March-August 2019 RSS feed for this section

poetry by John Sweet


you alone in
the house of truths

the news of twelve soldiers
ambushed and slaughtered

the news of bodies being
set on fire and
dragged through city streets

and not the sun but

not warmth but
the memory of it

the snow melted and
the streets grey and the screams
of animals caught in traps

the blurred reflections of
strangers in the windshields of
empty cars

all of these words and all of
these images that refuse
to add up to anything more
than themselves but you still
have to stop and consider
each one

you still have to dig
until the bodies are found

it shouldn’t take
much longer than the
rest of your life

ash wilderness 

this little girl with wings
or this middle-aged man with
the bones of his wife locked in the
trunk of a shiny new car

these myths that are actually truths

the way pollock died so desperately

the way lee fell to the floor


and what is history but a
list of names written
backwards in the book of wasted days?

what are words but a
more hopeless form of violence?


i was never this frightened before
my children were born

was never filled with so much useless anger

and i keep coming back to this
eleven year-old girl who
disappears from her home
thirty miles east of here

i keep coming back to her killer

how he never told where her body was

how he laughed on
the day he was executed

not like anything was funny
but like he’d won

poetry by Jeanie Greensfelder

Jeanie is the author of Biting the Apple and Marriage and Other Leaps of Faith and I Got What I Came For. Visit her official site here.

Movie Night

We are seventh-grade girls — 
new bodies, new feelings — out Friday night,
walking to the movies with our dates.

Our boyfriends throw stones at street lamps 
and steal stem caps off tires. Girls giggle.
A man appears, and we all run.

At the theater, girls and boys pair up
for holding hands. As the film peaks,
the detective reveals the murderer,

and Dolores — oh that Dolores, 
who swears she doesn’t bleach her hair
even though we point at her black roots,

who grabs our chests in the restroom
and labels us oranges, grapefruit or fried eggs,
who dates dreamboat Brad—yes, that Dolores

exclaims out loud, Golly darn!
Everyone laughs, even though some of us,
like me, feel envy, wishing we’d been the one

to say something so perfect, knowing 
we will golly-darn at school like her fan club,
even though we hate her for being cute and clever,

five-foot-two, eyes of blue, even though
her eyes are black and match her roots.
After the movie we go to the schoolyard,

hoping for kisses under the stars,
but the boys chase each other, so the girls
ride the merry-go-round.

Between parallel bars, we run, make it spin fast
and jump on. Leaning back, we hold on
with our feet, heads and arms flying free,

the wind sweeping away
envy, budding bodies,
and boys.

She Dreamed of Shopping at Neiman Marcus until She Could 

 No longer a moth at the window,
she flew through the entrance.

Pierced by glares from salespeople,
she became a specimen on display.

After this out-of-wallet experience,
her attraction to glitter and glamour dimmed.

Yet, once again, she heaves open 
the store’s glass door letting sensory overload 

blur her vision. Though Siren women 
beckon from their beauty-for-sale islands, 

she escapes to the escalator
and catches herself humming

the canned music of the season:
Oh Come All Ye Faithful.

She stares at the rotating two-story 
Christmas tree and continues

her annual pilgrimage to return 
her mother-in-law’s gifts. 

Before this year’s cashmeres, she’d acquired
a $900 credit from prior holidays.

Not many people bank at Neiman’s.
She makes another deposit and leaves.


visual art by Lana Gentry

Lana is a Virginia artist who also is the Managing Editor and Lead Writer for loBURN Magazine.

Darkest Day


THE PARKS OF LONDON, GARDENS OF PARIS, AND US – a poetry suite by Louis Daniel Brodsky

Learn more about the late poet/humorist/satirist/Faulkner scholar here.

The Parks of London, Gardens of Paris, and Us

I: Mattering

With us lovers,
it’s not a matter of time,
rather a matter of us,
with time to make time matter.

II: Next New Address

Once again, you and I,
Sweet Linda,
On a Saturday night,
Seek deeply needed sleep,
Side by side,
From our shared adventures;
Only, this time,
The rest we quest is airborne,
As we fly west to east,
Eight and a half hours,
Forty-two hundred miles,
To our next new address —
The Stafford Hotel,
St. James’s Place,
London, England,
We Two.

