Turn a Phrase

Prose and Poetry

Darius Frasure

Professor Darius Frasure is a highly sought after poet and creative life coach. He holds degrees from Paul Quinn College, Luther Rice Seminary, and National University. His work revolves around partnerships with literary arts and education organizations, which impact the state of Texas and the U.S. His poetry appears in many literary journals and select readings are on youtube. He has one spoken word album, Spoken Pieces (2010), and two collections of poetry: stained glass medusa (2015), and of stone and rope (2019).

Contact and booking: www.dariusfrasure.com

 

 

 

the cost of sanity

her mind is a house of cards

built fragile 

 

because connection costs

and she is paper-thin

too shallow to pass-through

wading in the winds of change

like a grocery bag in a store parking lot

 

kicked along tumbleweed

forced to feed on what she cannot see

bowing to need

and want

and empty

 

the cup never filling

 

but ecstasy overflowing

love’s overgrown cliche

 

tormented skeleton 

shadow of intimacy

like angels wings 

clipped and bleeding

I could never

bring myself to

realize this truth

human experience reduced to sweating 

subsurface dwelling 

silk skin strapped muscle 

laced nervous system 

harboring phantasm

my body aches for more than identity

a cosmic split of atom and Adam

fruit-induced double-conscious

good and evil

Jekyll and jasmine-scented Jezebel

consciousness deceives births betrayal-leaves 

taste of flesh cold and stale

I bit into her  and lost all feeling of me

and hope of being

and the lies I tell myself are barbed wire fencing 

enveloping this asylum of guilt and fear

so I soak my wooden liver in alcohol and hope 

this fire will purify my gut from seared mind

release the smoked stain of her from my nostrils

flared flowing satin 

sanity is miles per inch of silence

catching the wind

an open mind

gets dusty

                         that’s what the books say

                         through jagged teeth

 

tossed on the floor

in no particular order

                         leaves fall from

                        branches dried stiff

 

the tree of knowledge

rootless ruthless

                         meditation makes men

                         mirrors of dust and ash

 

lead stained footprints

mark each page

                        leaving impressions

                       of blood-colored mud

 

experience and intellect

by-product of seeking

                  but never attaining

                  the light

 

Mag Gabbert

Mag Gabbert holds a Ph.D. in creative writing from Texas Tech University and an MFA from The University of California at Riverside. Her essays and poems have been published in 32 PoemsStirringThe RumpusThrushAnomaly, Phoebe, Birmingham Poetry Review, and many other journals. Mag teaches creative writing at Southern Methodist University and for Writing Workshops Dallas; she serves as an associate editor for Underblong Journal. For more information, please visit maggabbert.com.

Your Sister’s Wedding

Still simmering from the last champagne, we stayed in the old boathouse beside the lake and began taking down decorations—unfastening, untying, unwinding each thing we’d assembled the day before. I followed every familiar gesture, the language of long-time friends. We only had the room until dawn, and I, your date in the absence of your spouse, helped undo any pieces that could be undone. First, the tulle, once softly netting lavender light, gathered in ectoplasmic bouquets. Then, the discarded stems of each sparkler. With mine I’d smeared a light-streaked heart as the bride stepped from the porch; you’d held the lit wand to your lips and pretended you would swallow the glow like a sun. We took the baby’s breath, violets, and bluebonnets from their vases and scattered them in the lawn. We snuffed each candle out until nothing but light smoke slinked toward the wood-planked ceiling. The moon poured its pale sheen, its light somehow a bright shadow. We shook the silver glitter from each tablecloth, watched the silks linger like water above us a moment, then let them fall to our bodies. We carried the altar out to the neighbor’s truck bed. His headlights swayed to the west and diminished. No trace of ceremony left, we stepped from the airy hall to the banks of the slick, black lake. I stood, hungry, at its lip. I thought to immerse myself. I thought to push you in. The darkness began to become us.

Solstice

A hefty rat hops off the cracked blacktop

that runs between two fields. The brown-tipped weeds

lie flat, matted, like blood on a slick sheen

of sick, green fur. Each stem quivers, bristling,

against the cool. It stings. I keep moving,

too low on fuel, and pass a sheer rock face—

fresh-cleaved, cleared clean, the center rare as steak.

Some old tires ribbon nearby, hollow 

as hungry snakes. Like me, they seem alive

to every broken thing. A hawk hangs low

beneath the sun, pendant, his wings tipping—

what is he promising? Is that a deer

carcass, strewn fat, a spilling open sack?

