Rye Middle School
by Lynne Viti

Rows of desks, windows open to grass and parking lot,
Fluorescent light bathing thirteen-year-olds in a faint, bluish glow.
When I smiled and was kind, they were little monsters.
When I became a Marine, gave out detentions,
Made their mothers them my collaborators—
Suggested they withhold televisions, sleepovers, the football—
the classroom became orderly, no circled desks,
no open classroom, only rows of kids—quiet, compliant.
Open notebooks, textbooks, no smirks, coats off,
Even the vice-principal gave me r-e-s-p-e-c-t-
now that I wasn’t sending miscreants to his office.
They’d be in their fifties by now
The women dyeing their hair,
the men paunchy and grizzled.
Better to think of them in that overheated classroom,
Trying to hide their bodies in identical army green parkas.
Take off your jackets, ladies and gentlemen, I hear myself say.
This is not a bus station.
Open your books to page 70
and
Let’s get started.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Five of my students, last day of school, June 1971,  Rye Middle School, Rye, New York. (Photo by Lynne Viti.)

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I wrote this  after I spent an hour thumbing through an old photo album, while decluttering a closet in the basement. I was amazed that I remembered the names of these kids I taught so long ago—when Richard Nixon was in the oval office!

PHOTO (left): The author, first year of teaching, in front of our apartment building 435 Riverside Drive, Manhattan. (Photo by Richard True.)

VITI 2016

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lynne Viti teaches in the Writing Program at Wellesley College. Her chapbook, Baltimore Girls, was published in March 2017 by Finishing Line. Press Her writing has appeared in  over 60 online and print venues, most recently, Stillwater Review, Bear Review, In-Flight Magazine, Tin Lunchbox, Lost Sparrow, South Florida Poetry Journal, Little Patuxent Review, Amuse-Bouche, Paterson Review, and The Baltimore Sun. She blogs at stillinschool.wordpress.com. Find her on Twitter @LynneViti. (Photo by Thomas Viti.)

vintage supermarket

Open Register
by Elisa Adams

In my first job, I was a cashier in the neighborhood supermarket. Scanners hadn’t been invented; you learned the price of everything, rang items by pounding raised number keys on the cash register, and made change using mental arithmetic. One day I forgot the cardinal rule, to lock the register when you go on break. When I got back I rang the next sale, popped the drawer open, and found — nothing.  Danny, the assistant manager, knew I hadn’t locked the drawer and simply took it out while I was gone. I’d never had such a shock. I also never forgot to lock anything ever again. (Later I locked my desk at the big publishing company where I worked for years, and I took the key home every night.)

Danny had no nerves. He caught one of the cashiers cheating by standing behind her unseen while she rang her boyfriend’s order by passing half the items down the conveyor belt without charging him.  When she hit the total button, Danny walked up and said, “Get out.” And out she went.

One of the stock boys claimed to be related to the Shah of Iran. Another was an all-American kid who probably grew up to be an insurance salesman. They taught me how to pack groceries using every inch of space in those boxy brown bags, and how to fold a carton of eggs in half to fit it into the bag without breaking any eggs. Sometimes when we were all working the registers at the same time, we had silent contests to see who could fit the most in a bag. It was fun if the winner’s customer complained about how heavy the bag was.

Then one summer night our supermarket burned down, and we were all dispersed to other stores.

IMAGE: Supermarket checker, 1970s. Prints available at fineartamerica.com.

me in HS

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Elisa Adams is a freelance writer and editor with a long career in the textbook publishing industry. She has two grown daughters and lives outside New York City with a standoffish cat, and her only interaction with supermarkets today is a weekly shopping trip.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Me, at the time frame of the story.

loehmann's vintage
Loehmann’s, My Mother’s Favorite Store, Becomes My First Employer
by Phyllis Klein

I was the one who took the fallen dresses, the designer pants
and shirts hanging or lying in clumps on the benches inside

the large dressing room, took them back out to the racks so
another woman could try them. I was the one who cleaned

up the racks, rearranged the sizes where they should go.
It was a comfort to be amongst all those beautiful silks,

rayons, plaids, stripes. Trying to make some sense out of
childhood, to wear the questions I hoped clothes could answer.

