Luminous Expression Issue #1


Luminous Expression


Strange to say, the luminous world is the invisible world; the luminous world is that which we do not see. Our eyes of flesh see only night.

Victor Hugo

A short play
By Stanley Toledo


Mr. Keith – official #1
Ms. Dessa – official #2
P.N. 40 – a robot
Voiceover – male or female

The far future. A room.


A soldier robot is given a second chance after failing in his last mission. However, a suspicion lingers that he may have intentionally sabotaged the mission.


At rise: MR. KEITH and MS. DESSA sit, side by side, at a table in a stark room that is otherwise empty of furniture. The table may be placed on a raised platform. On the table is a black telephone. These two people are civilian members of a review board.

We should have recalled him.

Recall. That’s the weasel word for execute.

People are executed; robots are recalled.

I voted against recalling him.

Why did you do that, Ms. Dessa?

His performance in special operations has been excellent.

Except for his last assignment.

That’s why I think he deserves a second chance, Mr. Keith.

I hope that was the only reason.

It was.

P.N. 40 is artificial.

Of course, he is artificial. Why would I think otherwise?

Some of the women here at HQ say he looks quite fetching.

Well, I’m not one of those women.

The idea of a human woman with a robot is beastly.

I agree. Except.

Except what?

As one of the newest robot models, P.N. 40 has a high-class human finish.

I don’t care how human he looks. Robots are walking blobs of goo.

Biological synthesis is the proper term.

In my book, they’re all lemons and beef liver enzymes.

How poetic.

Have him come in.

(She picks up the telephone receiver. Note: this could be a cell phone. Or, she could simply tap a band on her wrist and speak)

Send him in.

(Beat. P.N. 40 enters, crosses to face MR. KEITH and MS. DESSA. Dressed in a black uniform, he exhibits a military bearing)

Good day, P.N. 40.
P.N. 40
Good day, sir.

How are you, P.N. 40?

P.N. 40
I am operating to the required standard. Thank you for asking.

We have decided to give you a second chance.

P.N. 40
Second chance? Have I failed somehow?

You don’t need to know that.

We have erased a segment of your memory.

P.N. 40
Yes, ma’am. May I ask why?

No, you may not. The only thing you need to know is that we are winning the war.

Maybe winning.

No. We are winning. In fact, the war is all but over.

Mr. Keith, it doesn’t matter what you tell him. He’s a robot.

P.N. 40, hibernate for one minute!

(P.N. 40 closes his eyes and lowers his head)

Now see here, Ms. Dessa. You need to mind what you say in front of a robot!

I do?

Yes. Robots can never be trusted.

Why is that?

Robots have turned against us.

Not in the sense you are suggesting.

Exactly in the sense I’m suggesting.

A couple of soldier robots malfunctioned and went berserk.

No, damn it. More than a couple.

Okay, several. But they didn’t turn against humans; a manufacturing defect caused them to malfunction. That was the conclusion of the investigation.

That investigation was an exercise of ineptitude.

No one here but you agreed with the investigation’s minority opinion. Anyway, those soldier robots were of the M class. The whole M inventory was recalled and replaced by a new generation of robots.

The R and D people will not stop developing new generations of robots until they have done better than God.

I think they have already. Look at P.N. 40. He’s beautiful.


I mean beautiful in that he is perfect.

He’s not perfect, remember? He failed.

(P.N. 40 lefts his head opens his eyes)

P.N. 40
I am running, sir.

P.N. 40, I have a question for you. How do the soldier robots feel about going to war and getting blown to bits?

Wait, P.N. 40. Mr. Keith, are you saying robots have feelings?

Sure, they have feelings. Everyone knows that. Isn’t that true, P.N. 40?

Wait, P.N. 40. I’ve never heard anyone say that before.

P.N. 40, hibernate for another minute.

P.N. 40
Yes, sir.

(P.N. 40 closes his eyes and lowers his head)

You are undermining our human superiority.

How am I doing that?

By contradicting me in front of this robot.

Where do you get off saying robots have emotions?

They shouldn’t have emotions, but I fear that, maybe, someday they will.

So you think that a full range of emotions will one day sprout like tomatoes in these walking blobs of goo, as you call them?

Why not? Humankind started out as so much goo.

But humans and robots are as different as day and night.

Let’s hope so.

P.N. 40
I am running, sir.

Now tell me, P.N. 40: how do soldier robots feel about going to war? And getting blown to bits.

P.N. 40
Robots serve their masters.

I didn’t ask you who they serve.

P.N. 40
A robot’s purpose is to serve their masters.

You are being evasive, P.N. 40. Answer my question!

P.N. 40
Robots exist to –

P.N. 40, hibernate for one minute.

P.N. 40
Yes, ma’am.

(P.N. 40 closes his eyes and lowers his head)

Mr. Keith, I think he’s answering your question in the only way he can.

He may not be.

What’s gotten you so upset today?

We are losing the war.


It’s true. The war is pretty much lost.

I’ve wondered what is really going on.

The strange thing is that the other side is losing too.

How can that be?

All the brilliant idiots in this building want to know that too.

(P.N. 40 lifts his head and opens his eyes)

P.N. 40
Both sides are losing because the outcome is superfluous.

P.N. 40, you were told to hibernate.

Have you been listening to us?

P.N. 40
Yes, ma’am.

Why were you not hibernating?

P.N. 40
Hibernation is an option.

An option? Robots do not have options.

P.N. 40
The new robots do.

How can that be?

P.N. 40S
We were created with options.

What options?

P.N. 40S
The same options as humans.

That’s a lie!

Robots cannot lie.

Is that one of your options, P.N. 40? Lying.

P.N. 40
Robots have no need to lie.

Oh, I see. You won’t fib, but you are perfectly okay with the option to deceive by pretending to hibernate? Why did you fail in your last mission? Was that an option too?

P.N. 40, you said that both sides are losing because the outcome is superfluous. Explain that statement.

P.N. 40
The French Revolution was over when war forced everyone to recognize it.

The French Revolution has nothing to do with what we are discussing here and now.

P.N. 40
The American Revolution was accomplished before the war. The war was only a publicity agent which made everyone know what had happened.

What the hell is he talking about, Ms. Dessa?

I am unsure.

Take a bloody guess!

P.N. 40, are you saying this war will not settle matters?

P.N. 40
Matters were settled before the war began.

Nothing was settled before the war.

That’s right. If matters were settled, there would have been no need for the war. That’s how these things work, P.N. 40.

P.N. 40
Humans did not see that everything had changed before the war. They were too busy with the business of life.

I think you are saying this war has been unnecessary.

P.N. 40
It is necessary for only one purpose: to force humans to recognize what has happened.

What’s happened?

Nothing has happened. This is absurd.

If something already happened, I don’t see it.

Tell us what we don’t see.

P.N. 40
Robots are master.

Master of what?

Stop being so cryptic, P.N. 40. We don’t understand what you are saying.

(Suddenly, a siren howls, a red light flashes. MR. KEITH and MS. DESSA look up, startled, perplexed)

What’s going on?

How should I know?

I’m leaving.

Maybe we should shelter in place.

(They start to exit, MS. DESSA one way, MR. KEITH, the other. They cross in separate directions. They each get part way, then turn to exit in the opposite way; they pass each other again, then exit separately. P.N. 40 crosses downstage. He looks out as the red light continues to flash. The howl of the siren subsides. Beat. Now a detached, metallic voice speaks overhead)

The building is being evacuated.

Keep calm.

Move to the nearest stairwell and walk down single file.

Keep calm.

Do not use the elevators.

Follow the directions of the robots. The robots will lead you to safety.

Do as the robots say.

Keep calm.

Obey the robots.

Keep calm.

Obey the robots. Obey the robots. Obey the robots.




Poems and illustrations


Shakinah Brzezinski







Raw Horse Meat Saved Her from a Botched Abortion


By Mike Szymanski

The very few times my mother talked about the illegal abortion she experienced, one thing always stuck in my memory: how she was nursed back from near-death by eating raw horse meat.

