Tag Archives: speakeasy

Sky lanterns

The stars are not the stars tonight; they burn
so fleetingly—they drift, an earthly flame
inside each paper shell. With each slow turn
their dancing puts those distant stars to shame.

We wrapped our hearts in promises and pride,
in pledges inked across thin sheets of doubt:
Translucent, insubstantial, finely dyed,
our lanterns glowed until the one burned out.

I always meant to be the one to leave,
the one to go—a lantern in the sky—
to fly away. I always meant to grieve
my own mistakes in private, by and by.

The stars are still; there’s nothing left to say.
I loose my grip and let you drift away.

The Lark

It started out as a lark. God knows, we needed a laugh or two. Someone had found a bottle of liquor, gin or vodka or something. I don’t know; I don’t drink. Paulie climbed up on the fire escape and pulled the ladder after him.

“Chicken fight,” he said, grinning. “Take turns. First one up gets a drink. No one gets up, I drink it myself.” He took a swig to show us he was serious. There was a chorus of protests, but in seconds John was up on Andre’s shoulders, his brother Will on Junior’s, and they were off, shoving each other around the alley.

Martin and I stood in the middle of the crowd and watched. I wasn’t any good at chicken fights, not against the boys, no matter how much Martin wanted that drink. Besides, we had an agreement: he wasn’t about to leave me alone, not with these boys. We barely knew them. So we stood together in the middle: not so close to the front that we’d draw attention, but not so far back that they’d think we didn’t trust them. Josie crouched by the wall in the back, pulling petals off a plastic flower she’d picked up somewhere.

The whole match took place in near silence. No one wanted to bring the Rovers down on us. The only sounds were the scraping of rubber on gravel, the panting of the fighters, and occasional insults from Paulie. Even those were hushed.

The boys started laying bets. John was bigger than Will, but Andre was taller than Junior. Junior, though, he was smart. He didn’t just rush at Andre; he danced around, dodging broken boards and bits of rubble, trying to get Andre to trip. Finally Andre stumbled over a chunk of concrete, flailing one arm while holding onto John’s leg with the other. John leaned back, trying to keep his balance. They stayed upright, but in those few seconds Junior dashed for the fire escape.

Andre pelted after him. Will had one hand on the railing and Junior was trying to lift him up. John grabbed his brother’s arm and hung on. They stood there like that straining and pulling, while the boys egged them on in harsh, laughing whispers. It was all pretty funny.

“What the fuck’s wrong with you, anyway?” I heard a voice behind me. I turned to look, and froze. A couple of the boys had pinned Josie against the wall, and a hard-eyed boy had her chin in his hand. Her eyes were squeezed shut. Her mouth, too.

“She’s like a little bird,” he said to one of his friends. “All fear and hollow bones. Don’t gimme that deaf-mute act, birdie, I heard you talk before. All I asked was your name. Be polite and answer me, huh?”

A sudden, deafening wail split the air. The bottle shattered in Paulie’s hand. He stared at the blood and the spilled liquor for a long moment before dropping to his knees and covering his ears with his forearms. Junior and Andre were already down. John must have hit his head when he fell; there was blood, and he wasn’t moving. The boys were all shouting now.

I grabbed Martin’s hand. “We’ve got to get her out of here,” I hissed between gritted teeth. “Listen!”

Underneath Josie’s keening and the confused yelling of the boys, there was a muffled howling noise. The Rovers. The boys heard it a split second after I did, and the alley erupted into chaos. Paulie swung down from the fire escape and grabbed John, slinging him over one shoulder.

“Fucking freaks,” he spat, glaring at us. “If I’d’a known, I’d’a killed you. Fuck it. Let the Rovers do it.” He staggered off down the alley. Will stumbled after him. The rest of the boys bolted in opposite directions. Best bet is always to split up.

We never split up, though, me and Martin and Josie. I kicked the hard-eyed boy aside. He whimpered and covered his head. Let the Rovers have him, I thought without sympathy.

“C’mon, honey, it’s okay, we got you.” I tugged Josie’s arm gently, pulling her after me. “Hush now, we gotta run.” She blinked at me. The shrill noise stopped, which only made the Rovers’ howls that much more terrifying.

“She never even opened her mouth,” Martin said as we ran. “Did you see? She never did.”

I nodded. It’s not like I hadn’t been expecting it. Like calls to like, after all.

This story is mainly an experiment in trying out a new voice and is related to two other pieces:


The first time I saw the ‘65 Mustang, her soft-top was shredded. Her passenger door only opened from the inside. Reservoirs stood empty or were missing. The hoses, the seals, the coating on the wires all showed sun damage. She’d been standing with her hood open for years.