PHOTO: Shoppers in 1988 look through the long racks of designer sportswear and casual dresses in Loehmann’s main room during the chain’s annual fall fashion preview (Houston Chronicle).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This prompt brought back memories of something I hadn’t thought much about in such a long time. I have a life-long love of clothes and dressing up that goes back to the times I spent in that store, long before I worked there. I can remember so clearly the large dressing room, and the camaraderie of women trying things on, brought together to find luxury bargains. I thought Loehmann’s had gone out of business but discovered it is still there, online. Not the same, but glad it’s still around.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Phyllis Klein believes in poetry. Her work has appeared in the Pharos of Alpha Omega Medical Society Journal,  Qarrtsiluni online literary magazine, Silver Birch Press, New Verse News, Crosswinds Poetry Journal, Chiron Review, The American Journal of Nursing, and  Dovetails, an International Journal of the Arts. She is very interested in the conversation between poets and readers of poetry. She sees artistic dialogue as an intimate relationship-building process that fosters healing on many levels. She lives and works in the San Francisco Bay area as a psychotherapist and poetry therapist. Learn more at phyllisklein.com.

andy-warhol-32-dollar-bills
Single-Minded
By Jonathan Yungkans

my first job
was the only time I went
into a strip club

I don’t remember
what the woman
who’d started her pole dance
looked like
she was gone that fast

I remember the bouncer

arms ready
to bounce catch repeat
like guys
whose skills I’d never had
on the basketball court at school

he asked what I wanted

just late enough
between homework and bed
for me to be nowhere else

I said I was there
to get singles for Baskin Robbins
across the street

and became a celebrity

guess everyone likes ice cream
from all the applause inside

the stripper peeked out

the bouncer walked me to the bar
to get the money

I couldn’t outrun my fame
fast enough.

IMAGE: “32 Dollar Bills” signed by Andy Warhol (1981).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My first outside job, the summer after my first year of college, was scooping ice cream at a local Baskin-Robbins, thanks to a want ad in the South Bay Daily Breeze. It lasted about a month and a half, till a better-paying job in a warehouse opened (for which I’d applied and been interviewed before the Baskin-Robbins job arose), but long enough to learn that working in an ice cream shop is great till you work a full day and it’s hot and crowded nonstop. Other than the occasional crunch, it was actually okay, even with cleaning, stocking, and people issues–not to mention free ice cream at the end of a shift. By the time the warehouse called me, though, I was ready for something different–and maybe a little quieter overall.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jonathan Yungkans is a Los-Angeles-native poet, writer, and photographer with an intense love for the sea and local history. He is enrolled in the MFA Writing program at California State University, Long Beach, in hope that time at “The Beach” (CSULB’s nickname) will actually do him some good. His works have appeared in Lime Hawk, Silver Birch Press, Twisted Vine Literary Journal, and other publications.

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Silver Birch Press is pleased to announce its nomination of Requiem for David, a 110-page book of poems by Patrick T. Reardon, for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. The collection — released on February 1, 2017— has garnered high praise from some of the most esteemed authors in the United States.

“Survivors know only too well how grief is equal parts sorrow, rage, and guilt. Requiem for David is the heart’s howl, a passage through mourning, a lesson ultimately in learning how to walk alongside pain with grace. We cannot avoid the dark night of the soul, but if we don’t walk through it, we can never reach the light.” — Sandra Cisneros, author of The House on Mango Street

“Detail by razor-sharp detail, perception by vivid perception, recollection by haunting recollection, Patrick T. Reardon’s Requiem for David gathers into the force of a cri de coeur.” — Stuart Dybek, author of The Coast of Chicago

“In Requiem for David, Patrick T. Reardon grapples with the suicide of his brother David and with the painful childhood they shared as the two oldest of fourteen children of emotionally distant parents. Their closeness is clearly articulated in his poem “Your Death.” “Your death/tore me/open like/the baby/was coming/out.” This collection also chronicles the tight bond of affection that the fourteen siblings shared. Reardon also confronts the meaning and limitations of his Catholic faith. I share his doubts and confirmations from my limited association with Catholicism. Requiem for David, supplies insights into the intersections between the religious and the secular. His poetry reminds me of the great poet and Catholic priest, Daniel Berrigan. I highly recommend this volume to all who seek uncommon answers to difficult questions.” — Haki R. Madhubuti, Ph.D., author of Liberation Narratives: New and Collected Poems 1966-2009 and YellowBlack: The First Twenty-One Years of a Poet’s Life, A Memoir

“Patrick T. Reardon’s Requiem for David is a tribute to a younger brother who died by his own hand, a balm to heal the hurt of loss and a return, however difficult, to beauty.” — Achy Obejas, author of Memory Mambo

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Patrick T. Reardon is a Chicagoan, born and bred. He is the author of seven books, including Faith Stripped to Its Essence: A Discordant Pilgrimage through Shusaku Endo’s ‘Silence.  Reardon worked for 32 years as a reporter with the Chicago Tribune, specializing in urban affairs, and is now writing a book about the untold story of the impact of the elevated railroad Loop on the stability and development of Chicago. His essays have appeared frequently in American and European publications, including the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, Crain’s Chicago Business, National Catholic Reporter, Illinois Heritage, Reality, and U.S. Catholic. He was on a team of Chicago Tribune reporters who won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory reporting for “Gateway to Gridlock,” a series of stories about the nation’s overcrowded skies. His book reviews have twice won the Peter Lisagor Award for arts criticism. He has lectured on Chicago history at the Chicago History Museum.

Find Requiem for David by Patrick T. Reardon at Amazon.com.

Patrick T. Reardon (right) at the age of two with his brother David. Not shown, their baby sister Mary Beth, three months
Bridge
by Patrick T. Reardon

My first job landed on me like a ton of children
on my four-hundred-and-twenty-eighth day. It
began with my brother. Two sisters followed.
Two more brothers. Eight more sisters. The first
shepherds, guardians, models, corrects, leads,
parents, loves. I watch in Burger King as the
oldest girl has her eyes out for each of the four
small ones. She tracks the route of each, the
message of the lips and cheeks. She knows each
inner fabric — the stories lived out there, she
hears in blips and blurts and epic runs of words
and visions that she holds in her heart. She is
the translator, the middleman, the bridge that
each side walks across to the other. She carries
a weight on her six-year-old shoulders. She knows
the weight I carry on my sixty-seven-year-old
shoulders. I carry the baby because the baby
must be carried and because I find the baby
endlessly a wonderment, flesh of my flesh, bone
of my bone, my blood. I smile when the baby
smiles. I fill up with the sight of the wide world
in the wide eyes of the baby. In the wide eyes
of each of the babies, and all of them. Mine is
a happy weight, and dolorous. I want to wrap
my wings around them all, pull them together
in my protecting embrace. But I am too small,
then and now.

PHOTO: Patrick T. Reardon (right) at the age of two with his brother David.  Not shown, their baby sister Mary Beth, three months.  They were joined later by eleven other siblings.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I have become aware of the joyful and heavy task that I carry as the oldest of 14 children.  Like most jobs, there is much about being the oldest that brings delight but then also much that brings pain.

Patrick T. Reardon..

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Chicagoan Patrick T. Reardon is the author of Requiem for David, a poetry collection published by Silver Birch Press and of seven other books, including Faith Stripped to Its Essence, a literary-religious examination of Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence.

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A Taste of the Real World
By Adjoa Wiredu

The floor was slicked with oil. Two, three, four times and the team still slid around the slippery varnish in the back kitchen; my mop did not make a difference. It was hot. In the middle of the summer months when it started off bright and the days ended muggy and stale. I wore a uniform; a stiff blue shirt, dark trousers, and a cap with a large yellow “M” on the front. That was the summer I finally got a job after the euphoria that came with the end of my GCSEs.

In three months, I learned about shifts; what it meant to be sleep-working the early- and the horror of late-night closing. I learned about timers for filet-o-fish and fries and the only rule to remember: listen out for the beep. I learned customer service; the magical smile to open up each sale and the toothy grins saved for complaints. I learned about true exhaustion; dosing off on the bus ride home and the effort it would take to move my jelly-like legs once I got off.

