Autumn Stott May 2016

So you want to be a poet?
You want to make beauty out of ugly words,
want to make people feel something,
you want the grandeur and glamour,
the clapping audience after your appearance on stage?
Well, kid, here's the thing,
A poet is not something you can just "be".
It is an illness passed down at birth,
it is the doctor handing you to your mother
and saying
"I'm so sorry, she was born with poetry in her veins".
It is your father begging for forgiveness
the first time he finds you
scribbling metaphors on your bedroom wall- just like him.
It is your first bicycle accident,
and the apologetic look
on your neighbors face when she
sees the ink pouring out of your wounds.
It is drinking too much,
not sleeping enough,
loving too deeply,
yet never loving at all,
It is walking up to every stranger you meet and saying
"here is my heart, would you like to break it?"
So you want to be a poet?
Good luck.

I've been really angry about this writer's curse lately.
Cyril Blythe Sep 2012

I followed him down the trail until we got to the mouth of the mines. The life and energy of the surrounding maples and birches seemed to come to a still and then die as we walked closer, closer. The air was cold and dark and damp and smelt of mold and moths. Delvos stepped into the darkness anyways.
“Well, girl, you coming or aren’t you?”
I could see his yellowed tobacco teeth form into a slimy smile as I stepped out of the sun. It was still inside. The canary chirped.
“This tunnel is just the mouth to over two hundred others exactly like it. Stay close. Last thing I need this month is National Geographic on my ass for losing one of their puppet girls.”
“Delvos, fuck. I have two masters degrees.” He rolled his eyes.
“Spare me.” He trotted off around the corner to the left, whistling.
“I survived alone in the jungles of Bolivia alone for two months chasing an Azara’s Spinetail. I climbed the tallest mountain in Nepal shooting Satyr Tragopans along the cliff faces. In Peru I…” Suddenly I felt the weight of the darkness. In my blinding anger I lost track of his lantern. I stopped, my heartbeat picked up, and I tried to remind myself of what I did in Peru.
I followed a Diurnal Peruvian Pygmy-Owl across the gravel tops of the Andes Mountains, no light but the Southern Cross and waning moon above. I am not scared of darkness. I am not scared of darkness.
I stopped to listen. Somewhere in front of me the canary chirped.

When I first got the job in Vermont I couldn’t have been more frustrated. Mining canaries? Never had I ever ‘chased’ a more mundane bird. Nonetheless, when Jack Reynolds sends you on a shoot you don’t say no, so I packed up my camera bag and hoped on the next plane out of Washington.
“His name is John Delvos.” Jack said. He handed me the manila case envelope. “He’s lived in rural Vermont his entire life. Apparently his family bred the canaries for the miners of the Sheldon Quarry since the early twenties. When the accident happened the whole town basically shut down. There were no canaries in the mines the day the gas killed the miners. His mother died in a fire of some sort shortly after. The town blamed the Delvos family and ran them into the woods. His father built a cabin and once his father died, Delvos continued to breed the birds. He ships them to other mining towns across the country now. We want to run a piece about the inhumanity of breeding animals to die so humans won’t.” I stood in silence in front of his deep mahogany desk, suddenly aware of the lack of make-up on my face. He smiled, “You’re leaving on Tuesday.”
“Yes sir.”
“Don’t look so smug, Lila. This may not be the most exotic bird you’ve shot but the humanity of this piece has the potential to be a cover story. Get the shots, write the story.”

“Do you understand the darkness now, Ms. Rivers? Your prestigious masters degrees don’t mean shit down here.” Delvos reappeared behind the crack of his match in a side tunnel not twenty yards in front of me. He relit the oily lantern and turned his back without another word. I reluctantly followed deeper into the damp darkness.
“Why were there no canaries in the mine on, you know, that day?” The shadows of the lantern flickered against the iron canary cage chained on his hip and the yellow bird hopped inside.
“I was nine, Ms. Rivers. I didn’t understand much at the time.” We turned right into the next tunnel and our shoes crunched on jagged stones. All the stones were black.
“But surely you understand now?”
The canary chirped.

When I first got to Sheldon and began asking about the location of the Delvos’ cabin you would have thought I was asking where the first gate to hell was located. Mothers would smile and say, “Sorry, Miss, I can’t say,” and hurriedly flock their children in the opposite direction. After two hours of polite refusals I gave up. I spent the rest of the first day photographing the town square. It was quaint; old stone barbershops surrounded by oaks and black squirrels, a western themed whiskey bar, and a few greasy spoon restaurants interspersed in-between. I booked a room in the Walking Horse Motel for Wednesday night, determined to get a good nights sleep and defeat this towns fear of John Delvos tomorrow.
My room was a tiny one bed square with no TV. Surprise, surprise. At least I had my camera and computer to entertain myself. I reached into the side of my camera bag and pulled out my Turkish Golds and Macaw-beak yellow BIC. I stepped out onto the dirt in front of my door and lit up. I looked up and the stars stole all the oxygen surrounding me. They were dancing and smiling above me and I forgot Delvos, Jack, and all of Sheldon except it’s sky. Puffing away, I stepped farther and farther from my door and deeper into the darkness of night. The father into the darkness the more dizzying the stars dancing became.
“Ma’am? Everything okay?”
Startled, I dropped my cigarette on the ground and the ember fell off.
“I’m sorry, sir. I was just, um, the stars…” I snuffed out the orange glow in the dirt with my boot and extended my hand, “Lila Waters, and you are?”
“Ian Benet. I haven’t seen you around here before, Ms. Waters, are you new to town?”
“I’m here for work. I’m a bird photographer and journalist for National Geographic. I’m looking for John Delvos but I’m starting to think he’s going to be harder to track than a Magpie Robin.”
The stars tiptoed in their tiny circles above in the silence. Then, they disappeared with a spark as Ian lit up his wooden pipe. It was a light colored wood, stained with rich brown tobacco and ash. He passed me his matches, smiling.
“What do you want with that old asshole? Don’t tell me National Geographic is interested in the Delvos canaries.”
I lit up another stick and took a drag. “Shocking, right?”
“Actually, it’s about time their story is told.” Benet walked to the wooden bench to our left and patted the seat beside him. I walked over. “The Delvos canaries saved hundreds of Sheldonian lives over the years. But the day a crew went into the mines without one, my father came out of the ground as cold as when we put him back into it in his coffin.”
I sat in silence, unsure what to say. “Mr. Benet, I’m so sorry…”
“Please, just Ian. My father was the last Mr. Benet.”
We sat on the wooden bench, heat leaving our bodies to warm the dead wood beneath our legs. I shivered; the stars dance suddenly colder and more violent.
“Delvos canaries are martyrs, Ms. Waters. This whole town indebted to those tiny yellow birds, but nobody cares to remember that anymore.”
“Can you tell me where I can find Mr. Delvos and his, erm, martyrs?” The ember of my second cigarette was close to my pinching fingertips.
“Follow me.” Ian stood up and walked to the edge of the woods in front of us. We crunched the cold dust beneath our feet, making me aware of how silent it was. Ian stopped at a large elm and pointed, “See that yellow notch?” Sure enough, there was a notch cut and dyed yellow at his finger’s end. “If you follow true north from this tree into the woods you’ll find this notch about every fifty yards or so. Follow the yellow and it’ll spit you out onto the Delvos property.”
“Thank you, Ian. I really can’t begin to tell you how thankful I am to find out where to find this elusive Mr. Delvos and his canaries.”
“You don’t have to,” he knocked the ash out of his pipe against the tree, “Just do those birds justice in your article. Remember, martyrs. Tell old Delvos Ian Benet sends his regards.” He turned and walked back to the motel and I stood and watched in silence. It was then I realized I hadn’t heard a single bird since I got to Sheldon. The stars dance was manic above me as I walked back to my room and shut the door.