III: Love-Expressions

Not one sound night’s sleep into our visit to England,
And the London Times Monday edition
Is running terrifying headlines, bylines, and sidebars
Decrying the opportunistic vandalism and arson
Unleashed by thousands of lower- and middle-class youths,
Fired up to full-scale anarchy, in Tottenham, Notting Hill, Acton,
Uncomfortably near our Mayfair and Westminster.

We tell ourselves, in the serene purlieus close by Green Park,
Buckingham Palace, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey,
That these metastasizing scourges of mindless depravity,
Of the same intensity as rampages of Dark Ages hordes,
Won’t reach us, nestled in the womb of England’s affluence.
But here in bed, though our intimacy insulates us from reality,
We almost can’t help wondering . . . almost.

For the next few days,
Using the same social networking the rioters rely on,
Our children, siblings, friends, work circles,
Send hurriedly texted words of fearful concern,
Inquiring as to our safety, praying for our lives —
Love-expressions which only heighten the passion
Of our tender, protective caring for each other.

IV: Sense of Ease

Whether relaxing, al fresco,
With a chicken sandwich or a bagel and cream cheese,
At the Fiori Corner restaurant, in Leicester Square,
Dining, by night, at Cecconi’s or Babbo, in Mayfair,
Navigating Whitehall, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden,
Or communing with Green Park’s shadows,
We’re achieving a complete sense of ease, with London.
And even though we’ve only known each other’s smiles
A mere year and a half of sheer discovery,
It seems wherever destiny leads our lithe feet, eager eyes,
We’re already familiar with the destination.

V: England

Heading northwest, from cloud-mottled London,
Whose riots, though not touching us,
Are assaulting the world’s headlines,
We arrive at Warwick Castle, with our guide,
Enter the ruins of another tumultuous time,
And listen in on history’s cries,
Conscious that we’re treading on epochal soil.

Then we drive to Stratford-upon-Avon,
Stop at the Hathaway farm cottage, in Shottery,
Eavesdrop on Will Shakespeare courting Anne.
Standing in Holy Trinity Church’s chancel,
Clasping hands, we hear the playwright,
At the Reformation’s gory denouement,
Scratching, with quill pen, his stone’s epitaph,

Warning today’s youthful looting hooligans:
“Good frend for Iesvs sake forbeare,
To digg the dvst encloased heare . . .
And cvrst be he yt moves my bones.”
Back in our Stafford Hotel suite, after dinner,
We enter the serenity of our peace-seeking eyes,
Trusting that our love will change the future.

VI: Naming Spaces

Everyone should save a sacred, wondrous space, in his heart,
For a river, a castle, a storied town, a circular convergence of streets,
A park, a palace, and a soulmate to adore, immortalize —

The Avon, flowing past Warwick Castle and Shakespeare’s Stratford;
Piccadilly Circus; St. James’s Park;
Buckingham Palace, for the Changing of the Guard;

And a love like you, Linda — just as I’m doing, in my ageless heart,
As we trace the intricacies of London and the Cotswolds.
I’m calling my space Jubilation. What are you going to name yours?

VII: This Fabled Milieu

Each of our five peripatetic days together, here in London,
As we’ve strolled between Green Park,
St. James’s Place, and all the rest of the City of Westminster,

Have seemed to run backwards, like a sea of daydreams,
Into a timelessness yet to be transfigured
From the history of who we’ve just begun to become, here.

If we’re fortunate enough to assimilate into this fabled milieu,
We might discover our passionately entwined identities
Aligned with the myths of Lancelot and Guinevere

Or, if not, conjoined, in sweet, poetic harmony,
With Anne Hathaway and her theatrical bard, Will Shakespeare,
Perhaps Victoria and her abiding admirer, Prince Albert.

Whatever destiny is ours to assume, for now and tomorrow,
Will be ours, all ours, just ours, forever,
Whenever we relive our romantic epic of England.

VIII: Insatiable

Every day, this second week of August,
From our rainy-Sunday-afternoon arrival,
At unexpectedly unharried Heathrow,
To our sunny-Saturday departure, by Eurostar,
From crowded St. Pancras Station
(The two of us now bound for Paris,
Speeding, smoothly, beneath the English Channel),
We’ve walked, in hand-held wonder-step,
Over London’s Victorian-faceted streets,
Elated to be insatiable travelers insatiably in love,
Being what each moment’s energy makes of us.