After my second pay-slip, I realised I wouldn’t last. On my days off I applied for other jobs motivated by the memory of smells that would waft out of the female toilets. I only had to think of the number of times I cleared the tables and re-cleared the tables; moped the floors and re-moped the floors to know I wouldn’t last. Even then, I knew that the greasy tables and the greasy floors would stay that way long after I left.

IMAGE: “Hamburger” by Andy Warhol (1985).

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Adjoa Wiredu is a Masters student at the University of Kent on an inter-disciplinary writing degree entitled The Contemporary. She has an interest in social issues and the arts. Her work is focused on the development of writing and curating. Her first paid job was with Mcdonalds, where she grew up very quickly and learned a lot about people and the world of work. Visit her at marigoldroadblog.com and theearththedirt.wordpress.com.

Aaron
Child Labor
by Jennifer Hernandez

I learned to drink coffee that summer.
No sugar, no cream. Sixteen years old &
the dark, rich cupsful were so different
from the instant crystals at home.

Every morning early, I’d arrive at
the Andersons’, wave them off to work,
sip my coffee, listen for Aaron to wake up.
He was almost three. All boy, nonstop.

We played a lot of He-Man. An avowed pacifist,
in my action figure universe there was no fighting.
He-Man and She-Ra met up with Skeletor
for double scoop cones. They were all great friends.

On outings to the park, I’d push Aaron on the swings
while mothers shot me suspicious looks. They thought
I was a teen mom. I looked around at judging eyes
and shrugged. Just the babysitter. Not my kid.

No booster. Front seat. (Mid-80s, remember?)
Aaron once opened the door as we were driving.
First my heart stopped, then the car. I’m sure
I never told his mom. (It’s okay, Sharon. He’s fine.)

Mostly, Aaron and I talked. A lot.
More than once, his mom told me
how much his vocabulary had grown
during our three months together.

And when Aaron napped in the afternoon, I recovered.
Read my novel. Watched Karate Kid on the VCR.
Learned that while good, strong coffee is a useful tool
in child care situations, naptime is even better.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Aaron in the backyard blowing bubbles (1985).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR:  I’d been babysitting for neighbor kids since I was eleven years old (and before that for my younger brother), but this summer gig was my first Monday-Friday, full-time work experience. Working for family friends has advantages — beyond the perk of good coffee. I still see my former employers from time to time, and a few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Aaron’s daughter, around three years old. Her grandma was surprised when she climbed into my lap for a story, saying that she didn’t go easily to people she didn’t know.

J. Hernandez

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Hernandez lives in Minnesota, where she teaches immigrant youth and writes poetry, flash, and creative nonfiction. She has performed her poetry at a nonprofit garage, a taxidermy-filled bike shop, and in the kitchen for her children. Recent work appears in Disarticulations, Mothers Always Write, Silver Birch Press (“Lost & Found” Series), Sonic Boom, and the Nancy Drew Anthology (Silver Birch Press).


A Gained Experience
by Daniel Wade

At the age of sixteen, I did my Transition Year work
experience in Tower Records, on Wicklow Street.
February of 2008. The second rain-swept summer
waiting to unleash itself. The recession still a rumour
in the weekly broadsheets. Every morning, I’d get
a DART into town, wearing my uniform of Docs,
hoodie, leather jacket, jeans frayed at the cuffs.
A week of stacking gun-metal shelves with C.D.s,
D.V.D.s, Blu-rays and magazines devoted to porn, music
and film, all interred in protective cellophane. I learned
to keep my head down, carrying up stacks of deliveries
from the basement in cardboard boxes, stamping prices
onto C.D. cases with a price-gun, nursing a slow addiction
to instant coffee. I didn’t get paid at the end, just a reference
for my teachers to mark and approve. I did a half-arsed job,
and no doubt I did, it wouldn’t have mattered. It wasn’t a job
I’d want to stay in for the rest of my life. Still, work is work.

