes to a wilderness cabin to die alone but is magically cured. I am not sure why this happened or why it then needed a deus ex machina cure. The "tacked on" aspect of both the disease and cure was annoying; the others had manifest problems that needed curing, so Kerewin needed one, too?

Meanwhile, Joe is deeply depressed but finds a spiritual elder and makes peace with himself. The book really sold that one, though, since the whole point is the uneasy existence of his Maori heritage in a predominantly Westernized culture. This was magical-- the voices of his ancestors speak, he comes into contact with powerful forces-- but it was very believable and a heartfelt resolution to a main plot point.

Simon was beaten so badly by Joe that he is in a coma. When he wakes up he has lost most of his hearing. This brings me to my next sticking point.

Joe Gillayley is an abusive parent. That isn't "tacked on." It is established that he beats Simon with his belt to the point that the kid's back has matted scars all over it, the bone underneath is visible (!) and the wounds are infected (I'd be surprised if they weren't). That's not even what gets him arrested and I do not need to say that this is terrible.

The book goes to great lengths to show that Joe and Simon are deeply attached and love each other. This struck something very true and sad about a child's emotional attachment to his caregiver, or the one person who has shown him any love in his short life, though that love comes with a heavy price. Not many books can do this convincingly but Keri Hulme definitely pulls it off. I was impressed.

So what is the problem, you ask?

Joe goes to prison for child abuse and when he gets out, Simon is allowed to go back to him. I say "Simon is allowed," because Simon communicates that he wants to do this and is so stubborn, with such behavioral issues, that the State allows him to go live with Joe. I guess that's what broke my belief in the story. Not that Simon would want to go back-- abused kids often want to do that-- but that it worked. Not only does a kid's wants cut very little ice with the government and the court, but...

1. The book establishes that Joe never formally adopted Simon. He is not legally the kid's parent.

2. This wasn't a one-off. There is clear evidence that the abuse was severe and ongoing.

3. Joe is a single male with a checkered past and a wrecked marriage.

4. The elephant in the room is that Joe is Maori and Simon is white, which makes the ending even more improbable. Is racism nice? No. Does it exist? Yes. Would it affect the court's decision? It would.

I am not trying to nit-pick little things. This is the ending of the book, the culmination of 500 pages, so the payoff has to be believable. Let's face it. A single Maori male with a history of bad relationships and no legal ties to this white kid, who'd put said kid in a coma, and who now has a prison record, would never get custody of that kid.

Weirdly, if the author had gone for all-out suspension of disbelief it would have felt more real. She spends a lot of time describing how Simon worked through the court system etc. in a way that is supposed to be realistic but is not. The ending to Joe's story, speaking to an ancient god and finding self-acceptance, feels more real because it goes all-out and is a meaningful resolution to a plot point. Kerewin lands between the two, with an odd mix of magic and reality that was singularly odd, even outside the fact that it was a solution to what seemed to be a manufactured problem.

At the end of the book, Kerewin, Joe and Simon are all together in a sort of patchwork family. I know this is supposed to be magical realism and the three main characters are supposed to be symbolic. There are clues that hint at Joe symbolizing Maori culture, Simon symbolizing European culture, and Kerewin is part Maori and part European. Perhaps that is why they had such atonal resolutions to their stories?

They all get together at the end and it's relatively okay. I guess. Except it isn't really. The metaphor is strange because if Simon is supposed to be European culture, why is he a nature-child, almost elemental? Why is Joe, Maori-culture, the powerful one who beats up Simon? Shouldn't it be the other way around?

I have tried to look at this several different ways, with several different metaphors, but none of them work well.

It should be said that the story in itself works the way it is. It works until the ending, which is so odd that it only works as a metaphor, but the possible metaphors do not work retroactively for the rest of the story. 

When Ada is not editing the Commonline Journal, she divides her time between teaching Psychology to college students and writing. She has been published in The Journal of Humanistic Psychology,  Copperwood Review, Humanist Magazine, Niche, Tertulia, Debris, Poetry Pacific Magazine, Pink.Girl.Ink  and most recently in Bewildering Stories, where her story "Colorblind Chameleon" was chosen for Third Quarterly Review.

Those Early Outlaws |
by John Grey

Girl next door laughed.
I was hiding behind
an old oil drum ;
with one eye on the fence palings ~
the Younger gang -
and my finger on the trigger
of a cap gun.