Tout de suite, Gare du Nord arrives at track’s end,
And we’re weaving through narrow streets,
Then past vast mansard-roofed buildings
Lining spacious boulevards busy with summer,
As we edge closer, closer, to the First Arrondissement,
Place Vendôme, Rue de Castiglione,
Where it intersects Rue de Rivoli.
Stepping out of the taxi, at our hotel,
Staring straight into the leafy Tuileries,
We’re elated, for the second time in a week,
To be insatiable travelers insatiably in love.

IX: First Evening in Paris

Now, the City of Light’s twilight/dusk/night enfolds our hotel,
Just across the street from the myriad-peopled Tuileries,
In whose gravel-pathed, chestnut-tree expanses we stroll peacefully.

Within a kaleidoscopic focusing of astonished eye blinks,
We enter the enormous, obelisk-adorned Place de la Concorde,
Then linger atop its bridge, breathing in, deeply, the serene Seine,

Before walking along Rue Royale, past Maxim’s, to the Madeleine,
But not without pausing, embracing, gazing at the Eiffel Tower,
Whose sweeping beacon and gold-glowing reaches transfix us.

Soon, ten o’clock dinner flows, seductively, into Sunday a.m.,
Sleep’s tranquil waters buoying our weary bodies.
Tingling, we lie in silence fantasy-sequined with Parisian dreams.

X: Le déjeuner

Just you and I, mon cherie,
Sitting in the refreshing shade
Dripping from green-russet chestnut trees
Deep in the Tuileries,
You eating mozzarella cheese, tomatoes,
I savoring poulet-and-dried-tomato salad,
Both of us dipping baguette slices
In a dish of olive oil,
All under a gray-mottled cerulean sky,
And best of all,
Absolutely better than best of all,
Is that this festival of simple cuisine,
This glorious déjeuner,
In this heart of the jardin-soul of Parisian life,
Is happening spontaneously,
On a once-upon-a-Sunday ever-afternoon.

XI: Happening

Just one day into Paris,
We can no longer say
That we’re going to have a great time,
Because it’s already happening;
Indeed, it’s been happening
Since before we stepped off the train;
It started even before London,
Months ago,
Back in the States,
Whenever we’d let our fantasies
Get the better of our fancies.

Here in the Tuileries, right this now,
Kissing between bites
Of our green-red-and-white salads,
Thinking how those happenings
Have begun to happen,
We realize how “happening”
Is its own perpetual present,
A time-sea
Flowing backward, future-ward,
Happening, happening, happening.

XII: Impressions in Musée de l’Orangerie


 Monet’s water lilies —
Similar to Jackson Pollock’s large abstract canvases —
Complete liberation of learned disciplines,
In favor of sheer, unadulterated spontaneity
Of colors and sensations —
An explosion of feelings —
Monet and Pollock
Freeing up, letting go of, emotions,
In an unbridled totality of organic sensuousness —


What undiluted vitality, joy, exuberance, ecstasy
Monet must have experienced,
When, at Giverny,
Through the blurred vision
Of his blended-with-nature eyes,
He painted these exquisitely sensual renderings
Of water lilies, weeping willows — the pond.


You and I could return to the curving murals
In these cavernous paired oval rooms,
At l’Orangerie, in the Tuileries,
Every morning, noon, dusk, and midnight
Of our sentient, sensual lives,
To become one with the light, the dark
Drifting, sifting down,
Through the canvas-filtered glass ceiling,
One with the throbbing brush strokes
Of pulsating color,
One with the Mind behind the mind
Behind the immortal soul
Of Monet’s water lilies,

XIII: L’Orangerie

This shadow-strewn, cool-breezy Jardin des Tuileries–perfumed noon,
“Linda” is the name love drapes over its naked shoulders,
Like a diaphanous, loose-flowing robe of Claude Monet water lilies.

The cumulus-river powder-blue sky cries out your two soft syllables,
As if it were an entire choir of silent wind chimes
Rhyming the smooth, soothing hues of Giverny’s padded, petaled pool.

Too soon, you and I, sweet nénuphar, are woven into the hallowed soul
Of l’Orangerie’s broad, bold, blurry brush strokes —
Violet, green, white, pink, yellow, blue heartbeats painting us as lovers.