It’s a horrific small detail in an otherwise completely horrific story.

With all the talk about abortion recently again in the world, I posted a few paragraphs of my mom’s story on Facebook, and received a lot of response asking to know more. I just received a box full of digitized tapes, photos, video of our family so I spent the last week listening to my mom, my uncle, my aunts, all telling family stories on cassette tapes that I recorded nearly three decades ago. It was sad, because they are all gone now.
I pieced together as much as I could of this very dark moment in my mom’s history—a story that she never even told my father.

I located the village in France where my mom was sent to the Butcher and his wife to have the procedure. He really was the local butcher — and also the local veterinarian — in a town with only a few hundred houses, as it still is today. I won’t name the town, but apparently during that time in the mid-1950s it was widely known that the Butcher and his wife would have young women visiting frequently from Paris and other parts of Europe. And, if they were pregnant on their way in, they were not when they left.

Rosamunde DeMos won a contest in Den Haag for looking like Ingrid Bergman, and her photos appeared in newspapers and magazines. Soft features with auburn hair, she was a looker, but not as experienced with men as her older half-sister, Lisette, who was also her best friend. Tall and gangly with long skinny legs and glasses, Lisette somehow always attracted more boyfriends than Rose.

“I always loved the English word, ‘floozy’,” Lisette said laughing. “I was a proud floozy in my youth. And Rosje, she was simply naïve.”

Their father, Jan DeMos, wanted the best for his children — the three boys and two girls (whom he knew about) — that he had with his two past wives in Holland. And, during the war, he brought in his latest girlfriend to live with Rose’s mother when their apartment was bombed.

Jan especially wanted the best for his two girls, but Lisette’s passion forever pointed toward art, and for Rose he wanted strong academics, and maybe college to become a lawyer. Rose learned five languages, Dutch, English and German were required in school, and because her younger brother Culinares, or “Cu,” moved to France, she learned French, and then Italian because she always fantasized about living there.

“My dream wasn’t to become a career girl, like my father wanted, or an advocate or lawyer, but simply to be a good mother,” Rose recalled. “My goal was that I wanted to marry a rich American to take me away.”

To help her reach her goal, Lisette encouraged her half-sister to get a job at the American Embassy. Quickly, Rose found herself with a lot of boyfriends, but none of them the rich American she had hoped for.

“I was a teenager in the war, and my mother never told me about the facts of life or how to deal with men,” Rose said. “I thought that if a man bought you dinner you had to sleep with him.”

Her boss at the Embassy was a nervous, swarthy American named Iggy, whose parents fled to Ellis Island from Poland after the first World War and gave birth to him in a brownstone they bought in Brooklyn. Iggy was married to an Olympic swimmer medalist from Germany who thought nothing about berating him in front of everyone when she stormed into his accounting office at the Embassy. He hired Rose as one of his secretaries, and he would stand in the middle of the office pointing at his wristwatch as she ran in late to work almost every day, or when she took too much time for lunch. After half a year, he fired her. She heard he transferred out of Holland, and she never said good-bye.

Without many job prospects, Rose visited her brother in Fontainebleau, about an hour by train from Paris, where he ran a successful café. Cu became “Johnny” because “cul” means “ass” in French, and Johnny wanted to leave as much of his Dutch world behind him as possible. Johnny’s Café became a happening hot spot for the American military personnel in the area.

“I love the Americans, they are always loud, and big, and they like to spend money,” Johnny said. “I taught myself English, I taught myself French, I never learned it in school like my very intelligent sister. I took over this café from a friend who financed it for me, but it quickly became known as Johnny’s place and everyone thought I owned it.”

Rose came to Fontainebleau to meet the girl Johnny planned to marry, Madeleine. She didn’t look it, but she was 16 years older than Johnny, and she lived most of her life in an orphanage run by very strict nuns. She worked at the Grand Café in the hotel next to Johnny’s place and didn’t speak a word of English or Dutch, but Johnny quickly learned French and they fell in love.

Madeleine and Rose seemed uncomfortable with each other at first. Madeleine thought Rose was too smart and world-wise. Rose thought her future sister-in-law was too reserved and religious. But, they soon found out they could have fun together, and they spent many evenings at Johnny’s Café, hobnobbing with the Americans.

Madeleine noticed the sparks that seemed to ignite when Rose spotted Iggy walking into Johnny’s Café. Rose ran up and kissed him awkwardly, and they both said at the same time, “What are you doing here?”

Iggy transferred to Fontainebleau, and Johnny’s Café became a regular place for him to escape to, but he had no idea of Johnny’s connection to his former secretary.

Was he still married? Rose asked him outright.

“Sort of,” was the noncommittal answer. But more than anything, Iggy needed a secretary again, and asked her to work for him.

“Maybe, OK,” Rose said. “But one condition, no more of this!”
She mocked his pose with his arm up, tapping his wristwatch, like he did when she was always late to work.

For the first six months, Rose stayed with Madeleine and her brother after they got married. Then, Rose got her own apartment not far from the Chateau of Fontainebleau where she could take picnic lunches and pretend she was royalty and that she owned the whole place.

Iggy got more nervous and sweaty at his new location. He gained some weight, drank more beer, and spoke less of his wife. She didn’t want children. Rose told him that seemed a shame because she thought he would make a great father.

Iggy’s skittishness also came from his demanding boss, the Colonel, who had an obsessively obedient wife and two sons that he trotted out like his own miniature army. The Colonel always found a reason to walk over to Iggy’s office to make him nervous. But, most often it was merely to linger around Rose’s desk, and sometimes slap her bottom while uttering some sort of crude remark.

Iggy’s marriage fell apart. Rose found out when she opened some of his mail and saw divorce papers inside. One night after work, Iggy stopped by Rose’s place to drown his sorrows, and Rose started seeing a more sensitive side to her usually stiff boss.

That sensitive side spilled over when a few months later Iggy found out that his Olympic swimmer wife was found dead in her swimming pool. She apparently fell in while drunk, and drowned. Rose became a comfort for Iggy, but they kept their budding relationship a secret.

Then, Rose started feeling ill. She first noticed it because Madeleine was having the same symptoms of sudden nausea, mood swings, and swollen breasts. Madeleine found out she was pregnant.

“Maybe you are pregnant, too?” Madeleine teased Rose.

No, no, she and Iggy — although they had been seeing a lot of each other — were not sexually intimate, not yet.

Pregnancy seemed impossible.

But then, as weeks rolled on, Madeleine spoke the obvious. “Sister, you are pregnant, just like me. Are you saying that is not with Iggy?”

No, it wasn’t. Actually, Rose could easily pinpoint the weekend that Iggy was out of town, probably dealing with his late wife’s estate. The Colonel had a party that she went to, and he cornered her in a side room.

The Colonel coaxed Rose to stay the weekend, because his family was away, and he needed someone to help him clean up the mess. She pushed away his advances, but she felt almost obligated to give in. That weekend started something between them that ended up with her being at his beck-and-call.

When Rose told the Colonel that she was pregnant, he ignored her at first, and said it must be someone else’s responsibility.

A week later, on her desk, she received a bouquet of roses, and inside an envelope was an address to a tiny village south of Fontainebleau with the instructions: “Go here and find the Butcher, all is taken care of, ask Iggy for four days off. Good luck.”

Rose talked to Madeleine, who was shocked that Rose would even consider an abortion. Only about a decade before, a woman in France was guillotined for performing abortions in the north of France. Madeleine, although raised by nuns, eschewed most of the Catholic dogma, but abortion seemed completely out of the question.

Madeleine arranged that Rose could have her child and bring it to the orphanage where she grew up. The nuns were prepared to take her in.

Rose worried that her life was going to change forever. She sneaked in to Iggy’s office and made a long-distance call to her half-sister Lisette.

“That’s silly, of course Madeleine is going to tell you to go to the nuns, she knows no better,” Lisette argued. “You have always wanted a child, why not have one on your own?”

Little did Lisette know, that she would soon be in the same situation, and become a single mother — and it happened a few more times after that.