The canary chirped and Delvos stopped.
“This is a good place to break out fast. Sit.”
I sat obediently, squirming around until the rocks formed a more comfortable nest around my bony hips. We left for the mines as the stars were fading in the vermillion Vermont sky this morning and had been walking for what seemed like an eternity. I was definitely ready to eat. He handed me a gallon Ziploc bag from his backpack filled with raisins, nuts, various dried fruits, and a stiff piece of bread. I attacked the food like a raven.
“I was the reason no canaries entered the mines that day, Ms. Waters.” Delvos broke a piece of his bread off and wrapped it around a dried piece of apricot, or maybe apple. I was suddenly aware of my every motion and swallowed, loudly. I crinkled into my Ziploc and crunched on the pecans I dug out, waiting.
“Aren’t you going to ask why?”
“I’m not a parrot, Mr. Delvos, I don’t answer expectedly on command. You’ll tell me if you want.” I hurriedly stuffed a fistful of dried pears into my mouth.
Delvos chuckled and my nerves eased, “You’ve got steel in you, Ms. Rivers, I’ll give you that much.”
I nodded and continued cramming pears in my mouth.
“I was only nine. The canaries were my pets, all of them. I hated when Dad would send them into the mines to die for men I couldn’t give two shits about. It was my birthday and I asked for an afternoon of freedom with my pets and Dad obliged. I was in the aviary with pocketfuls of sunflower-seeds. Whenever I threw a handful into the air above me, the air came to life with flickering yellow brushes and songs of joy. It was the happiest I have ever been, wholly surrounded and protected by my friends. Around twelve thirty that afternoon the Sheriff pulled up, lights ablaze. The blue and red lights stilled my yellow sky to green again and that’s when I heard the shouting. He cuffed my Dad on the hood of the car and Mom was crying and pushing her fists into the sheriff’s chest. I didn’t understand at all. The Sheriff ended up putting Mom in the car too and they all left me in the aviary. I sat there until around four that afternoon before they sent anyone to come get me.”
Delvos took a small bite of his bread and chewed a moment. “No matter how many handfuls of seeds I threw in the air after that, the birds wouldn’t stir. They wouldn’t even sing. I think they knew what was happening.”
I was at a loss for words so of course I blurted, “I didn’t see an aviary at your house…”
Delvos laughed. “Someone burnt down the house I was raised in the next week while we were sleeping. Mom died that night. The whole dark was burning with screams and my yellow canaries were orange and hot against the black sky. That’s the only night I’ve seen black canaries and the only night I’ve heard them scream.”
I swallowed some mixed nuts and they rubbed against my dry throat.
“They never caught the person. A week later Dad took the remainder of the birds and we marched into the woods. We worked for months clearing the land and rebuilding our lives. We spent most of the time in silence, except for the canary cries. When the house was finally built and the birds little coops were as well, Dad finally talked. The only thing he could say was ‘Canaries are not the same as a Phoenix, John. Not the same at all.”
The canary chirped, still only visible by the lanterns flame. Not fully yellow, I realized, here in the mines, but not fully orange either.

When I first walked onto John Delvos’ property on Thursday morning he was scattering feed into the bird coops in the front of his cabin. Everything was made of wood and still wet with the morning’s dew.
“Mr. Delvos?” He spun around, startled, and walked up to me a little too fast.
“Why are you here? Who are you?”
“My name is Lila Waters, sir, I am a photographer and journalist for National Geographic Magazine and we are going to run an article on your canaries.”
“Not interested”
“Please, sir, can I ask you just a few quick questions as take a couple pictures of your, erm, martyrs?”
His eyes narrowed and he walked up to me, studying my face with an intense, glowering gaze. He spit a mouthful of dip onto the ground without breaking eye contact. I shifted my camera bag’s weight to the other shoulder.
“Who told you to call them that?”
“I met Ian Benet last night, he told me how important your birds are to this community, sir. He sends his regards.”
Delvos laughed and motioned for me to follow as he turned his back. “You can take pictures but I have to approve which ones you publish. That’s my rule.”
“Sir, it’s really not up to me, you see, my boss, Jack Reynolds, is one of the CEO’s for the magazine and he...”
“Those are my rules, Ms. Waters.” He turned and picked back up the bucket of seed and began to walk back to the birds. “You want to interview me then we do it in the mine. Be back here at four thirty in the morning.”
“Sir…?”
“Get some sleep, Ms. Waters. You’ll want to be rested for the mine.” He turned, walked up his wooden stairs, and closed the door to his cabin.
I was left alone in the woods and spent the next hour snapping pictures of the little, yellow canaries in their cages. I took a couple pictures of his house and the surrounding trees, packed up my camera and trekked back to my motel.