XIV: Le bateau parisien

At the foot of la Tour Eiffel’s tourist-queued Pilier Nord
Lies Port de la Bourdonnais, by Pont d’Iéna, on the river Seine,
Where the sleek, glass-sided-and-roofed Onyx awaits our embarkation,

Then slips, almost without our noticing, from its mooring, precisely at 8:30,
Glides us, fluidly, silently, upstream, in the remaining daylight,
Past les Invalides, le Musée d’Orsay, and la Cathédrale Notre Dame,

And, at la Bibliothèque Nationale, in illuminated darkness, reverses course,
Flows by l’Hôtel de Ville, le Louvre, le Place de la Concorde, le Grand Palais,
And, just beneath the massive tower, completes its Sunday dinner voyage.

Now, midnight dances around the stars, asks us to hold hands, kiss.
Gazing up, marveling not at August’s waxing moon
But at the lacy, cast-iron tracery of the grandest obelisk man’s ever shaped,

We gather every entrancing impression that saw us, from the water,
Those glittering, shimmering, dazzling, dizzying reflections of the city,
Its exquisitely graceful bridges, spotlit edifices, timeless je ne sais quoi,

Blessed to have been steeped in the sublime mystique soul mates know
Maybe once or twice in their lives or, like us, moment to moment,
When romance transcends itself, becomes love.

XV: Asleep in the Tuileries

You and I, my precious love,
Have walked and walked and walked,
Slowed into such a sweet peak of Parisian exhaustion,
For traversing Rue de Rivoli, from Castiglione,
All the way to Boulevard de Sébastopol,
Finally reaching the ultramodern Pompidou Centre,
And, before and after the museum visit,
Exploring four exquisite churches:
St-Germain-l’Auxerrois, St-Eustache, St-Merri, Notre Dame.

Fluent in the tongue the Tuileries’ shadows speak,
We now spend three clear-cool-blue and sky-serene hours
Recuperating from our adventures’ splendid fatigue,
Stroking one another’s arms, dozing, in green lounge chairs,
At peace, in the tranquillity of this retreat,
The barely shivering chestnut-tree leaves lullabying us.
In this garden, the cosmos is ours to borrow,
And romance is what keeps our closed eyes open,
Looking into each other’s dreams.

XVI: Affirmations

Two fascination-faceted days have elapsed
Since last you and I stood, in elated, exhilarated amazement,
Beneath the lacework of this Eiffel-ed space between earth and vault,
Which visitors come to praise, in every language of awe,
Celebrating the sheer audacity of the human imagination to create.

Now, this beautifully blue land- and skyscaped Tuesday noon,
You and I, life-love, in the love-rush we feel gripping us,
Enter a dedicated elevator in the south pillar
And climb 123 meters, to le Jules Verne Restaurant,
Where we’ll dine, with a nonpareil view of Paris’s glowing mosaic.

Our hands, craving each other’s affectionate beckoning,
Reach out, across the crisp-linen-covered table,
Squeeze, fingers to fingers, in gentle, passionate embrace.
“L.D., you plan everything so perfectly, make me feel so beautiful.”
“I love that you can tell me this.

“I’m so glad I make you feel this happy,
And I can do it because you fill in my missing parts, complete me.”
“You’re my other half, too; I belong to you, completely.”
Though we descend, eventually, into a present we left waiting below,
We know our affirmations linger in those rarefied heights.

XVII: Le Moulin Rouge

Both of us bring distinct predilections
To this Tuesday evening’s “Soirée Dîner — Spectacle,”
High atop Montmartre, on Boulevard de Clichy,
At the Belle Epoch cabaret, fabled by Toulouse-Lautrec’s danseurs
(Yvette Guilbert, La Goulue, May Milton, Mlle. Eglantine, Jane Avril),

That yet retains the famous name Le Moulin Rouge,
Which has been integral to your imagination’s working vocabulary
Since your earliest years of lessons, in your mother’s studio,
To your perfecting classical ballet techniques, at Carnegie Hall,
Which you translated into a career as a dance-academy owner.

I, a collector of Art Nouveau posters depicting seductive women —
Lithographs by French, Belgian, and Czech artists —
Have spent many nights, in my high-rise apartment,
Dreaming, fantasizing about Parisian nightlife in the bohemian 1890s,
Seeing Henri himself, sitting at a stage-side table, sketching, painting.

When dinner for the full house of 850 patrons is finished,
The lights dim; the room goes silent; the invisible band awakens;
The purple- and red-velvet curtains lift like castle portcullises,
And a troupe of half a hundred men, dressed in silver suits,

Sixty Doriss Girls, clad in rhinestones, sequins, feathers, materializes.
And for a 120 years packed into an hour and a half of Féerie,
We witness a dazzling revue of variations on the cancan,
Flamboyantly staged and labanotated walking dances,
And strategically timed sideshows, including a near-nude lady
Diving into an aquarium swarming with snakes, romancing them.