She was standing on a box,
peering over the heads
of the outlaws,
pointing at me
and giggling uncontrollably.

She said to me,
"What a goof.
Still playing cowboys
at your age."
She was a year older than me
as I remember.

In my head, :
the backyard was an open range,
the house was Dodge City.
If not for my imagination,
I would have been
totally confined
to one more suburban lot,
no different from
the one she lived in.

She played 45's
on a tiny record player,
tried on her mother's lipstick
and insisted she was
going to be a secretary
when she grew up.

I pointed my gun at her and fired,
shouting, "Take that Cole Younger!"
She laughed some more.
I took that as a clean hit.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in New Plains Review, Perceptions and Sanskrit with work upcoming in Big Muddy Review, Gargoyle, Coal City Review and the Coe Review.   

both of us 20 years old, him & me |
by Carl Miller Daniels

there is nothing more to be said.
there is always something more to be said.
i need to talk with him.
but mainly i want to lick the tip of
his dick and feel his warm cum
spurting into my mouth, feel his warm cum
slosh around on my slobbery tongue.
i am 20 years old. so is
he is straight. i am trying
to be straight, too, but almost 
certainly i am gay.
he is a swimmer on the college
swim team. he is gorgeous,
sweet, gentle, friendly.
i am almost certainly in love
with him.
i am pretty good-looking, too.
long, lean, lithe, athletic.
we play a lot of tennis
together, him and me.
we look good together, too.
i need to talk with him. even though
we talk hours and hours
and hours, but it is not enough.
it is never enough.
we talk while we shower together
in the university gym.
we talk while we backpack together
on hikes on the weekends.
we talk while we're getting dressed.
we talk while we're walking to class.
no matter how much we talk,
it is not enough.
we are twenty years old.
he is gorgeous, his face handsome,
his cheeks ruddy, his dick big
and sturdy.
i am pretty good-looking myself.
there is nothing more to be said.
there is always something more to be said.
i need to talk to him. i want
to lick the tip of his dick.
i want to watch him spurt cum.
i want him to watch me spurt cum.
i don't like his girlfriends, even
though they are nice enough.
i am jealous of them. i am
jealous of the time they
take from me.
i am 20 years old.
so is he. we are roommates.
we are in college. we are
young and our energy never
ends. we run laps and play
tennis and since it is
not swimteam season
he doesn't have to swim
so he is able to spend
that time with me.
i watch him sleep.
i jerk off while he sleeps.
i want him to wake up and
catch me doing that, but
he is a sound sleeper.
at least he pretends to 
be. if he's ever caught
me jerking off, he's
not let on.
we need to talk. i need
to talk. we talk a lot.
but it is never ever enough.
once i blurted out to him that
i loved him. he seemed
kinda taken aback, then,
he was a good sport
about it, and said 
he loved me, too. kind of in
his "aw shucks" voice.
things go on like that.
i am 20. so is he.
we look good together.
we need to talk.
i need to talk.
i need.
there's nothing more to
be said.
there's always something
more to be said.
i need to touch his dick.
i need to feel him spurt his
cum into my mouth.
i need for us to sit on
the couch naked and
watch each other jerk off.
i need for us to jerk each
other off. i'm sure his
touch on my
dick would be warm, but gentle.
i'm sure my touch on his
dick would be crazy fast and 
entirely too eager.
we are 20 years old.
it is early in the morning.
we are playing tennis.
the sound of the
court: thwack. thwack.
we need to talk.
i love him.
i am in pain.
he is beautiful.
i look pretty good myself.
we look good together.
i need to talk.
why do i seem to feel
every emotion through my
dick? why does the sound
his nice deep voice
resonate in my dick?
i feel everything in my
joy, sorrow, love,
hate--i feel them
all in my dick.
i spurt cum and think
of him.
i hate his girlfriends.
can't we talk, just him 
and me?
i need to talk.
there's nothing more to
be said.
there's always something
more to be said.
how often does he spurt cum? i
wish he would 
tell me tell me tell me tell me.
i need to talk.
i know we talk a lot, but
please, let's just
talk some more.
no matter how
much we say
to each other,
it is never enough
talking all night
only whets my
insatiable appetite
for him and
him and
the more he's there
the more i'll want
this will never end
this will always hurt
this will always
be a big slurry
of lust, and joy,
and pain.
we'll be 20 years old
forever, him and me, the 
sunrises and
sunsets flashes
of light and dark,
twists of tenderness and
the light shining behind his
ears makes
them glow pink,
then nearly red,
i look into his crystal 
blue eyes
as the sunlight
immolates first one, then
the other,
of his sacred, sexy,
delicately pink ears.

