Saturday, December 31, 2016

a poem and a story

by horace p sternwall

illustrations by roy dismas

ars poetica

poetry is hard to write
and if you write some every night
most of it is hopeless glop
into the garbage to be dropped

poets who live for all time
only write one or two lines
that anyone really remembers
the rest are only ash and embers

their names are known, but ninety-nine
percent of their well-gotten rhymes
are no more read than the reports
of arizona traffic courts

no other human occupation
produces such a tiny ration
of success to total nothingness
with no excuses to profess

so, poet, persevere
the world will shed no tear
you must weep for your own self
as you moulder on the shelf

your failure to communicate
is only humans’ common fate
like all you take your lumps
as darkness triumphs

uncle william

my uncle william took a nap every afternoon.

it was what he did.

one day he declared he was not going to take his nap.

why aren’t you going to take your nap, william? asked aunt flora.

because the world is going to end at six o’clock, william declared.

word quickly spread around town that uncle william had predicted that the world would end at six o’clock.

but the world did not end, at six o’clock, or at all.

and uncle william, who had previously been a citizen regarded with some respect, became a laughingstock.

he became a recluse, and began reading the bible.

and not only the bible, but the quran, the torah, the mahabharata, the sayings of confucius and lao tzu, the essays of ralph waldo emerson and thomas carlyle, and other specimens of human wisdom.

he passed many years in this manner, rarely leaving the house.

he distilled his readings and meditations into a new synthesis, and wished to attract disciples , but in this he was not successful.

he grew old, and lay at death’s door.

he asked aunt flora to summon his disciples, to hear his last words.

but, william, flora retorted, you don’t have any disciples.

surely you can find somebody, william pleaded.

with a sigh, aunt flora went out into the street and tried to interest some passers by in hearing william’s last words.

she finally found a couple of hoboes who were willing to hear william out, in exchange for a couple of cups of coffee and a couple of slices of flora’s excellent blueberry pie.

well, william, flora told him, these gentleman are here for what you have to say, so let’s hear it.

people are bad, william said, they should be good.

and he died.

he was quickly forgotten, even by the people in the small town in which he had spent his entire life.

Monday, November 28, 2016

the turk

by anonymous

illustrations by danny delacroix

one day, when i was out of work
my mom brought home a lustful turk
the turk, she said, was rich as solomon
which was why she had decided to call on him

the turk sat down and loudly sneezed
but assured me he was easy to please
all he wanted, all day long
was for me to sing his favorite song

his favorite song turned out to be
a strange and haunting melody
from a land that time forgot
that once was, but now was not

i sang it sweet and sang it low
as mom played on the piano
outside, if sense could be believed
a gentle breeze caressed the leaves

the turk wept at my serenade
all through the afternoon he stayed
i sent him happily on his way
and so got through another day

Monday, October 31, 2016


by emily de villaincourt

illustrations by eddie el greco

cecelia’s mother came home and took off her hat and coat.

“i have some news,” she told cecelia.

“really? and what is that?” cecelia asked.

“i have found a gentleman who is willing to take you off my hands, and to marry you.”

“oh. is he a nice man?”

“i really don’t know enough about him to say. i only just met him.”

“how old is he?”

cecelia’s mother finished hanging up her coat, and sat down on the sofa. “why all these questions? he will be here in about an hour, with the money he promised me, and you can see him for yourself.”

“how much did he pay you?” cecelia asked.

“that is no concern of yours.” cecelia’s mother kicked her shoes off. “oh, my feet are killing me. i took a cab to the wrong place, and ended up walking five blocks to meet him.”

“do you think i should make myself look nice?” cecelia asked.

“that’s up to you. i could use a drink.” cecelia’s mother looked around, but made no move to get up. “to celebrate. i don’t believe it - after all these years, to finally be rid of you.”

“i am sorry you feel that way,” said cecelia.

“oh, stop your whining. he will be here soon enough, and that will be the end of it.”

“or the beginning,” cecelia said hopefully.

“oh, yes.” cecelia’s mother laughed. “or the beginning.”