“You finished yet?” Delvos stood up and the memory of his green and brown wooded homestead fled from my memory as the mine again consumed my consciousness. Dark, quiet, and stagnant. I closed the Ziploc and stuffed the bag, mainly filled with the raisins I sifted through, into my pocket.
Delvos grunted and the canary flapped in its cage as he stood again and, swinging the lantern, rounded another corner. The path we were on began to take a noticeable slope downward and the moisture on the walls and air multiplied.
The canary chirped.
The lantern flickered against the moist, black stones, sleek and piled in the corners we past. The path stopped ahead at a wall of solid black and brown Earth.
The canary chirped twice.
It smelt of clay and mildew and Delvos said, “Go on, touch it.”
I reached my hand out, camera uselessly hanging like a bat over my shoulder. The rock was cold and hard. It felt dead.
The Canary was flitting its wings in the cage now, chirping every few seconds.
“This is the last tunnel they were digging when the gas under our feet broke free from hell and killed those men.”
Delvos hoisted the lantern above our heads, illuminating the surrounding gloom. All was completely still and even my own vapor seemed to fall out of my mouth and simply die. The canary was dancing a frantic jig, now, similar to the mating dance of the Great Frigate Bird I shot in the Amazon jungle. As I watched the canary and listened to its small wings beat against the cold metal cage I begin to feel dizzy. The bird’s cries had transformed into a scream colder than fire and somehow more fierce.
The ability to fly is what always made me jealous of birds as a child, but as my temple throbbed and the canary danced I realized I was amiss. Screaming, yellow feathers whipped and the entire inside of the cage was instantaneously filled. It was beautiful until the very end. Dizzying, really.
Defeated, the canary sank to the floor, one beaten wing hanging out of the iron bars at a most unnatural angle. Its claws were opening and closing, grasping the tainted cave air, or, perhaps, trying to push it away. Delvos unclipped the cage and sat it on the floor in the space between us, lantern still held swaying above his head. The bird was aflame now, the silent red blood absorbing into the apologetic, yellow feathers. Orange, a living fire. I pulled out my camera as I sat on the ground beside the cage. I took a few shots, the camera’s clicks louder than the feeble chirps sounding out of the canary’s tattered, yellow beak. My head was spinning. Its coal-black eyes reflected the lantern’s flame above. I could see its tiny, red tongue in the bottom of its mouth.
Opening.
Closing.
Opening, wider, too wide, then,
Silence.


I felt dizzy. I remember feeling the darkness surround me; it felt warm.

“I vaguely remember Delvos helping me to my feet, but leaving the mine was a complete haze.” I told the panel back in D.C., “It wasn’t until we had crossed the stream on the way back to the cabin that I began to feel myself again. Even then, I felt like I was living a dream. When we got back to the cabin the sight of the lively yellow canaries in their coops made me cry. Delvos brought me a bottle of water and told me I needed to hit the trail because the sun set early in the winter, so I left. I didn’t shake his hand and we didn’t hug. He didn’t apologize. There was no need.” I paused, realizing I had the panel’s full attention. I took a steadying breath then continued, “When I got back to my motel and downloaded the photos to my computer I realized the extent of what happened to me in the mines. Ladies and Gentlemen, I proudly present to you the only picture in existence of a phoenix.”
I click the rubber button on the remote in my sweaty hand and the image of the broken, bleeding canary fills the screen. I have never felt this proud. The camera had captured its beak at full extension, tongue curling in anguish. The coal-black eyes reflected not only the lantern above, but the worn hand that held it as well. There was not a single feather not aflame.
I can almost feel the curiosity and questions flowing in the silence around the long table that I stand at the front of.
It was Jack who spoke first, “This is a truly beautiful picture, Ms. Rivers, but I am still waiting on your reason for assembling the entire editorial staff. I understand you had a traumatic experience with that crazy old man taking you into the mines but…”
I laughed, amazed at my own audacity, “Don’t you understand, Mr. Reynolds?” The other important faces around the table gasped. “The canary died becoming a phoenix! It died and won’t be born again. The Delvos family bred these beautiful birds so that mankind would live. Their deaths are necessary and Delvos and his entire family knew it, they gave their lives to it until it damned them.”
I was shaking now, the makeup on my face feeling heavy. “You see, Mr. Reynolds, I am a canary. All of our staff is and that’s why this matters. It matters so damn much. I’m spending my life writing 750 word blurbs and snapping pictures of birds around the world. Why? So that the Bald Eagles and Flamingos who buy our magazine each week can live just a little longer, a little deeper. We may not be lawyers or doctors or politicians, buy we matter almost more. Without the canaries, there would be no one left to tell the tales of the Phoenix.” It was silent in the room, but outside the window a robin chirped.

Joshua Hernandez Jul 2014

I lull the salt
and the rain
with the company of
sour visitors
perpetual silence
stabbing me in
my palms
I strung it together
with thin white exhales
In the morning
I become tangled
apologetic veins
a rib cage and
a buoy, white endless
silence
tangled at the root.