By 10:30, a taxi is winding us down, down, down choked streets
Leading back to our fifth-floor hotel suite,
Where, in a swoon of arousal, we prepare for our own cabaret revue,
Featuring a spectacle of ecstasy only we lovers perform, nightly,
The music we score, the dance we choreograph, fantastique.

XVIII: Touching Words

“Words and touching
Are the most important gifts we can share.”

“I love feeling the feelings we feel
And saying the things we say,
Shaping the perfect words around our emotions,
So that, together, ever together,
We reaffirm our love for each other.”

“I love telling you how much I love touching you.”

XIX: Giverny

        For Linda,
              who flowers
                   in every season of my heart



Two warm mid-August days ago, a glorious Tuesday afternoon,
We strolled though the Tuileries,
Ate lunch, beneath robust chestnut trees, people-spectating,

Then wended our gravelly-path way toward Place de la Concorde,
Stopping at l’Orangerie, to purchase tickets
For an experience even our capacious daydreams couldn’t have painted:

Two monumental ground-floor oval rooms,
Both containing four myriad-paneled Monet murals,
Whose profusely intertwining water lilies and weeping willows

Followed us around and around, grabbed hold of our beings,
Enfolded our emotions, in their soft-smooth reds, greens, blues, pinks,
Embraced us, with their soothingly hued yellows and whites,

Until we surrendered our senses, sensibilities, spirits, our souls,
To the magical abstraction of the whole creation,
Then blended into the impressionistic essence of our shared serenity.


Now, driving through the countryside, forty miles outside Paris,
We arrive at the Normandy village of Giverny
And are invited into the quietude of Claude Monet’s private domain,

Allowed, with his unspoken, unwritten, unstroked permission,
To witness the glistening dew lift, invisibly,
rom the drooping willows’ slender leaves, the floating lilies’ petals,

Step into his rustic house, for a worshipful visit,
Admire his hanging Utamaro, Hiroshige, and Hokusai woodblock prints,
Assimilate the space that provided succor, sanctuary for his genius.

For three hours, we roam the secluded purlieus,
Capturing its tranquillity, in the unthreatening nets of our gazes,
Wandering amidst the jardins‘ lush abundance,

Returning, finally, to where we first immersed ourselves in the estate:
Amidst the bamboo and willow trees, the two Japanese bridges —
The pool, teeming with nénuphars we hear breathing, whispering to us.

XX: The Best Life

“This life I’m living is the best life I’ve ever lived.”
You whisper this, visibly, into my spirit’s ear.
I sigh, “You’re the reason for my being.”
You hear me, and I hear you,
As we breathe existence into each other.

Suspended in ecstasy’s coalescence,
Our bodies heave like Hokusai’s great wave,
Until our breathing diminishes to whispers
Echoing, below and above love’s ocean,
“This life we’re living is the best life we’ve ever lived.”

XXI: Les jardins

After walking the world of the Jardin du Luxembourg,
Then traipsing Boulevard Raspail to its confluence with St-Germain,
North, across the Seine, on Pont Royale,
And meandering over rues de Rivoli and de la Paix, to l’Opera,
We’re relaxing in the Jardin des Tuileries, this soft Friday afternoon.

On various serendipitous occasions, these past six days,
We’ve gravitated to this garden we regard as our backyard,
To catch up with our souls, by slowing them down,
Having lunch or eating ice cream, yawning, napping, daydreaming,
Telling each other how deeply we love being here, anywhere, together.

Acknowledging that this is our last day in Paris,
We kiss each other’s fingertips, lips, almost desperately.
Finally getting up from our green chairs, gathering our resolve,
We vow, for what’s left of the flowering fragrance of these last hours,
To follow our desires to the next Tuileries, wherever it may be.




Kara-Zeal Herrle visual art

8-year-old Kara-Zeal is my daughter. A short interview of her follows the images below.

Daughter Easter

Daughter Thanksgiving

Daughter Trick or Treat

Daughter Christmas

Interview with Kara-Zeal

Question: Why do you like art?

Answer: It’s my favorite school subject, and it’s really relaxing.


Q:Where do you get ideas for art projects at home?

A: An idea comes into my head during the day, and then I come home and make them real.


