Sunday, December 31, 2017

"affair" by Ed Higgins






Ed Higgins

My poems and short fiction have appeared in various print and online journals including: Monkeybicycle, Word Riot, Triggerfish Critical Review, Cease Cows, and Blue Print Review, among others. My wife and I live on a small farm in Yamhill, OR, raising a menagerie of animals including a whippet, a manx barn cat (who doesn’t care for the whippet), two Bourbon Red turkeys (King Strut and Nefra-Turkey), and an alpaca named Machu-Picchu. I’m also Asst. Fiction Editor for Brilliant Flash Fiction, a Dublin, Ireland-based online journal.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

The Importance of Poets and Poetry, an essay by Gideon Cecil

POETRY has always been a part of human life. It is an art that lies in the soul and spirit of man since the beginning of time. A poet writes always of his personal life and experience. He writes because he has an indispensable desire in his heart to express his ideas to objectify his poetic philosophy about life.
The English poet Shelly said that: ‘‘A poem is the very image of life expressed in its eternal truth……’’. 

The profound truth in this line written by Shelly can be seen in the poetry of all the classical poets of old from Homer to Shakespeare. The writing of great poetry has been the primary vehicle of expressing one’s thoughts, observations, historical events, and various philosophies from a different perspective about life.
A great poem unlike a novel or a short story can be digested and absorbed in our souls and can become a part of us forever. The poetry of Homer, Virgil, Dante, Tagore, and Shakespeare has become a part of the literary world until today. The divinity of their poetry has become sermons and prayers over the ages.

Poets speak a language all their own. Poets think in images-words naming a sensory thing or action. 

Great poetry requires a reader to experience a series of sensory experiences. Having experienced the image – we need to interpret it -its vital message the poet is conveying to his readers. Poetry gives pleasure first, then truth hidden in complex imagery and philosophy. Its language is charged, intensified and sophisticated.

Imagery in poetry writing is what every poet should strive for to achieve in his literary craft. Imagery is not just the sensory object the poem will convey to the readers. It is not only the beautiful and musical patterning of words; it is truth and meaning within the words of the poet that gives us great poetry.
The illustrious American poet and critic T.S. Eliot wrote: ‘‘The dead poets are revealing themselves in the poets that are alive…..’’
His poetic knowledge in the line I have quoted here is what I have experienced as a poet. I am inspired and motivated to write when I read the work of a great poet. Inspiration will only come when I can value the poetry of every great poet whose work I have read. Poetry I believe is a very deep spiritual revelation compounded with creative imagination from the unseen world into the known material world.

Some philosophers and theologians believe that poetry writing is very deep ‘intuitive writing’ that cannot be taught from mere book learning. I fully agree with them because one can be taught the literary genres and techniques about writing from an English text book; but one cannot be taught how to write. Great poetry has to be revealed to the poet by spiritual revelation for him to become an inspired poet. It is my firm conviction that poetry as well as music and art are a God given gift given to the artist unknown to him on many occasions that cannot be taught at Universities. Some of our greatest Guyanese authors and poets such as: Martin Carter, Wilson Harris, Edgar Mittelholzer, Philip Moore and Petamber Persaud never acquired university degrees but their writings excelled those with PhDs degrees. Why? Because they study and read widely; one cannot write well unless they are widely read. Great reading and a love for words brings inspiration to the writer. Samuel Johnson was too poor to acquire a University degree yet he wrote the greatest dictionary and tons of books and papers. What many academics failed to understand is very simple: degrees don’t write; writers do the writing not degrees.

Intuition which we sometimes call ‘inspiration’ will push us to write lines we ourselves are unable to write by our natural intellectual apprehension. Until today many literary scholars believe that Shakespeare never wrote what he had written because he was not educated at a University. Shakespeare was naturally gifted and inspired by God to write what he had written. The American poet and critic T.S. Eliot believed that Shakespeare never did any real thinking to write but wrote upon inspired thoughts given to him by the imperial muse of poetry.
Poetry is an art, the greatest of the fine arts, and the hardest in which to reach true perfection. The true poet must be a genuine poet who has faith and confidence that his work will do something to the world and the society he lives in. Poetry deals with the emotional intensity in man. It’s a more sophisticated art in writing that comes from the poet’s heart by a higher sort of creative imagination.

Prose on the other hand deals with the external intellect, it’s a more lucid and scientific form of expression. It is a more analytical and comprehensive style in formal writing.
It enables man to see things more clearly; whereas poetry lies in obscure images beneath the surface of things that can only be comprehended by eyes within our mind’s eye. Poetry is philosophy locked in symbolism and magnificent imagery.

Poets are important in every society because their prophetic words of wisdom will live on after they are gone. 

By Gideon Cecil

Biography of Gideon Cecil

Gideon Sampson Cecil was born on the 9th of May 1968 in Rose Hall Town, Corentyne Berbice, Guyana. He holds a Bachelor and Master of Divinity from Life Christian University in Tampa, Florida and a degree in journalism. He is a college lecturer and freelance journalist. He has over 300 poems, articles, stories and essays published from 1993 to 2017. He is the author of the romantic collection of poetry, The Revelation of Love, published by Outskirts Press and recently republished by Tate Publishing & Enterprises LLC. His poetry was published in POUi X by The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados the Muse Literary Journal India, The Harbinger Literary Journal USA, The Chachalaca Review England, Forward Journal London, Thirty West Publishing House, The Blue Nib Literary Magazine and Alien Buddha Press. He continues to write poetry, fiction, literary criticism, and articles for various journals and newspapers at home and abroad. His recent collection of poems: ‘‘Psalms of a Romantic Poet’’ Published by Alien Buddha Press is currently entered into the Griffin Poetry Award in Canada.

