Ellen Hao

Thanksgiving Still Life

By Diane O’Neill

My dad’s blue eyes
stare at me
from coffee-stained photo
on my refrigerator
while my son
still eight years old
sleeps on his lap.
Aromas of pumpkin pie
and turkey
dishes still unwashed
and we’ve just put up the tree
hanging ornaments my dad brought:
wooden rocking horses and nutcrackers
Santas and snowmen
maybe left over
from my half siblings’
separate childhoods;
tinsel sparkles
from the first tree
we’ve ever put up

He holds my son,
his first grandchild,
who has his broad forehead
and sharp mind,
my little boy’s arm
about his grandpa
letting go—

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶


By Jack Murphy

in mid-november
fully awoken from
the dream of summer

with the dread of
the school year
fully realized and

the holidays upcoming
no longer for them
if they ever were

my students file in
some wild some
lethargic but all

carrying some load
as they pass resigned
to the morning’s work

except for one a Girl
who manages to
sleep in back whenever

my back is turned
deep sleep rem sleep
whose grade report

shows neat zeroes
across little boxes of
an excel spreadsheet

who is out of uniform
again with headphones
dangling out her pocket

hair disheveled and
empty handed no
spiral no pen nothing

who hearing the music
drifting from my speakers
in the corner mostly

obscured by papers stops
looks at me for seemingly
the first time really looks

at me in my grey suit
green tie and pocket square
my scruffy fall beard

looks as if to say
what are you doing here
how did you find this place

and she does not mean
room 1947 means neverland
places hands on my desk suspicious

asks demands really
what you know about
Lauryn Hill? then in a new voice

wistful and lovely like
reminiscing of a dream
she longs to return to says

My mother used to
play this song for me to
help me sleep.

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

Chicken Soup for Santa

By O. Fraser

Sarah drove north on Cottage Grove Avenue
wanting chicken soup, and a good cry.
The light, late December snow flecked her silver Prius.
She glanced eastwards at the long, stone wall
protecting Oak Woods Cemetery from vandals,
the living from the dead.

It haunted her two blocks to East 69th Street,
this strange, long way home
from Urban Prep Academy to Hyde Park.
A pilgrimage that began at 62nd and Stewart.

She felt the bullet hole in her heart,
saying goodbye again
to the beautiful boy she once tutored in trigonometry,
as he tried to teach her about life.

She could hear his sweet voice sailing in the soft wind
from behind the limestone wall,
above the swishing of the wet windshield wipers.

“Look,” he said, “Kwanzaa is the new thing, Ms. Cohen. It’s like Christmas
for Black people. The same way Chanukah is Christmas for Jews.”

She hadn’t known where to begin;
how to explain.  Until looking at her golden Empire State license plate
after school he asked, “how many days will it take you to drive
from Chicago to New York in time for Christmas?”

Then she answered,
“Jews do not go home for Christmas, Deonte.”

It was sine and cosine in his eyes,
a slow smile.  The “you think I’m not smart enough” look.
But he wasn’t going to let her run game.
This was extra credit, and he’d have the answer.

“What a life,” she said to herself. “Damn Englewood, and this city
of guns, guns, guns.”

Her student was now a figurehead in a tarnished, pagan trinity:
Malik, Deonte, and Yuri.
A triad that did not ascend
into the heavenly mountains of Tabor, Sinai, or Hera.
No faithful following their forgotten footsteps into millennia.

Oh Jesus, Moses, Muhammad
descending the thin alpine air, transfigured to comfort the broken,
rolling giant boulders from death’s door like Lazarus.

The Prius was shooting towards 60th Street,
along the snow-slicked road.
The Midway Plaisance a welcome moat dividing her life
from the losing struggles of her children.

It was time to peel away the damp, black leggings
and curl with the grey cat fur
on the lumpy blue sofa in the living room.
The aroma of root vegetables, celery, and rosemary
steaming away sorrow and hurt, and soul swallowing emptiness.

“Even the graveyard has partitions,” she reflected,
“the Jewish section, and the Confederate dead.”

Behind her now Harold Washington and Bernie Epton,
firebrand and foe, their hearts failing weeks apart,
laying in Oak Woods, almost side by side, eternally like two messiahs
in the dusky quiet of the gun trigger city.

She wanted to lay against the steering wheel,
let the world come crashing in.
“What’s the point,” she thought, “going on?”

It wasn’t enough.  An auditorium of tearful students.
Faculty talks on violence prevention.
Two hours eulogizing in Leak and Sons Funeral Home.
She needed shiva.

Five, five more blocks to the neighborhood
grocery store. The proprietor, a Jordanian with nowhere to go
amid the sea of Christmas lights, pine wreaths, and occasional menorahs
adorning living room windows.

She was here now.
The parked snow covered Prius, a wooly white sheep.
The back seat a mound of schlepped Christmas party treasure:
25 gifts wrapped in shiny paper; 3 boxes of unwanted Dunkin’ Donuts;
50 Christmas cards.

It was the only store still open.
The small, clean shaven man.  His accent slowly fading
like the yellow linoleum tiles cracking in the well lit aisles.
Their usual banter: fresh hummus and tabbouleh;
talk of good, beef bone; red shank for chicken soup starter.

The shopping done. Sarah sighed,
a passing thought of Deonte.
“If only they had died
like Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney.”

She extended her VISA card to check out.
The Arab man never looked up,
suddenly intent
on watching videos on his smartphone.

Never raising his head
or lifting his eyes to hers,
only waving his right hand like a dove’s wing
to the door.

Finally, he spoke: “Shalom!”

✶ ✶ ✶ ✶

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