Q:Do you prefer drawing and coloring to crafts, or the reverse?

A: I like those equally. Drawing, coloring and crafts have all the contents of art, and they all mix together.

Q: When do you most often make art?

A: Before bed. It helps me to relax and get ready to sleep. And it’s a peaceful time with nobody else around.

loBURN Magazine Volume 8, Spring 2019


visual art by Pat Rocha

SubtleTea proudly shares selections from painter/illustrator Pat Rocha’s splendid visual art. Visit his official site here.


Ghost Town



Glamour Girls

Black Water

Night Flight

The Spinster

visual art by Dave Dick

Seeking Low

visual art by Bill Wolak

The Attentiveness of Delight

The Honey’s Mysterious Dream

The Sudden Intensity of Astonishment

“Eyes Like the Moon” by Mark Tulin

“We share the refrigerator space,” Mrs. Lindy said while opening the Frigidaire. “This section is yours, that’s mine. Mahsa and Jordan have the middle shelf.”

I nodded my head in approval.

“You seem like a nice person, Karl. But if you’re noisy, keep people awake at night or throw loud parties –you’re out.” She pointed her crooked finger to the front door.

We walked up the creaky steps to the bedrooms. My room was spacious with plenty of windows overlooking a large oak tree. Sunlight shone in the room to give it a bright, clean feel. There were old hardwood floors and a mattress that had seen better days. A few steps down the hallway was the bathroom that we’d all share.

Mahsa, a sophomore at Penn, had the room at the other end of the hallway. She was Persian, and, according to Mrs. Lindy, she was shy and soft-spoken. “She spends most of the day at school, and comes home late at night and goes straight to her room. You hardly know that she lives here.”

Jordan had the middle room. He had just finished his degree at LaSalle and was working as a psychiatric assistant at a local hospital. Mrs. Lindy thought he was very handsome. “If I were any younger,” she said, “I’d go after Jordan. That’s for sure.” 

Once we got to the bathroom, Mrs. Lindy said firmly, “We do our business, clean up the tub and toilet, and get right out when we’re finished, ‘cause somebody is always waiting to get in. No dillydallying, you hear?”

I agreed to the terms and put down a security deposit. My expectation was simple. I would have a quiet room where I could write, go to the library every day and have a kitchen to make simple meals.  The TV in the living room was old, but the reception was sufficient.

I went to the Regional Library every morning like clockwork, researching my stories and using the library computer. I wrote all my fiction longhand at first, going through three or four marble composition books every week. When a story was where I wanted it, I typed it on the library computer and then put it on a flash drive. I returned home and watched the news on TV while I ate a Trader Joe’s salad. My young life had been uncomplicated, thanks to a $30,000 inheritance from my Uncle David, who died from cirrhosis of the liver last year.

After a particularly productive day of writing at the library, I was relaxing on the couch while watching the 6 o’clock news when the phone rang. A crying female’s voice was at the other end. “Who is this?” I asked.

“It’s Mahsa,” she said through her cries. “Is Jordan there?”

“No, this is Karl.  I’m the only one home.”

“It’s awful, just awful. I’m in so much pain!”

I didn’t know what to say.

“They pulled a tooth,” she mumbled. 

“Pulled a tooth?” I repeated.

“Yes, I didn’t know who to call.”

“Where are you?” I asked. “Do you want me to pick you up?”

“I’m at the Temple Dental School,” she mumbled through her cheek, which was surely stuffed with cotton gauze. “I’m okay. I just needed to talk to someone.”

“I’ll drive down there and get you,” I said.

“No, please don’t. Tell Jordan that I’m okay. He’d be worried about me.”

When she finally calmed down, she told me that she had two wisdom teeth pulled. She blamed herself for eating too many sweets and not having good dental hygiene. She kept saying that she did it to herself.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” I commiserated.

“You don’t understand,” she corrected. “I never eat sweets. It’s only when I moved to this country that I started to eat candy. Why did I do it?”

When Jordan came home from work, I told him about the phone call. “Where is she?” he asked. 

“Downtown, I think. Mahsa said she was getting on the subway and then the 66 bus.”

Jordan waited for her in the living room while I went to my bedroom to read. She got in late, and I could hear their footsteps as they walked up the stairs to her bedroom. Faint crying and whimpering could be heard in the silence of the evening. Jordan’s voice was patient and supportive. I assumed that he was comforting her, helping to alleviate the emotional pain.  I listened to the two talk for a while, and then there was a strange silence. Soon her bed squeaked, and I could hear the sighs and moans of their lovemaking. I fell asleep by the time they were done.