To Purchase "Psalms of a Romantic Poet"

Friday, December 29, 2017

"A Little Magic" by John Kaniecki

A Little Magic

            My name is Earl but on the corner they call me Big E. Allow me to illustrate to you a typical day at my occupation.  It's a dirty job but somebody got to do it.  I like to present my job with the title of private entrepreneur. If you come from where I come from you'd be smiling right about now. If you ain't from where I come from, don't you dare get some self righteous grin. Cause if you do I am going to smack it right off of your face.
          Among other things my associates and I serve as a welcome committee to those visiting the hood. A lot of my cliental are truly scared to travel in my domain. But don't talk down about it now. Cause if you talk down about it, it only proves that you ain't never been down there. Yeah we went from the ghetto to the projects. But now it's the hood. See here there's plenty of ‘hood’, in 'brotherhood' and 'sisterhood'. We are a community and somebody from the outside just can't understand that.
          Right now here comes some 'white' boy from uptown. Observe me as I approach the car, like I was going to chill with some home boys. Notice how he only opens the window only as much as necessary. He's trying to play it cool. Look how he keeps his right hand over a bulge in his jacket. What my client is trying to do is to indicate he is carrying a weapon, in particular a gun. But I know that he is bluffing. I can read the university decal on the back windshield saying N.J.I.T.  That translates into New Jersey Institute of Technology. I will guarantee you that no college boy from that school is packing a piece. As a future engineer he may design weapons of mass destruction. But as far as using one, forget it.
          Now our visitor thinks that he's cool. To him this transaction is the week's excitement.  "What you want?" I ask through the partially open window.
          "A little grass," he replies.
          I motion with a hand single what he wants to my partners. We do offer a diverse selection of products.  I tell him "drive down one block." This guys been here before, he knows the routine.  He'll meet the connection and pay his money. Later on I'll settle up with my partners. There is a trust factor built in amongst us. Worse thing you could do is betray a brother. That's cause a brother is watching your back.
          We get our share of them 'white' folks coming down here to do some business. Money is money and we don't discriminate at all. Of course some fool from the university thinking he's so cool is going to get charged five times the real rate. But hell, he'll go back to his fraternity or dorm floor and make five times his money. But they are outsiders. They are not part of the family. If they were they would do more then come down here just to get substances to get high on.
          That pale skinned customer of mine will return to his engineering school and talk us down. I've visited parties there personally. When they're down here I see them quaking in fear. When they're safe and comfortable uptown the entire story changes. You heard the music blaring from the car, didn't you? It was some mad rapper. When they get on the highway I'll bet you they turn on some rock and roll. Unless its Jimi Hendrix there's no connection, separate worlds translate to separate realities.
          A lot of people like that think they know us down in here in the 'hood' by our music. I'm talking about rap and hip hop. Those people, and might I add, narrow in mind, fail to realize some basic facts about the inner city. Not only do we have our rap, but we have our gospel, jazz and blues as well. I am proud of my heritage cause I know where I am coming from and I know where I am going.
          My corner is in the South Ward of Newark on the intersection of Davis Street and Excelsior Avenue. If you drove down from the border of Irvington into Newark down Excelsior Avenue until it ends at Siakake Park you will find no less then a dozen houses of worship if not more. I have never bothered to actually count the number. Aside from the mosque, a block away from my corner, the remainder is of some Christian variety. My point is that the numbers of faithful far outnumber businessmen such as me. So why when you think of the hood do you think of thugs like me? I ain't even a thug but I know my psychology. If you think I'm a thug you will act in according manner and not dare cheat me on a deal.
          Well you see we got this diversity and community which brings me to Elan. Elan if I may say so was a trip. Most peculiar dude I ever knew or would care to know to be honest. But I don't want to get ahead of my story.
          I first saw Elan when I was standing on my corner. Situated on my corner is a store owned by a very nice man name Sal. Sal is from the Middle East somewhere.  I make a note of that because it is a reality that in the hood almost nothing is owned by the people who live down there. But Sal is a brother as is his wife Mary a sister. As I said they are nice and respectable people. I'll get my coffee there and maybe a sandwich. Sometimes Sal will yell at us for standing in front of his store entrance. But hey he's got his business and I got mine.
          Elan always went to the store at night. Elan to put it mildly is very different. He is the blackest dude I've ever seen. I mean you look at the man and it seems that he literally sucks in light, like he's a black hole in a distant galaxy. I have a wild imagination but it never crossed my mind that the dude might not be human. I've learned a thing or two in life, its called experience. Now when I hear Jimi Hendrix ask "Are you experienced?" I can honestly say yes. But again, I am getting slightly ahead of myself.
          A funny thing about Elan was that the dude only came out at night. Like I said he is extremely dark. He would walk down towards Sal's store on the corner and he’d be almost on me and I'd just notice that he was there. Elan was a person of average height, with a very frail frame. His signature trademark was that he wore a black wool pull over hat on his head. I mean he wore it even in the summer heat.
          Now one thing about Elan too was that he only came out at night. Most people who lived around my corner would do just the opposite. A lot of action happened at night on the corner, business transactions and such. It is true that sometimes the bullets flied. I know the names of at least four people in the past three years shot dead on the corner.  Most people in the neighborhood therefore were afraid of venturing out at night.  Not Elan. He went out exclusively at night.
