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limited potential

just a bit

over my head

I couldn’t reach

that far

but I kept trying


by now

my arms

should be longer

instead I have some

kind of annoying arthritis


if I only knew then

what I don’t know now


maybe I could have just

been ok

rather than

stretching myself

further than I can go


Kimberley Nelson 

the last thanksgiving

my parents were alive

my mother disoriented

my father bewildered

by my mother


and i brought

the food from

Boston Market


i promised

one more year

no strokes

no heart attacks

and i will make the turkey


today i make turkey

for myself

and my pets


i miss my parents

and 2007


when anything was still possible



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hopeful monday

scrubbing of the brain
scraping off of last week’s crap
fresh head for new week


Act I

Situation: It seems necessary that I have to be born into another planet-earth once again, and God and I are discussing options. He takes out a file from his rather disorganized cabinet.

He pulls out a form from the file. He says, here’s one you might want to consider. It requires you to have many disorders that are pronounced incurable. Let’s see. Sexual abuse in your teens. Something termed chronic fatigue in your twenties. Then it says fibromyalgia in your thirties. Then a diagnosis of bipolar as you reach 40. Hmmm. Says it should have been diagnosed earlier on that one. Darn, I need a better editor. Need to get rid of that word “should”.

Doesn’t sound so bad, I say. That looks like a breeze. Remember that past life when I lived in a small agrarian New England town that ran a lottery that required us to stone to death one innocent person a year to make the crops grow better? Didn’t work. And those people I had to live with were so boring! Plus all those kids I gave birth to and loved who died in infancy. Seven dead out of nine!

Look, He says, don’t get snarky. Just be quiet and let me continue. You people who think they can remember past lives are getting on my nerves. You all say you were Cleopatra or Attila the Hun or some such. Wrong! As for you, you were not in a short story. Believe me, I’ve wiped your memory clean in an ECT contraption. You are getting too imaginative again, so watch it. Here, do this crossword puzzle till you calm down.

Then He leaves me in a cubicle for eight hours with nothing but this crossword puzzle, a pen that doesn’t work, a computer with many, many viruses, a razor blade, a raven feather, and a woman in the next cubicle who keeps blathering about the bras she’s about to order from Victoria’s Secret. I tell you, it seemed like an eternity.

When He comes back, He looks at the blank puzzle and says, what have you been doing all this time?

The pen you gave me was out of ink, I simper. And what’s a six letter word for stupid? Plus, You’re the Expert, so I must ask you. Should I show more or less cleavage?

He ignores this most urgent question, and dismisses my excuses for not completing His assignment. Don’t you know by now that blood is an excellent ink?, He asks. Are you totally out of it?

So let’s get on with it, He says, pulling at his snowy white beard and trying to be kinder. Try to focus. Keep on-point. He says to me. O.K. More on this potential life. Here’s the objective of the life I’m proposing for you. You spend most of your life trying to heal yourself. On this form it says that lots of people termed “assholes” get in your way. Gosh, I really need better editors. Told them many times not to use that word. They just don’t listen.

I say, O.K. God, or gosh if you’d rather be called that, what do you have in mind? All I have to do is cure myself of a few ailments and then I get a mansion in heaven? I hear there are many mansions, some with pool tables in the basement. Any still available? Do they include mineral baths and servants way wiser than I am but whom I can keep in near-poverty and at my service,
attendant to my every emotional tizzy, like in the classic Hollywood moves?

He answers, the real estate market here in Heaven is a bit farked up at the present moment. However, I do have an opening for a basement efficiency in a district of Indian computer service providers.

O.K., I say, getting excited. That sounds fine, as long as I get fed decently.

Well, He says, pulling at his long snowy beard and showing deep wrinkles around his eyes — He should really see a plastic surgeon about that — let me review the form. Says here that you can get a junior bacon cheeseburger, plus a small fry and a small drink consisting of caffeine, refined sugar, and many artificial ingredients for under $5. Is there anything else that can complete your order?

O.K., I say. Do you mind if I sleep on this decision? I’m feeling a bit woozy.

No problem, he replies. Being that it’s January in Cleveland and a bit chilly, just go downtown. There are some really nice grates on the sidewalks that blow hot air up from hell that you can sleep on. Pretty cozy. Lots of people who talk to me sleep there.

Act II

God was right! He always is, you know. If you cover your body in garbage bags, very easily obtainable in these amazing free shopping places called dumpsters, you stay nice and warm throughout a Cleveland winter and the weird people don’t bother you. It’s as if they aren’t even there!