Anyone else might have walked away, but I loved her from the moment I saw her. She was perfect.

And she was a present from Jack, who knows me probably better than anyone. Who I don’t know at all anymore, it seems. They said give him space, so I did. They said give him time, so I did. And all the while I missed him something fierce.

And then:

“The time for being patient has passed,” Angus said yesterday. “I want you to try to talk to him.”

“No pressure,” I’d said. It was only his son we were talking about.

“All the pressure in the world,” he’d replied gravely.

So today, I grasp at the only thing that still connects us.

:got the car running. wanna see?: I text.

:sure, when?:

:heading down now:

My head’s been under the hood a good half hour when I straighten up, rubbing my back, and notice Jack leaning on my tool chest.

“Jesus. How long you been there?” I wipe my sleeve across my forehead.

He shrugs. He looks small. Reduced.

I clench my jaw, relax. “I’m glad you came. She’s still not much to look at, but she’s alive.” I swallow. “Um. Wanna check her out?”

“Sure.” He looks vaguely embarrassed. “You know I just drive. I can’t make ‘em run.”

“Don’t need you to.” I tuck the prop down, lower the hood. “Just listen to her.”

He nods.

I climb in, shove the passenger door open from the inside. Jack catches it, protecting the hinge.

“You usually leave the window down?”

“Haven’t bothered. Nobody’s sat on that side.”

His bird-quick glance at me barely moves his chin.

“Listen,” I say again, and turn the key.

The engine snarls into life. I’ve tinkered with it a bit. I hadn’t meant to, but she kept drawing me back, this car. I give her gas, let the sound bounce off the walls.

Jack’s eyes widen at the first cough and roar, then he settles, his shoulders sinking back, windbreaker sliding against orange-peeled vinyl. He inhales, consuming the sound, the scent of grease, exhaust, ozone. Exhales. Finally he reaches out and rests his fingertips on the dash, eyes scanning an imaginary horizon.

“Gorgeous, yeah?” I watch his face, his fingers on the dashboard. He’s in there, my Jack. The possessive is deliberate; the people I love, I don’t give up.

“Like an angel,” he says reverently. “Like she’s been through hell and kept on, and now she’s bragging.”

“She has, I think. ‘Least she’s got a voice now, someone to listen to her.” I ease up, let her idle. The low thrum-thrum-thrum rhythm settles into my bones, comfortable. “Wanna ‘drive’?”

His eyes soften. “You want somebody to put her through her paces later, I’m there; right now I’d just be making noise.”

“That all I’m doing? Making noise?” I floor the gas. It’s louder than I’d expected in the confined space, large as the garage is. The wheel shakes in my hands; I ease up.

“Feels like if I listen hard enough, I’ll hear what she’s trying to say. I’m not going anywhere, like she isn’t.” I let her idle again.

“Where are you going, Jackie?” I barely breathe it, but I know he can hear.

He’s absolutely still, deep within himself. His hand on the dash is rock-steady. He might as well be a statue, a doll.

“I don’t hear what you hear.” He yanks the door lever and he’s gone into the shadows of the garage, slick and fast like he drives.

I watch him go, watch till he’s out of sight, my back stiff and hands white-knuckled on the wheel. And when I can’t see him anymore I crumple over and I cry, big wracking ugly sobs.

Eventually I just sit, my cheek pressed against the curve of the wheel. I blew it, I think. I fucking blew it. The car’s still rumbling. I turn her off with a jerk of my wrist.

I lean over and pull the passenger door shut. Stare at it. Reach over again and roll the window down, all the way.

As I leave the garage I can see his footprints, small and lonely in the grit.

[Note: this piece was whittled down to its bare essentials from the original long version of this story. Many thanks to Rowan G and her brutal editing skills for helping me cut it from 1600 to 750 words. I’d be curious to know what readers think. Which version is more effective? -ch]


Lord of wind-scarred warrens
walks the sunless tunnels,
Serves the hand of heaven
holding to his shoulder.

Under seas of sand-swells
still his eye turns skyward,
Deaf to prayers – a prophet
promising a kingdom.

This drottkvaett – written for the yeah write April poetry slam – might be the hardest thing I’ve ever written. Want to give it a try? Read yeah write’s page on the drottkvaett form, then peek into submission editor Rowan’s drottkvaett writing process for some tips.


Dawn is
a bated breath
while I stand by the sea
fog collecting in my lashes
like tears

This little cinquain brought to you by yeah write’s March poetry slam!