          Now some of my peeps or associates they would make fun of Elan. I really don't know why. I imagine it was his very frail appearance. He was also a mild individual. He would sometimes say hello but never bothered to stop for conversation. Elan absolutely never conducted any business with us. Good for him you know! But some of my so called friends would talk Elan down, like he was nothing. However I respected Elan.  Despite his frail frame, I knew that muscles were not the only thing that made a person dangerous in a fight. I couldn't have been more right on.
          Elan had been in our vicinity in the hood for about six months. As I said he never really bothered with us so we never really bothered with him. He was like the lamp post, or the street, one of the residents, simply part of the neighborhood. So it was when I ventured onto Davis Street to a car with dark windows to inquire about a potential sale my life was forever changed. The tinted window of the Cadillac descended and I checked out the occupants. It was the number one thing on the rules for survival in making a deal. My alarms flashed right away. There were for white gorillas. I mean these dudes looked bad. Worse even then the state police! It was like they were Army Rangers or some other special killing force.
          The driver beckoned me to come near with his waving finger. I wished I had visited one of those houses of worship on Excelsior Avenue because I was certain I was either going to die or go to jail. But if you're going to say something about Big E, it is that I can keep my cool. So with my heart beating like a wild drum I calmly said, "What's up?"
          "We're looking for this individual," said the driver handing me a drawing. I mean it was a hand drawn sketch. It was an exact replica of Elan. I was stunned in silence.
          "Well have you seen him?" the man demanded fiercely.
          I was about to spill the beans. I was going to say yeah this is Elan and he lives half way up the block. I mean who cares what happens to him as long as I survive? These people seemed to be serious players. But as I was about to confess I found my mouth saying, "Nay good sir, I have never seen such a character. But if perchance I do, may I have some way to contact you?"
          "Give him our number" grumbled one. There was a pause and I was handed a business card. The driver in the car snatched back the drawing of Elan that he handed me and they sped away. I looked down at the business card, where on the one side was written a scrawled number. On the other side was an advertisement for a business, "Knight Security." My mind was twirling like it was a tropical drink with some chick stirring it with a straw.
          It was a cold night and I was looking to end my business early. The four gorillas and my strange answer had really freaked me out! What in the world had happened to my tongue? Being self employed so to speak I had the option of dictating my hours. Of course I had to get along with my associates but we were pretty tolerant. Some kind of instinct told me that tonight was going to be something unusual and it would best to avoid it all together.
          Then I saw Elan coming down the street. He was acting odd. He was standing under a street lamp. Like I said it was a trip because it seemed as if he was absorbing the light. Well I got distracted by a car that pulled up. I went over to do my job. "What's up?"
I started.
          An African American lady lowered her window half an inch. "I'm only going to Kelly Street," she said in a nervous tone. I backed off. It is a good thing to be feared and it is a bad thing as well. To me it was just another aspect of life I had to accept. People from the hood would understand that. Makes you think when people cross the street to avoid walking by you.
          Well I retreated back to the sidewalk on the corner and there was Elan. "I have to speak to you," he said. His voice had this squeaky metallic sound in it.
          I got real nervous now. Elan never spoke to us outside of 'hello' and 'have a nice day'. I knew for certain that I didn't want to get involved with those four dudes that were looking for him. I mean all wild thoughts came into my mind. This Elan I knew nothing of, maybe he was some big time player escaping some heat. "I'm kind of busy," I mumbled under my breath looking to vanish away.
          "I'm afraid I must insist," said Elan as he took his hand and placed it on mine. His touch was cold and then freezing. Suddenly my belly felt like it took a Mike Tyson uppercut. I crumpled over and almost fell to the sidewalk.
          All my associates now began to notice and they flocked towards me. "What's the matter?" they cried.
          I was going to say 'kill the mother,' when to my surprise my mouth spoke, "It must be some bad Chinese food."
          All my friends well they had some grand laugh. "Man we thought the skinny dude nailed you with a punch," said Mickey Jones with a mocking grin. "Should I get you some meds?" he wondered.
          I shook my head in disbelief. Elan took my hand and we walked down Excelsior Avenue away from my corner. We had gotten to the next block when he said to me. "I believe you have something I want?"
          "Sure take my money," I said.
          Elan laughed. It was a dark experience. His cackle was sinister and evil sounding to my ears. "No Earl, the card."
          I reached into my pocket and gave him the card that the four gorillas had given me. "Sure take it," I said, "I didn't want it anyway."
          He took the card and looked at it real hard for a long time. The card actually hummed and glowed as if enchanted. Then a grand smile came to his face like he had won the lottery or something of that nature. "I'll need you to do me a favor."
          "Sure Elan," I said. I was starting to get real spooked out about this thing. Something was not natural about my recent circumstances. Then Elan told me what he wanted me to do.
          I said, "You’re out of your freaking mind," in a defiant answer.
          Elan looked at me real long and then said. "I can of course kill you or worse." There was something in the matter-of-fact way that he spoke, that I knew that he wasn't bluffing. Somehow I knew that Elan had killed before and most likely killed more than once. People who never killed talked big about killing. People I knew who have done time talk small about their deeds.  I was terrified.  What did he mean by 'or worse'? With no real options then running away for good I agreed.