Down on the streets of Cleveland, I was getting very chummy with this nice guy named Joe, and we were sharing the delicious elixir called Wild Irish Rose. Spring was springing, the rats dancing most gracefully, and all I had to do was look up at the sky and see the most serene beauty, a different picture every day, indeed every minute sometimes. Joe had just made me the most glorious crown out of aluminum foil that really worked in keeping the extra-terrestrial bureau of investigation from extracting my most precious thoughts, and which Joe said was most becoming on me, when God turned me into water vapor. The last thing I heard was Joe moaning, why does this always happen whenever I meet a nice chick?

Then I was going up, up, up into the clouds, and the next thing I knew I was in God’s office. Some weird music was blaring, the lyrics going something like War, huh, good God y’all. What is it good for? . . . The office was an absolute disaster. God was sitting at his desk playing solitaire on his computer, still in his bathrobe. Well, He always wears a bathrobe, even to work. Who’s going to stop him? He’s God!

I had to shout The Serenity Prayer in His ear three times before He recognized my presence. Just hold on, He said. I might win this one. But He didn’t, sighed, and turned to me. Sorry, forgot all about your appointment, He said, looking more than a bit dour. Like the last thing he wanted was the presence of another soul.

You called me, I said, quite annoyed by being pulled away by all the fun I’d been having in Cleveland but trying to keep my cool. Didn’t want to be smooted. Or smited. Whatever.

Right, forgot, He muttered. Where’s that file?

He finally found it under a pile of Weekly World News-papers. Have you considered that life I was telling you about?

I was thinking maybe You have something better in there. Maybe a Guess model. Any of those in your file?

Oh, no, you don’t want to be a Guess model, he said. That’s a terrible fate.

Well, I didn’t know what to say. They seem so happy in their photos, but I didn’t pursue it. Instead, I just asked What else do you have in there?

He shuffled some papers around and pulled out a form. I have a very promising life as a worm, He said. There. That sounds good.

A worm? Are you kidding me? Who wants to be a worm?

Well, they are quite evolved. If you happen to get cut in two, you live on as two worms, which could help you to unthink some philosophical quandaries. Plus, it would be a chance for you to actually do some good for the planet earth. Darwin was very interested . . .

No, no, no. They’re too icky. Make me something a little less icky, please. I’d like to be human.

He muttered under his breath for a while, saying things like, oh, sure, they all want to be human, and so few of them who think they are really are. Really, I should have let Satan take over. This job is just too much pressure sometimes.

Why, oh why, is God always saying things like that? He’s omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient and all the rest, yet His office is a disaster and you can’t get Him on the phone for months on end.

O.K., He says. If you insist on a human form, I’ve got three choices for you: a Catholic bishop with a taste for choirboys, a diamond miner in Africa, and that one I was telling you about.

A diamond miner in Africa! That sounds absolutely idyllic! Zebras and giraffes and amazing flowers, and all I have to do is find a few diamonds?

You think? You think worms are icky? The ants in Africa are huge! Plus it says you get your hands chopped off at the age of 15 and spend the rest of your life looking around for someone to feed you. I don’t think you’re ready for it, though, He says. Too spiritual. He crumples that form in his hand and throws it at the wastebasket, missing.

Oh. I sit there for awhile, mulling it over my remaining two choices. I twist a lock of my hair around my finger and try to look cute. He just scowls at me. Don’t even try it, he growls.

I was thinking, I do like hats. Bishops get to wear these fabulous hats and beautifully embroidered vestments and tell people what to think in glorious cathedrals with amazing stained-glass windows. And I do like choirboys myself, just not that way. That’s the only trouble. Hmmm. Meanwhile God played more solitaire on His computer. Finally He turned to me and said, I’ve been playing this game all afternoon, and I just can’t seem to win. Look, take the first option. Just take it and get out of here. You’re wasting my time.

Is that a command? What about free will?

You have three minutes, He said, turning the sands of time from His Yatzee game.

I pondered and pondered and swiveled myself around and around in the desk chair God had so beneficently provided for me. Fun! Finally I said O.K. So what’s so great about this life You’re trying to sell me on? Anything else on that form You can tell me? Any perks?