Cyril Blythe Nov 2012

I followed Delvos down the trail until we could see the mouth of the mine. The life and energy of the surrounding birches and sentential pines came to a still and then died as we left the trees shelter behind and walked closer, closer. The air was cold and dark and damp and smelled of mold and moths. Delvos stepped into the darkness anyways.
“Well, girl, you coming or aren’t you?”
I could see his yellowed tobacco teeth form into a smile as I stepped out of the sun. It was still inside. The canary chirped in its cage.
“This tunnel is just the mouth to over two hundred others exactly like it. Stay close. Last thing I need this month is National Geographic on my ass for losing one of their puppet girls.”
“Delvos, fuck. I have two masters degrees.” I pulled my mousey hair up into a tight ponytail. “I’ve experienced far more fatal feats than following a canary in a cave.”
He rolled his eyes. “Spare me.” He trotted off around the corner to the left, whistling some Louis Armstrong song.
“I survived alone in the jungles of Bolivia alone for two months chasing an Azara’s Spinetail. I climbed the tallest mountain in Nepal shooting Satyr Tragopans along the cliff faces. In Peru I…” Suddenly I felt the weight of the darkness. I lost track of his lantern completely. I stopped, my heartbeat picked up, and I tried to remind myself of what I had done in Peru. The mine was quiet and cold. I wiped my clammy, calloused hands on my trail pants and took a depth breath.

In through the nose. Out through the mouth. This is nothing. I followed a Diurnal Peruvian Pygmy-Owl across the gravel tops of the Andes Mountains, no light but the Southern Cross and waning moon above. I am not scared of darkness. I am not scared of darkness.
I stopped to listen. Behind me I could hear the wind cooing at the mouth of the mine.
Taunting? No. Reminding me to go forward. Into the darkness.
I shifted my Nikon camera off my shoulder and raised the viewfinder to my eyes, sliding the lens cap into my vest pocket. This routine motion, by now, had become as fluid as walking. I stared readily through the dark black square until I saw reflections from the little red light on top that blinked, telling me the flash was charged. I snapped my finger down and white light filled the void in front of me. Then heavy dark returned. I blinked my eyes attempting to rid the memories of the flash etched, red, onto my retina. I clicked my short fingernails through buttons until the photo I took filled the camera screen. I learned early on that having short fingernails meant more precise control with the camera buttons. I zoomed in on the picture and scrolled to get my bearings of exactly what lay ahead in the narrow mine passageway. As I scrolled to the right I saw Delvos’ boot poking around the tunnel that forked to the left.
Gottcha.
I packed up the camera, licked my drying lips, and stepped confidently into the darkness.

When I first got the assignment in Vermont I couldn’t have been more frustrated. Mining canaries? Never had I ever ‘chased’ a more mundane bird. Nonetheless, when Jack Reynolds sends you on a shoot you don’t say no, so I packed up my camera bag and hoped on the next plane out of Washington.
“His name is John Delvos.” Jack had said as he handed me the manila case envelope. He smiled, “You’re leaving on Tuesday.”
“Yes sir.”
“Don’t look so smug, Lila. This may not be the most exotic bird you’ve shot but the humanity of this piece has the potential to be a cover story. Get the shots, write the story.”
I opened the envelope and read the assignment details in the comfort of my old pajamas back at my apartment later that night.
John Delvos has lived in rural Vermont his entire life. His family bred the canaries for the miners of the Sheldon Quarry since the early twenties. When “the accident” happened the whole town shut down and the mines never reopened. . There were no canaries in the mines the day the gas killed the miners. The town blamed the Delvos family and ran them into the woods. His mother died in a fire of some sort shortly before Delvos and his father retreated into the Vermont woods. His father built a cabin and once his father died, Delvos continued to breed the birds. He currently ships them to other mining towns across the country. The question of the inhumanity of breeding canaries for the sole purpose of dying in the mines so humans don’t has always been controversial. Find out Delvos’ story and opinions on the matter. Good luck, Lila.
I sighed, accepting my dull assignment and slipped into an apathetic sleep.


After stumbling through the passageway while keeping one hand on the wall to the left, I found the tunnel the picture had revealed Delvos to be luring in. Delvos reappeared behind the crack of his match in a side tunnel not twenty yards in front of me
“Do you understand the darkness now, Ms. Rivers?” He relit the oily lantern and picked back up the canary cage. “Your prestigious masters degrees don’t mean shit down here.”. He turned his back without another word. I followed deeper into the damp darkness.
“Why were there no canaries in the mine on, you know, that day?” The shadows of the lantern flickered against the iron canary cage chained on his hip and the yellow bird hopped inside.
“I was nine, Ms. Rivers. I didn’t understand much at the time.” We turned right into the next tunnel and our shoes crunched on jagged stones. All the stones were black.
“But surely you understand now?”
The canary chirped.