It teems, I think, pregnant with red endings.

Logen Cure

Logen Cure is the author of three poetry chapbooks: Still, Letters to Petrarch, and In Keeping. She’s an editor for Voicemail Poems. She curates Inner Moonlight, a monthly reading series at The Wild Detectives in Dallas. She serves as an English faculty member at Tarrant County College and earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She lives in DFW with her wife and daughter. Learn more at www.logencure.com

English

There’s no solid description of Grendel, 

but I could imagine

his swampy musk, his breath hot

with rage, drawn from darkness

toward Herot, all the men singing, 

their voices thick with mead.

I also know what joy sounds like 

when it can never belong to you.

 

My teacher said monsters 

make heroes but I figured 

I knew guys like Beowulf, 

all talk and toothy smiles, 

daredevil for glory.

He beat his chest, claimed

he wouldn’t even need a weapon. 

I hoped he’d get eaten.

 

My classmates celebrated 

Grendel’s severed arm swinging 

bloody from the rafters. 

Villains, teacher said,

are integral to the plot.

 

I’d never read a monster with a mother. 

Grendel’s mother is nameless

but her grief-ridden howl

haunted my dreams. Beowulf entered 

her lair under the lake

and I was breathless, imagining

ethereal light and still water,

how her sorrow must have echoed there.

I knew she couldn’t win in a story like this, 

but I loved her for coming close.

Transmission

You have to get the ratio right, Dad’s voice clear 

despite frustration. Ease off that clutch,

give ‘er some gas—damn!

 

The eighteenth time the car heaved

its bucking death rattle, it was decided 

my mother should teach me.

 

You can feel it, she said. You’re just going to know. 

 

How? I cranked the ignition again

and again, What am I supposed to feel? 

 

Windows down, shoes off,

the mercy of the A/C silenced—

 

Just listen.

 

I longed for the shade of bleachers

on the far side of the sweltering stadium parking lot.

 

I inhaled, drew back on the clutch,

let the rising hum of gas to engine vibrate 

inside my ribs, the car rolled, coughed once, 

gained wonderful momentum until

 

I felt the strain, the need

for release and without thinking

 

hit second gear.

Margaret Allyson

Margaret Allyson enjoyed a long career in publishing and is now happy to sleep late, work in the garden, faff around with textiles, play with food, and generally have a fine old time. She’s written books (nonfiction), songs (some pretty good), poems, and countless magazine articles. Margaret is basically a decent human being, and she’s glad to be here.

In the Court of Henry VIII

The king is fat. His leg is rotten.

Wolsey and Cromwell — last voices of reason —

lie moldering. Still the hunt goes on.

Boleyns whored out their daughters.

Seemed like a good plan at the time;

it’s all played out.

The families scuttle in alcoves

and the king demands another wife.

Trust erodes. Who fawned now falls.

Heads fall as well.

His castles crumble, he eats up praise.

And we are all afraid.

Uncertain, Texas

As soon as his wife

got out of the truck,

he flew all over Lee Ann.

Hummingbird-hot,

like they all are in August,

flickering in and out

of existence.

 

When Lee Ann remembered it later,

that minute shimmered

like when you climb out of the water

 

and everything you see is blurred.

Ann Graham

Originally from Kansas, Ann Graham has lived in Texas for nearly forty years. Her MFA in painting and drawing continues to inform her writing practice. She attended the Squaw Valley Community of Writers workshop and has been published by Grey Sparrow JournalDigging Through the FatThe Oddville Press, and the Panther City Review. Her writing prompt book, Ready, Set, Go Write, is available online, and she contributed research to Fort Worth’s Giants of Jazz. She maintains a blog at www.ann-graham.com and can be found on Twitter @AnnGraham7.

On the Road Again

Driving for any length of time, you encounter all shapes, sizes, and colors of signage. Some are large and imposing. Some are small and hand-painted. Some implore you to obey commands or to make a purchase. And, some remind you of the life you had with Elizabeth before you died. 

 

Massage, a large pink and brown sign, hand-painted

Elizabeth gave killer massages after you’d worked, open to close, at your Texaco full-service gas station. She’d unkink your shoulder blades with her sharp elbows. You were never positive whether she eased the stiffness and pain or if you were just glad she’d stopped. 

When you were seventeen, old man Russell took you on in his transmission repair shop. He’d throw you a Jackson at the end of the week if he thought you’d done more than squat. Between that experience and the Okmulgee High School auto mechanic program you were set to earn a living by the time you were twenty. You finally got your own station. The next year, you married Elizabeth.