He looked at the form. You get to be a woman and have a child. That’s really cool. And you meet some wonderful people who will help you along. Oh, and every once in a while you laugh so hard that water spurts out your nose, and there’s a 7-11 down the street from you that sells excellent Indian convenience food for cheap. But back to the main problem you’ll have. Let me tell you, the cures for your disorders are there — you just have to persist. You find them and then that’s the end of it. Sort of like an Easter egg hunt. What the heck else could you want?

I know, I really do know, that God loves me infinitely, so I figured I’d take His advice.

O.K. I said. I’ll take it.


There is no Act III. Or rather, I’m living it.

Elizabeth Hayes


how our dog will try to bite another dog just cuz it’s mad at top dog. because
top dog won’t let it bark; top dog calls our dog names. the collar, the symbolic
object of restraint. or a cage and how our dog has no say in its destiny. how our
dog knows it’s being talked to by yr tone. catch & release. catch & release it
from its cage. how a dog is an object. stand up. sit down. on, off. on, off.
enrage. a dog who is used to being bit so it doesn’t yelp when you do it again.

Lady K


he’d look in the rear view mirror

if anyone was behind him he’d change lanes
so they could turn right at the stop lights

don’t you? he said

why, I never thought of it

most people are assholes, he said, and as we came
to a stop he squinted and rear ended the ghost in
front of us

Lady K

conversations with myself

i drive thru my neighborhood
the mutilated trees
the raped maples
the Y of their crotches open
where taut leashes of electricity
vibrate into the dull white sky

the smoke throated bag lady croaks
for change outside Wendy’s
the fallible world frosting over
with nicotine & carbon dioxide

i am crawling toward grace
i am crawling toward sanity
i am crawling toward an understanding
of myself
thru the mucous messages of the past
the choke pill of inchoate reality
the screaming of talking heads
swinging from the rear view mirror

i pause to pick at the hardened snot
of tomorrow
where a steeple appears from the gloom —
neon mega church —
free gas card when you attend
this sunday’s service for the first time

now it’s home to the stinking
breath of slapdash death
more conversations with myself
hope forgotten
relentless snow

wendy shaffer

Mumbai blasts

this time around
we have had a lot of angels,
a lot of common people,
people coming up from across the city,
poor people,
slum dwellers,
people from everywhere,
who’ve put behind their religious differences
and who’ve come to help
people affected in the blast.
You know,
I mean,
this is very rare,
like people coming from across religions,
expecially there has been a lot of Hindu-Muslim tension.
But despite that,
you had Muslim men coming and helping Hindu men
who were affected in the blast,
putting all kinds of differences behind them.

Nitasha Natu, reporter with The Times of India, speaking on Democracy Now


i live in a low income family neighborhood on the west side of cleveland, ohio.

i live on the ugliest street — it has almost no trees. many children. many dogs, especially pit bulls, dobermans, chihuahuas. lots of fences.

the greatest cultural influence seems to be rap, in clothing & speech. the predominant gang here is the latin kings. the children tell me that once you join a gang, you may never leave it, except by being “jumped out”, meaning that the whole gang beats the member who is leaving. even after you grow up & leave your geographical area, you still belong to the gang; your children will belong to the gang. it is a national organization: they keep records.

i have no biological children of my own. i am fifty-one years old & not happy with menopause. i am happy in my home & my neighborhood. before i moved here, i owned two cats. one of them, white — my favorite, was unhappy with his new life, and, because he loved my ex & my ex loved him, i returned him to his former home. i consoled myself with the fact that i would have less expenditures — food, litter, vet bills.

one day a doberman pinscher came into my life. he was lying on a discarded mattress across the street from my place of employment. (i work in midtown cleveland, a no man’s land between the asian community & the african american community) he was dreadfully thin & sweet. one morning, when the guys opened the gate, he was there waiting, asking to come in. i went to the supermarket & bought him a bag of dogfood. i took him to the vet, who said that he had lost so much weight that some muscle at the back of his head was practically gone & would never return. when i tried to take him home, he looked at my cat, princess, like lunch.

the boss wouldn’t let him stay inside our building, so i had to leave him out in the yard howling with loneliness.

the guys across the way found him a home with a kind alcoholic who frequented their local bar.

it was because of this dog that they knew i had a soft spot for animals. one day in august, they brought a three month old tiger kitten to me. lou, a big slavic guy with a deep voice, told me that her owner had kicked her, then thought that this was too nice an animal to kick. i took her home & bathed her fleas out in the sink. i named her mandy.

she was the first of this group of cats who live with me.