When I first got to Sheldon and began asking about the location of the Delvos’ cabin you would have thought I was asking where the first gate to hell was located. Mothers would smile and say, “Sorry, Miss, I can’t say,” then hurriedly flock their children in the opposite direction. After two hours of polite refusals I gave up. I spent the rest of the first day photographing the town square. It was quaint; old stone barbershops surrounded by oaks and black squirrels, a western-themed whiskey bar, and a few greasy spoon restaurants. I booked a room in the Walking Horse Motel for Wednesday night, determined to get a good night’s sleep and defeat this town’s fear of John Delvos the following day.
My room was a tiny one bed square with no TV. Surprise, surprise. At least I had my camera and computer to entertain myself. I reached into the side of my camera bag, pulled out my Turkish Golds and Macaw-beak yellow BIC, and stepped out onto the dirt in front of my motel door and lit up. The stars above stole all the oxygen surrounding me. They were dancing and smiling above me and I forgot Delvos, Jack, and all of Sheldon except its sky. Puffing away, I stepped farther and farther from my door and deeper into the darkness of Vermont night. The father into the darkness the more dizzying the star’s dancing became.
“Ma’am? Everything okay?”
Startled, I dropped my cigarette on the ground and the ember fell off. “I’m sorry, sir. I was just, um, the stars…” I snuffed out the orange glow in the dirt with my boot and extended my hand, “Lila Rivers, and you are?”
“Ian Benet. I haven’t seen you around here before, Ms. Rivers. Are you new to town?” He traced his fingers over a thick, graying mustache as he stared at me.
“I’m here for work. I’m a bird photographer and journalist for National Geographic. I’m looking for John Delvos but I’m starting to think he’s going to be harder to track than a Magpie Robin.”
Ian smiled awkwardly, shivered, then began to fumble with his thick jacket’s zipper. I looked up at the night sky and watched the stars as they tiptoed their tiny circles in the pregnant silence. Then, they dimmed in the flick of a spark as Ian lit up his wooden pipe. It was a light-colored wood, stained with rich brown tobacco and ash. He passed me his matches, smiling.
“So, Delvos, eh?” He puffed out a cloud of leather smelling smoke toward the stars. “What do you want with that old asshole? Don’t tell me National Geographic is interested in the Delvos canaries.”
I lit up another stick and took a drag. “Shocking, right?”
“Actually, it’s about time their story is told.” Benet walked to the wooden bench to our left and patted the seat beside him. I walked over. “The Delvos canaries saved hundreds of Sheldonian lives over the years. But the day a crew went into the mines without one, my father came out of the ground as cold as when we put him back into it in his coffin.”
I sat in silence, unsure what to say. “Mr. Benet, I’m so sorry…”
“Please, just Ian. My father was the last Mr. Benet.”
We sat on the wooden bench, heat leaving our bodies to warm the dead wood beneath our legs. I shivered; the star’s dance suddenly colder and more violent.
“Delvos canaries are martyrs, Ms. Rivers. This whole town indebted to those tiny yellow birds, but nobody cares to remember that anymore.”
“Can you tell me where I can find Mr. Delvos and his, erm, martyrs?” The ember of my second cigarette was close to my pinching fingertips.
“Follow me.” Ian stood up and walked to the edge of the woods in front of us. We crunched the dead pine needles beneath our feet, making me aware of how silent it was. Ian stopped at a large elm and pointed. “See that yellow notch?” he asked. Sure enough, there was a notch cut and dyed yellow at his finger’s end. “If you follow true north from this tree into the woods you’ll find this notch about every fifty yards or so. Follow the yellow and it’ll spit you out onto the Delvos property.”
“Thank you, Ian. I really can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am.
“You don’t have to.” He knocked the ash out of his pipe against the tree. “Just do those birds justice in your article. Remember, martyrs. Tell old Delvos Ian Benet sends his regards.” He turned and walked back to the motel and I stood and watched in silence. It was then I realized I hadn’t heard a single bird since I got to Sheldon. The star’s dance was manic above me as I walked back to my room and shut the door.

The canary’s wings and Delvos stopped. “This is a good place to break our fast. Sit.”
I sat obediently, squirming around until the rocks formed a more comfortable nest around my bony hips. We had left for the mines as the stars were fading in the vermillion Vermont sky that morning and had been walking for what seemed like an eternity. I was definitely ready to eat. He handed me a gallon Ziploc bag from his backpack filled with raisins, nuts, various dried fruits, and a stiff piece of bread. I attacked the food like a raven.
“I was the reason no canaries entered the mines that day, Ms. Rivers.”
Delvos broke a piece of his bread off and wrapped it around a dried piece of apricot, or maybe apple. I was suddenly aware of my every motion and swallowed, loudly. I crinkled into my Ziploc and crunched on the pecans I dug out, waiting.
“Aren’t you going to ask why?”
“I’m not a parrot, Mr. Delvos, I don’t answer expectedly on command. You’ll tell me if you want.” I stuffed a fistful of dried pears into my mouth.
Delvos chuckled and my nerves eased. “You’ve got steel in you, Ms. Rivers. I’ll give you that much.”
I nodded and continued cramming pears in my mouth.
“I was only nine. The canaries were my pets, all of them. I hated when Dad would send them into the mines to die for men I couldn’t give two shits about. It was my birthday and I asked for an afternoon of freedom with my pets and Dad obliged. I was in the aviary with pocketfuls of sunflower-seeds. Whenever I threw a handful into the air above me, the air came to life with wings slashing yellow brushes and cawing songs of joy. It was the happiest I have ever been, wholly surrounded and protected by my friends. Around twelve thirty that afternoon the Sheriff pulled up, lights ablaze. The blue and red lights stilled my yellow sky to green again and that’s when I heard the shouting. He cuffed my Dad on the hood of the car and Mom was crying and pushing her fists into the sheriff’s chest. I didn’t understand at all. The Sheriff ended up putting Mom in the car too and they all left me in the aviary. I sat there until around four that afternoon before they sent anyone to come get me.”
Delvos took a small bite of his bread and chewed a moment. “No matter how many handfuls of seeds I threw in the air after that, the birds wouldn’t stir. They wouldn’t even sing. I think they knew what was happening.”
I was at a loss for words so and I blurted, “I didn’t see an aviary at your house…”
Delvos laughed. “Someone burnt down the house I was raised in the next week while we were sleeping. Mom died that night. The whole dark was burning with screams and my yellow canaries were orange and hot against the black sky. That’s the only night I’ve seen black canaries and the only night I’ve heard them scream.”
I swallowed some mixed nuts and they rubbed against my dry throat.
“They never caught the person. A week later Dad took the remainder of the birds and we marched into the woods. We worked for months clearing the land and rebuilding our lives. We spent most of the time in silence, except for the canary cries. When the house was finally built and the bird’s little coops were as well, Dad finally talked. The only thing he could say was “Canaries are not the same as a Phoenix, John. Not the same at all.”
We sat in silence and I found myself watching the canary flit about in its cage, still only visible by the lanterns flame. Not fully yellow, I realized, here in the mines but not fully orange either.