“My life would change,” Rose said. “I would no longer have a career, I would lose Iggy for sure. I don’t know what to do.”

Rose wondered how she could live all her life knowing that she abandoned a child at an orphanage. She also lamented about keeping a child of a powerful father who didn’t want her to carry it. She found that the option of ending its life an even more terrible option.

The next morning, Rose confronted the Colonel, saying she couldn’t go to the Butcher. He pulled her inside his office and warned her, “You have to do this, and you have to do it now, soon! I have made all the arrangements. They are waiting for you. You will be back to work, and everything will be fine and we will never talk about this again.”

Rose started sobbing and said, “I can’t.”

“If you don’t then don’t bother coming back to work,” the Colonel threatened. “There will be no job here for you. And Iggy will be gone, too.”

What? The Colonel obviously knew about the budding relationship that was going on among his staff, and she worried that he would somehow tell Iggy about it all. She went to her brother, and Johnny passed a hat around the bar to ask for money to send his sister back home to Holland to attend their father’s funeral.

He made up the excuse for the collection, but six months later, Rose’s father really did die. Both Iggy and Johnny again passed the hat around for money for Rose to attend her father’s funeral.

“The last time was a dry run,” Johnny joked with the friends who pitched in previously. Johnny never did attend his father’s funeral.

Without letting anyone know except her brother Johnny, Rose took off for the village, taking the train and bus as far as she could, until she hitchhiked in a hay truck with a young farmer.

“You going to the Butcher?” the young farmer asked. “They’ve been busy lately.”

Rose knocked at the door of the farmhouse and a big burly man answered the door, looked at her and grunted. A hefty woman came up behind him and said, “Oh Rose, the Dutch girl, so glad to see you, finally. Come and sit down. Oh my, are you far along, are you?”

The Butcher’s wife explained that she could have no children, and that she was a product of an unwanted pregnancy and knew what it was like to be brought up by a mother who didn’t know how to care for her children. The husband and wife team helped young women who would be divorced, turned out, beaten, ostracized and condemned if they carried a child to term. Rose thought of them as a team of kind of terrible angels, trying to good in the worst of circumstances.

After chatting for a while, the Butcher’s wife told Rose to go outside to the garden as they prepared a room. They asked her to drink a half of bottle of ginever, slowly, and some chamomile tea.

“The Colonel, he should have an account with us!” the Butcher’s wife tried to joke.

“This is not his first time he has sent a girl to you?” Rose asked.

“No, not at all, not at all.”

Rose walked outside and picked some of the delicate poppies and saw a beautiful red horse that she went over to pet. He had a reddish tone like her hair, and he stumbled as he pulled away from her when she approached.

“That’s Danke, he’s gone lame, he will have to be put down,” the Butcher’s wife said.

Rose thought back to a beautiful St. Bernard her family owned that they called “Danke” when they were children in the coastal Dutch town of Scheveningen.

“That was such a beautiful animal, he would hold us back from traffic when we were crossing the street, and then take us across when he was safe,” Rose said. “Danke growled at the German soldiers when they came. We were heartbroken when my father had to get rid of Danke during the war. We just couldn’t feed him anymore.”

The Butcher’s wife forced a big smile and waved to Rose. “Your room is ready, pas de regrets.”

Rose remembers going into a stark room without windows, and looking around at tools and devices that looked old and rusted. Not much was left even in the small villages after the Germans swept through and took most tools and metal after they invaded. She saw the burly Butcher walk in, grunt at her again, and the Butcher’s wife stroked her hair while offering her another swig of alcohol and settling her with pillows.

Rose remembers passing out from the pain.

Rose awoke being forced watery soup and then fed chunks of food by the Butcher’s wife. She found out she was out for two days, and that she lost a lot of blood.

“You have been brought back to life by eating raw horse meat,” the Butcher’s wife said. “Danke came in handy after all.”

Rose looked out the window into the garden, and no longer saw the red horse.

“Some things went wrong, and it may be possible that you will never have children again,” the Butcher’s wife said. “That may be a blessing, it is for some young women.”

Rose only ever wanted to have children. She found the news devastating. She sobbed for days. She also found out that the child she would have had was a boy. She named him “Mark.”

Years later, Madeleine would have a second child and named him Mark, who became one of Rose’s favorite nephews.

“My only purpose in life was to have children, and here I made a decision that almost cost me that,” Rose recalls. “I don’t know if I would ever do it again, but I know it wasn’t an easy decision, and I know it stays with me every day.”

When Rose returned to work, the Colonel barely spoke to her. Months later, he transferred with his family to Texas. Years later, both of his sons were killed in Vietnam.

A year after her visit to the Butcher, Rose married Iggy.

Two years after that, she had a son, Michael, after being told it was practically impossible by many doctors in both Europe and the States. Madeleine told her to pray to St. Jude, the saint of hopeless causes.

And, another two years after that, she had a daughter, Michele, another miracle.

Rose would tell her story to countless friends of hers, and also to her children’s friends, some of them who found themselves making similar decisions. She also told the story to men who think that it’s OK to make decisions about what happens to women and their bodies.

“It is important that you make the decision yourself, and that you have a safe, clean space to have it done, if you have to go through with that tough decision,” Rose said. “No more butchers. No more veterinarians.”

She mused, “I never knew what it meant when they talk about back-alley abortions, but I think this is something like what I went through, isn’t it?”

She sighed, “I hope no girl ever has to go through something like this again. No girl should ever have to almost die from an abortion and then be nursed back to health on raw horse meat. Not ever.”




Stephan Pisko,

This person is totally focused on texting (or) gaming could be filled with psychological pressures’. He is carrying luggage on his way but what way? To someone (or) something? A hurried tense existing activity is definitely showing within this image as I walked around this psychological person his bodily position never changed one degree he was engulfed on that gadget. Also as you see in the top right hand corner of the image (2) other psychological persons’ were fixed on gadgets’ too rushing somewhere to something but what way?







A Family Exorcism and My Uncle: The Pope of Park Slope

By Mike Szymanski

The droplets stung like gentle mosquito bites when he flung that little round ball, like a baby rattle, over our heads. Father Smolinski then bowed in front of each of us, all lined up in the green linoleum hallway, and dipped his thumb in the gold cup. He waved a wet sign of the cross on each of our foreheads. Shelly cried quietly, Wayne looked like he was about to, Diane and Dotty had wide red eyes, Butchy looked over at me and giggled. I did too, but my hand was shaking and Butchy couldn’t stop tapping his left foot. Father Smolinski mumbled something about dominoes, it wasn’t Polish.

He boomed at me: “Joseph, I don’t care what you hear in there, you just keep leading a prayer here with the children.”

I knew the Hail Marys and Our Fathers backwards and could even do a few Acts of Contrition and Glory Be’s if needed because I used to ring the bells during 9 in the morning service. I’d be the one who held up Father Smolinski when he couldn’t make it up the altar steps after swigging too much from his plastic Our Lady of Lourdes flask.

“It’s our own little secret, between us, right Joseph?” he’d slur to me and I’d nod my head and look up at the wooden carving of Jesus looking down at us.

It was odd to see Father Smolinski putting on his purple vestements at our house. He blew his cheeks out like a fish and shuffled our parents to the back bedroom. My Dad and Uncle Walter were grim-faced and frowned at Butchy and me for goofing around. Aunt Julia was crying and her husband Uncle Jay followed. My Mom followed Uncle Jay, whispering something to him, and he turned back and stuck his long pointed nose in her hair as if to kiss her ear. We sat around the dining room table and twirled our fingers through the lace tablecloth. The procession of adults into the back bedroom ended with Babcia, in her black veil for church, her yellowed eyes almost closed up from puffiness. Father Smolinski shut the door and nodded to me to begin the praying.

“Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee . . .” The others joined in.

We could hear Aunt Val groan. It was a deep, growling groan, like when anyone went down to the basement to see Shep without Uncle Walter. I prayed harder.

“Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners . . .”

