by Ed Thompson


At certain times of the year I tend to get slobbery sentimental, and lately I’ve been thinking about my first kiss. The unfortunate recipient of that kiss, which happened on my twelfth birthday, was a girl named Florence. Her parents had emigrated from Italy, and they had named her after that famous city. The other kids in our fifth grade class sometimes called her “Minnie Mouse” because her upper front teeth protruded slightly more than absolutely necessary (unless stripping the bark from a tree limb was somehow involved). But I thought she was mighty cute anyway, especially when her nose wriggled while she nibbled cheese.

For weeks before the birthday gift that Florence had promised me, I practiced diligently on my forearm until the skin started to pucker and the peach fuzz withered, prompting my mother to threaten to take me to the doctor to see if I had leprosy.

Still, when the fateful day finally arrived, I was not accomplished at the fine art of osculation. In my defense, Florence presented a couple of problems even for an expert. Because of those front teeth, there was no belay point below her lips, and it was very easy to slip off into the void beneath her chin. And I don’t think I’ve mentioned her nose: it was not a “button.” Instead it was long and aquiline—Roman, if you will. Putting it as charitably as I can, it was in the way. To further compound matters, since I was in constant danger of hyperventilating, I couldn’t keep any suction going; and so, of course, I immediately ended up in the no man’s land under her chin. It didn’t occur to me until later in my career that since I was in the vicinity of her neck anyway it could have been an option.

Her family moved shortly after the ordeal (I don’t think there was a connection), and I never saw her again. Later, we heard they had moved back to Italy and her namesake city. Florence wasn’t a particularly devout child, but I’ve always worried that she might have become a nun out of disappointment. Lately I’ve been thinking of taking a trip to Florence. While there I would check out the convents, and if I found her I would…but, no; it would never work. I’m too out of practice; my forearm, even shaved, is no longer as attractive as it once was; I probably still couldn’t avoid the void; and with those high collars the older nuns sometimes wear, the neck still might not be an option. Best to let things be. I will go read a bodice ripper instead.


by Russ Messing


I thought about death this morning, waking in a sweat
in sheets damp from a dream about my grand-folks
in their coffins – pancake make-up, stretched smiles,
their skin dull and cold, almost plastic; their lips thin,
stretched like lies told by lawyers and thieves.

Half awake, I wondered if it was an omen. Then,
a raven cawed, perched, I knew, on the rimmed, cracked
birdbath outside our window. Drum, drum, drum,
the sound of prey being eaten or breakfast clean-up,
of death and dawn. I closed my eyes to listen more.

Then, surprise! I saw me all laid out at my own funeral –
my Sergeant Pepper coat festooned with medals,
my beard nicely trimmed, my old thin lips pinched and rouged,
some wrinkled hands folded neatly on my belly,
a mouth not my mouth, an unknown grin too fixed, too shrewd.

A parade of people peered down at me.
I wanted to say thanks for coming, apologize for the cold.
I tried to smile, wanted to ask about their kids,
wonder when we might see each other next,
share a gag, a memory, or even this, my latest poem.