Carl Miller Daniels lives in the United States. He's not a cowboy, but thinks about them a lot. His poems have appeared in many nice places, including AssaracusBareBack MagazineChiron ReviewCitizens for Decent LiteratureThe Commonline Journal,DNA MagazineFUCK!, My Favorite BulletThieves Jargon, and Zygote in my Coffee. His book Saline was recently published by Interior Noise Press, and, even more recently, his chapbook Be Kind to Strangers was published by BareBackPress. Both books are available at Amazon. Daniels and his partner, Jon (aka "the sweetest man in the world"), have lived together for over 30 years

Sideman |
by Alan Swyer

"I used to be a drunken asshole," Cole acknowledged with no great glee. "But I finally fixed the first part –"

"And?" asked the singer-songwriter, a good ten years younger than Cole, who had requested a face-to-face.

"Now I'm working on the second."

"But you can still blow?"

"Now that I'm sober? Better than ever."

"Okay if I give it some thought?"

"Sure," said Cole, trying not to display his disappointment
"What if I say I've been a fan forever?"

"I'll tell you what I used to say –"

"Okay –"

"You're a man of impeccable taste and judgment. Call if you want to talk more."

When he was coming of age as a saxophone player, Cole never dreamed that as he neared forty, he would find himself once again scuffling for gigs. Growing up in a rough section of Houston, he had so thoroughly outdistanced his high school orchestra by midway through his sophomore year that he took to showing up at black clubs where talented older guys did cover versions of the music he adored – Ray Charles, Solomon Burke, and Bobby "Blue" Bland – rather than stuff by Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, or Guns N Roses that meant nothing to him.

Despite his youth – and even more his complexion – it took Cole little time to show both
the musicians and the audiences that he had absorbed plenty from years spent listening to horn players like Hank Crawford, King Curtis, and, going even farther back, Illinois Jacquet.
Using an old music business joke as justification – 

Q: What do you call a horn player with a college degree?

A: Night manager at a McDonald's.

– Cole turned down several scholarship offers, then took off for New Orleans immediately after his high school graduation.

There he immersed himself in a scene where instead of categories, everything was simply termed "Music," which meant that to get work, everyone played not just jazz, or blues, or R&B, or rock, but what was known as "The Book."

That could mean playing "Second Line" for a morning funeral, or backing up Clarence "Frogman" Henry at a festival in the afternoon, or even sitting in with the Dirty Dozen Brass at night.

Rapidly acquiring a reputation as both a soloist and a team player, Cole filled in on local dates by Ray Charles and Al Green, got studio work with Crescent City notables such as Irma Thomas, then started feeling an itch to try an even larger stage.

His initial impulse was to make his way to New York City, where the combination of jazz and the Latin scene held great appeal. But thanks to a wild three-day weekend with a visiting Santa Monica blonde, followed by a tour with a California-based Englishman whose named he would forever after refuse to utter, Cole inevitably found himself headed for Los Angeles.

There, time spent sitting in at local night spots led first to studio work, then to tour after tour with bands whose music ranged from rock to reggae to Blues, plus at one point even Gospel. For Cole it was a dizzying whirl of limos, airports, groupies, and non-stop partying, which also meant an over-abundance of alcohol and other substances.

But life on the road led to a rude awakening. Whereas Cole always felt that it was music first and foremost that counted, he was stunned when, one night after a gig, he approached another British headliner, with whom he was doing a series of dates in Asia.

"What if," Cole suggested as the two of them shared a quiet moment in a hotel bar, "we add a little Mussel Shoals horn section sound to that first number you did as an encore?"

"Mate, that first number," the singer replied, "is the biggest fucking hit you'll ever be lucky enough to play on."

"Still –"

"Still my fucking ass! When something goes platinum, you don't piss on it. Understood?" "I suppose."

"Then try chewing on this. You're a fucking sideman. Get it?"

"Whatever you say."

"Well, here's what I say. Whether it's you or some other twit-for-hire, nobody gives a shit about your opinion. Hear me? It's me they come to see! The rest of you guys? Basically, you're faceless. In fact, except to some chick you get lucky with 'cause she can't get me, you might as well be invisible."