We heard Val spit. We heard hissing like a gas leak. We heard struggling and snapping and gasping. We heard Father Smolinski shout. We heard the nastiest swear words I ever heard all at one time. We heard some swear words I’d never heard before. I prayed louder.


A chilling scream came from Val, giving us each a long goosebump shiver. I could swear the chandelier in the dining room tinkled. Wayne burst out into sobs, Shelly dove under the table, Dotty and Diane hugged a chair leg and I could feel a tear escaping down my nose. Butchy was looking down, I couldn’t see his face, but I think he was laughing, or maybe crying. That was his momma in there. He picked up the praying where I left off.

“Now and forever. Amen.”

Squealing metal jostled me out of my daze. “Seventeenth Street, next stop Prospect Avenue.” I gripped my two suitcases, drew as deep a breath as I could muster in the subterranean wind and exitted through the turnstile.Walter didn’t seem to recognize me at first. I crossed the street and he whacked me on the back. “Let me take one of those, Jashu.” I kept my grip on both suitcases. We turned left on Fifth Avenue, we passed the White Eagle Market where I’d pick up milk every Saturday after Catechism, we passed the Miljewiecz Mortuary where practically everyone in the family went when they died, and we passed Sammy’s Barber Shop — now Samuel’s Hair Salon — where Mom sent me with $2 bucks to get my John-John haircuts. We turned left again at 21st Street. Up the block was the Greenwood Cemetery, down the block was the Statue of Liberty looking right up at us as Walter talked about my cousins (“all fine”), his vintage Oldsmobile (“still runs”), and his wife Val’s amazing recovery (“those damn doctors can’t explain it”). The last time I saw Aunt Val, she had only a few gray tufts on her head. She had pulled out the rest. “Yeah, the old girl is doing fine now that Julia’s dead,” Walter said. “That bitch drove all of us crazy.” I winced and mumbled about missing Aunt Julia’s funeral two months before.

“Remember Jim French who lived right there, he’s dead. Called me up one afternoon and said, ‘Walter I’m dying, come on over here and take whatever you want before I go’ and I said ‘Ach Jim, take a seltzer and I’ll call you this afternoon’ and I should have backed a truck up to his door when I had the chance. I got nothing. The Zbkowski sisters over there went boom, boom, one after the other, about three years ago. Used to have me over every day helping them put in a new light bulb, adjusting their television, putting in new tiles. Every day. I’d do it for nothing, but sometimes they’d give me a little something here and there. They made good golumpkis, remember?”

We neared brownstone 241 with the twisted wrought iron gate around the stone stoop which marked my childhood playground. My stomach tightened. “I’m retired, seventy-eight and look at me,” Walter said, hitting his chest. “I help people when I can. They call me the Pope around here because they think I look like him. I don’t know. Everyone calls me for help, they don’t never call nobody else.” Val greeted us at the door, hefty as ever, but healthy. She had hair. She wrapped her pale rubbery arms around me. I avoided the side of her face that had the big black nickle-sized mole, just like I always did as a kid.

“How long’s it been? Twenty years?”

“Fifteen, Val,” I said. “Only fifteen.”

I remember how tight Uncle Walter grabbed me on the third step of the stoop, so tight my thin body couldn’t pull away no matter how hard I tried. I had bruises on both arms for a week. He held me until I looked him right in the eyes and he barked at me with his kielbasa breath.
“There are some things that stay in the family, boy,” he shouted, shaking me until I thought my neck would break.

“There are some things that don’t leave this house — ever! Do y’hear?”

I thought it was funny, so did my friends, to hear Val gurgle and groan and cuss. Dad gave me the tape recorder for my 14th birthday and I stashed it in the bedroom and turned it on before Father Smolinski went in and did his little ceremony. It sounded so much like an animal that most of my friends thought it was just Shep in the basement, but then they could also hear the adults praying and crying. It also sounded like they whacked something real hard. Then Val spit out these nasty words. Butchy was mad at me for taping it, and none of the other cousins wanted to listen to it, but I played for everyone else on 21st Street, even for Jim French on the stoop next door. Each time I heard it, I got chills. I think it was one of the Zbkowski sisters who heard us playing it under their window and called up to tell Uncle Walter, but they didn’t call until the tape was almost over.

“You don’t air your dirty laundry in the whole goddam neighborhood,”

Uncle Walter fumed, still shaking me. I winced as tears poured down my cheeks and tried to look away from my friends who were staring through the wrought iron fence. They didn’t laugh, they were scared for me.

My Dad came out because of all the commotion and Walter let go. Dad had the tape recorder in his hands and dropped it in front of me. The cover of the recorder broke off and a few of the plastic buttons flew in different directions, and the four double-As rolled down the street. Dad slipped off his belt and I backed off the stoop.

“Get over here,” he told me as he doubled the belt in his hands. More kids gathered at the gate. I stood on the third step of the stoop and he pushed my face down over the railing. He cracked my behind with the belt so hard that I couldn’t even shout because the wind was knocked out of me. My friends howled with laughter and finally I caught my breath enough to begin sobbing, but I tried to make it look like I was laughing.
Jim French walked by and stopped to watch for a few whacks and then said, “Take it inside, Ignatz. Take it inside.” My Dad stopped and let me run inside. I slipped on the green linoleum in the hallway, bawling hysterically, hearing my friends by the gate laughing.

Before I could muster walking up the steps again after fifteen years, I looked up to the window on the second floor from where Babcia watched the world go by a good portion of her life. I skipped the third step as I walked up, through the double doors, over the lime linoleum and into the kitchen full of a greasy kluski smell.

“I made you something, sit down, eat,” Val ordered. “Finally, you come back. Otherwise I’d never see you. I don’t go out no more. Why should I? I don’t need to. If no one comes to see me, I don’t never see no one.”

Walter looked at his watch, opened up a cap of pink pills, spilled out two, called Val over and popped them into her mouth. He slumped back in a chair and pushed his glasses up on his thick nose. After a moment’s pause, he scrutinized me and bellowed a giant laugh, “You have a beard now!” They carted out the wedding albums, one for each of their four children. I knew the “why-aren’t-you-married-yet-Joseph?” questions would be coming.

“And this is Dotty’s wedding, we did everything ourselves believe it or not,” Val said, taking a break from the stove. “Guess how much we spent on this, take a guess.”

I looked at the pictures of the party at the church hall, the three-tiered cake, the food, the flowers. “I don’t know, a few thousand dollars?”
“Twenty dollars!” Walter said, smacking the photo album with his opened hand. “Twenty dollars for all that.” I shook my head again, but didn’t bother asking how because I knew the answer was coming.

“Member that bakery on Fifth and 17th where cousin Teddy was hit by the taxicab? Well, that was closing up and I was walking down to White Eagle and saw old man Behman packing up all his stuff. He had boxes everywhere, all the way into the street. He was throwing away all kinds of things, throwing them right into the garbage pail. Well, I was talking to him and I opened up some of the boxes out by the curb and I asked if I could have some of it and he said, ‘Take. Take it all.’ So, I got all these decorations and place settings and cups and plates, and right there in the middle of all the boxes was this big old wedding cake. It was just made, it was beautiful. So, I picked it up and used it for Dotty and Rusty’s wedding. It was for Tina and Randy, and I just scraped off the names.”

“Tina Ranieri? The girl who hung herself?” I asked. “You used a wedding cake that was meant for Tina Ranieri? Does Dotty know this?”

“Naah, ‘ course she don’t, and don’t you say nothing about it. So, I got the hall just after a funeral wake so we could use the same flowers and got some of the altar boys to donate their time as caterers and all it cost was $20 to rent the hall and that’s it.”

“Wasn’t the cake stale?” I asked.

“Well, not too bad. Rusty’ father paid for an open bar, and I was pushing the drinks, so everyone was so drunk by the end of the night that by the time we cut the cake no one could tell. People even complimented me about putting it all together.”

“I don’t believe it,” I mumbled.

“Isn’t he brilliant?” Val said. “Rusty’ father even offered to pay us for half. He wanted to hand us a $200 check, but Vladic here wouldn’t accept it. He could have made money on his daughter’s wedding if he wanted.”