          The same dark tinted window Cadillac pulled up. One of my associates ran up there just like I did three nights ago thinking they were coming to buy some of our products. It was High Wire Carter who approached the vehicle. High Wire was a dude always strong out. Meth and coke were his drugs of choice. As a result he was always on the edge. When he saw the four dudes in the Caddy he took off and ran. "Police," he screamed.
          Yelling 'police' in the 'hood' was just like yelling 'wolf' in the village except it had the opposite effects. Instead of everybody running to the rescue, everybody was running to escape. But I knew the situation and if I could trust Elan, I was certain that these four individuals were not with law enforcement, at least not law enforcement from this era.
          I went up to the car and one of them yelled in recognition, "There he is."
          "Hey what's up?" I said full of fake joy extending my hand to shake it. The man in the driver's seat looked at me real hard and then finally shook my hand.
          "You can tell us where Elan is?" the man asked in a rough voice.
          I am very good at my business, it is why not only have I survived, but I have prospered. Part of the art of the deal is to be aware of what all individuals in your vicinity are doing. So I noticed in the back one of the men fingering a large knife. I suspected that they suspected something wasn't on the up and up. I had called them telling them that I knew where Elan was. However they were insistent on me giving them his address and I was insistent on them meeting with me.
          "Hey be cool," I said, "I'm just looking for a little cash."
          "Thieves don't change," said the one riding shotgun and the car erupted in laughter. The humor put them at ease.
          I then reached in my pocket and took out a small black wand the Elan had given me. I pointed it at the occupants. Suddenly the world transformed. The four white gorillas were now dressed in blue state police uniforms. The black Cadillac became a police cruiser. The small black wand transformed into a gun. Then there were four successive pops though I didn't pull any trigger. Blood was flowing from each of the car's occupants. I ran in terror. I wanted to toss down the gun but Elan had warned me not to do so under any circumstances. It was a stern admonishment, "Toss down the rod and you will be worse off then dead."
          So I ran down the street in terror. I had just shot four state police in a police car killing them execution style!! The name of Big E would go down in history I thought. Big E would also fry on the electric chair, if I made it alive that long in custody.
          Then I remembered that I was a ghetto defender. I was a soldier in a drug war. If you ain't from the hood I am certain you don't understand. If you ain't from the hood I am pretty certain that you don't even want to try to understand. No you prefer to remain living in your black and white world of absolutes. Where the police are good, outstanding citizens and those involved in occupations like mine are the scum of the Earth, deserving of death and more. You see, I can see through your eyes but you can't see through mine.
          I calmed down and stopped running. Something strange was going on. I had never taken LSD so I knew I wasn't tripping. This Elan had powers. It must be magical powers because no science could ever explain the weird experiences I had in connection with him. So with the black rod in hand, which was indeed a black rod and not a gun, I calmed down. I walked slowly and deliberately down the street just as Elan had instructed.
          I walked down Excelsior Avenue for about a mile and a half. I passed all those places of worship that I had chosen to ignore for years. I had dismissed them all as a con, just another way to get you away from your money. I passed all the nice houses owned by the well to do with their tidy lawns. Finally I arrived at Siakake Park. It was night and there were no lights. Undaunted I entered. It was what Elan had instructed me to do. Believe me, I did not by any stretch like trusting him, but at this point I had no other recourse.
          As I entered in the park I traveled down the secondary road and walked to where the golf course is fenced off. Elan told me to walk past the gate and that I would find a hole torn in the gate. Following the careful instructions I found things exactly as he said. I slipped in the breech and descended to the bottom of the hill. It was there that I was to meet Elan.
          There was no moon and no lights so I could not see. I carefully tread down the hill where I saw the worst sight I had ever seen. There before me was a monstrous beast. He was like a giant ball of black feathers standing fully ten feet tall. His hands were claws and his beak full of jagged teeth. Upon seeing me he raised a paw and gave of a sinister hiss. I fell backwards in terror raising a hand in what was certainly futile defense.
          "Calm down Bert," called a gentle voice. Like a puppy being told to sit the creature obeyed lowering his claw. I looked over and saw Elan.
          "What the hell is that?" I asked still in terror.
          "Oh Bert," said the dark one, "why he's back up, just in case you failed." Then he turned to look at me, "I trust that everything went well tonight?"
          "Well I did as you said, except it was as if I was in two worlds. In one world I pointed the black rod at four guys in a black Cadillac. In the other world I fired a gun and killed four State Police in their cruiser."
          "Excellent," said Elan with his squeaky metallic voice, "now please return my wand." Elan held out hid tiny black hand. I was glad to get rid of the item. It really spooked me out.
          "What the hell happened?" I screamed. I was done playing. I knew Elan was something other worldly but still this was my life.
          "You have done me a tremendous favor," said Elan broadly grinning, "those four men you disposed of were quite tenacious in their pursuit of me."
          "So they weren't cops?" I asked.
          "No, but what you saw is what everyone saw," said the dark creature.
          "Why did you do that?" I said in quiet confusion. "You could have just let me do the deed like you asked. Now I am in a serious situation."
          "Mister Earl, you are a man with skills and I could use you in my organization," explained Elan.
          "Okay," I said, "but now I've crossed the point of no return. I can never go back to my corner."
          "I'm not a man who likes to hear no," said Elan full of glee. "I hedge my bets to always win." Then he spoke with calm assurance, "Don't worry I take care of my own, just ask Bert."
          I turned around to see Bert, the large creature, standing in silent obedience.
          I was no longer self employed, I had been promoted. I guess that was reason to celebrate. As for what the future held who knew. Maybe I'd finally get out of the hood. I did have one further question for Elan though. "Elan how did you do it?"
          "Magic of the Drow," said Elan removing his signature hat. Two pointed ears were revealed.

