The Modernist Short Story by John Calvin Hughes

The Modernist Short Story

Epiphany is not all it’s zapped up to be.
Not all angels and baby saviors.
On the other hand, if you find yourself
in a short story, pretty quick you’ll find
you’re practically a different person,
Enlightened, open hearted, closer to adult-
hood. In the text is not like out here.
Out here you live in a world where good
people are too ignorant to know
fascism if it stomped on their faces.
But let a writer get ahold of you
and you miss a bazaar, throw out
some board games, quit a job and pow
you’re all fixed up. In the good way.
Kill your father, snatch a quilt outta
your daughter’s greedy hands, drop
a car in a river, and, buddy how,
you’re on the road:
innocence to experience, that’s
what the professors call it,
as if it were a good thing:
change and progress somehow identical.
Sure, okay, but what about that moment
when you hear the squeal of brakes
while you’re in the crosswalk,
when you open the package
you were not expecting from
a cabin somewhere in Montana,
when you see that look on her face
that says this news will not be good.
Oh, you’ll be changed on the other side
of it, all right. And then pitiless finger
of God reaching down through the cloudless,
sunless sky to touch you right on top of your head,
just before that old misfit pulls the trigger.

by John Calvin Hughes

Instagram: @johncalvinhughes
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Editor’s Note: This poem’s conversational tone disguises the hard truths lurking in the lines—real life is not fiction, and fiction’s facile endings don’t solve real life problems.

Entropy by John Calvin Hughes


The leaf lying,
the box unopened.
It’s not as if you
ignore them.
They’re right there—
you don’t
dispute that—
on the floor.
Pin oak, brown,
brittle. Probably,
because you haven’t
touched it. For
all you know
it’s velvety.
You ordered
whatever is
in that box
over a year ago.
Bad year.
Or two.
Is that it? Two
bad years have
broken you?
You can’t bend
over and pick
up that leaf, put
it in the bin,
toss it out the door?
Aren’t you even
curious? About
what’s in the box?
Maybe it’s
cat. Or something
Is it finally
too much trouble
to take control
of your rooms?
A hard no?
A shrug?
You’s less
than useless.

by John Calvin Hughes

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Editor’s Note: This poem’s cutting attitude skillfully showcases how heartbreakingly easy it is to hate oneself, and how difficult it is to look beyond the personal foibles (and possible ADHD) that can make life so unfortunately frustrating.

Thunderstorm at Night by John Calvin Hughes

Thunderstorm at Night

No one tells you that shadows aren’t your friends,
that the dead pile up around you like old furniture,
that the stairs beckon with crooked fingers, broken teeth,
the stars fade watery and thin into indigo.
The sun doesn’t sink. Rather you turn away from it,
a thousand miles an hour, they say.
Instead, the world lies like a lover,
promises cracked like ribs,
beautiful lies arrayed before you,
preening for you.
So what you stumble?
So what the clouds rumble like menace?
The pillows whisper in your fitful sleep
where in dreams you wander from room
to room, street to street, lost, always lost.
What does that mean? What is your mind,
a thing of the world no doubt, trying to tell you?
That you don’t know where you’re
going? Hell, you already know that.

by John Calvin Hughes

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Editor’s Note: Personification creeps through this poem, heightening the ominous message, perfectly suited to this month and these times.

Falling Into Theory by John Calvin Hughes

Falling Into Theory

I have not yet assigned a cause to gravity. —Isaac Newton

Medieval physicists thought gravity
was love. They catalogued it attraction.
Gravitational attraction. That every entity,
man and thing, man-thing, just drafty fractions
and, loosed, would seek the earth their own.
Oh, how the spoon rushes into the arms
Of the beloved when fumbled. All seeking home.
All fall down. Hold us, great mass, from every harm.

A step, a stumble, down, ow, a knee,
an elbow, pow, a pop, a ligament,
a slippery staircase of concrete and steel,
unforgiving as an old lover’s heart
that you busted up pretty good, yeah you.
And now you’re gravity’s fool falling for true.

by John Calvin Hughes

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Editor’s Note: This sonnet’s complex repetitions lull the reader into its mysteries.

Tap and Sigh Upon the Glass by John Calvin Hughes

Tap and Sigh Upon the Glass

You took a lot of trouble not to be
a cliché, clever names for your children,
a red door, no vans or station wagons,
just cars no one could define you by.

You didn’t line the walls with books or hang
your diplomas, no patches on the corduroy
jacket you never bought: no pipe, no bow tie,
no clever bumper stickers, no seer sucker suit.

It is an effort, finally, to turn
always the other way, to ever take
the road less, well, because you never can
just do something. Everything means something,
every gesture a text, every choice Eden or no.

Now everyone knows you, broken old man,
thrown out: it’s the same old story, they say,
like every other marriage down the drain,
like every famous opera, just no death,
no relief of death, of ending, no break
for commercial, just the limbo of empty rooms
in a cheap apartment, a block building
full of other empty men, holding warm beers,
looking past TVs, at crummy walls,
at water stained ceilings, in rooms too cold
for children, too cold for the telephone.