Saturday, October 15, 2016

the street

by horace p sternwall

illustrations by konrad kraus

andy woke at midnight
and listened to the rain
remembrance of reality
overflowed his brain

betty lived across the hall
she had trouble sleeping
especially when andy
was awake and silent creeping

chandler was the landlord
or maybe the concierge
he had terrible dreams at night
and in daytime terrible urges

danny lived around the corner
in a cardboard box
he had seen and done it all
and was immune to shocks

eddie drove a taxi
up and down the street
he kept his brogans polished
and his fingernails filed neat

frankie was a player
for eternal fame
if coach would only put him in
he could change the game

gilda was a night person
slept but once a week
but did not take it kindly
when called out as a freak

harry was called “the horse”
for lack of imagination
among his fellow tenants
in the chambers of degradation

irma was a “floozie”
a word now obsolete
but she brooked no nonsense
when she walked the street

johnny was the leader
what he said went down
but what good did it do him
when everyone left town

karen wrote a novel
and lost it on the bus
and then went home and hanged herself
without any fuss

larry was a wino
who had once been a preacher
murder was his mama
and hard knocks was his teacher

maggie was a mother
who ran away and hid
she just couldn’t help it
she didn’t like kids

nick was a cowboy
born out of time
if he could have rode with jesse james
it would have been so fine

olive was a poet
her fingers often shook
as she wrote down her secret thoughts
in a little red notebook

pete was a dreamer
with long and hairy arms
and wished that more women
would appreciate his charms

quigley was a dreamer too
his dreams ran deep
most of his fellow humans
thought he was a creep

ricki was a sleeper
would have liked to sleep all day
but society had taught her
that that was not o k

shirley only wanted
to be left alone
all humans were her siblings
and all the world her home

toni heard voices
in the walls and in the air
inside or outside
they were always there

uncle joe had a mustache
which sometimes did droop
he was not a member
of any organized group

vinnie was a gambler
whose luck had run dry
he sat on the sidewalk
and watched the world go by

wanda was a pushy sort
who aggravated many
and when she counted up her friends
she found she had not any

excuse me for a minute
while i catch my breath
an old friend is calling
and his name is death

oh young people
hear my words
the street is for the people
and the air is for the birds

zeroes on the wheel of life
zeroes in my brain
zeroes are beyond counting
we will meet again

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

a king

adapted from the akkadian by horace p sternwall

ilustrations by palomine studios

a mighty army took the field
to no opponent did it yield
a king rode forth with upraised sword
urging on his thundering horde

cities fell like windblown flowers
nations knew their final hours
empires heard, from sea to shore
the laughter of the god of war

the victor king, whose name is lost
his enemies’ last defenses crossed
he buried them in burning waves
and made their kings and queens his slaves

upon the conquered lands laid waste
towers and castles he now placed
and monuments to his own fame
as eternal glory he did claim

philosophers rushed to his throne
sculptors etched his face in stone
artists painted him for the ages
scribes with his story filled up pages

of all the lackeys at his call
the poets had least shame of all
and sung and scripted the monarch’s praise
in endless verses all his days

eventually the great king passed
assured his memory would last
inscribed in stone, and words, and song
in archives vast, and towers strong

the years went by, then centuries
as swiftly as a summer breeze
new kings rose up, to glories new
demanding each of fame his due

our king was lost beyond time’s mist
as history’s unending list
of mighty heroes onward scrolled
and tales of him no more were told

jackals prowled, and pilgrims stumbled
through his palaces as they crumbled
the ruins fell beneath earth’s crust
and all the poems turned to dust

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

billy blood, part 2

by timothy t jones

illustrations by pete palomine

part two of two

for part one, click here

“take two men,” said frank
“take skull face jones and elmer dank
ride out a ways and find a trace
of this accursed mongrel race

just to show that they exist
and are no will o the wisp
to calm these devil-fearing cretins
who are worse than women at a revival meeting

as for me, i’ll take the others
from this band of sorry brothers
and make them search these huts
just to make them show some guts”

jess said “i feel there's nothing here
but you are right - we can’t show fear
though i would rather press right on
and find another town before dawn”

with faces like thunderstricken masks
the brothers proceeded to their tasks
jesse, with elmer and skull face
out in the darkness found no trace

of anything at all
not even an owl’s call
the silence and darkness were complete
jesse nodded to retreat

but when to the village they repaired
a curious sight their eyeballs snared
the berry tree had disappeared
and on its site a gallows reared

the noose that from the tree had hung
on the gallows beam was careless slung
the riders had all gathered round
yet no hangman could be found

stonefaced quantrill kept aside
frank looked fit to be tied
the others were babbling in their beards
but at what were they a-feared?

jesse heard a shout forthwith
from that fool blameless smith
“such things were never meant to be -
this is arrant deviltry”

professor porter with a frown
tried to calm the others down
“it is just a trick of the light -
it was always here all right”

frank’s frown grew more intense
“enough of this nonsense!
let’s saddle up and ride
the countryside is wide

there’s bound to be another village
that we can raise hell in and pillage
without the foolish mystification
of this accursed unchristian nation”

