NER Classics

Sabina Murray | The Caprices

Sabina Murray’s story, The Caprices, appeared in NER 20.3:

Fenckell Paper MillsThis could be any village street. The packed dirt could cover any country road and the dust that rises in billowing sheets, lifted by the lazy hands of the dry season, could menace any provincial town. It is three o’clock in the afternoon, but no children wander back from school. The Chinese shopkeeper’s door has been shut for nearly a year, but no matter, since the children will not bother him for moon cakes, sweet wafers, and candied tamarind. A kalesa driver sits idly by his cart; his horse, unperturbed by the state of affairs, dozes behind blinkers, flicking rhythmically with his tail, one rear hoof casually cocked to bear no weight. In response to a fly, the horse shakes his head, jangling gear and whipping his mane from side to side. The fly rises up, buzzing at a higher pitch.

What you are witnessing is war.

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NER Classics

Samuel F. Pickering | Taking the Night Plane to Tulsa

Samuel F. Pickering’s story, Taking the Night Plane to Tulsa, was published in NER 15.1:

When folks feel good in Tulsa, they stomp on the floor and holler “shit.” In Hanover nobody ever feels good. New England will turn any man’s Blue Bird of Happiness into a Turkey Buzzard. I ought to know; I’ve been here nine years. Soon, though, everything’s going to change. Then next time a jet engine whines I’ll be traveling west. An acquaintance argues that my dissatisfaction is not New England’s fault. Corn and crows, he says, can’t grow in the same field. Perhaps, but there is not much corn grown in New England, and I’m not a crow—no, not even a towhee or a chickadee, although if I stay around here much longer surrounded by lads with necklaces, purses, and tight pants I just might become one.

Have you ever heard of a town without a used car lot? Hanover, New Hampshire, is such a town. Used car lots are the signs of dreams. A man sees a rainbow, hurries to the used car lot, buys a chariot of hope and wheels over the hills and far away. In Hanover the rainbow, like the Dodo, is extinct, and there is no market for used cars. The town fathers have banished used car lots.

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NER Classics

Alfred Corn | Hudson Heights

Alfred Corn’s poem, Hudson Heights, appeared in NER 20.2:

The twain do sometimes meet, desert light
and drynessa brilliant match for this year’s rainless fall,
gold leaves cycling down from their hardwoods,
while one last catbird gears up for the crips flight south.

The married woman strolling among reckless
yellow pinwheels still finds in them a surprise equal
to the first a northeastern autumn sprang
on someone who, as a girl, had run and screamed
through sprinklers on a lawn in La Jolla.

Labor Day, her youngest packed and left
for school, in his wake, the famous “empty nest
syndrome.” Which helps explain tingling magnetic fields
that lately center around Joaquín of Hudson Hardware—
his nostalgic Spanish voice, his eyes’ respectful guesswork . . .

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NER Classics

Ira Sadoff | Gossip

Ira Sadoff’s story, Gossip, appeared in NER 19.3:

Brigitte Bleistiftzeichnung - Heino D. Tripmacker

I can’t forget how the visiting avant-garde poet rifled our friend’s kitchen cabinets that night, inspecting the china and crystal. “This should be mine,” she said. “This should be my life.” We were house-sitting our friend’s two dogs, Adolph and Menjou, while Mileva was away for a month at Bellagio writing long, convoluted historical verse epics. Since back then my wife and I lived a few miles out of town we’d found it convenient to spend nights at Mileva’s: it seemed romantic, sleeping in someone else’s bed while she was away writing poems in Italy.

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NER Classics

Alyce Miller | My Summer of Love

Alyce Miller’s Story “My Summer of Love” was published in NER 14.3.

3._Red_SpaceI was the son and only child of two flower children named Reed and Marie Braxton who met at Berkeley and were married by a clown named Lenny Penny, who joined them “for as long as it feels good.” My parents were staunch socialists and believed in sharing everything, including each other. My arrival was in strict contradiction to my father’s philosophy about the over-population of the world. When I remained small for my age, my father blamed my mother, a resolute vegetarian, for refusing me meat.

Since my parents believed in openness about everything, I grew up with few secrets in a community of their friends near the Haight, knowing a little about a lot: mari-juana, orgone boxes, meditation, birth control, and the relative uncertainty of adult relationships which permutated like kaleidoscopes. My mother worked part-time as a receptionist at an art gallery on Haight Street and volunteered at the free clinic. My father had earned a teaching credential in college and occasionally taught at an alter- native private high school where students didn’t receive grades.

The day my parents took me to the train station my mother was wearing a red flowered skirt and a white blouse, set off the shoulders, and sandals. She and my father passed their morning joint back and forth as we drove down through the Panhandle. They had fought miserably the night before, something about the couple, Dana and Lightning from Los Angeles, who had been “crashing”with us since Easter. My father spent the whole night sitting outside on the front steps “getting his head together.” Now my parents huddled in the front seat like two bad children, eyeing each other, as the acrid smell of marijuana enveloped us all in a forgiving haze.