Though with time he might have reached such a position anyway, that conversation became what Cole came to think of as a defining moment. No longer was it possible for playing music he didn't particularly care about to be fun. Given that he was largely backing up acts that were almost irrelevant to him – flashes-in-the-pan, as he put it, rather than the likes of Ray Charles, Solomon Burke, or Joe Cocker – being on the road became, as weeks turned to months, then months to years, an ever more onerous grind. Remunerative? No question. But a grind nonetheless.

Worse, even as the post-show parties lost their appeal, Cole's consumption of booze and
drugs continued to grow.

Determined to make music meaningful again, he took to turning down jobs so as to put together a band of his own. Promising others a kind of artistic freedom that was increasingly rare, Cole united kindred spirits with a desire to play a forceful, yet lyrical, jazz-rock blend that eventually coalesced into a group he dubbed Free To Be.

Local club dates were encouraging, but more rewarding artistically than financially. Worse, though the record company execs and A&R men who showed up were outspoken in their praise, no deal was ever broached. Perplexed, Cole called a VP at Warner's named Dunbar
"How come no offers?" he asked. "Not even an inquiry."

"We all love what you're doing," he was told.


"You know as well as I do that the business has changed."

"Which means?"

"With kids doing the buying, we've got no idea how to market guys your age."

"But what about –" Cole started to say.

"Don't even mention other groups," Dunbar interrupted. "Even if they're not as good as you, the ones with contracts already have names. That, as you know, translates to a kind of loyalty, even if it's only nostalgia-based."

Since it was Cole who was largely underwriting the cost of the band, due to his personal expenses – not just the ones owing to his questionable habits plus a taste for fast cars that over-tapped his resources, but also to two costly failed marriages – the band known as Free To Be ultimately acquired the moniker Used To Be.

For Cole, that meant it was time once again to earn a living. The problem, however, was that having turned down several opportunities, what was available to him was not merely less remunerative, but also far less satisfying.

Obliged to accept anything he could find, Cole did his best to be professional. But whether it owed to substance abuse, resentment, or some combination thereof, no longer did he manage to show up for each and every gig at the designated time. Worse, for someone who always prided himself on boundless creativity, his solos began to take on a sense of sameness, or at least deja vu, making them seem sometimes by rote and other times phoned-in, but rarely either newly discovered or felt.

Dropped from a tour by a band whose manager preferred younger and cheaper musicians, Cole found himself wallowing in misery. While drowning his sorrows at bars in different parts of LA, he bent the ear of anyone who would listen with musician jokes he had assimilated over the years. Foremost was:

Q: What's the difference between a horn player and a large pizza?

A: A pizza can feed a family of four.

Then there was one that seemed even more painful given the instrument he played:

Q: How do you make a chainsaw sound like a saxophone?

A: Add vibrato.

And worse still:

Q: How do you get two horn players to play in unison?

A: Shoot one.

Rock bottom finally came when Cole was hit on the head with a pipe while staggering back to his car after far too much booze, then rolled for his wallet and rings.

A night spent in the Emergency Room led, once he overcame what little was left of his false pride, to a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous. There, after being greeted by several
musicians whose path he had crossed over the years, Cole finally acknowledged not only to others, but more importantly to himself, who and what he had become.

More significantly, he vowed to make an abrupt change.

Though initially every day was a battle, over time the struggle became less and less difficult, especially when Cole discovered how much he was beginning to enjoy music once again.
Acknowledging that he would likely never reach the heights, commercially or artistically, that once seemed within reach was painful at first, but more and more manageable with both the passage of time and his new-found self-acceptance.

A different kind of satisfaction came into Cole's life after he started taking on students. Then came an unexpected source of gratification when the score he composed as a favor for a friend's documentary led to film work for pay.

Best of all, for someone whose life had rarely encompassed women other than those who came on to him at gigs, Cole actually started spending time with someone whose company he enjoyed not only in bed. Slowly, and somewhat awkwardly, he learned that communication could mean something beyond comparing King Curtis, Stan Getz, and Charlie Parker on the one hand, or telling musician jokes on the other.

Understanding that he was less and less likely to become the star he longed dreamed of becoming, Cole recognized that it was more important to be a better husband. And perhaps, if he kept working at it, a better person.

That, he had finally started to realize, was what life was about.

Alan Swyer was once a boxer. Plus, he recently made a documentary about boxing: