White
The Driving Instructor
by Lynn White

I needed rather a lot of driving lessons.
My lack of a sense of direction didn’t help.
Nor, did my occasional confusion
between right and left.
But, coming up to my test,
my new instructor was sympathetic.
We could go for a Sunday drive, he said.
I could have a free lesson
and maybe a drink after.
Well, why not?
He told me a story over the drink.
He’d been in the war in Singapore.
Such horror.
And conscripts all.
In the chaos
an enemy soldier had shot his dog.
Shot her.
Killed her,
dead.
Such horror.
And conscripts all.
But, it was alright in the end,
he’d “got” the one who did it.
“Got him.”
Shot him!
Killed him,
dead.
Such horror.
And conscripts all.
The life of a man for the life of a dog.
Both shot.
Both killed.
Both dead.
It was the life of the man I valued most.
And I said so
using a lot of words.
Yes, rather a lot of words
loudly spoken.
So no more free lessons,
but I passed my test.

PHOTO : The author with her flatmate around the time she took driving lessons.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Lynn White lives in north Wales. Her work is influenced by issues of social justice and events, places, and people she has known or imagined. She is especially interested in exploring the boundaries of dream, fantasy, and reality. Her poem “A Rose For Gaza” was shortlisted for the Theatre Cloud “War Poetry for Today” competition 2014 and has since been published in several journals and anthologies. Poems have also recently been included in anthologies, including Harbinger Asylum’s To Hold a Moment Still, Stacey Savage’s We Are Poetry: An Anthology of Love Poems, Community Arts Ink’s Reclaiming Our Voices, Vagabond Press’s The Border Crossed Us, Civilised Beasts from Weasel Press, Alice in Wonderland Anthology from Silver Birch Press, and a number of rather excellent online and print journals. Visit her on facebook and at lynnwhitepoetry.blogspot.com.

Opposite arrows with Left versus Right

First Gear Dilemmas
by Jessica Patient

Hugging the L-plates as we sat on an empty road, in the business park. Grey Lego-shaped buildings surrounded us. The rusty regal-blue Renault Megane chugged and rattled into life, spitting and choking out black smoke. At the time the leaking water pump was only a dribble not a gush.

Clutch down, foot trembling as I shoved the gearbox into first. You used to joke about the gearbox being stiff and at this rate I was going to end up with one lean arm and a beefed-up, toned arm. Learning to drive seemed even more undesirable. Hand gripping the handbrake, waiting for the car to feel the need to take off. Must. Not. Stall. The. Car.

“Indicate right,” you said.

The whole concept of left and right vanished from my head. I was going to have to use my old trick of writing “L” and “R” on my hands. But no pen — I was going to have to freestyle. Pulling down the indicator, the “right” arrow blinked on the dashboard. My little head did the “mirror-check dance” and I pulled away.

Changing to second gear as the car bumped and hopped. Twenty miles an hour felt fast, especially when a hulk-like lorry approached, swaying in the wind. My sweaty palms slipped around the steering wheel.

“I can’t squeeze between the lorry and the curb.”

“There’s plenty of space.”

I hunched my shoulders as the lorry drove past.

The car rocked.

“You’re on the verge.”

I closed my eyes. Only for a second.

A grinding noise of metal meeting concrete.

A clunk. We both looked at each other, and shrugged. Glancing up at the rear view mirror and there it was one, perched on the curb — the exhaust.

Finally, I was free to be a pedestrian again.

IMAGE: “Left versus right” by stanciuc, used by permission.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: This piece started out much longer than intended and has expanded and shrunk on many occasions, as if it were on a quick-fix diet followed by binging. I only applied for my provisional driving licence because I have a baby face and was always getting ID for buying paracetamol but now several years down the line I own a Mini.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jessica Patient is sometimes a writer, reviewer, blogger. Sometimes in that order. Jessica lives in Bedfordshire, UK. Visit her at writerslittlehelper.blogspot.com.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Taken at the London Transport Museum, 2016. Imagine parallel parking a double decker!

mini cooper driver1
Something Bigger
by David Subacchi

They taught me in a Mini
Not much bigger than a dodgem
And just as difficult to steer
The sweating instructor
Squeezed in alongside
Insisted that all windows
Were kept wide open
Apologised for unavoidable
Body contact
Drew heavily on a cigarette.

We slid around the highway
In a terrifying manner
My priority to avoid collision
Or any sudden movement
The handbrake was noisy
And felt unconnected
My instructor sighed
Discovering it fully engaged
At over 30 mph
It was the smell of burning.

Three tests before successful
The examiner looked queasy
Every time he saw me
In my cramped box on wheels
Eventually I think out of pity
He passed me OK to drive
“What car are you going to buy?”
He enquired with some concern
“Something bigger,” I lied
Quietly releasing the handbrake.

PHOTO: Mini Cooper featured at driversed.com.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I write on a wide variety of themes and often, as in this poem, illustrate the absurdities and humour of real-life situations.

SUBACCHI

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: David Subacchi was born in Wales (UK) of Italian roots and has four published collections of poems. First Cut (2012), Hiding in Shadows (2014), A Terrible Beauty (March 2016), and Not Really a Stranger (due in May 2016). Visit him at  writeoutloud.net/profiles/davidsubacchi.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: Easier to learn guitar than how to drive in a Mini !

imaginary skill logo1
OVERVIEW: Most of us wish we had a  special skill  — say, we could dance like Fred Astaire, play tennis like Serena Williams, cook like Julia Child, paint like Pablo Picasso, and on and on — that usually revolves around a particular interest or passion for music, art, sports, or whatever else gives our lives joy. Well, even if you don’t possess such a skill in real life, you can imagine you’re an ace in some category — and tell us about it in our MY IMAGINARY SKILL Poetry and Prose Series.

PROMPT: Tell us about your imaginary skill in a poem (any reasonable length) or prose piece (300 words or fewer).

WHAT: Submissions can be original or previously published poems or prose. You retain all rights to your work and give Silver Birch Press permission to publish the piece on social media and in a potential print edition.

WHEN: We’ll feature the poems and prose in the Silver Birch Press MY IMAGINARY SKILL Poetry and Prose Series on our blog starting in June 2016 . We’ll also feature the work on Twitter and Facebook.

HOW TO SUBMIT: Email one poem or prose piece to SBPSUBMISSIONS@gmail.com as an MSWord attachment — and in the same file include your name, contact info (including email address), one-paragraph author’s bio (written in third person), and any notes about your creative process or thoughts about your piece. Please put all this information in one MSWord document and title the file with your last name (and only your last name). Write “Skill” in subject line of email. If available, please send a photo of yourself at any age enacting your skill (for example, dancing, diving, cooking, singing) and provide a caption for the photo (when, where).

SUBMISSION CHECKLIST

To help everyone understand our submission requirements, we’ve prepared the following checklist.

1. Send ONE MS Word document TITLED WITH YOUR LAST NAME (e.g. Smith.doc or Jones.docx).

2. In the same MS Word document, include your contact information (name, mailing address, email address).

3. In the same MS Word document, include an author’s bio, written in the third person (e.g., Ginger Rogers lives in Missouri…”).

4. In the same MS Word document, include a note about your poem/prose or creative process (this is optional — but encouraged).

5. In the same MS Word document, include a caption for your photo (including where, when and/or date taken).

6. If available, send a photo of yourself at any age enacting the skill — as a SEPARATE jpg attachment (not in the MS Word document). Title the photo with your last name (e.g., Jones.jpg). Also send a current photo to accompany your bio.

7. Email to SBPSUBMISSIONS@gmail.com — and put SKILL in the subject line.

SUBMISSION DEADLINE: Wednesday, June, 15, 2016.

IMAGE: Dancer supreme Fred Astaire (left) and tennis ace Serena Williams (right).

colaba-causeway-market
Getting the nod
by Daniel Roy Connelly

Straight through a red light, clip a beedi seller on the kerb with my wing mirror, pull out way too soon onto Colaba Causeway, horns everywhere, cows everywhere, indicate incorrectly then turn left instead of right at the Mahatma Gandhi fountain, stall on several technical points, examiner not happy.

Nod backwards at a bottle of Black Label boxed and wrapped on the rear seat of the Escort, all smiles, told to drive expressly every day so as to improve, pink chitty, copied 7-fold, in my hand, congratulations, sir, you are now legal on the roads of India.

PHOTO:Colaba Causeway market” (Mumbai, India) found at mapsofindia.com.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: “Getting the nod” — a tiddler — forms part of an absurdist memoir I am writing. It isn’t about learning, but test day. It came very quickly in response to seeing the prompt, though it is something I have wanted down in writing for years. That’s the beauty of themed anthologies.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Daniel Roy Connelly was the winner of the 2014 Fermoy Poetry Prize and the 2015 Cuirt Prize for New Writing. He has been published by Magma, The North, Acumen, B O D Y (amongst others) and is forthcoming on Uncle Vanya in Critical Survey. He is a professor of English, theatre and creative writing in Rome. Visit him at danielroyconnelly.com.

American Country Road
Behind the Wheel
by Tina Groumoutis

Growing up in rural Southwest Iowa, most people can’t remember learning to drive. They just always knew in the same way a person can’t remember learning to walk or talk. Maybe they sat up in the cab of John Deere from the seedlings of their lives. But I was a Greek and we owned a restaurant, not a farm, so I had to learn to drive.

A surrogate aunt took my siblings and me out on a county road off Highway 25, somewhere between the knee-high cornstalks of Greenfield and Creston, and we took turns behind a stick shift. I jerked and lurched and killed the engine a thousand times before I finally got it, burning down the sweet freedom of a setting sun and an unpaved road, twelve years old. Learning to drive a stick would come in handy the year my dad bought a Fiat. When other kids were driving their parents’ “grocery-getters” through the Dairy Queen drive-thru, I was occasionally allowed to drive my dad’s car, cruising through, cool-like, but then grinding gears and stalling if I was forced to wait too long at the window for my waxy, cherry Dilly Bar. Mostly I drove the family van.

I learned on an automatic the same way other people did–whipping kitties in the community college parking lot in thick cold of late January– maybe in my brother’s ‘82 Camaro. I was around 15 and hadn’t yet been gifted my baby blue Chevette, the one I eventually sold for $50 when I was ready to drive farther than that old car, hole in the floorboard, could ever take me. That’s the thing I remember most about life after getting behind the wheel; from the time I learned to drive, I learned to drive away.

PHOTO: “Country Road” by Maciej Maksymowicz, used by permission.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Taking a whirl back through my youth to write this for Silver Birch Press was as exhilarating as when I finally got the hang of driving and I flew down that county road. Writing this piece also reminded me how learning to drive has afforded me the opportunity to move thousands of miles in the direction of where I should be, and conversely, thousands of miles away from where I ought not be.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tina Groumoutis is a feisty Greek girl; a mother, a writer, and an educator. She is currently working on her MFA in Fiction at the University of Arkansas-Monticello. Tina is also on the editorial staff for the literary journal Gravel. She is a high school English teacher and was previously a staff writer for Warpaint Illustrated Magazine. Her work can also be seen in Rat’s Ass Review, and in the forthcoming anthology Silver Lining.

nancy drew 1 4 30 16

By popular demand — including from members of the Nancy Drew Sleuths fan club — we have extended the submissions deadline to Sunday, 5/15/16 for our NANCY DREW ANTHOLOGY.

Since her 1930 appearance in The Secret of the Old Clock, amateur sleuth Nancy Drew has inspired generations of girls — including this one — with her moxie, intelligence, determination, but most of all independence. After 86 years, Nancy Drew is as popular as ever — with avid fans around the world.

Let’s celebrate this female icon and role model with the NANCY DREW ANTHOLOGY: A Collection of Poetry, Prose, Art & Photography Featuring Everyone’s Favorite Female Sleuth. 

WHAT: Poetry, prose, paintings, drawings, photographs, and other work inspired by Nancy Drew.

TYPES OF WRITTEN MATERIAL: 

  • Poems (up to three — either original work or found/erasure poetry based on a Nancy Drew book)
  • Short stories (up to 2,000 words)
  • Essays (up to 1,500 words)
  • Creative nonfiction (up to 2,000 words)
  • Short plays or screenplays (approximately five typed pages)
  • Other literary forms (up to 2,000 words)

TYPES OF VISUAL MATERIAL (send jpg files of at least 1MB):

  • Photographs
  • Collage
  • Paintings
  • 
Drawings

SUBMISSION DEADLINE: Sunday, May 15, 2016

ESTIMATED RELEASE DATE: Summer 2016

HOW TO SUBMIT: Please email written entries as MSWord attachments (title the file with your last name, e.g., Smith.docx or Jones.doc) and visual entries as jpg attachments to SBPSUBMISSIONS@gmail.com, along with your name, mailing address, email address, and one-paragraph bio written in the third person. (If submitting a found poem or erasure poem, provide the title, edition, and publication date of the Nancy Drew book. If the erasure is taken from one page, please also provide scan of original erasure.) For all submissions, write NANCY in email subject line. (Note: If you don’t have MSWord, send the submission in the body of your email.)

PAYMENT: Each contributor will receive a copy of the Silver Birch Press NANCY DREW ANTHOLOGY.

NOTE: The submissions will appear exclusively in a printed edition and will not appear on our blog.

SHOUT OUT: A heartfelt thank you to Jennifer Finstrom, whose poem “Nancy Drew’s Guide to Life” in our ME, IN FICTION Series and the subsequent enthusiastic feedback we received about it from readers, inspired this collection.

Cover image by Elizabeth Stark, used by permission. 

IMPORTANT NOTE: NANCY DREW is a registered mark of Simon & Schuster, Inc. This book and the contents thereof are not endorsed by, sponsored by or affiliated with Carolyn Keene, the author of the NANCY DREW series or its publisher Simon & Schuster, Inc.

aged and worn vintage photo of retro gas sign
Gasless Girl Wonder
by Allison Saft

I should have learned when everyone else did; I did try. I thought I had it figured out, but my time would come later. I even took Drivers’ Ed in high school, but my father was too neurotic to practice with me and my mom too busy or too prone to frustration. “Your boyfriend is supposed to teach you.” “What if I didn’t have a boyfriend?”

It seemed pointless to learn when I didn’t have a car, wouldn’t have a car in any foreseeable future, and my friends were driving me all over town. I didn’t mind the perpetual lifts; they provided quality bonding time and we kept it exciting. I would even ride in the trunk when prompted, or unprompted, just for no reason, something different.

And where did I need to go, honestly? I had my spots: my suburbia of parks, coffee shops, pizza, and ice cream joints; they weren’t inhibited by a lack of car. The city was train accessible…who would want to drive in that mess anyway?

So I went through high school carless, college carless, because I rarely strayed more than a few blocks from campus; unless I did, in which case there were drivers, navigating curvy roads leading off cliffs.

Once I graduated and the reality of living in some sort of outside realm hit, I got the driving thing in gear. Passed the second time around because the original was yellow/red light running, drifting disaster and because my boyfriend was willing to learn me. We practiced in the mean-ish streets, even parallel-ed up a storm. I’m still not sure how he advised me, but I got it. There was a variety of tears. I would like to say it brought us closer together, but I would be talking about me and my car.

PHOTO: “Gas” by jdoms, used by permission.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: I’ve been writing creative things since I could write. This means of expression serves as both a personal outlet, and a commentary on the frustrating, illuminating, and all in between. I hope to inspire change within people, society, environment, and overall ways of viewing the world. I would like to excite political discussion and activism, and encourage positive energy through words, as well as other forms of expression like art and music. I attempt to convey a mood, vibe, imagery, and space of emotion. I hope those reading my work will get something out of it, and I hope to as well. If nothing else, we may all enjoy the flow.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Allison Saft has been writing for much longer than she’s been driving and started with the Young Playwrights program in middle school. She graduated from Albright College with a BA in English/Creative Arts and from the University of York with a MA in Writing for Performance. She has been published in literary journals, online publications, and anthologies with poetrynation, Literary Orphans, Emanations, and others. Allison lives semi-transiently in spots including Philadelphia, Maryland, suburbia, and occasionally her car (appropriately enough).

Patience Road Sign
Parking Lot Anxieties
by Courtney Mae Cochran

I was 22 and working on Master’s degree and couldn’t drive.
But how the hell do I overcome the confines of my history?

The keys in my hand I knew this was a step to getting out of poverty.
My best friend sat next to me calmly talking me through mechanics.

The car’s name was Prince.
His bumper was held together by rainbow duct tape.

We drove in the parking lot of that church for weeks.
My anxieties had peaks and lulls.

The one consistency was my teacher.
My best friend had what my parents never did—patience.

My best friend and Prince eased me out of my poverty trap.
They eased away my shame about familial poverty and ignorance.

My best friend and Prince took me to the DMV.
Multiple times. Until I passed.

IMAGE: “Patience Road Sign” by Andy Dean, used by permission.

NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: My creative process is rooted in the processing of my own traumas and life. I spin the pain of my past and present most into poetry. Some poems manifest as angry rants and other soft, gentle coos about the life I live. Much of my subject matter is the battle between the poverty, trauma, chaos of my childhood and the current relatively privilege lifestyle I have created for myself. In this, I often write about my family, as I am one of very few in my family who have escaped the cycles of generational poverty.

cochran

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Courtney Mae Cochran
grew up in River Falls, Wisconsin, and moved to Duluth, Minnesota, in 2009 for school, completing bachelor’s degrees in Political Systems and Social Work, and a master’s degree in Social Work. She has nearly eight years of experience working in housing and homelessness sectors, both in direct service and systems change capacities between the Loaves & Fishes Catholic Worker Community, The Human Development’s Homeless Project, and her current role at CHUM as the Congregational Outreach Director and Volunteer Coordinator at CHUM. Her biggest passions are in faith-based community organizing, restorative justice, empowerment of young leaders, and racial equity. She loves sewing, everything outdoorsy, writing, theology, public policy, punk music, and old horror movies.

AUTHOR’S PHOTO CAPTION: This photo was taken at my church The Duluth Superior Friends (Quaker) Meeting House in the Summer of 2015 by photographer Michael Nordin.

aged and worn vintage photo of freeway sign with palm trees
99 to the 405
by Torrin Greathouse

License still smelling of fresh ink, still hot against the palm
my mother told me, you have a car now, you can drive yourself to school.

The furthest I had ever driven before was 20 minutes on my own,
and now 300 miles stretched out before me
like a carpet of black unfurling endlessly,
seemed as ceaseless as the mouth of night.

I left at 5am, the grass already slick with ice
like night sweat in the mid-September chill.
Watched the sun rise over the crumbling edges of Bakersfield,
learned the curves of the Grapevine,
so much like my crooked, misshapen spine,

listened with my palms, pressed to the wheel,
like ears pressed to a wall of engine noise,
before the mountains spat me out on to the 405.

Reckless and relentless teacher of the road,
like ruler across knuckles, like blood painting
the canvas of a boxing ring, rumble strip black
packed with cars like an assembly line emptying
into street after street lined with decay,
engines burning like torches on the hard shoulder.

It was here that I learned the language of my new home,
how easily the tongue, or the car, slides
from 405 to 605 to the 5 to the 55 and back,
like a trombone slide,

learned to add my engine roar to the freeway song,
and how to sight read the road, each car a note in a song
that goes on      and on              and on,
somewhere between rusting metal and jazz band groove.

It was here, tank half empty, weaving between semis
and yellow line wreckage, everything I owned packed tight
into the back of a secondhand car,
that I learned to drive.

PHOTO: “Entrance, 405 Freeway (California)” by jdoms, used by permission.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Torrin Greathouse is a non-binary, queer poet, governing member of UCI’s Uncultivated Rabbits poetry collective, and 2015 winner of the Orange County Poetry Slam. Their work has been published or is upcoming in Rust + Moth, Chiron Review, Crack the Spine, VerseWrights, Caliban Online, and the chapbook Cosmic Taxi Driver Blues.

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