The next morning Mahsa and Jordan knocked on my door. I had only seen her in passing, but now she stood in plain sight. She had a pretty brown oval face, dark and exotic features, long glistening black hair with a slight curl, and deep-set brown eyes that took my breath away. Understandably, Jordan couldn’t take his eyes off of her either.

Mahsa apologized for the frantic phone call yesterday. “Thank you, Karl, for putting up with my childish behavior.” She smiled as much as she could with a sore gum.

“Don’t worry, Mahsa. We all have our moments.”

I invited them to sit on the full rattan chair under the tacky picture of a small country town in Italy. They took my invitation and quickly opened up to me. She talked about school and felt homesick for her family in the Middle East. Her father was a banker, her mother a housewife, and she had two younger sisters and an older brother. “My father is a wonderful man,” she said, showing me a picture of him standing in front of his bank. “He believes in my dream of designing modern homes in our country.” 

I could feel the power that her father had over her. Her loyalty to him and the debt she had to repay for his generosity was unmistaken. Jordan related about his job on a psychiatric unit with severely mentally ill patients.  He talked about their strange behaviors, the voices they claimed to hear and their sad personal lives. Mahsa looked lovingly at Jordan’s lips while he spoke.

“What does your name mean, Mahsa?” I asked, changing the topic.

“’Like the moon,’” she said.

“She’s beautiful ‘like the moon,’” Jordan interrupted, and he pulled her closer.

When I was born,” Mahsa said, “my mother looked into my eyes and saw the moon.”

“Eyes ‘like the moon,’” Jordan repeated, giving her a long, tender kiss that made my face turn red.

In the next few months, I had many conversations with Jordan. I soon understood what Mahsa liked about him. He was charming, and he knew a lot about music. He wanted to write songs, and he studied the great lyric writers like Dylan and Lennon. He told me that it wasn’t Mick Jagger who founded the Rolling Stones, but Brian Jones. And it wasn’t Brian Wilson who wrote the lyrics for all the great Pet Sounds songs, but a jingle writer named Tony Asher. When he wasn’t speaking of musical trivia, Jordan was talking about Mahsa, and he recounted in detail a recent night they had together:

“We were caught in a summer rainstorm at Burholme Park. I covered Mahsa’s shivering body with my arms as we slowly made our way down the grassy hill. I watched the raindrops drip off the ends of her curls and tasted the rainwater on her silky face like I was lapping up delicious wine.  

“She bit my upper lip to draw some blood and told me to kiss her harder as the thunder and lightning rocked the ground where we stood. We were oblivious to everything except each other as the moon peeked out from the dark rain clouds.”

“Mahsa’s moon,” I said. Jordan nodded and continued:

“‘Bite me harder,’ Mahsa demanded, no longer shy and soft-spoken but self-assured and hungry for me like I had never seen her before, Karl.

“We fell to our knees on the grassy knoll where she let me take off her blouse and unsnap her bra. I kissed her hard, perky breasts and devoured her tasty nipples. We lay there wet with passion, soaking in our young bodies, and we enjoyed every moment as if the next would be our last.

“We continued to hold each other as we walked down the rain-soaked street under the blurry street lamps, stepping in puddles, getting soaking wet until we finally arrived our front door. You and Mrs. Lindy were away somewhere, and we had the house to ourselves. ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ she whispered. I felt her breath on my chest and could feel her desire, Karl. It was as if I were at the center of a volcano and it was ready to pop. ‘Whatever you want,’ I said. ‘I’m not forcing you to do anything.’ I was just happy to stroke her skin, Karl. Honestly.

“She wanted to taste me, to have me inside of her, but she felt guilty. She knew how angry her father would get if she ever betrayed him. She feared becoming an outcast in her family and her culture if she had sex with a non-Muslim man before marriage, especially with a Jew. Right then and there, I knew that I was the wrong person for her, not part of her dream or her life’s story. I was an obstacle in her path. But I couldn’t help myself.