“look there!” cried blameless smith
the others all looked up forthwith
and spellbound, kept their eyes on
a figure that appeared on the horizon

but they all laughed as it approached
it seemed no demon and no ghost
but only a dark-skinned native small
with a face older than adam’s fall

“what’s going on here, chief?” asked frank
the little man looked at them blank
took his time, and cleared his throat
he wore a strangely embroidered coat

“gentlemen, you have disturbed
the balance of the eternal world
i say to you, and won’t say twice
the gods demand a sacrifice”

jesse responded with a sneer
“i’ve got your sacrifice right here”
and pulling his trigger, which he did best
blasted the little man in the chest

the little man was quite unfazed
and as the gang looked on amazed
he shook his head like the king of france
and said “you had your chance”

and before they could respond
he vanished like a ripple on a pond
into the thin morning air
as they all silently stared

“boys,” said professor porter, “it seems
that we are in somebody’s dream
pretty soon he must awake
so let us our departure take”

the youngest member of the crew
billy blood, with eyes of blue
who heretofore had silence kept
now approached the gallows steps

little billy, child of sin
serpent spawned and demon's kin
battle born and gunfire bred
and never quite right in the head

his eyes were blank, his arms hung loose
he placed his head within the noose
an unseen hand the noose then tightened
billy smiled, he was not frightened

as quantrill and the gang looked on
a ray of light presaged the dawn
bewilderment had stopped their tongues
the trap door fell, and billy swung

the aztec dawn was blossoming
a jaguar cried, a crow took wing
they rode away beneath blue heaven
but now they only were eleven

Monday, October 3, 2016

billy blood, part 1

by timothy t jones

illustrations by pete palomine

part one of two

posted in a different format in all humans are the same on may 17, 2009

the aztec night was falling fast
when through a fellaheen village passed
twelve riders from across the border
in perfect military order

the lieutenants had two famous names
they were frank and jesse james
the captain was more famous still
none other than the dread quantrill

the faces of the other nine
are not so firmly etched in time
but as they rode to meet their fate
each rebel soldier pulled his weight

the village had but buildings three
a jail, a church, a monastery
a single tree with blood red berries
stood beyond the cemetary

and from the berry tree, swinging loose
a carefully knotted hangman's noose
caught quantrill's eye and then frank james'
in the sudden sunset's final flames

the other ten seemed unaware
they filed into the village square
the square was empty - dusty - still
"another ghost town" cried quantrill

frank james frowned and jesse scowled
far off, a lone coyote howled
the black chacmoolian hills looked down
upon the strangely silent town

dan willis was a rider bold
a brash newcomer to the fold
frank and jesse despised his sass
but quantrill loved the youngster's brass

now dan jumped off his horse's back
and taking tobacco from his pack
he rolled one easy as you please
seemed quite prepared to take his ease

he kicked a stone across the ground
"i think i'll take a look around"
he shouted - but no answering sound
echoed his challenge - quantrill frowned

professor porter shifted his weight
upon his horse - "i'd hesitate
to jump to conclusions," he shivered
his red nose twitched and his gray beard quivered

"look ye boys!" cried frenchy le rouge
his finger pointed and his eyes grew huge
upon the coal black mountainside
a light had flashed - and suddenly died

"where in tarnation are the peasants?"
cried long and lanky henry pheasant
"where's the chief and where's the priest
so quick to get their palms well greased?"

quantrill's face grew fiery red
"shut the flaps on your empty heads
we didn't come here to take a census
the devil that cursed it never meant us!"

"why speak of the devil," cried jack mule
"never mention him, that's my rule
he may be listening, he may be not
but if you rile him, he'll make it hot"

and with those words of wisdom true
he stared at quantrill with eyes of blue
who choked and sputtered with exasperation
"you're the biggest fool in the whole damn nation"

"what nation might that be?" quoth jack
"we've been to every nation and back
seen red and white and black men's ways
enough to last us all our days"

quantrill shrugged and turned aside
his own council he would bide
frank and jesse had drifted apart
and were talking, heart to heart

'there's folks round here." said frank real slow
"there ain't no ghosts, that much i know
and where's there's folks there must be food
this trickery puts me in bitter mood"

"i think these fools are spooked," said jess
"about to cry for mama, i'd guess
they surely are a sorry crew
whatever made us think they'd do?"

part 2

Sunday, October 2, 2016

ms found in a white notebook, part 4

by nick nelson

illustrated by roy dismas

part four of four

for part three, click here

to begin at the beginning, click here

the aliens arrived in peace.

which was fortunate, as the armies and other military organizations all over the world had already begun disbanding in preparation for the new era of peace that would begin with my inauguration.