I trust that if you made it down to my afterword that you enjoyed my little story. The inspiration for this story came from my experiences down in Newark, New Jersey. Some of the characters, events and descriptions are based on real life, even if somewhat exaggerated. I feel that Big E’s outlook on life adds an extra dimension to the story. If you liked this story you would like my new science fiction book of short stories entitled “From Chaos To Cosmos”. It is available on pre-order for ninety nine cents. 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

"A Day @ The Poet's Cafe" by John Kaniecki

A Day @ The Poet's Cafe

by John Kaniecki 

Rosie is far from nosy
Serving as waitress at the restaurant
Chewing Bazooka bubble gum with a smile
Her raw radiance
Tightly fitting finely filled uniform
Compensates for her lack of style
Her glossy red cheeks speak abundantly
Strawberry Blossom -  exactly
My eyes tip toe over the menu
"I'm not sure"
"I've never been here before"
"Perhaps an extended metaphor?"
Rosie smiles savage and cunning
Sultry, sexually stunning
"Take it from me"
"Try a simile"
"The taste is nice"
"At an excellent price"
Confounded by a vague reference
Like a ship lost upon the sea
"Oh my" I cry suddenly
It's the worst thing to say
At the Poet's Cafe
A corny cliché
So dead the corpse is but dust
Embarrassed like cuddling lovers discovered in lust
I surrender sorrowfully

"Just coffee for me"

"Jew Boy" by Irving A Greenfield


(An essay)

by Irving A Greenfield

            Jew Boy was two words I heard many times during my four score years and eight years. When I was a boy, a teenager, or a young man, they were often a prelude to a fight. They were a verbal assault that challenged my sense of manhood, an insult to the ethnic group to which I belong. The subtext of those words was (and still is): You're a Jew, and everyone knows that Jew's are too cowardly to fight. This was before and after WWII, and even after Palestine became the state of Israel. It followed me into the army, where I either took a trouncing or gave one. But either way, I fought for the same reasons: to show my opponent that this Jew did fight and to meet the challenge to my manhood¾admittedly an ego thing.
            The last time I heard those two words a colleague at the college where I was a Professor of English Literature uttered them. My colleague, I'll call him Walter, was a Professor of Ethics and Religion.
            It was just after Christmas, and the college, which was marginally a Lutheran institution, continued to hold classes, with the exception of Christmas and New Year's Days. 
            Walter had two defining traits: wit and sarcasm; both were rapier sharp. He combined them whenever he thought the situation demanded it. But there were times when he misjudged the situation and deeply wounded someone, which was what happened when he referred to me as Jew boy.
            In addition to his wit and sarcasm, Walter possessed two other qualities that substantially augmented his verbal sallies: a deep base voice that made everything he said sound important, and a physicality, while not muscular, that gave the illusion of strength. The melding of these qualities resulted in an imperious air, a self-importance, of which he took advantage.
            I don't remember what day it was between Christmas and New Years; but I do remember that I was in my office grading end term papers of one of my classes, The door to my office was open, as was the door to another colleague's¾Susan by name¾office, which was directly across from mine. Walter was in the doorway of her office; some sort of conversation was going on between them. I couldn't hear Susan's voice, but Walter's was, as usual, distinctly audible. Their conversation, from what I could hear Walter say, had something to do with the disposal after the Holiday season of a small Christmas tree in Susan's office, when I heard Walter say, “Why don't you give it to the Jew boy across the hall?
            Stunned, I faced him.
            He smiled at me.
            “It celebrates the birth of another Jew boy,” I said tightly.
            The smile left his face, and he walked back to his office. Though we were colleagues for many more years, I never trusted him again; nor did I seek his companionship again. The best I could manage was a courteous exchange. He had deeply wounded me, even though I'm the most secular kind of Jew: an atheist with the philosophical outlook of an existential-relativist.


            So, what does my encounter with Walter mean in the “big picture”? Absolutely nothing, except that it clearly shows that anti-Semitism lies hidden in the most enlightened of environments. In one way or another Jews have always been exposed to their Walters, and were wounded, some more severely, than I was. And millions lost their lives for no other reason than they were born into the Hebrew faith. It became part of our individual heritage; and in a much broader context, our collective identity.


            The day after the incident with Walter, I did something I never thought I'd do; I went to a local jewelry story and had a ring made with a Chi on it. As a symbol of identity, that to Jews is equivalent to the cross.
            Many years have passed since my unhappy encounter with Walter; and though I am still a secular Jew, I have, at my present age, and still am, experiencing a kind of “epiphany.” An awakening to something I had lost, briefly found, lost again, and recently found again. No, it's not religion or faith in God; both are still anathema to me. More important, as far as I am concerned, I found my first language, Yiddish. It was there all of the time, and I didn't recognize it. Perhaps, I didn't want to recognize it.
            My paternal grandmother, Rose, and my maternal grandmother, Ester, spoke Yiddish. I have a very clear memory of Ester: she was a big woman, and always wore a housedress of some sort and a much-washed apron. I didn't like her; and I knew she didn't like me, or my sisters, or my father. And I also knew, she didn't like my mother because she always argued with her in Yiddish. But my mother must have loved her very much because when she was dying she called for her, in Yiddish of course.
            Whereas my mother was the oldest of ten children, my father was the youngest of the clan, possibly a love child, a bastard. According to the official papers, he and Rose came from Austria when he was six months old. But my grandfather had already been in this country for years. To differentiate between grandmothers, at least in my immediate family, it was done by size. Ester was big bubba, while Rose, a diminutive woman, was referred to as little bubba.
            Both my grandfathers died before I was born. My maternal grandfather died when he was thirty-nine from tuberculosis, and is buried in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, while my paternal grandfather was buried in the Washington Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.
            Little bubba lived with my family until she could no longer take care of herself; then, she spent the rest of her life in the Jewish Home for the Aged, on East New York Avenue in Brooklyn. My mother told me that she'd raised me until I was five. Since her language was Yiddish, it became mine along with English which was spoken most of the time, except when my parents were angry and hurled thunderbolts of Yiddish curses at one another, or spoke about something that they didn't want my sisters and I to know about. Then, something unfortunate happened; my mother brought me to see my grandmother either the day she died or the day before she died; I'm not clear about the exact day. When I saw her, she was delirious and frightened me so much that for years I remembered nothing about her or the language she spoke. Only within the last decade or so, have I been able to put together a vague picture of what she looked like. But more than likely, it's more imagination than memory. But oddly, what I have always remembered was the woman in a nearby bed who offered me an orange, which I did not take.


