I close my eyes and inhale.
The air travels down my throat
and pierces my chest,
it sticks needles in my lungs to leave me open
as I exhale and the heavy air chokes me
with all the thoughts it carries-
I watch them flowing around
like yellowing leaves in the clear sky
to dissolve above the distant snowy mountains.
Breathing is a simple expansion,
followed by a contraction.
It’s a heartbeat.
It’s that simple, and that confusing, and, oh, so easy to forget.
One day not thinking of the fading light of the October sun
with its scent of approaching winter and end
will be as natural as breathing.
But that’s not today.
Eve Dineva is a bi-lingual author of short stories and novels from Bulgaria. She is the winner of various contemporary fiction contests, held in her country and she has a travel blog, which gets updated occasionally at best. Her first novel Gray Daze started as an online web novel and was later picked up by a traditional publisher to be issued under her pen name. Poems of hers appear in Asian Cha: Literary Journal, The Trouvaille Review, Ethel (exp. 2022), and other literary magazines. She is currently working on her next novel, while signing up for more poetry and creative writing courses she could possibly attend.
Bevis and Miranda
When Miranda died Bevis could not be consoled, had no wish to be consoled, because he hoped his tears might percolate down to the box she was in. He had little idea how quickly a body decomposes. After a year he thought, “Perhaps her flesh is now a morass and her eyes and tongue have gone.” After two years he thought, “Perhaps now her flesh has gone and only ligaments hold her bones together.” After three years he thought, “Perhaps now even those ligaments have softened and her bones no longer hold together.” But only after seven years did he feel sure her bones had whitened. He dug her up.
Her bones were indeed dry and separate. Only a trace of dark hair remained around her empty skull. He went to live in a remote cabin beside a lake high in the mountains, taking with him the bones and a few basic tools to work on them while he herded goats.
He strung Miranda’s finger bones on a leather thong to make a necklace, saying to himself, “These fingers around my neck remind me how her hands once caressed it.” From her arm and shoulder bones he made two weathervanes, saying to himself, “Our moods changed like the wind, sometimes blown in different directions, but most often pointing the same way.”
One of her vertebrae he fixed with grass rope to the wall of his hut, beside the vertebra of a goat, saying to himself, “We fancied ourselves as gods, but we were just animals.” In one of the windows of his hut he hung her ribcage to interrupt the setting sun and make bars of light and dark on the wall opposite, saying to himself, “This will remind me that joy and sadness, life and death belong inseparably together.” He used her pelvis as a receptacle for herbs, saying to himself, “Here my male seed was once received and welcomed.”
He gathered all Miranda’s little bones, and dyed half of them with the juice of berries for counters in a board game, saying to himself, “We thought love was a game, and sometimes it was, but finally not.” He made a drum from goatskin stretched over a hollow log, and used her femurs as drumsticks, saying to himself, “I beat this to remember how we marched in the same rhythm.” He put a candle in her skull to shine through the eye sockets, saying to himself, “This will remind me how her eyes shone bright with love.”
When he died a note was found beside his body, asking those who found him to cremate him along with Miranda’s bones, so their ashes were mixed together. And that these remains be given to a good potter to make an ash glaze, for a garden pot in which to grow lavender or coriander.
This was done. And a century later, when the pot broke, the shards were buried in the place where Bevis and Miranda had been happy.
Alex Barr’s short fiction collections are ‘My Life With Eva’ from Parthian and, for children, ‘Take a Look At Me-e-e!’ from Gomer. Some of his latest short fiction can be read at mironline.org/whatwouldyourmothersay, litromagazine/greeks, and samyuktafiction.in/sybil. His creative nonfiction has appeared recently in The Blue Nib, Sarasvati, and Griffith Review. He lives in Wales.
Poem in Early Fall
When I haven’t written for a while,
I go out to the garden
and watch it slowly die in place.
The air languishes with the breath of leaves
almost ready to fall.
In this not-quite space, the dampness
of the evening darkens before it opens.
What have we given this season?
What have we filled with breath and light?
What have we waited for, deliberately
as the late tomatoes, scarlet and bulbous, bleeding
hearts that brood until yanked from their vines?
When I think about it, I realize
whatever comes, comes slowly.
Only the wolf appears suddenly—
ready to chase for prey,
teeth bared for the kill.
Only the river outruns the wolf.
Only the wind outruns the river.
How to Survive the Winter
Gather all the light you can hold.
In a tall glass, drink it down,
each dissolved marble coating your throat.
Don’t build a fire. Become one:
proud and long and determined.
Harvest the blue tongue from the flames.
At dusk, follow the light to where it opens,
unroll your voice
Wait for morning, when the clouds form
a lush green prairie of desire.
Whether the river’s long back laughs
straight into spring or it must coil
and stretch around ice, remember:
survival is just a sound a word makes.
Winter and summer will come
whether we’re here, or whether we say
this word, or this word, or this one.
Tall silhouettes of cornstalks, for now still green,
stand rigid in the swollen light.
Milkweed pods begin to form
on their thin stems.
Air rings with memory as it remains
I drive the roads we drove
just to be out in the space of the world.
We’d drive into weather, headlong
into the hysterical snow swirling,
flailing to anchor itself to something.
We, too, flail until we find a tether.
Under the wide clouds I gather seeds from the sky,
send them back to the earth,
remember how in the curve of your palm
things kept warm.
Now the wind strokes the grass.
The faded crops howl to be cut,
to lie down and rest. Stay small.
Snow will come to drape their wizened limbs,
but the roots, deep below the frozen earth,
linger, anchor what remains.
Sarah A. Etlinger is an English professor who lives in Milwaukee, WI, with her family. A Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, she is the author of three books: Never One for Promises; Little Human Things, and The Weather Gods. Her work appears in Kissing Dynamite, Pank!, SWWIM, and many others. Interests include cooking, baking, traveling, and spending time at the lake. For recent work and updates, follow her on Twitter at @drsaephd or at www.sarahetlinger.com.