as i was still technically just a citizen of the soon to be defunct united states, the aliens explained to ms ali mendoza-jones of the united nations that they had come to earth to welcome the newly enlightened human race into the confederation of the galaxy.

they proposed that a worldwide celebration be held to mark the planet’s entrance into the galactic confederation. representatives from all the planets in the confederation would attend, and get to meet their new comrades in universal peace.

they further proposed that the central event in the celebration, in my honor, would be a baseball game - not a series, just one game in which a human all-star team, starring myself of course, would play a team drawn from the various planets of the confederation.

it would not be a contest to decide anything, just a friendly game.

ali - i forgot to mention that i was now engaged to marry the beautiful renaissance woman ali - quickly agreed.

there was one thing that neither ali nor the aliens thought to take into consideration.

a great deal of money came to be bet all over the world on the human-alien baseball game.

at first it was taken for granted that the humans would win. how could they not, with me pitching and hitting? and who knew if the aliens even played baseball. how likely was it that they did?

on the other hand… who knew anything at all about the physical characteristics or capacities of the aliens - including races of aliens no one on earth had ever seen?

so a lot of “sports talk” was expended on the game, and a lot of money wagered.

still, according to the media, most of the money was on the home town boy - me.


there was one week left in the baseball regular season, and six weeks until the election.

the ravens were in st louis for a three game series with the salamanders.

we had played a game in the afternoon, and it was a nice night and i decided to get out of the hotel and go for a walk.

i was walking along, away from the center of town, looking up at the sky and thinking about how strange life was and how you just never knew what was coming next.

a car pulled up beside me.

a long white cadillac from the 80’s or earlier. a car that most people today would consider “tasteless” but i was never inclined to be judgmental on such matters.

i figured it was someone wanting my autograph or just telling me i had changed their life.

the rear door opened and a guy got out.

it took me a second but i recognized him.

maxie graves.

maxie had been a loan shark back in my home town, and a regular customer at willie’s tacos. and he had a regular poker game than i sat in on sometimes, so we knew each other pretty well.

“hello, kid.”

“hello, maxie.”

“you’re doing all right for yourself. you come a long way.”

“i guess. it’s a funny old world. what can i do for you, maxie ? you want my autograph? buy you a drink?”

“no thank you.” maxie looked around. there were no other cars or pedestrians in sight. “i’ll come right to the point.”

“whatever,” i told him. i wondered what place maxie, and guys like him, were going to have in the new world order, but i did not say so out loud.

“the game - the game against the space men - is 25 to 1. against the space men. you seen that?”

i shrugged. “i knew it was something like that.”

“and yet people are betting on you.”

“people have faith in me, i guess.”

“can you believe that shit? people putting down a dollar of their hard earned money to win four fucking cents? people are fucking morons.”

“i hope i can reward their faith in me.”

maxie laughed. “but you are not going to reward them. you are going to lose the game.”

“really?’ it was my turn to laugh. “why should i do that? i know we are old pals, but not as much as all that.”

“you don’t think so? i got someone here i’d like you to meet.” maxie had been standing beside the half open rear door of the cadillac but now he opened it all the way and pointed inside.

i bent down and looked inside.

and there she was.


“hello, georgie,” i managed to say.

“hello, johnny. you better do what maxie says.”

i opened my mouth but nothing came out.

“you better do what maxie says or i’ll tell the world what you did.”

“it was - a long time ago,” i managed to say.

“so fucking what? and not so long as all that. everybody thinks you are so wonderful now, johnny, like you’re john and yoko, helen keller, and the trapp family singers all rolled into one. but i know what you are really like. so do what maxie says. or i’ll tell. i’ll tell the world.”

“you hear that?” maxie started to get back into the cadillac. “i don’t suppose you want a cut of the proceeds, kid?”

“no, that won’t - be necessary.”

“i didn’t think so. in that case, we need not meet again. au revoir, cowboy.” he got in and closed the door and the car rolled away.


i went back to the hotel and up to my room without seeing anybody.

i got myself a glass of ice water and sat down on the bed.

i don’t know what to do.

if i cross maxie, i don’t doubt for a minute that he and georgie will go through with their threat. in fact, how do i know what they will do even if i don’t cross them?

maybe the aliens will be so good i can’t beat them fair and square anyway. but i don’t think so. from what ali told me it is more likely they would lose on purpose even if they could win, so as not to embarrass their hosts.

and if i throw the game it will be so obvious that something is up that the billions of people who believe in me and tony trigg and his prophecies will lose all faith and think it is all a fraud.

and the new age of peace and understanding and reconciliation - down the toilet.

no matter what i do.

and i don’t know what to do.

the end