            So much for the back-story, for the reason why I had forgotten Yiddish: and my apology for a bit of family history.
Now go forward; I'm thirty- three or thirty-four years old. I board a plane for a flight back to New York from Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was there on assignment for a client, North Atlantic Industries, to write an article about their new Null Meter.
            It's mid-afternoon on a Friday. The plane is almost full, and there are passengers behind me, when I suddenly see him. I instantly know by the way he's dressed¾the long black frock coat, his beard, and the wide-brimmed felt hat, that he's an orthodox Jew. But what the devil is he doing there? Perversely, I decide to sit next to him; as soon as I do, he moves as close to the side of the aircraft as possible, and looks at me with unreserved disdain. I return his disdain with a smile, which further upsets him. We still haven't exchanged a word.
            Because it's high summer, I am deeply tanned, and am often taken for an Italian or Hispanic. I am sure he's trying to figure out to which of those ethnic groups I belong. By this time the passengers on either side of the aisle, in front and in back of us, are aware of the small comedy to which they are privy.
            Eventually, we're airborne. When we reach our cruising altitude, and the seat belt sign goes off, a stewardess begins to roll the juice, soda, and alcoholic drink cart down the aisle. The juices, and soda were free; but you paid for all alcoholic drinks. And whiskey came in small bottles, enough for a shot; served in plastic glasses, with ice, if requested.
            When the cart is close to us, I turn to my companion and ask, “Doo vilist shnapps?”  Without thinking about them, the Yiddish words came to me.
            Of course, he is too stunned to respond immediately; so I put the question to him again.
            “Yeah,” he answers my question, and asks a question of his own: “Doo bist en Yid?”
            “Ich bin ein Jude.”
            When our drinks arrive, he offers the tradition blessing in Hebrew, followed by, “L'chiam.” To life! We touch our plastic glasses together; then drink'
            As it turned out, his command of English was very poor. But he spoke several other languages: Russian, because that's his mother tongue; French and Italian, because he lived for a while in each of those countries; Hebrew, because he was trained to speak, read and write in the language; and German, because he's a survivor of Auschwitz; and Yiddish, because it's the argot of Eastern European Jews.
            My knowledge of Yiddish was extremely limited; and my knowledge of Russian non-existent, as was my knowledge of Hebrew, and German. But French was a different “kettle of fish.”  I had three years of high school French, and two more years in college. Despite the linguistic difficulties, we carried on a lively conversation in a mixture of English, French and Yiddish for the rest of the flight.
            His story was a remarkable one, an odyssey that in its own way rivaled Homer's Odyssey. But at the time I met him, he lived in the Bensonhurst section of Brooklyn, which was, even then, an enclave for orthodox Jewry. Every Monday he would fly to Minneapolis, and drive two hours to the town, where he worked as a butcher and a shoket, a man who slaughtered fowl and cattle according to Mosaic Law.
            When we landed, we went our separate ways, and any Yiddish I reclaimed was lost for almost fifty more years.


            In the spring of 2007, I had the urge to visit the graves of my parents, who are buried in the Beth Israel Cemetery in Elmont, Long Island. I didn't have a logical explanation for wanting to do that; I hadn't visited their graves for years. But the itch was there, and I very much wanted to scratch it.
            I had been thinking about my parents more than usual, and dreaming about them more than usual. But all of the dreams were unsatisfactory, and left me upset when I remembered them. I was the wayward son, a disappointment to both. Perhaps it was my age, or a form of delayed grieving that brought me to the decision to go to their graves. Since I no longer drive, I had to wait until my youngest son, Nathan, came down from Ottawa to visit his “dear old mom and dad” and drive me out to the cemetery.
            During this waiting time, I had long conversations with sister, Roslyn, the only survivor of my three sisters, all of whom were older than me. The youngest, Gail, and the oldest, Shirley, are dead. Roslyn is eight years older than I am. That we are on speaking terms after many years of not speaking was not in any way a miracle. It required compromise on each of our parts. Most of our conversations, once we get through our various health problems, what our children and grandchildren are doing, are about our parents. During one particular conversation, she reminded me that they only spoke Yiddish when they didn't want us to know what they were talking about, and when they were angry with each other and cursed one another, which was, at least in my memory, all too frequently.
This, in turn, opened a Pandora's Box of memories, a treasure chest of Yiddish invectives¾a fascinating and unique way to be reintroduced to the language.


            Nathan came down the week after the July 4th weekend. I rented a car, and he drove me out to the cemetery. It was a hot summer's day, with some large cumulus clouds to the south that were probably out over the ocean.
            After a few minutes, we found the graves. Surprisingly, I felt nothing when I looked down at them¾yet, not quite nothing. I realized that I missed them; not their presence, but the opportunity that would have allowed them to enjoy their grandchildren and great grandchildren. I also realized that I was being foolishly sentimental; but that can happen, even to an old existential-relativist like me.
            Before we left, we put several stones on the top of each of their tombstones; that's part of a tradition that goes back several thousand years. Supposedly, it lets their spirits know that someone remembers them; this time it was a son and grandson.