*

My manager, a beer-bellied gobshite in a United jersey
who shot too much from the lip, watched me coming
and going about my tasks, a walkie-talkie clipped to his belt.
On the second day, he ordered me to help carry in
some new shelves, synthetic tiers furnished with steel edges
for holding the stock in place. It took four men to lift just
one of the things off the delivery truck. We hauled them
down the alleyway leading to the rear of the shop, where
we’d lean them against the wall. Turning the corner,
we saw, lying on a gutted mattress beneath the fire escape,
a junkie, thin as a sapling, heating a spoon with a lighter.
His hair was like lank iron, half his teeth were missing,
thin pocks of stubble stained his jaw. We could smell him
from ten feet away, the stale reek of his habit. My boss
bellowed at him for five minutes, abuse he didn’t seem to hear,
before beckoning us to come forward with the shelves.
He took me aside and told me to keep an eye on the door
that led to the basement — “just in case that junkie piece-of-shit
tries comin’ in here and fillin’ up his pockets” — before handing me
a walkie-talkie and vanishing upstairs with the others, saying
I was to call him if anything happened. I turned to watch
your man going through the ritual of spoon, lighter and needle,
throwing feral glances down the alleyway, biting down
on the cuff of his sleeve, rolling it up with his teeth, flaunting
the needle’s dull wink. When he injected, I saw his body
bristle with numb rapture. He lay back for a moment,
his breathing heavy, relieved. Finally, he climbed to his feet,
drew up his collar and staggered off down the alley,
getting lost in the swarming crowd of Grafton Street.
Not once did he notice me, standing just eight feet away,
or even hear the crackle of my walkie-talkie. I waited
for the rest of the shelves to be carried in, the chill of Dublin
swiping my face, the barbed chill of February 2008:
it made me glad to have gained another experience.

IMAGE: “The Wheel of Life” by Stanley Pinker (1974).

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This poem was written in mid-2013, several years after the incident described. At the time of writing it, I’d become fairly enamoured with the work of the former American poet laureate Philip Levine, who often described the world of monotonous, blue-collar labour in poignant, unforgiving detail. Therefore, I admit to borrowing his style of litany-like, free-verse structure on the page, as it seemed like the most appropriate means of approaching the subject matter at the time.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Daniel Wade is a 25-year-old writer/poet from Dublin, in the Republic of Ireland. He has previously published poetry in The Sea (charity anthology in aid of the RNLI), Sixteen Magazine (e-publication), The Bogman’s Cannon (e-publication), Iodine Poetry Journal, Headspace, Zymbol Magazine,  and The Runt. In April 2015 he was nominated for the Hennessey New Irish Writers’ page of the Irish Times. His debut play, The Collector, was staged in the New Theatre, Dublin, in January 2017 to critical acclaim. Visit him at danielwadeauthor.com.

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Panda Express
by Meg Eden

The boys from Bowie order Orange Chicken and laugh at me.

Why’s a white girl working at a Chinese restaurant? they ask.

I answer, Free sample?

My Vietnamese friend told me, You are white on the outside but Asian at heart. She took her banana leaf rice cake and gave me half. This was our weekly communion.

When my shift ends, I take the chicken that has been sitting in the glass display, unfit for customers. If I don’t take it, another will throw it away. The meat’s tough and sweet in my mouth.

When I sweep the floors, my boss laughs. He says, Have you ever held a broom? He means: spoiled white girl. I’ve cleaned my father’s workshop, built our back patio with bricks and a pile of sand. But I know that all he sees are my soft hands.

He asks if I know Chinese, and I say, I love you.

He says, Say it again.

I love you, I echo. Wo ai ni. A phrase I learned from pop songs.

He tells me I sound like his daughter, a girl who is many oceans away, and teaches me how to write:

A heart behind two doors is agony;
a mouth behind two doors is a problem.
After twenty gates is an opening,
a window of unsealed happiness.

SOURCE: Previously published in Little Patuxent Review.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Me, senior year with my Okinawan sanshin.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Meg Eden‘s work has been published in various magazines, including Rattle, Drunken Boat, Poet Lore, RHINO, and Gargoyle. She teaches at the University of Maryland. She has four poetry chapbooks, and her novel Post-High School Reality Quest is forthcoming June 2017 from California Coldblood, an imprint of Rare Bird Books. Find her online at megedenbooks.com or on Twitter at @ConfusedNarwhal.