At the station, my mother put on pink-rimmed granny glasses to hide her puffy eyes. She assured me over and over that my going to Aunt Evie was the best for now while she and my father worked through their “philosophical crisis.””You know how much I adore Evie,” she said several times as if to reassure herself. “I wouldn’t trust anyone else with you.” She asked me not to discuss their troubles with either Aunt Evie or Uncle Ned. “Especially Uncle Ned.” Then from her shoulder bag she pulled out my collapsible travel chess set and pressed it into my hands.

“You forgot this. Don’t forget me,” she whispered, her hot tears staining my cheek. I gratefully stuffed the chess set into my knapsack, along with three chess books and my wooden chess clock.

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NER Classics

Jeff W. Bens | Golden Day

Jeff W. Bens’s story, Golden Day, appeared in NER 19.1.

Mrs. Cashman needed eighty-seven dollars and I was determined to help her get it.

“But you mustn’t give it to me, I won’t take it,” Mrs. Cashman said, her oversized, pearl-like necklace clanking against the edge of her third refill of coffee in our hotel’s delicatessen. “You mustn’t.” Mrs. Cashman was seventy-three. She hadn’t touched the third cup, but she would, as it was free, and coffee, though she’d never say this, killed the need for food.

“I don’t have it,” I said. Her gaze dropped from mine, into the coffee and the swirl of cream she’d poured in, the coffee white, and she brought the cup to her lips.

“It’s not for me,” she sipped, “but for Mr. Newcomb. He’s eighty-four years old.”

Mr. Newcomb lived on the eleventh floor, two above mine, beside Mrs. Cashman, though to hear her tell it he would soon have to move, “to a lower floor on account of his legs, what with the eleveators always busted; or maybe straight to the funeral parlor, cut out the middle men.” The one time I’d spoken with Mr. Newcomb, or rather he to me, he was sitting alone with a cigar in the Carlson’s lobby, staring into the wallpaper. He’d startled me, turning and meeting my eyes. “Cubano,” is all he’d said. And then he’d smiled and turned his attention back to the wall.

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NER Classics | Jehanne Dubrow


Oenophilia by Jehanne Dubrow
 originally appeared in NER 30.2.


Those months away from you, I teach myself
to cook with wine, admiring the change
a Beaujolais enjoys inside the pot,
its sly divestment of alcohol, slowly
from the heat, like a girl unbuttoning her blouse.
I’m indiscriminate. All reds will do
because you’ve never had a taste for white,
the frigid chardonnay or pinot gris
so chilled it makes the crystal goblet sweat.

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Sydney Lea

NER Classics | Democracy and the Demotic

Between Jazz and the Blues, Dr. Ernest Williamson IIISydney Lea‘s nonfiction piece, “Democracy and the Demotic: Reflections on the ‘lingua franca et jocundissima’ in American Poetry,” appeared in NER 16.3 (1994).

The title of my remarks is high sounding enough, yet in fact I do little more here than muse about a tradition in American poetry that my friend Stanley Plumly describes as “speech barking back at song.” More poet than scholar myself, I offer a kind of reverie.

In a journal entry for 1837, Ralph Waldo Emerson, engaging in a reverie of his own, imagined himself “a professor of Rhetoric–teacher of the art of writing well to young men.” “I should use Dante for my textbook,” Emerson surmised: “Dante knew how to throw the weight of his body into each act, and is, like Byron, Burke, and Carlyle, the Rhetorician. I find him full of the nobil volgare eloquenza; that he knows ‘God damn,’ and can be rowdy if he please, and he does please.” What Dante could teach was that daily surroundings were “the very best basis for poetry, and the material which you must work up.”

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NER Classics | Linda Bierds


April by Linda Bierds
was originally published in NER 13.2.


A little wind. One creak from a field crow.
And the plow rips a shallow furrow, hobbles
from guide-stake to guide-stake,
draws its first contour line,
and parallel, its next, next,
then the turn-strips and deadfurrows,the headlands
and buffer lines, until the earth from a crow’s vantage
takes the pattern of a fingertip.

And by noon the shadows are gridways: cut soil,
the man on the plow, the plow and simple tail,
each squat on the stretch of slender shade,
black and grid-straight, like the line of anti-light

a screen clicks up to, before its image
swells, deepens. Dark glass
going green, in the shade-darkened room
of a laboratory- it casts a little blush
across the face there, the shoulders and white pocket,
then magnifies the moon-skin of a microbe, then deeper,
electron molecules in a beam so stark it smolders.

The man on the plow fears frost,
its black cancer.The man at the screen
fears the storm an atom renders
on the lattice of a crystal. And heat. And the slick
back-licks of vapor. With luck, with the patience
the invisible nurtures, he will reshape

frost-making microbes, snip frost-hook genes
with a knife of enzymes. And at thirty degrees,
twenty, through seam lines of snap beans, oranges,
almonds, potatoes, no frost will form, no ratchet-bite
of ice, all the buds of transformed microbes
blossoming, reblossoming, like the first flowers.

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