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Selected work from Awards 34: It’s in the Cards: The Meeting of Risk and Skill
 
Judith E. Johnson
 
from The Tarot of Lost Names
                                                 
Together we are laying out Paula’s cards, the pages dealt from the book of her life, that book out of which she built houses and read futures.
 
The Nine of Beggars, a ragtag group: Florica leads them, walking from Galati, Romania, to Rotterdam, Holland.  It is September of 1896.  A year ago her husband, Lev, along with her brother, Bogdan, his partner in a triumphant coup, cornered the corn futures market of Eastern and Central Europe. Ten months later blight destroyed the entire corn crop of five countries.  Lev, obligated to deliver a commodity that did not exist, went bankrupt, and could think of nothing better to do than to shoot himself in the head, leaving Florica with eight children.  Bogdan, however, managed to escape the crash with all their resources intact, in his own name, in his personal account, which he refused to share with his sister, since what he had saved by unknown means her husband had so recklessly lost. 
 
In her arms Florica carries three-year-old Iuliana (called Luli). A hesitant forest breeze, child-high, clings to her skirts.  On a tall wooden frame bound to her head and shoulders, she carries blankets to serve as winter coats and roadside beds.  Rolled in them she carries hardtack, herring, cheese, a cup, a knife, the passage money begged from reluctant cousins, along with fifty dollars each for herself and for her three grown children, which she has been told they must show to get through Immigration in New York.  She does not know whether this money is for bribes or to prove that they will not be beggars when they get there. She also carries a daguerreotype of her ninety-year-old father, who had lived with them.
 
The Carriers of Children:  the two oldest children—Richardt, eighteen, and Aurelia, nineteen—carry Willi, six, and Friedrich, five, on their backs. Willi, a champion whiner, should walk at least some of the time but won’t.  He gets his way by threatening to throw up, which he can do at will—a card he plays any time he is thwarted.  Friedrich, mouth tight, never stops shivering.  A series of short puffs of air, like a child dabbling in an eddying brook, stirs the leaves as they walk. 
 
 
 
 
Linda Hillringhouse
 
Outside the Human Circle
 
Outside the human circle,
outside the god game,
snails are dangerous;
gondolas and sponges,
designed by invalids
dreaming in solariums,
a kiss, the pact between
two lunatics.
 
Time is different here,
she drags around
her bag of brains,
hissing black steam,
walking backwards.
 
The moon has sucked the dark
out of the night
and the rivers have reversed,
returning to their source
sick with mud and vertigo.
 
I am the ill-starred relative
who shines up your luck.
I am your sour mop,
your wart,
the catastrophe
that saves your crops.
 
You with bones
who boast shadows:
what quirk of the cosmos,
what curse across the crib
forbids me baptism,
makes me half-mammal
half-stone;
what dance of atoms,
what ritual of ash
will land me on your shore
bearing dark important gifts.
 
 
 
 
June Blumenson
 
The dry parchment peels and crumbles
like an ancient scroll, and a sweet sting
releases as I slice the onion
and throw it into the simmering stock.
 
Neruda sits, like the Buddha,             
at my granite counter and watches me
shave the red stubble
from the carrots, dice potatoes.
 
I serve him wine and tapas, holy
oblations of olives, rice-stuffed peppers,
goat cheese empanadillas.
 
He tells me, his voice rich as custard,
there is no such thing as a trite tomato,
or an ill-skirted cabbage.  My eyes
tear from the roasted chillies as we
celebrate this, my small ordinary life.
I lend him my ruffled apron.
 
We mince garlic, scoop the pumpkin,
pull strings from green beans.
All fall into the storm-tossed sea; we wait
for the vegetables to soften.
 
I take my best bone china from the top
shelf of the cupboard.
I want so deeply to please him, worry
the flavors are lost in translation.
 
I ladle the Carbonada, and Neruda pours
the moon into the white-jade tureen.
 