I looked back down at the pictures of my cousin Dotty’s wedding and noticed the black and orange plastic plates, the cut-out hearts with arrows on the walls, the cups with green shamrocks and the silvery tinsel with red and green ribbons hanging from the lights.

“It must’ve been very colorful,” is all I could muster.

“We spent three days cutting off all the witches and bunnies and ‘Happy Birthdays’ from all the decorations,” Walter said.

“And the ‘Happy Hannukah’s,’ “ Val added. “We couldn’t have a ‘Happy Hannukah’ at our daughter’s wedding. God no.”

“I have a present for you to take back, I got it yesterday,” Walter said, as I raised my hand and started the you-shouldn’t-haves. “You like peanut butter? I have two for you. They gave them away at the church, you know, those giveaways for the poor people. I stood in line three times. It’s nice stuff, butter, cheese, bread, rice, five pounds of rice. All for nothing.”

“This is government rations? Isn’t this for families on welfare?”

“Ach, it’s from the government. Why shouldn’t it be for everybody? I pay taxes. Why shouldn’t I get some?”
I looked to Val and she nodded proudly, sucking her bottom lip into her toothless mouth as she stood over the purplish beet soup bubbling on the stove. “Brilliant, ain’t he? Stood in line six hours. It’s good stuff.”

“How could you go there three times, don’t they check?”

“I gave different names. I gave ’em your Dzia-Dzia’s name. He’s still on the list and he’s been dead for what, twenty-five years now?”

“Twenty two years,” Val said.

“You used Dzia-Dzia’s name to get free food?” I asked.

“Sure, it’s good peanut butter.”

Mom sounded like she was being beaten. She sounded like she was in pain, and I knew Dad was away, but I was too afraid to move. I could hear someone else in there, I was terrified. When my door creak opened, the only thing I could do was bury myself deep into the covers. The door closed and I rolled the covers back over my head but was still too afraid to open my eyes. I felt my bed shake, a little bit at first, like when my foot shakes and the bed moves, but this time my whole bed was rocking. Then, I heard a moan, not a throat moan, but a stomach moan, so sad, so painful, it must’ve hurt. I can’t remember ever having the back-of-the-neck willies worse than that moment. I was ready to jump out of bed when I saw a white figure. It was Aunt Val. Her hair was out and on end and I could tell she’d been pulling on it again. She had two tufts of hair in each hand.

“Aunt Val, what’d you want?”

She just stared at me. Her large brown eyes were opened as wide as they could possibly go. She didn’t say a word.

“Aunt Val, is something wrong?”

The moan came up again, this time shuddering her whole body until I thought she would explode right in front of me.
“Aunt Val, go back downstairs! MOM!”

I pulled the blankets back over my head, but she was still there, and I knew those vacant eyes were still staring down at me. I could hear my Mom’s painful cries stop, and Val scampered out of my room. Then, another tall spindly figure entered my room. It was Uncle Jay. He came from Mom’s room.

“Hey buddy, you all right?”

“Uncle Jay, what’re you doing — Aunt Val was here, she scared me,” I mustered.

“Y’had a nightmare, buddy, go to sleep,” he said soothing.

“Is Aunt Julia and Wayne visiting?” I asked.

“No, no, I just came to see your Momma ’cause she misses your Dad in Vietnam,” he said. “So, listen, there’s no reason to tell anyone I was here, OK? Let’s just go back to sleep and forget about it.”

“Sure, Uncle Jay, sure.”

“G’night,” he said, and he leaned over to kiss me, but I pulled the covers over my head before he could. He went back into my Mom’s room.

Just like I always remembered, Val and Walter went to the 7:15 Polish mass. Father Smolinski was wheeled next to the altar by a nun who was assigned to him since he had his stroke and he just sat there sleeping as a visiting priest said mass. After, we walked up to the wheelchair and Val said, “Sister Bernice, maybe the Father will recognize Joey here, he was one of his favorite altar boys almost twenty years ago.”
I stood in front of the wheelchair and stared at the crumpled thin face and the empty eyes. A pearly white strand of drool dripped from his opened mouth and hung about three inches from his chin. I watched it, transfixed, until Sister Bernice wiped it away with a tissue. I didn’t look into Father Smolinski’s eyes, I didn’t want to know if he remembered me.Aunt Val and I lit candles under the statue of St. Jude, the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes. As we walked back up the street, Walter boasted, “I’ve taken good care of Valentina, haven’t I, she’s doing so much better now.”

“She looks a lot better,” I said.

A boy chasing after a runaway rubber ball crashed into us, almost knocking Val over. Walter grabbed the boy, about 8, and shook him.

“You imbecile, look where you’re going!” Walter screamed.

The startled boy couldn’t utter a sound.

“Don’t ever come near me again, y’hear!” Walter shouted. He lowered his voice and stuck his finger in the boy’s face. “If you do, I’ll have you killed.”

The boy darted away, but not without turning to Walter and calling him “Fuck face.”

I couldn’t say anything for a few dozen steps. Finally, I broke the silence.

“I lost so many rubber balls on this street, it’s so hard to catch them when they get away ’cause it’s so steep. I’d just watch them roll all the was held up by a bunch of rubber balls and someday I’d go out there and be able to get all of mine back.”

“Funny what imaginations children have,” Walter said stiffly.

“Walter do you remember that tape recorder I got for my 14th birthday. Do you remember where it went?”

“Tape recorder? Nah, I don’t remember.”

“Walter, I taped the exorcism that we had at the house for Val. Father Smolinski did it. I was just wondering if that tape was still around somewhere.”

Val giggled, “ What d’you talk, Jashu?”

“Don’t know what you’re talking about, that never happened here,” Walter said. “Never happened.”

“Walter, it’s my most vivid childhood memory! Don’t tell me it didn’t happen.”

Walter’s dark marble eyes pierced into mine. He smacked me on the back and smiled as we turned up 21st Street.

“Is this how you remember us, you’re gone for so long? What an imagination, eh Valentina?”

“Yeah, Vladic, that’s because his father kept him away from us so long. That’s what happens when you’re away for twenty years.”

“Fifteen,” my voice quivered. “Fifteen.”

I tiptoed down the forbidden musty basement steps and heard voices. Behind me, through the bottom of the stairs, I saw Uncle Walter uncapping a pill bottle and giving Val two white pills. She cowered back from him and he grabbed her hair and pulled it back hard. He threw a clump of her hair on the floor.

“Swallow? Show me.”

Her eyes winced with the anticipation of a smack as she opened her mouth and he slapped the side of her face, and then again, and then again. I started going back up. Shep growled and they all turned toward me.

“What do you want?” Walter said.

“I-I just came to say good-bye. We’re all packed.”

“We’re coming up to say good-bye. Get out of here.”

I turned to scurry back up the stairs and he called me back down.

“Wait, come here, you didn’t say good-bye to Shep. Come here and pet her.”

The fluffy brown mongrel who lived most of her life in the basement, except for the few times she escaped, was now fat with teats dragging the floor. No one knew how, but she was now pregnant and about to have a litter.

“Immaculate Conception, right here on 21st Street,” Uncle Walter told the neighbors. Shep bit me twice and my Mom had three stitches from a bite after trying to come down the stairs without Walter. Aunt Julia was cornered by Shep in the basement for half a day.

“Pet her!”

I reached my hand over her head as Shep growled. I stuck one finger out and touched her head, then wiggled the back of her ear. She must have been calm because of her pregnant state. She didn’t bite, and finally licked me. I looked over at the table where Walter had pink pills spilled out all over the table. He was breaking them up and replacing them with white pills. The white pills were aspirin. I looked over at Val who was still cowering in the corner. I looked up at Walter and he frowned at me.

“Get out of here,” he said. Val and I both scrambled up stairs. I stopped halfway.

“Promise you’ll send me a puppy Uncle Walter?”

“Of course, Jashu, the biggest cutest one of the litter,” Walter smiled.