 

Rest Area, Safe Phone Zone, another sign

You hover above a dark cherry metallic 1998 Malibu, its clear-coat peeling like sunburned skin. There are half a dozen kids inside. Long dark hair streams from the rear passenger window. You try to get the driver’s attention because he’s weaving from lane to lane, and you see there’s a line of big rigs about to enter from the ramp. You’re banging on his windshield to no avail. You’re unsure how your new powers work or even exactly what they are. As soon as you think that, you grab the hair flowing from the rear window and give it a tug. It seems to have worked. She yells at the driver, and he centers the Malibu. After another mile, he exits for the rest area safe phone zone.

 

Dump Station, a small sign posted on a fence

RV folks need to get rid of their gray water as they lumber down the road with their homes on their backs making dump stations necessary. How brave they are to have no roots deep in a place. 

Elizabeth had her hair dyed—she called it a touch-up—every eight weeks at Wak-n-Yak, the beauty salon all the neighbor ladies used. Elizabeth said she needed to dump her grievances as much as she needed her hair done. She made no beans about how much you had come to annoy her and that yakking to her friends and her stylist was inexpensive counseling. You called it gossip. She called it gospel. 

You and Elizabeth lived in a neighborhood with single-family houses, lawns, garages, back yard patios with gas grills, and front porches with swings and gliders. Once you told Elizabeth that you were going to buy the biggest RV on the market so that the two of you could travel the country, side by side. She said you could call a lawyer while you were at it. 

 

Do Not Cross Solid Line, a federal highway sign

The traffic is congested. You’re watching the cars, trucks, and RVs creep alongside the largest casino complex you’ve ever seen. For a few seconds, you float next to a Subaru Outback stopped at a red light. You watch the woman hand pieces of beef jerky, one at a time, to the driver, then she hands him a can of Dr. Pepper. He takes a sip and holds the can for her to replace in the cup holder. They seem to have a system. 

You and Elizabeth rarely rode together. Toward the end, you were rarely together at all. She wasn’t with you the day you missed the yield sign. 

 

Motel California, a sign advertising an inexpensive motel

You and Elizabeth started dating in May 1976, bicentennial, voter registration, Elton John’s bisexuality, and all that. You hooked up at a school dance neither of you wanted to attend. She wore a red, white, and blue maxi. Dresses at that time were either mini or maxi. Her hair, Farrah Fawcett style, draped her tanned shoulders and turned you on. Her date was a football jock who went off with his buddies to guzzle Budweiser while several of you also ditched the dance to smoke pot under the bridge that spanned the Arkansas River. Even though it was close to the high school, the vantage point allowed you to see anyone approaching well before they sniffed out your pot. Long story short, Elizabeth dumped jock-boy and you were a bona-fide item. This sign reminds you how you wore out your Eagles album in the cassette player of your GTO. Up and down 21st, cruising with your gal, some vanilla soft-serve at Jack’s Burger Shack, windows open, and music blaring. 

 

Be Prepared to Stop, a sign in a construction zone

Sure, sailing down the road at ninety miles an hour and these dopes are supposed to be prepared to stop. Your attention is hiked and you hope the drivers are half-aware. Traffic is heavy and some damn idiots are doing ninety and some barely reach sixty in the passing lane. Can’t they read? You guess it’s hard to read a sign while using a cell phone. You wonder how you could interrupt them or if that would make it more dangerous.

 

Flea Market, a bent sign nailed to a big tree

Peach preserves glistened like amber in the morning sunshine; the hand-printed labels faced the shoppers. Elizabeth set out her jams, every Friday, at the Southside Flea Market off 67. It was also marked with a large, homemade sign. You told her she should charge more for all the labor, packaging, and driving involved. She said it wasn’t for the money. It was for the camaraderie. She sold a jar every week to a retired Army General she called Clarence who’d told her, and she told you, that he began every morning with an English muffin, toasted, buttered, and laden with her luscious peaches. Then he winked, she told you, and said he thought about her pretty hair and wide eyes as well.

 

Please Stay Alert, another federal sign 

After weeks of mustering the power to leave Highway 75, the road on which you were killed, you make it over to Bella Vista Avenue. A new blue Honda Accord sits in your driveway. At first you think it must belong to a parishioner from Christ the Servant Lutheran Church, but you see Elizabeth hop into it. You follow her to Kroger and you sit on the cart return until she exits the store with a bundle of multi-colored flowers wrapped in a clear plastic cone.