When I first walked onto John Delvos’ property on Thursday morning he was scattering feed into the bird coops in the front of his cabin. Everything was made of wood and still wet with the morning’s dew.
“Mr. Delvos?”
He spun around, startled, and walked up to me a little too fast. “Why are you here? Who are you?”
“My name is Lila Rivers, sir, I am a photographer and journalist for National Geographic Magazine and we are going to run an article on your canaries.”
“Not interested.”
“Please, sir, can I ask you just a few quick questions as take a couple pictures of your, erm, martyrs?”
His eyes narrowed and he walked up to me, studying my face with an intense, glowering gaze. He spit a mouthful of dip onto the ground without breaking eye contact. I shifted my camera bag’s weight to the other shoulder.
“Who told you to call them that?”
“I met Ian Benet last night, he told me how important your birds are to this community, sir. He sends his regards.”
Delvos laughed and motioned for me to follow as he turned his back. “You can take pictures but I have to approve which ones you publish. That’s my rule.”
“Sir, it’s really not up to me, you see, my boss, Jack Reynolds, is one of the editors for the magazine and he...”
“Those are my rules, Ms. Rivers.” He turned and picked back up the bucket of seed and began to walk back to the birds. “You want to interview me then we do it in the mine. Be back here at four thirty in the morning.”
“Sir…?”
“Get some sleep, Ms. Rivers. You’ll want to be rested for the mine.” He turned, walked up his wooden stairs, and closed the door to his cabin.
I was left alone in the woods and spent the next hour snapping pictures of the canaries in their cages. I took a couple pictures of his house and the surrounding trees, packed up my camera and trekked back to my motel.

“You finished yet?” Delvos stood up. The mine was dark, quiet, and stagnant. I closed the Ziploc and stuffed the bag, mainly filled with the raisins I had sifted through, into my pocket.
Delvos grunted and the canary flapped in its cage as he stood again and, swinging the lantern, rounded another corner. The path we were on began to take a noticeable slope downward and the moisture on the walls and air multiplied.  
The lantern flickered against the moist, black stones, sleek and piled in the corners we past. The path stopped ahead at a wall of solid black and brown Earth.
The canary chirped twice.
It smelled of clay and mildew and Delvos said, “Go on, touch it.”
I reached my hand out, camera uselessly hanging like a bat over my shoulder. The rock was cold and hard. It felt dead.
The canary was fluttering its wings in the cage now, chirping every few seconds.
“This is the last tunnel they were digging when the gas under our feet broke free from hell and killed those men.”
Delvos hoisted the lantern above our heads, illuminating the surrounding gloom. All was completely still and even my own vapor seemed to fall out of my mouth and simply die. The canary was dancing a frantic jig, now, similar to the mating dance of the Great Frigate Bird I shot in the Amazon jungle. As I watched the canary and listened to its small wings beat against the cold metal cage. I began to feel dizzy. The bird’s cries had transformed into a scream that sounded like fire but somehow more fierce and cold.
The ability to fly is what always made me jealous of birds as a child, but as my temple throbbed and the canary danced I realized I was amiss. Screaming, yellow feathers whipped and the entire inside of the cage was instantaneously filled. It was beautiful until the very end. Dizzying, really.
Defeated, the canary sank to the floor, one beaten wing hanging out of the iron bars at a most unnatural angle. Its claws were opening and closing, grasping the tainted cave air, or, perhaps, trying to push it away. Delvos unclipped the cage and sat it on the floor in the space between us, lantern still held swaying above his head. The bird was aflame now, the silent red blood absorbing into the apologetic, yellow feathers. Orange, a living fire. I pulled out my camera as I sat on the ground beside the cage. I took a few shots, the camera’s clicks louder than the feeble chirps sounding out of the canary’s tattered, yellow beak. My head was spinning. Its coal-black eyes reflected the lantern’s flame above. I could see its tiny, red tongue in the bottom of its mouth.
Opening.
Closing.
Opening, wider, too wide, then,
Silence.
I felt dizzy. I remember feeling the darkness surround me; it felt warm.

“I vaguely recall Delvos helping me to my feet, but leaving the mine was a complete haze.” I told the panel back in D.C., “It wasn’t until we had crossed the stream on the way back to the cabin that I began to feel myself again. Even then, I felt like I was living a dream. When we got back to the cabin the sight of the lively yellow canaries in their coops made me cry. Delvos brought me a bottle of water and told me I needed to hit the trail because the sun set early in the winter, so I left. I didn’t shake his hand and we didn’t hug. He didn’t apologize. There was no need.” I paused, realizing I had the panel’s full attention. I took a steadying breath then continued, “When I got back to my motel and downloaded the photos to my computer I realized the extent of what happened to me in the mines. Ladies and Gentlemen, I proudly present to you the only picture in existence of a phoenix.”
I clicked the rubber button on the remote in my sweaty hand and the image of the broken, bleeding canary filled the screen. I have never felt this proud. The camera had captured its beak at full extension, tongue curling in anguish. The coal-black eyes reflected not only the lantern above, but the worn hand that held it as well. There was not a single feather not aflame.
I could almost feel the curiosity and questions flowing in the silence around the long table that I was standing at the front of.
It was Jack who spoke first. “This is a truly beautiful picture, Ms. Rivers, but I am still waiting on your reason for assembling the entire editorial staff. I understand you had a traumatic experience with that crazy old man taking you into the mines but…”
I laughed, amazed at my own audacity. “Don’t you understand, Mr. Reynolds?” The other important faces around the table gasped at my blatant audacity, causing their beards to quiver and peals to jolt in surprise. “The canary died becoming a phoenix! It died and won’t be born again. The Delvos family bred these beautiful birds so that mankind would live. Their deaths are necessary and Delvos and his entire family knew it, they gave their lives to it until it damned them.”
I was shaking now, the makeup on my face feeling heavy. “You see, Mr. Reynolds, I am a canary. All of our staff is and that’s why this matters. It matters so damn much. I’m spending my life writing 750 word blurbs and snapping pictures of birds around the world. Why? So that the American bald eagles and country club flamingos who buy our magazine each week can live just a little longer, a little deeper. We may not be lawyers or doctors or politicians, buy we matter almost more. Without the canaries, there would be no one left to tell the tales of the Phoenix.” It was silent in the room, but outside the window a robin chirped.