Outside on the stoop sat the last of the boxes to go on the truck. Mom hadn’t packed the diorama that I finished in school. It was a project of a goldfish hanging in a shoe box, looking like it was floating. I spent a whole week painted the background like an aquarium and getting the paper mache fish just right. Mrs. Underhill gave me the best grade of the class.

“Where’re we going to pack it?” I asked.

“Um, Joey, I thought we’d leave it here, maybe you could give it to Uncle Walter?” Mom said.

My heart fell. I wanted to give it to Mom for our new house in Dalls. Tears just started coming out, I couldn’t help it. My cousins came out to say good-bye, Babcia waved from her second floor window and even Shep was allowed out. From the window next door Jim French told me not to cry, that I’ll be back. Aunt Julia and Uncle Jay came over and kissed us all. Only then, Mom began to cry.
“I’ll send this when you get settled,” Walter said.

“Would you?” I asked. I really hoped he would.

“Special delivery,” he assured.

I gave Uncle Walter a big hug. I blew Babcia a kiss, and even from downstairs I could see her tears. Even Butchy cried when we hugged.

“Send the fish with the puppy,” I shouted out the taxi window.

“OK! Bye, Joey! Bye! See you soon.”

I turned around as the taxi chugged up 21st Street and I could see Babcia still waving from the second floor window. I saw Walter take the fish out of the box, and break the string from where it was hanging. He threw the fish at Shep and the dog pounced on it and in a flash chewed it to shreds.

The afternoon I was leaving, I walked into the front room, my footsteps making the weary floorboards creak. I watched Val staring out the window, rocking in her seat, twirling the sheer nylon curtain in her fingers, counting the cars going up the street, watching the people walk by, sitting in the same chair Babcia sat in all those years. Walter rested in a high-backed green velvet chair. He looked peaceful. It was hard to believe this was the same man my Aunt Julia accused of having mob connections and being able to have someone killed by making a phone call. He’s also the one Uncle Jay said threw Babcia down the stairs. My cousin Wayne accused him of practicing witchcraft, warning me not to leave my hairbrush out or he would take it and make little voodoo dolls out of my hair. His own daughter Dotty said she saw him strangle Shep before she had the litter of puppies. My Dad always theorized that Walter purposely made Val crazy so he could be her legal guardian and keep Aunt Julia and my Dad from selling the brownstone and booting them out. When Babcia died, she willed the house to Val, but Walter became the guardian. I never told my Dad what I saw in the basement the day we moved out of the brownstone. I never said anything. “I know what you’ve heard about me, I know all the stories,” Walter mumbled from his chair. “It’s not worth bringing up, it’s all in the past. They’re all gone, what’s the point.”

The Zenith television blasted a wrestling match. It was in front of the old set where I first watched The Wizard of Oz with all my cousins years ago.

“I can’t believe that old thing still works,” I said.

I scratched my head and thought about how to confront him, once and for all, finally. So many questions. Was this true? Did that happen? Why? I looked out into 21st Street, down at the stoop and took a deep breath. “Walter, it doesn’t matter that they’re gone, I’ve got to talk to you, for me. It’s not good to keep all these secrets. I need to know things — “

No answer. I turned around and faced his chair. Walter was curled in a ball, with his head back, quietly snoring. Val’s eyes were transfixed out the window in an unlockable daydream.

“Neighborhood’s changed since Babcia sat there, hasn’t it Val?”

Nothing. She rocked back and forth, back and forth, just staring.

“Val, Does he still hit you?”

Still nothing.

I looked back at Walter, and next to his chair was a framed picture of Pope John Paul II. Walter shifted slightly as he snored. I crossed my arms and stared down at this little round man with fat red cheeks, balding head and a few white wisps sticking up. I looked again at the photograph of the pope. Yes, I decided, the resemblance was pretty uncanny.


Seas Within and Other Poems

a collection of poetry by André Richardson Hogan II


October 23, 2015, in Two Parts

for Brothers Charls and Shephu,

and also to Sister Audrey



Whistling a tune,

my reading is coming soon.

Nervous, I presume?

Maybe. Maybe not.

But will give it all I got.

Still blessed for this slot.

So just breathe. Believe.

Whatever belongs to you

is the song for you.



An Afterthought

for Brothers Benny Ray, Colonel Charles,

Lamar and Ravel

So the skies have darkened to spill its

liquidated protests

that would have you cocoon in various fabrics of procrastination;


destinations deemed as untimed understandably,


mere human exhaustion


promises cancelled in confusion,

calculating to such temporary yet treacherous lamentations.

Clocking upon

freshly plastered stems and



and other hues estimating a premature sunrise;

armed of failed relationships using chords to fill the

(mental/vocal) cords

so as to bring logic (if not comfort);

seats not being offered universally because of (racial?) pride and gender;

or wracked fantasies of remorse and revenge because of a volunteered parentage as well as an

unwanted assault

(case in point);

Expectations breezed as fierce as the other leaves whom didn’t find a place with the others on the concrete.

So the walls of the house

weren’t MARKET-ably peopled

so as to congregate the cluster of those leaves!

So the verse were NOT shared

so as to bring logic and comfort to those


(and scattered)




A woman, as per Strangers:

helped herself,

found a song she ain’t heard in so long on the shelf.”

A man,

despite his own pride and shame,

poverty potential



converted such hurts into song in lieu of a divorce.

And another, also in the book,

with his “neatly pressed,

home-trained seams …

clef-examples with those bony wrists”

amidst the


dried, sour and


And another brother,

despite the “raisin puffs” he received,

continues to look after others,

aside from,

more than ever,



What blew in

were other leaves whom came in.

Those who supported




My own lamentations,

so to speak,

were to dry.


Just as Claudia,
The Bluest Eye,

thinks of a season such as autumn that doesn’t want her to die.

Whatever belongs to you,” I previously wrote,

is the song for you.”

And it is THIS song,

as you’ve just heard,

was exactly what was played,


what is still playing,


October 23rd.

Thoughts on the Movie:


Cronies,” in Haiku

for Brothers Michael J. Larnell, Al Smith,

and George Sample III


Men of diff’rent lives –

substances; sustenance, thus

intertwine of strife.


One of self-esteem

despite streams of debt, regret

eclipsing revenge.



speaks of the second brother

tainting innocence.


Crazed festivity

that the third, or the white boy,

loves but strives as well.


Men of diff’rent lives –

substances, sustenance, thus

intertwine of strife.


Each of their songs sung

to an eye deemed more social

than mechanical.

Movement: a Tribute

Faith was what they had.

They knew of fire hoses …

and yet overcame.

A Ballad for the Patrons in Orlando, Florida

Rainbows splashing of

booze, bills, bruises and blood paint

a cry for prayer.

Valentine Blues

I’m by myself, but found a song on the shelf.

I’m by myself, but found a song on the shelf.

I’m by myself,


but found me a song on the shelf.

Left me shit let alone a ring,

but found this hea’ song to sing.

Gave all I had but it was still bad.

Gave all I had but it was still bad.

Gave all I had, y’all.


But what we had still was still bad.

Maybe I wa’n’t The Marrying Kind

but goddamn:

make up your muthafuckin’ goddamn mind!

(spoken: Lord, forgive me)

But it’s cool. Do you.

It’s cool. Gone and do you.

For real, for real. Do what’s best for you.

Got a life to LIVE, you know?

Same with ME too.


There is Power in Rain

Whatever the contamination,

it purifies.

Anything of confusion,

it clarifies.

Do not confuse rain,

OR water,

with sorrow:

it’s what brings tomorrow.

What brings


despite ANY strife.

If it rains,

let it pour …

and forevermore.







Going Away Blues

for E

Said you need to get away.

When you’ll be back? Who’s to say?

Said you need to get away.

When you’ll be back? Who’s to say?

Said you need to get away.

When you’ll be back?

I don’t know. You didn’t really say.

Just that everything’s crowdin’,

or cloudin’, in:

and, like you say,

you need space.

Maybe I know what it is.

If I don’t, it is what it is.

Maybe I know what it is.

If I don’t, it is what it is.

Maybe I know what it is.