            But still my recall of Yiddish foundered on the lack of vocabulary and syntax. Then, to my surprise and delight, the Jewish Museum in Battery Park City, in Manhattan, was having, as part of their lecture series, Mr. Leo Rosten, the author of the JOYS OF YIDDISH.
            My wife, Anita, and I occupied an apartment in the building next to the museum. The lecture was a must for me; and I found it informative and humorous, a wonderful combination.
            I left the lecture feeling reborn, at least as far as Yiddish was concerned. I began to study it seriously on my own. It was something I wanted to do; something I had to do. The language belongs to me, as it once belonged to my mother and father. It is part of my heritage; and I am delighted to reconnect with it, even this late in the “game...”


My work has been published in Amarillo Bay, Runaway Parade, Writing Tomorrow, eFictionMag, Contrapositions and the Stone Hobo; and in Prime Mincer, The Note and Cooweescoowee (3X) and THE STONE CANOE, electronic edition. Hippocamus Magazine In addition to the short stories I have had several novels published. I am also cited in Wikipedia. My wife and I live on Staten Island.  I have been a sailor, soldier and college professor, playwright and novelist.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017



by John Kaniecki

The roller coaster
Of ups and downs
Smiles and frowns
A lesson
In the blues
Paying your dues
Manic shift
Your moods lift
Touching the sky
Flying high
Rapid cycler that's super intense
Creativity so immense
A greater connection to the whole
A secret within your soul
A band of brothers and sisters we are
Near and far
Not something to be feared
Certainly never to be sneered
We are something precious
A delight delicious
A twinkle in God's eye

You and I

Capri Team Adventures, "THE TESTIMONIUM" and "MATTHEW'S AUTOGRAPH" by Lewis Ben Smith

An interview with Lewis Ben Smith, author of "The Testimonium" and "Mathew's  Autograph" books one and two in the  Capri Team Adventures.

Could you please tell us what motivates you to write?

Several factors drove me to start writing in 2012.  First of all, I was still angry about how popular works of fiction like THE DA VINCI CODE peddled gross falsehoods about the origins of  Christianity and got away with it!  Secondly, someone loaned me a historical novel by a very well-known Christian author and I was totally underwhelmed by it.  The author didn't seem to have a very solid grasp of Roman history and his dialog was riddled with gross anachronisms and frankly, the story just wasn't that good.  I thought that I could write a better story, and false pride aside, I think I did.  But underlying those two things was the simple fact that I have dreamed of being a writer since I was in high school.  I was 48 years old and not getting any younger, and suddenly this idea that had been kicking around in my head for a couple of years came pouring out, and THE TESTIMONIUM was born.
eLectio is a Christian publisher and your work is Christian based. Can you elaborate on the role your faith plays in your writing?

My faith runs through everything that I write, just as it runs through all the other parts of my life.  It doesn't make me better or holier than anybody else, it's just a huge part of who I am.  So when I write, my faith comes out in the story.  There's a little bit of me in nearly every character I create.  My villains reflect the kind of person I could be if God had not saved me, my heroes are the kind of Christians I wish I could be.  They're human, like me - to paraphrase HAMILTON, they "rise and they fall they break and they make their mistakes" - but in the end, they choose to do the right thing, the God-honoring thing, in the rather difficult circumstances my imagination puts them in.  I have a strong background in apologetics, so many of the arguments I have studied and debated for years come out as part of the dialog in my stories.

You have four books published with eLectio so they must be pleased with you and you with them. What would you say to somebody considering to publish with eLectio the pros and cons?

Jesse and Christopher and the Electio crew have been absolutely wonderful to work with.  From editing to cover art to providing me with the copies I order in a timely fashion, they have been incredibly efficient.  When I get discouraged by poor sales, Christopher is always willing to buck me up with solid suggestions and sound advice.
One thing I will say, though - being an author is HARD WORK.  Your books will not sell themselves, no matter how good they are!  You HAVE to hustle, promote, and put yourself and your books out there constantly, relentlessly, and enthusiastically.  Electio will help you when they can, but ultimately, you have to be your own publicity department.  They have several hundred other authors with works either in print or pending, so they don't have time to do your work for you!
Of your four books are they a series? Please give us a snippet or synopsis for each one.

Without really intending to, I have wound up writing two distinct trilogies - one set in modern times, involving the adventures of a group of Biblical archeologists; the other set in ancient Rome, intertwining the story of Christianity's origins with those of the men who were running the Roman Empire during the First Century. 

 THE TESTIMONIUM was my very first work, and it was inspired by an Easter monologue I performed in chapel one year at the Christian School where I teach.  I portrayed Pontius Pilate, dictating a letter to Rome about the events of the Passion Week (basically trying to cover his rear end after knowing he had sent an innocent man to his death).  Later that year, while reading some of the earliest works of the Church Fathers (second century Christians who were closely linked to the Apostolic Age), I ran across a quote from Justin Martyr, writing to the Emperor Antoninus Pius:  "That these things did happen, you can ascertain from the Acts of Pontius Pilate."  In Roman parlance, "Acts" were any kind of official report or record.  So there WAS a report from Pilate to Caesar about the crucifixion!  I began to wonder - what if that report were found today?  What if it confirmed the narrative of the Gospels?  How would the world react?  That was when I sat down after school one day and began describing how an earthquake had struck the Isle of Capri, damaging the ruins of Tiberius' palace . . . and so began the story of THE TESTIMONIUM.