My story and picture were published in the next months issue on page twenty-two. It only covered one page, picture included. Before it was published I was brought before the ethics board for a disciplinary hearing. My outburst concerned them because of its “out of character rudeness and disrespect for my superiors” and when I couldn’t make them understand why I had become so emotional, they wrote it off as “trauma induced stress” and rewarded me with two weeks paid vacation.
So, as I sit on my porch and write this journal entry I know I have to attempt to put into words the importance of what happened to me in Vermont. I have to burn it into this page in permanent ink. Not for Jack Reynolds or the ethics board, but for myself. I’m scared I will lose the knowledge I learned when I saw the Delvos phoenix die that day in the Vermont mine.
I saw myself, my life, my chosen worth reflected in the dead eyes of the bloodied canary. A birth by fire is too romantic to be true and death by gases burning the oxygen out of your lungs is too true to be romantic, yet without this transformation the truth I now own would be as mythical as the Gryffindor phoenix, Faux. The canary dying is inhumane, but the canary transforming is pure human beauty. Sacrificing for a greater good, martyrdom, is, and has always been the most selfless and powerful act anyone can give. Remember history, Lila. Think of Jesus Christ, Joan of Arc, Socrates, Martin Luther King Jr, the Delvos canary. Dying for the sake of letting an idea be reborn eternalizes it. Remember this as you write the lackluster stories, shoot the tedious photos, and sit though Jack Reynolds self-glorifying lectures. Die for your work as a canary and thus become a phoenix.

I set down the pen and journal, smiling and lifted the red wine to my lips satisfied with my determination not to forget. I looked up at the night sky from my apartment balcony and the city smog smeared across the gray abyss above. The stars were masked behind the Washington pollution but I remembered how they danced in Vermont. I sat in the silence of red wine and satisfaction and listened as the nightingale sang in the sky.

LDuler Dec 2012

You tell me that I am young
That life has merely licked me, not stung
That I do not understand, that I have not yet lived
Enough to grasp the substance

I have known disease
Slow tears, muted pleas
Pain that nothing could appease
I have known the smell of hospitals for summers
The beeping and slurping of machine in massive numbers

I have spoken to voiceless loved ones,
Loved ones with teethless mouths and twisted tongues
Distorted jaws and wheezing lungs.
We have spoken with little green charts
And broken hearts
From the inability to connect the mouth to the thoughts in the head
And I left without understanding,
What they had said
Because I eventually had to let it go
(I still don't know)

I have spent countless summer nights
In nature’s garb, floating silently in a river
So warm that my limbs, skimming the surface, didn't shiver
Under a clear sky, the stars like paradisiac lights
Without anyone ever finding out
About these wild and primal escapades

I've drank, I've smoked
I have burned my throat
With coarse lemon gin
Until I could no longer feel my skin.

I have been frightened
Yes I have felt fear, like a noose around my throat being tightened
Like a gruesome black crow, perched on my shoulder
I have often awoken affright at night,
Longing, praying, for the morning light
I have felt fear, wild, fierce and turbulent fear
More than anyone will everyone will ever know
By men, by life, by myself
Desolate under the sheets, like a forsaken toy
All by myself

I have seen Paris in the rain
Traveled the French countryside by train
I've woken up to New York window views
And seen New Orleans afternoons, filled with heat and blues.
I've swam the Mexican Baja waters, turquoise and clear
With snakes as sharp as spears

I have known humiliation
Causing my cheeks to turn carnation
A spoon, emptying my insides out
Like a gourd

I have loved
I have known the aching pain of a swelled heart
And the way it can tear you apart
I have gushed torrents upon my pillows and sleeves
Tears running down my chin like guilty thieves
From a lit-up house

I have known death, and grief
The meaning of "never"
Whimpering in the school bathroom
And cold, lonely nights

I have seen the works of Van Gogh, Mondrian, and Miro,
Modigliani, Cezanne, and Frida Kahlo
Of Monet, Gauguin, Matisse, Magritte, and Picasso
I have wandered through hallways of masterpieces
Holding tight to my grandmother's hand
And I have wept shamelessly for joy
Before Degas's La classe de danse

I have been diagnosed
I have undergone computer programs designed to shift my brain, to better it
To get me to be normal, to submit
I have had brain-altering medicine shoved down my throat,
Like stuffing a goose,
To make my brain run a little less loose
And I have submitted and gotten use to my brain being altered.

I have had kisses that were mere trifles
Frivolous, yet fierce and acute like shots from a rifle
Lips of mere flesh, not sweet godly nectar
And gazes that meant everything
That seemed to connect with an invisible yet indestructible string
Iris like distant galaxies and pupils twinkling like black jewels
Eyes that seemed enkindled by some ethereal fuel
Speaking of emotions far too secluded, cryptic and cluttered
To be worded and uttered

I know the way in which violence resides
Not in commotion, brusqueness, nor physical harm
But in silence
In the time that covers pain and secrets
In the slow impossibility of trust
In the way that some secrets become inconceivable to tell, time has so covered them in rust
In that dull, dismal ache
In all that is doomed to remain forever opaque.

I have read, for pleasure,
The works of Balzac, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, and Voltaire
Of Bobin, Gaude, and Baudelaire
Of Flaubert, Hemingway
and good old Bradbury, Ray
Émile Zola,  Primo Levi
Moliere, Rousseau, and Bukowski
I have read, and loved, and understood

I have known insomnia
The way a beach knows the tides
Sleepless nights of convulsive, feverish panic, of clutching my sides,
Of silent hysteria and salty terror.
I know what happens at night, when sweet slumber seems so far away
The worries and woes seem to multiply and swell in hopeless disarray
My lips grow pale, my eye grow sunken
As a time ticks by, tomorrow darkens




I have witnessed horror
In the form of a blue body bag
Being rolled out with a squeaking drag
By two yellow-vested men
With apologetic eyes
That seemed to say "Oh god
We're so sorry you had to see that
Please, please
Go home
And try to forget
"

But you are right
I am still just a child
Naive, innocent, and pure
I have known nothing dark or obscure
I have not yet lived.