“The rain stopped and the clouds cleared. There was the beautiful moon hanging from the sky as if it were there only for us. It was the same moon that her mother saw in her eyes when she was a newborn baby. Her eyes closed.  She unfastened my belt and reached into my pants. Her fingers trembled and were cold. She cried and said that she couldn’t do it anymore. I said it was okay, and that it didn’t matter. She grew silent and moved away from me, inching to the edge of the bed. When I tried to get closer, she pushed me away…  

The rest of the story ended abruptly as Mrs. Lindy walked in the house. Jordan walked upstairs to his room, and I turned on the news. Later that night, I was in the kitchen talking with Mrs. Lindy. As she was opening a can of Chicken of the Sea tuna she told me that she noticed something going on between Mahsa and Jordan. “I know she’s beautiful and sweet, but I’m worried that they’re going to get carried away.” 

I didn’t tell Mrs. Lindy that they were already carried away. “They’re just friends,” I lied with a straight face.

The next night, Jordan worked the overnight shift at the hospital. Mahsa came downstairs and wanted to know if I would take her out for a drive in my new sky blue Karmann Ghia. She needed to take her mind off of the pressures of school for a while. After a few minutes of driving down the Roosevelt Boulevard, she surprised me by asking “Can I drive?”

Before I could say anything, she moved closer, nudging the back of her head against my chin while her little brown hands clutched the VW steering wheel. Anyone else I would have declined their request to drive my prized car, but I couldn’t resist Mahsa.

We drove around in circles that whole night until we ran out of gas. It didn’t matter how many times she scraped the tires against the curb or barely avoided hitting parked cars, just as long as her enchanting fragrance was wafting under my nose.

“Do you like me?” she asked.

I didn’t want to tell her the truth because of Jordan.  “Yes, as a friend,” I said.

“How much?”

I was silent, afraid of where this was going.

“Well, you shouldn’t. You shouldn’t like me so much.”

“Why?” I asked

“Because you’ll get hurt.”

She looked up from the steering wheel, and a tear fell from her eye. “I’m going to hurt Jordan, too. He doesn’t know it. Please promise me you won’t tell him.” 

She was so beautiful, I didn’t want to believe that she could hurt anyone. I thought she was playing me, and I smiled, giving her the impression that I wouldn’t be duped into believing such nonsense.

The next day, while I was at the library, Jordan startled me by sitting at my table. He looked extremely upset. I thought someone close to him had died. “What is it, Jordan?”

“She was too scared to tell me, Karl,” he said, his eyes glassy.

“She just got up and left when I was at the hospital, moving to the far end of the city somewhere, and trying to forget I ever existed. I found a letter on my pillow. It didn’t really say much. She just apologized for leaving so abruptly and not telling me why. She said that it was better that way, that she wasn’t right for me and that I should marry someone of my own kind. She said ‘I enjoyed the time with you’ in big capital letters.”

He handed me the letter. There was no return address or phone number where Mahsa could be reached, just the scent of her perfume. For a moment, I imagined her brown eyes gazing at me and her soft, gentle face waiting to be kissed.

“It happened so fast,” Jordan kept muttering to himself.

When I got home, Miss Lindy was pissed that Mahsa didn’t give her a month’s notice. “I’m going to keep her security deposit,” she snarled under her breath. “Serves me right for not checking her references.”

For the next few months, Jordan and I talked about Mahsa all the time. We even went to her school and hung around expecting to see her, and Jordan kept reading her letter trying to find some hope – a remote chance that things were really not over. I knew it wasn’t healthy for him to hold on to her and feel as awful as he did. He began to focus on his work more and more, taking as many extra shifts at the hospital as he could get. His obsession with work was so consuming that I rarely saw him anymore.      

I spent another year at Miss Lindy’s boarding house. Eventually, the money ran out, and I had to get a real job. I gave up writing for a while and moved back in with my parents. I took evening classes to become a social worker and met a dark-haired Israeli woman in grad school who very much resembled Mahsa. We married after graduation, settled down in a trendy suburb of Philadelphia and had two children.

I lost touch with Jordan but heard that he had graduated from medical school and that he was doing his residency in psychiatry. I also found out that Mrs. Lindy had passed away from complications of diabetes.I wished that I had known sooner, because I would have liked to attend her funeral. 

I haven’t forgotten my time at Mrs. Lindy’s boarding house and the beautiful exchange student, Mahsa. Sometimes I look up at the sky when there is a full moon and see Mahsa’s eyes staring down at me. I wonder if she married a strong Persian man like her father or fulfilled her dream of designing homes in her little town outside of Tehran. I could only imagine how beautiful she still must be.

© Mark Tulin