  After I finished it, though, I moved on to my other project, the "Rome" stories.  But, after finishing the first book in that series, I couldn't help but wonder - what happened to Josh and Isabella and Father MacDonald and all the other characters I created in THE TESTIMONIUM?  Did they ever do another dig together?  Did Josh and Isabella settle in her native Italy, or in the States?  A picture began to form in my mind, of a remote cave uncovered during an excavation in the Negev Desert, of Father MacDonald patiently searching it for any sign of ancient occupation, of a false wall concealing an ancient tomb . . . and MATTHEW'S AUTOGRAPH was up and running!  I love this story, although it is my poorest seller.  Fast-paced and fun, it reunites the Capri Team on a new excavation, with another amazing, startling, and disturbing discovery: the tomb of St. Matthew, containing the original copy - the "autograph" - of his Gospel.  Or is it?  I'll let your readers discover for themselves!

  After finishing this one, I wrote the second volume of my Rome trilogy, and then decided to check in on the Capri Team one more time.  The result was a powerful, although sometimes dark, adventure tale called THE GNOSTIC LIBRARY.  Father MacDonald, an archeological consultant for the Vatican, is called to Egypt to help excavate an incredible find: a library of scrolls and codices from the early splinter sect of Christianity known as the Gnostics.  Larger than any previous discover of ancient Christian writings, the library promises to answer many questions about the split between the Gnostics and the Apostolic churches, and the formation of the New Testament canon.  But the Black Desert, where the library has laid buried under the shifting dunes for seventeen centuries, is a huge and remote place, and a radical band of jihadists associated with the Islamic State have taken refuge there from Egyptian authorities. Father MacDonald and his colleague, British archeologist Dr. Katherine Feezel, are taken captive and subjected to unspeakable torments at the ands of their captors.  It is up to the rest of the Capri Team - Joshua and Isabella Parker, and his mentor, Dr. Luke Martens and his wife Alicia - to race to Egypt and help rescue their friends!  THE GNOSTIC LIBRARY is a fitting conclusion to the Capri Team trilogy and will leave readers on the edge of their seats!  It is being released on May 1 of this year.
What do you like most about writing?

Creating the characters of my story and watching them slowly assume a life of their own.  Often I have no idea what role they will play in the story when I first introduce them. Sometimes a character I thought would be major falls by the wayside, other times a minor throwaway character becomes central to the story.  That's the other thing I love: hopping on the back of the story and letting it take me where it wills.  I often begin a book having no idea how it will end!

What do you like least about writing?

When life gets in the way of my writing, and I have to go weeks on end without touching my latest story.
Seeing beloved characters die because the story decrees it must be so.
Seeing my Amazon sales rank slowly fall because people aren't buying what I write. 
How do you market your books? Are there any tips that you could give to the many people who either published with small independent presses or self publish?

The formula that seems to work best is:  1.  Social Media.  2.  Public Appearances.  3.  Repeat 1 and 2.
NEVER assume your books will grow wings and fly on their own!  You have to do the flapping for them if you want them to soar.
What are your plans in the future regarding your writing? Do you have a long term goal?

I'd like to earn enough from writing to maybe retire from the classroom someday.  Maybe get a movie contract, or an epic TV miniseries, an adoring fan base, and a nice lake house to spend my golden years in, writing and looking for arrowheads in between book signings.
What is your method in writing a book? Do you first have an outline or do you make things up as they go?

I always try to come up with a catchy prologue and work from there, but as I said, the story has a mind of its own.  I tell it where I think it ought to go, and then it proceeds to show me why that was the wrong direction.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers?
A line from one of my favorite movies, THROW MOMMA FROM THE TRAIN:  "A writer writes . . . always!"
How has your life changed since your success in writing?

Well, my success has been limited, but I'm really still just getting started. My first book came out just a little over three years ago!  But it is fun to see people and have them say: "I really loved your book!"  I've gotten out, met thousands of people, sold hundreds of books, and gotten lots of reviews, most of them good and only a few bad.  I've learned a lot about the publishing industry and how things work.  It's been fun!
What do you see for the future of literature in general?

I don't know that I can venture any predictions there, but I can tell you one thing: traditional, analog books may not be going away soon, but brick and mortar bookstores are a dying breed.  I was stunned when the Hastings chain shut down, but it joins Walden Books and B. Dalton Booksellers on the ash heap of commercial history.  Amazon is the future, and EBooks will become a larger and larger share of the market from here on out.
Tell us something about yourself.
Let's see - I'm a teacher, pastor, husband, father, amateur archeologist and paleontologist (not as fancy as it sounds, I like dinosaur bones AND arrowheads!), video game junkie, third degree black belt, and goat rancher.  I think that about covers it.  Oh, and I write a blog - you can read it here:
Tell us something about the importance of God in your life?

He created me, He loves me despite my shortcomings, He has blessed me far beyond anything I deserve, and my awareness of Him, my love for Him, my fascination with Him, informs everything I do.  As the Greek poet Menander said: "In Him we live and move and have our being."
What is your favorite scripture?

John 1: 14: "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
Who are your favorite authors?

OK, I am VERY eclectic.  In the field of apologetics, I love Lee Strobel, Josh McDowell, and William Lane Craig.  For grins and giggles, no one can top Dave Barry.  And for page turning fiction - Stephen King is probably still American's greatest living writer; Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have created an unforgettable character in their Agent Pendergast series, and H.P. Lovecraft's stories still have the power to terrify almost a century after they were written.  For Christian fiction, I enjoy the works of Paul Maier, as well as several of my fellow Electio authors, like George Dalton and Gary Knight.  I confess I haven't read your book yet, John!   (Hangs head in shame)