Red-Handed Jill Nov 2015

I had no one to Thanksgiving with
So I fell in love with the voice on the radio.
She always sounded genuinely apologetic
when on Monday mornings
she'd tell me
of the traffic backed up Schuykill to Broad.

Wuji Seshat Oct 2014

Ebola, coming from the Continent of our roots
The WHO is exhausted by your contagion
Nurses are leaving their posts, doctors are dying

What can contain exponential growth?
Not the money and debts of this bankrupt America
We print more money and expect
The world to stay the same, but it won’t
Not after you Ebola, a profit mechanism

Vaccines, for each strain and mutation?
Ebola, your incubation period is too long
Your death-conformity is too high

How can you possibly be natural?
Man-made, racially biased, targeting
The weak, the poor, the masses
Ebola, a colonial rampage in your DNA
I call your bluff, genocide, Genocide!

Obama doesn’t mind Ebola, flights stay open
New epicenters for outbreaks arrive
The pundits say it’s already too late

Fluids or air-droplets, both, who is to say?
The CDC seems strangely apathetic
The UN is oddly apologetic
Ebola, are you ready to decimate
The white man, as you have the black?

Anon C Nov 2012

Am I not too overwhelming
drowning even myself
still waiting
for thee to turn and flee
how hath thy not done so
apologetic
for I fear thee
not thee
but the power thy hold
within thine heart lies a key  
to the lock that would consume me
please, I beg of thee
do not use said key
let me lie in thine heart
for eternity

Tommy Johnson Mar 2014

Quincy Valero
Everybody’s best friend
Jet black hair
Shiny brown eyes
A boyish smirk
Standing six foot something
Coming out of catholic school agnostic
Attending state college

Every word that came out of his mouth was a riot
A funny story of a bad situation he was in that he can laugh at now
An awkward moment with a girl he tried to get in bed
God awful train rides with a clueless conductor

Quincy Valero
A wanna-be Casanova
The irish-italian self-proclaimed “Don Juan of Dumont”
Roaring down the suburb streets in his bright yellow mustang
From Bergen county to Trenton
Edgewater to Ewing
Bumping R&B; from the 90's

A main girl
A side chick
And a few back pocket broads
Leading them on
To where?
I’m not even sure he knows

Quincy Valero
My best friend since I’ve been here in Purgatory
My lifelong cellmate
My hetero life mate
My brother of second thought
Our token white boy

He’s had his ups
Wild ragers until day break
A four way with me and two girls in my four door sedan
He’s had is downs
Falsely charged with domestic abuse
Community service, endless court room hearings, suspensions and a whole bunch of nonsense

Quincy Valero
The quintessential example of the modern day male
Stays up all night
Sleeps all day
Opportunistic
Egotistical
Miserly
Horny
And hungry

Always aching to put in his two cents
And leaving everyone in a howl of laughter
An Adderall popping
Seasoned drinker
A professional pot smoker, coached by yours truly
Fast talking baritone voice
With a half serious tone

Yes, Quincy Valero
The tight plain white t-shirt wearing
Chino sporting
Nostalgic, slightly racist, sexist, anti-semitic
Bust usually honest, friendly and apologetic
Good hearted dude we all love to hate
And hate to love

Bed-headed
Pajama bottom bum
Talking about his Svedka regrets
And we laugh and laugh and the stupidest things
Then remember events that seem so long ago
And then make plans for tomorrow
Yeah, one of my best friends
My oldest friend
That’s Mr. Quincy Valero

Victoria G May 2014

I'm sorry dear
but I must confess
that I haven't been
at all the best
at keeping up my end.
I've pulled away
In a such a cowardly way
And I really am apologetic
However, I'd be lying
if I told you that I regret it.
I'm just not the person
You wish I was
Though I've managed
to convincingly fake it
The keyboard lets me
lie with ease
with each "I love you"
"Thank you" and "Please"
Although the former
I've been saying
less and less
because once again
I must confess
the feelings
that I once adored
but eventually
began to abhor
and successfully managed
to ignore
have simply left
and are no more.

Emile Ravenet Jun 2014

When my father was young he mowed lawns for money. He pushed a second-hand spinning blade in the hot Florida sun for spare change.

With dull coins clanging in his pocket and crumpled bills in his palm, my father fought to escape home.

To him, home was synonymous with scary southern suburbia, where late-night television  was replaced with screaming matches and loud fists. Angry eyes with children's cries. Barbecues bombarded with apologetic looks from neighbors. Pretending not to hear shatters and shouts of supposed 'baseball black eyes'.

And so he pushed. Pushed the rusty lawn mower down strangers' yards, pushed away the sniggering snot-nosed kids calling him 'Spic', and pushed at his father's demons, crawling down his spine, whispering that he was no good.

Years later he kept pushing
Pushing
Pushing
Pushing towards whatever came next. Yet no matter how much he pushed, he was still the same boy with the lawn mower. Angry, mad, pushing violently ahead.

The smoke of sanity is inhaled now, as my father's blood-shot eyes try to suppress the angry boy within. The residue of stolen innocence is not left unnoticed. A touch of tone on his once sunburnt neck and the man he has made instantly flushes away, leaving his father's demons. Calmer than before, a dying star, burning bright before collapse.

Like a strong jaw, his father's anger is passed down to him, and I, his son, am now born with this seed of destruction. Smaller than before, but still seething.

Constantly reminded, I sit in a leather chair surrounded by white walls in carefully controlled climate, plastic pen perched on my palm, I push.

I'll keep pushing.

I wrote this a while ago.
Eleanor Rigby May 2016
Gin

I look up to a pale blue sky
With apologetic eyes
And a heart so very filled
With dim.
Take me back
To the empty box I was
Before I began feeding myself
Gin and jokes of grim.
God, please wash me off my sin,
Or take this foolish thick layer
Of skin.


F.Z.N

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