You follow her for forty miles on the Dallas North Tollway. She weaves in and out of traffic. Not only is it difficult to keep up, but you also find it perplexing that she’s driving assuredly and almost aggressively. You decide to sail higher for a bird’s eye view. At last she pulls up to a valet stand, and you watch her smile at the doorman as she swings her favorite Coach handbag into a boutique hotel on Main Street. She’s wearing a pink, fluttery dress you do not recognize. You float back and forth across the entrance all night. The following morning, she emerges with a sturdy man you think might be Clarence. 

 

Cherry Ice Box Cookies, a billboard

You asked Elizabeth once what the hell were cherry icebox cookies. She said they were soft, chewy, maraschino-cherry-flavored cookies. Why the hell are they called icebox cookies? She said because you were supposed to shape the dough into logs and chill them in the refrigerator, icebox, until the dough was very cold. Ha, you said, mystery solved. She made a batch the next weekend and you thought they were damn good. You told her she should sell some of those at the flea market. She said no, not interested. She asked where did you hear about cherry icebox cookies? You told her they’re advertised on a billboard along I-20 outside Dallas.

 

Yield, one of the most common signs 

You believe the yield sign to be the most important road sign. After all, isn’t all driving an act of yielding? In fact, you’ve come to believe that successful relationships practice mutual yielding. In fact you now believe that if you’d yielded to your wife once in a while, or if you’d both done a little yielding, you might still be alive. Who doesn’t yield to a rock hauler? You hadn’t seen it, because you took a sip of coffee at that instant, the wrong instant. You wish you could tell these distracted drivers that they should heed highway signs.

 

Hospital, a potentially consequential sign

This blue sign—a nice blue, not too dark, not too light—with a white arrow pointing west, reminds you of that day not too long ago. This sign does not point to the hospital where you were taken, but points toward another hospital that you assume is quite capable of saving lives. 

 

Oklahoma Welcome Center sign

You wish you could still piss and take a dump and eat cherry icebox cookies with a mug of coffee and talk to Elizabeth and love her. It’d feel really good to do all those things. 

Well, the least you can do is to stop by the Welcome Center.

Barbara Shinn

Barbara Shinn is a retired pathologist who is still trying to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up. She has long resided in Dallas, but it should be the Carolina coast. Pistachio is her favorite shade of ice cream.

Between the Lines 

I long to lay you out naked,

magnifying glass in hand,

to read, digest, every line  

upon your thigh.

 

Enticed by the ink flowing down your arm,

flowery script a sharp

contrast to the shoulders’ sans-serif Magnum,

Creepy Morgus, Cloister Black.

 

I trace with one finger the curl

around your ear, tongue

the salt curve ringing

the simple couplet of your neck.

 

Heat rises skin on skin,

sweat swirling lines: 

a love poem,

a comrade, a fallen friend.

 

Isaiah celebrates at your wrist, and proclaims

awful judgement from your ankle.

The trees clap hands.

A voice cries in the wilderness. 

 

I hear your silence,    

 

your scrape of chair.

You move past, smiling excuses.

I wipe traces of ink from my fingers

and turn away.

Suitcases

My sister says I remember nothing.

Echoes of locker room ridicule,

prom night solitude,

the after-school smell of unwashed depression,

are packed in an over-stuffed suitcase 

as at vacation’s end,

dirty laundry spilling out the sides,

straddled to close,

long residing dust-covered under the bed.

 

I am much better at packing now.

Train wreck marriage precisely compartmentalized,

(takes up less room every year).

LLBean toiletry bag, purple-orange plaid, 

holds memories of quality time with the kids,

graffiti aerosol side pockets for son,

tiny angst pouches for daughter.

 

Sexual improprieties are discreetly rolled 

and stuffed along the sides.

(Thongs, which take up no room, 

uncustomary during the sexual revolution.)

 

My father’s bewildered look 

at the nursing home,

“tough love” at my teen’s totaled car,

guilt and parental failures of air balloon enormity,

are wrangled into an entire partitioned half.

 

Fear I keep in my carry-on,

ever ready for that  2 am phone call,

the gnarly mammogram shadow,

secured so as not to tumble out

while diving for M&Ms.

 

All in all, a neatly packed ensemble

appropriately tagged. God help

 

when dementia

springs the locks.

Here are all of the authors that have been featured on Turn A Phrase under prose and poetry. 

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