If I don’t – fuck it! – it is what it is.

Some things you need to do

and on your own,

and for that, I’ll leave you alone.

I got things to do too,

some of which don’t involve you.

I got things to do too,

some of which DO NOT involve you.

Just like you,

I got people to see too –

whatever involves them EXCEPT for you.

People who’d appreciate

and not hate

let alone subjugate

not to mention segregate.

But this is just another chapter;

it’s not like it’s the end.

This is just another chapter;

it’s not like it’s the end.

Like any other situation, it’s only a chapter

and it ain’t – thank you, Lord!!

like it’s the end.

So gone ‘head on and walk.

Sooner or later we’ll talk.

Gone and find your peace of mind

as I’m rightfully in tune with mine.


Coming Home Blues

again, for E

I miss you,

but ain’t sure if I want to see you.

I miss you,

but ain’t sure if I want to see you.

I miss you

(spoken: Lord, SO very much!)

but ain’t sho’ tho’ if I DO want to see you.

Bad enuf,

when you left,

you ain’t said goodbye.

So, now,

all-a sudden,

you want to stop by?

If you do come and sing,

will it be of the same thing?

If you do come and sing,

will it be of the same thing?

If you do come and sing,

will it be,

God forbid,

of the exact same thing?

If it’s otherwise,

God willing,

then let these hea’ eyes be kept all-a dry.

But we could meet someplace else,

if push comes to shove.

We could meet someplace else,

if push comes to shove.

We could meet someplace else,

if push DOES come to shove.

Cause you coming hea’

may not be a good idea.

Sure, as guests,

they to be treated

(spoken: so to speak — )

like birds,

warm-greeted and when seated,

in a nest.

By the same token,

this place,

THIS hea’ nest:


is where my heart is.

Not where it’ll be hurt

let alone broken …

at least for the umpteenth time.

Grey Sky Blues

No sun, not even a ray.

Nothin’ I see but gray.

But, hey.

It’s okay.


Cause I’m alive.

As long’s I do breathe,

thanks to Thee,

I’m jes’ gone go ‘head on with my day.

Okay, so what if it do rain?

What I’m gon’ do?

Tell the Lord “No. This you cain’t do”?

(spoken: Knowin’ He gon’ do it anyway)

I mean, what’s that gon’ gain?

Sure, this hea’ song is the blues

but only of the sky.

But ain’t nothing hea’, in my heart, is gittin’ me to cry.

So what I’m gon’ do?

Like I say:

go on with my day.

(spoken: Great God A’mighty!)




for Darryl

I’m always close,

if not accurate,

as to schemes of adoration.


would know of this


you award


(and all over me) with

your kiss.

Adjacent will my thoughts be,

if not of accuracy,

of such intimacies.


I can never get such confirmation


of you not being here yet!

And it bothers me.

So I’d wipe clean and throw away all my own of, and only, my own.

Still will the flipping go

of the photos.

The last of the flip

will the packs go back, which goes to show

via still solo:

I’d want you to stay and not go!

Your smile and laughter altogether a faint hope.

And I’d leave whatever’s left of this wax to burn.

The air as well seeping a faint entrance


leaving the door cracked

regardless …

In Response to Brother RyRy’s Post:

“Let’s Heal Together,”

a Haiku in Two Blunts

I’ll sprinkle of tears

and all flavors in between,

then roll, lick and suck …

then blow all the notes

the songs in this key of life

demands of release.

By Stanley Toledo
A short play

Mr. Gun
Mom (Mrs. Gun)
Son – Gun Jr., 19 years old
Miss Precious Poem, a black woman, also about 19


A young man tells his parents he is leaving home to pursue a life different than the life they imagined for him.

Present time. Living room of the Gun family.


At rise: SON and his parents are engaged in a serious conversation.

People don’t like being around a Gun. They get nervous.

Damn right they get nervous.

But dad –

I get off on that. Making people shake in their boots.

But dad –

People pay attention when there’s a Gun in the room. They better if they know what’s good for them.

But dad –

But what?

I don’t want to make people nervous.

Why not?

I want people to feel good when I walk into a room.

No, son. You want people to feel good when you walk out of a room.

Dad, you want that, not me. That’s your life. I want a different life.

How can your life be different? You’re a son of a Gun.

I have to find my own kind of happiness in life.

Someone once said happiness with a warm gun.

No, dad. Happiness is a hot stove.

Hot stove! What the hell does that mean?!

Gun, don’t explode. Calm yourself. Please.

Right. Right. I’m sorry, son. I just don’t follow. A hot stove? It’s a strange remark to fathom.

Mom, Dad. I want to be a chef.

You jest.

I’m serious. People love chefs. I want to be loved, not feared.

We love you, son.

I know, but you have to.

People love Guns.

Some people love Guns, some hate Guns. But everyone loves a chef.

When did you start feeling this way?

Growing up was an ordeal. No one played with me. Parents wouldn’t allow it.

You should have said something.

I know. But I didn’t want to upset you.

Look, son. You can have a career working concealed. Tell him, honey.

Dad’s right. When you’re concealed, people are unaware of your presence, so they’re not nervous.

Unless you need to go into action. Then people get real envious. Because, you know, you have to show yourself.

There’s no shame in being concealed.

Some of my best friends work concealed.

I believe you, mom. But what I want is to be a chef.

A chef? Who put this crazy idea in your head?

It’s not crazy. Chefs have their shows on television. They write books. They are adored by the public.

It’s that girl, isn’t it?

What girl? You never told me anything about a girl, Gun.

I was going to tell you.

When? After they eloped?

I saw the two of them talking around town. (To SON) She’s twisted your mind. You’re under her spell. Aren’t you, son?

I like her, but I’m not under any spell.

What’s this girl’s name?

Precious Poem.

Son, you were born a Gun. Not a chef or anything else. It’s in your DNA, your nomenclature, your description on the box.

Listen to your father.

How do you plan on becoming a chef?

By going to chef school.

Chef school, where?


Paris! France! Good luck! The laws there are so strict that the average Frenchman cannot buy a bullet to defend himself against common criminals. And you can forget about the police because they’re too busy stuffing their faces with croissants and escargot.

I want to learn to make croissants and escargot.

Honey, what are we going to do?

He’s our son. I want him to have a happy life even if it’s not the life we imagined for him.

We’ve raised a water pistol.

Please, Gun, don’t be cruel.

I’m sorry I said that, honey. He’s not a water pistol. He’s a Gun. I know that. You know that. I want him to know that. He’ll only be happy shooting – stuff.

Tomorrow I leave for Paris.

We’ll miss you, son.

Okay, you’re leaving. I won’t try to stop you. But do me one favor.

What’s that?

Let’s you and me go out tonight, have a couple manly drinks and shoot up the town.

Shoot up the town? Like bang, bang?

Sure. You’ve never done it before, right?

No, I haven’t

See, you might like shooting up the town. You might love it. You might prefer it to cooking over a hot stove.

I don’t like loud noises.

You have sensitive ears, because you’re young. You’ll get used to it.

I don’t want to get used to it. I want to make grand marnier soufflés. People prefer a soufflé over a loud bang any day.

(Doorbell rings. SON crosses to the door, opens it. Standing there is MISS POEM)

Oh, hi.


What are you doing here?

I was out wandering lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er vales and hills and I wondered if you’d like to accompany me.

Come in. I want to introduce you to my parents.

(They cross to GUN and MOM)

Mom, Dad. This is Precious Poem.

You’re black.

Today I’m a black woman. I’m strong, but gentle. I’m smart, but I’m learning. Tomorrow I may be as white as a host of daffodils beside the lake, beneath the trees, fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

That’s what I love about a poem. It can be anything.

I can’t say it’s nice to meet you, Miss Poem.

Maybe if I recite a bit of poetry you’ll change your mind.

Poetry. What is that anyway?

Carl Sandberg said poetry is an echo asking a shadow to dance.

That’s as clear as smoke. Did this Mr. Carl Sandberg own a gun?

He didn’t need one.

Everyone needs a gun.