You walk across the asphalt parking lot
to the empty mailbox, too soon for mail,
too soon for the ache of empty, the long
road home a short walk now, the bottoms of your
feet black and burned now, barefoot man alone.

by John Calvin Hughes

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Editor’s Note: The title of this poem is almost a distraction from the razor sharp narrative that details one person’s fall from confidence into ironic failure.

Gray Day (Pine Trees Dripping) by John Calvin Hughes

Gray Day (Pine Trees Dripping)

And as if you weren’t wet enough
in God’s awful downpour, not coming
in, like that proverbial fool, and standing
too close when a car throws water up and off
the street, and it curls over you like the back
of a seashell, like a wave breaking on your head, gritty,
gray, cold as an oyster.

And aren’t you always supposed to be
somewhere? Sitting guilty in your car
in a drugstore parking lot, reading creasy
paperbacks, Rilke in a “new” translation.
And rain thick as rushes, rain no wiper can
wipe, whipping drops like crystal thumbs.
Rain, popping the windshield like BBs. And
can’t you just have this minute, this one minute?
Tomorrow you can joke about getting old, dying.

And what specter might there be who would dare
stand before you and declare that even the asphalt
does not rise up to reproach you, does not scrape
its accusing finger out of the shiny paving to point
at you, and remind you that in bright bathrooms
your body bares its weaknesses and betrayals,
and that in the marbled light of the wet afternoon
the leaves whisper there, detailing your
failings each to each, that from under the grumblings
of autos comes a deeper voice detailing every defeat,
every coming short, every apex, peak, summit, zenith,
alphabetically fallen short of. And who is that at
the corner where the three streets converge, beckoning,
overly dramatic in his peaked hood, ridiculous in his
peaked hood, pretending to be Death, Fate, the Eternal

by John Calvin Hughes

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Editor’s Note: Intensity rules the lines in this poem. Run-on ideas and imagery create the emotional confusion of growing old with all its attendant anxieties.

From the archives – This World and This One — John Calvin Hughes


This World and This One

The house you grew up in
I’ve never seen. The window
you stared out from, the porch
where you kissed your first
boy, the tree you climbed
for spying on your sisters—
Ah! How you stood before
the mirror and brushed your hair
snappy with staticky air, made
faces you wanted to show
the world, the ones you prayed
to hide, the definition of self
you so wanted to erase and rewrite,
the girl with the slipping mask.
And if the house shook off its
moorings and sailed through the black
Ohio night, and if you stood
before the window and watched
the watery world slide by,
well, there you are, pushed
by wind, carried by wave
into the future yet to be written.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, April 24, 2015 — by John Calvin Hughes

Photo by Christine Klocek-Lim

From the archives – bird of paradise — by Wyk McGowan

bird of paradise

a boy at my school
got his nails done
got weave
got dangly earrings
and heels
and boobs
the students
and the staff
shook their heads
he didn’t get beaten
but hate cannoned
like fireworks
in the halls

i didn’t notice him at first
didn’t recognize the ram
in ewe’s clothing
and when i did
i didn’t care

it makes me sick
ms. jackson
venomed into the staff room air
he’s only doing it
for attention

i couldn’t be silent

teenagers and birds
have two purposes for
their garments
i said


they quail themselves
into the background
pheasant in the field
a camouflaged blindfold
avoiding their
peers’ damnation
i am scenery
i am grass
i am shadow


they dandify themselves
tailfeathers and plume
miniskirts and hairdos
peacocking the world’s eyes
hey, look at me
i am cardinal
i am macaw
i am paradise


the boy who no longer feels like a boy
and the girl with chain-dragging jeans
are not special
they are mohawk
they are sag
they are tattoo
they are as normal as the quiet girl
in the library
with twilight in her eyes
the boy in the bleachers during recess
hands without balls in his lap

from Autumn Sky Poetry 21 — by Wyk McGowan

Video courtesy of Vistadigitals

Departure by John Calvin Hughes


Last night,
coming from dark bars,
from the closeness of strangers,
coming home late again,
the door was open:
the floor was peppered thick with rice:
patterns of splayed places
in that grainy carpet
where the polished maple
shone through: skidding footprints.

The parakeet was greenly gone,
the wire door torn down;
the bird ranges the wind
from tedious curse and praise.

The refrigerator stood open:
inside the cool white cube,
the bulb, the empty racks.

The cat bowl tipped,
gray milk linoleum halo,
bone-chipped spill.

She has freed the small appliances:
ascended to junk
they are utterly broken.
The cat highsteps among the ruins.

by John Calvin Hughes

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Editor’s Note: The rice on the floor sold me on this poem, but the rest of the imagery is just as startling and evocative.

Subjunctive Blues by John Calvin Hughes

Subjunctive Blues

In the one
dark room,
only the lamp,
the soft bulb.

Only the night,
the black trees
through the
black screen.


If I could will
a thing tonight,
it would be

Touch your clothes,
and in the hiss
of stillness,

hear your skin,
reach inside your shirt.

by John Calvin Hughes

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Editor’s Note: Imagery is the key to experiencing this poem. Instead of searching for a definitive meaning, let the images form in your mind and whatever emotion wells up is the truth.

Announcement:  CLOSED to submissions until August 20, 2015. I will resume reading on August 20, 2015. Daily poems will resume on August 24. Thank you!