A peek inside the 2022 Open Issue, with excerpts from Rhett Watts, Jayne Brown and Patrick J. Murphy.
On this episode, three pieces from Passager’s brand new issue.
Rhett Watts said her arthritis keeps her from joining her husband on his beach walks. Here’s her poem, “At Slack Tide.”
the period of stillness just before the tide turns
Now that I no longer take long walks,
he brings me things
like the little green pinecone
he found in the woods.
It rests on my windowsill,
a placeholder for all that is
stunted and stunning.
He puts his jacket on and I say,
“Carry me with you, here,”
my hand on his breast pocket.
Smiling, he nods, then leaves.
Returns with tokens of the world:
a blue action figure fallen to the street
a nest blown from the eaves
of a barn he thinks he’d like to own
a stone so smooth
you could wear it in your shoe.
Once, when I was feeling utterly low,
he had me close my eyes
while he placed in my palm
a knobbed whelk shell. Washed up
onto the local mud flats,
its salmon-colored insides opened me.
“At Slack Tide,” Rhett Watts. She said, “I find it both delightful and somewhat disturbing that these writings, material artifacts, remnants of our ultimately ephemeral lives will outlive us!”
Jayne Brown said that after her mother died, she was trying to find ways to write about her. Suddenly her mother’s eyebrow popped into mind. Here’s “Her Left Eyebrow.”
It raises, it cocks. It praises, or mocks. I learned early to watch that eyebrow, the way I learned to read the weather of a room. It might signal encouragement, or warn me to back off. It told me whether she wanted Irish Spaghetti or Spanish Rice Quickie for supper, whether she thought my new poem was nice, whether to dress my little brother in blue onesies or the yellow giraffe pajamas.
The eyebrow was the last of her to go. Eyes closed, mouth slack, she moved between labored breathing and finally drifting mostly on a morphine float. But when my sister asked, “Are you hearing all the nice things we’re saying about you?” up went the eyebrow, pleased. When one of the men she fondly called The Gay Dads visited from church, she managed smiles we hadn’t roused for days. “What are we,” my brother asked. “Chopped liver?” Up it cocked, a well-timed laugh.
It was how she answered “yes” to sips of apple juice, a sponge of water on her lips. When I tried to feed rice pudding from a spoon and said, “My kids have told me I’m terrible at this,” the eyebrow rose in arch agreement. Her eyes popped open for a moment once, and the eyebrow frowned and furrowed to find she wasn’t done. “I have to get this over with to make the movie stop,” she said. When the eyebrow finally was still, it told me she was gone.
“Her Left Eyebrow,” Jayne Brown.
Patrick J. Murphy retired right when the pandemic struck. He said, “COVID-19 confined me to my house, trapped in what had become a new environment. I began to appreciate the time I had to observe and think and write.” Here’s an excerpt from his short story “This Bank and Shoal of Time.”
“Would you like to get married?” I asked.
She smiled. “So, Brad Pitt called at last? I was beginning to lose hope.”
I waited, giving her my long-suffering expression.
“Are you serious?” she finally asked, her face growing somber, uncertain, the lines around her mouth deepening, her eyes narrowing and seeming more intense somehow. It was adorable.
I nodded, maybe not the ultimate in romantic gestures, but if I knelt, I figured I’d never get back up.
She waited a few minutes, either deliberately building the tension, or just having some thoughts. I never could read her very well. “And?” I said.
“Why? Why now?”
. . . “Because I love you,” I said. “And I would like that to go on the record.”
She looked at me and I could see the happiness inside her, almost a fluid moving through her. She nodded. “Okay. Sure.” She leaned over and kissed me a while.
And so there we were, I guess. Engaged, if we weren’t by our cohabitation already married by law. And that didn’t seem to much matter. The future was continuously falling down upon us. We were caught in a torrent racing past mystic canyon walls. The only permanence, the only set point, we would ever know is that which we created ourselves, and there we were, making a statement for whatever posterity survived, two small life forms on an over-heating planet in the middle of a pandemic. I really don’t know why that made me so glad.
Excerpts from “This Bank and Shoal of Time,” Patrick J. Murphy.
All three pieces on this episode are from Passager’s brand new, still-in-the-mail issue. If you’re a subscriber and haven’t gotten yours, it should be there soon. To subscribe to or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to passagerbooks.com.
You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts, Audible, and a host of other podcast apps.
For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.