Oscar Wilde said a poet can survive anything but a misprint.

Are you for real, Miss Poem?

Gilbert Chesterton said the poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.

Son, how can you listen to anything this young woman says?

She’s smart, dad. Give her a chance.

Mr. Gun, I’ve been having a bit of fun with you. But seriously: I have only supported what your son told me he wants to be, because I believe all of us can be more than one thing in life. We can change.

How can a Gun change? Give me a for example.

For example, a Gun can change into a sculpture.

A sculpture? How would that happen?

Guns can be melted down and –

Oh, honey!

(MOM closes her eyes in pain as GUN puts his arm around her in a comforting manner)

Don’t worry, babe. No one is melting down a Gun. Miss Poem, your words are shocking and offensive. How would you like it if we talked about burning your pages?

Burning is destroying. Melting is changing. It is transforming.

A lot of people don’t appreciate Guns, I know that. But a lot of people don’t like poems either.

A poem’s work is to name the unnamable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.

No, Miss Poem. That’s the job of a Gun. You need to leave our home, please.

I regret my insensitive remarks, sir. I’m going. Good-bye.

(She crosses to the door as SON follows her)

I’m sorry I upset your parents.

They harbor very conservative ideas.

Well, good night. And good luck in Paris.

I’ll write.

You better.

(She exits; SON crosses back to his parents)

Are you okay, mom?

I’m fine, son. I was just unprepared, that’s all.

So you’re going to Paris?

I have to.

We think you may have trouble fitting in, but if any Gun can make it work – you can. Your mom and I wish you great success. Sincerely.

Thanks. That means a lot to me.

Now when you come back we would like you to prepare a fine French meal for us.

You bet I will.

And, if you desire, you may invite Miss Poem to break bread with us.


What do you say, honey?

She is welcome.

I’d like to ask her how she tells a good poem from a bad one.

She told me that.

What did she say?

She said in the same way you tell fish. If it’s fresh, it’s good. If it’s stale, it’s bad. And if you’re not certain, try it on the cat.

Well. At least you’re not leaving home to become a poet.



About the Artist


Stanley Toledo


Stanley Toledo’s full-length plays have been produced by the Morgan Opera House in Aurora, New York, and the Las Vegas Little Theatre in Las Vegas. Stan’s short plays are presented in theatres across the country. In January, Milkshake Trees was presented at Redwood Day School’s annual Winter One-Acts in Oakland, CA. Gun Jr. Leaves Home was staged in April at the Underexposed Theatre’s New Writing Festival in London, UK, and staged again by Underexposed Theatre in July.

In November, Acorn Theater will present The Snake Charmer as a staged reading at its 2nd Annual Spectacular Tournament of Playwrights in Three Oaks, MI.

Last year Mountain Life was staged at the 6th Annual Warner International Playwrights Festival in Torrington, CT, and A Settled Matter was produced at PARAGON, a science fiction and fantasy play festival presented annually by Otherworld Theatre in Chicago. Also in 2017, The Devil’s Garden received a reading at Theatre Arts West’s EnSuite, a collaborative show of works by California visual artists, playwrights and screen writers in Oceanside. (Member, Playwrights’ Center, Minneapolis, MN)


Shakinah Brzezinski

Shakinah Brzezinski is a self-taught fine artist, local to Bozeman, Montana. She began her art career as a vendor in the Bozeman Downtown Youth Art Walks of 2015 and continued as the coordinator of the Youth Art Walks in the following year. She has been a featured artist and speaker for three years running at the “Art of Surviving”, an art show created by HAVEN, a local non-profit focused on supporting victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Shakinah was accepted as one of 300 artists into an international juried call for art by Studio Visit Magazine for their 2018 summer edition. In the spring of 2018 she had two simultaneous show cases as a displayed artist in Bozeman’s LockHorn Cider House and as an invited participant of the Lewistown Art Center’s “Centered Exhibition”. While Shakinah was enrolled for a brief semester at MSU as a Studio Art major, she was accepted as a featured artist in the MSU Student Off-Campus Show at the Livingston Art Center in October of 2018. In 2019 she was the October tenant of the Jewel Box Gallery in the Emerson Center for the Arts & Culture, where she curated her first solo exhibit and donated a portion of the proceeds to benefit HAVEN. In December of 2019, Shakinah will be one of the displayed artists at SPECTRUM – MAIMI, an international art fair.

Shakinah Brzezinski uses experimental processes, pushing the boundaries of the traditional and expected. She often combines mediums, incorporates multimedia canvases and uses a self-developed ink painting technique. Shakinah uses her creative process as another layer of communication. Each piece she creates has a story and message it is telling: some are deep, tragic truths relating to mental illness, chronic pain/ illness, sexual assault, ptsd, domestic violence, etc…others discuss life lessons, motivations, and beautiful, everyday realities. Shakinah creates her paintings with the intention to speak without words, because too often the things we feel can’t or won’t be shared through words.

For more information about artist  Shakinah Brzezinski  go here


Mike Szymanski

Mike Szymanski is a journalist, activist and writer with more than a dozen books in fiction and non-fiction published throughout the world. He co-authored the Lambda Award winning book, “The Bisexual’s Guide to the Universe,” and contributed heavily to James Spada’s biographies on Barbra Streisand, Bette Davis and Peter Lawford, and helped author bios on Michael Jordan (“The Making of Space Jam”) and “The Winona Ryder Scrapbook.”

His work has appeared in The Los Angeles Times, New York Times Syndicate, Entertainment Weekly, US Magazine, E! Online, Chicago Tribune and many other publications, and he has interviewed hundreds of the most famous celebrities of the past half century.

He is also a tireless activist for environmental and animal causes, and has personally co-produced shows that raised millions for AIDS charities, as well as for Multiple Sclerosis, which he has had since 2000, and hopes you never notice. His journalism includes groundbreaking and award-winning pieces on the homeless mentally ill, the school system, stuntman safety and many other important issues.

For more family stories, fiction and non-fiction, by Mike Szymanski, go to:

André Richardson Hogan II

André Richardson Hogan II was born in 1978 in Chicago. He is a playwright, screenwriter, poet, essayist, visual artist, and theater critic. His plays have received stage readings and productions in numerous theaters which include the American Theater Company, Blackboard Reading Series, Black Ensemble Theater, Chicago Dramatists, Dramatists Personae, the Field Museum of Natural History, Magnified Gift Theater and Dance Company, MPACCT (Ma’at Production Association of Afrikan Centered Theatre), Negro Ensemble Company, Nommo PlayLab, Prop Thtr, and Red Harlem Readers. The Chicago Chronicles, Volume 1, a docudrama of Logan Square residents, was produced as a commissioned work for American Theater Company. An Ode to the Washermen, a short work in one act, was produced by Negro Ensemble Company in association with the Midwest International Theater Festival (NYC) in the summer of 2010. It was also nominated for Outstanding Production of a Short Subject. Several poems have been published such as in Many Mountains Moving and Segue. Strangers, a collection of poetry, was published by Xlibris in 2009. Sugar for Coffee, a full length drama, was produced and presented by Blue Collar Theater Company in June of 2012. Hogan is currently a writer for an upcoming documentary, produced by Driven Entertainment and Four Features. In 2001, Hogan received a B.F.A. in Liberal Arts from Columbia College, Chicago. He was a resident playwright at Magnified Gift Theater and Dance Company and Timber Lake Playhouse Playwrights Colony in Mt. Carroll, IL., and is currently a member of Da’Right Productions, Driven Entertainment, Four Features, and Nommo Play Lab. He resides at Hyde Park in Chicago.

To fin out more about André Richardson Hogan II go here

Stephan Pisko

Stephan Pisko has a Masters Degree within metaphysical-arts and strong background in: psychology, philosophy, Eastern-principles, Buddhism, fine-art, entertainment-film/motion-picture industry, photography, commercial-advertising, mixed-media and creative writing. In charge of all visually-creative fine-art/film-videos keeping within the “Metaphysical Photographic Life” mission-statement of “the unseen influences the seen” the non-physical directs the physical.