 
 
 
L.E. Miller
 
from Rest
 
In Prague, Felix Auerbach could not sleep. Normally, his sleep was sound, but there, in that half-strange, half-familiar city, he managed only a few fitful hours before he woke to toss in bed until dawn. Nothing he attempted helped. Not walking the corridor outside his room, not the thick novel he’d purchased before boarding at LAX, not the fragments of Bach he tapped out from memory on the desk beside his bed. The acetaminophen he had bought in the under-stocked pharmacy near the hotel did nothing; the finger of brandy he drank from a bathroom tumbler proved useless, too.
 
In his snatches of shallow sleep, he saw them: his sisters playing in a courtyard, his father frowning over his ledger books; his mother glancing up from her book with her familiar smile, always tinged by some unidentifiable regret.
 
What are you thinking, Mama?
 
Too soon, the sound of Prague’s morning traffic broke in, the descending minor fifth of a passing siren, and he could no longer see them; they were gone.
 
*  *  *
 
Felix had come to Prague with his granddaughter. It was his gift to her to celebrate her graduation, at the age of twenty-three, from college in December.
 
“We can go anywhere you wish,” he had said when he phoned her several months earlier. “Hawaii. One of the islands. Someplace nice.”
 
“Oh, Grampy. That’s sweet, but it’s really not necessary.”
 
Her graduation: she gave it no more regard than she’d give buying a soft drink from a vending machine. Felix never had the chance to complete his own studies. He did not understand his granddaughter’s casual attitude toward earning her degree. When he insisted he really wanted to do something to mark the occasion, Alessandra told him she had always wanted to go to Prague.
 
“To Prague? In January?”
 
“I want to see where our family lived. And I know you’d say no to Berlin.”
 
That much was true. Felix would have said no to Berlin, the city of his birth, the city where he’d taken his first piano lessons in Frau Nauss’s ice-cold parlor, the city where there was always a bigger boy waiting with a rock in his fist. What would he make of Berlin now, all that millennial cool in the shadow of Sachsenhausen? What would he make of Prague and all its served-up charm?       
 
“If you want to see Prague, we’ll see it. We can see Terezin. We can go on and see Auschwitz if you wish.”
 
There was silence on the line. Each of his two ex-wives had accused him of coldness; his second wife had also accused him of having an acid tongue. Felix did not believe he had a cold heart or a cruel tongue. He simply believed in saying what was true.
 
“You told me to choose, and I chose Prague. I’d like to go with you.”
 
His granddaughter spoke quietly, without a trace of recrimination. He couldn’t abide recrimination in a woman’s voice. It only made him hew more firmly to his original position.   “Let me think about it,” he said to Alessandra before hanging up the phone.
 
 
 
 
David Cazden
 
Our Dog
 
Looking through the living room window
at every squirrel darting
 
in sun-bent limbs, our dog appears,
as much as a dog can,
 
to hold his breath,
as if he can’t believe what he’s seeing.
 
Perhaps he thinks
of early morning bird chatter,
 
branches rubbing, footsteps
of apples falling.   When the consonants
 
of autumn intrude in his sleep,
he’ll twitch his paws like he’s running,
 
releasing a muted cry
from his side of the bed.
 
Now he watches squirrels trace figure-eights
beneath burning locks of goldenrod,
 
squirrels spinning in circles
through a choir of sunflowers,
 
and though he’s shown restraint so far,
when I crack the door, he bolts,
 
bounding up and howling.
For a moment, he's no longer ours
 
but belongs to the quilt
of yellow and russet
 
leaves, draped across the shoulders
of the hills, in Indian summer,
 
weaving, through thatched light,
toward the creatures of his dreams.
 
 
 
 
Lindsay Knowlton
 
Love Came to Me Late
 
Love came to me late and I have been
astounded ever since.
To be loved lavishly, wildly, fiercely
was a gift I thought would never grace my days.
A flash of pink at our feeder—
the pine grosbeak that I took for a stray
wondrously stayed—
and then another and another
with their breathtakingly subtle hues.
They came so quietly but were so suddenly
fully there.  That is how it is with you—
every day you are there,
every day you are so astonishingly there.
                 
  
 
 
 
 
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