How to Count Rings of a Tree

1, 2, 3…

Better not dig

under that lemon tree.

Back, back to when nest egg rests on pennies, and little piggy banked on peek-a-birthday riches, I can still see those $10 checks from grandmamma. As the years fling another ring around the sun, another $10 would be mailed in a well of wishes. Yet, even when my voice hopped, crackled, and lengthened, the amount of grandmama’s gift still stays at a fixed heart rate. All of which lead me to double check my checkbook: why didn’t she adjust for my budgeted growth, like the rising height of my inflation or the weighty matter of my gross living adjustment?

…4, 5, 6…

Or I’ll make lemonade mix

out of you

with a peppermint stick.

What $10 charged back when I was still carrying a lunch bag, no longer spells the same healthy wealth in my 1’s, 5’s, 10’s, or 50’s. Then, “Bingo!” all of life lingo rings up: no matter how many times life changes or spare-changes me; her check will always be penned as $10. No matter how many times it is inked in the wrinkle of Hamilton’s, its heart is stocked in awe of grandmama’s love, prized from year 1 to my X’s. And no matter what my age was or will be, $10 or her loving investment in me will stay forever young.

…7, 8, 9…

Fine. Keep on climbing

those sweet grape vines.

So, to that day when grand old trees still bloom pink with heirloom, family root branches forever tomorrow, and the year bears another timely, $10, greenback—if this leafed true—grandmama and her love for me shines lively as then as forever, and that wraps the grandest gift of all.

…and 10 gotcha!

I’m gonna tickle you

till you sing la-di-da.

Lee Minh Sloca was born in Vietnam, from which he escaped two weeks prior to its collapse and now resides in Los Angeles, CA where he focuses on poetry, prose, and painting.

Garage Sounds

A dirty jar on a top shelf falls over, drops to the concrete floor and explodes. Glass shards fly… my mother’s bare legs… my baby sister…

My Grandfather was a yardman who worked for the Lehigh Valley Railroad. But he got a foot caught in a coupling and had to pick a new line of work. He and Grandmom and my mother moved to Philadelphia in ’31, to a row house on a narrow side street full of Polacks and Eye-tals. He worked 10-hour shifts at a high-whining machine that pulled wire. Turned him almost deaf. During the war, the plant converted to munitions. There was an accident, an explosion.

Grandpop’s stuff lay stored in the garage, a corrugated metal building off the back alley, where a box containing his souvenirs from the Great War called to me from a high shelf. I stood on an upended bucket and reached for it. “Get down from there,” Mother said. I elbowed a jar aside and toppled backwards, and she lunged forward to catch me while shielding Becky from flying glass.

Becky fills the rinse tub then feeds wet clothes into the wringer. Her hand disappears between the hard rollers. Finger and wrist bones crackle. She screams.

Between WWII and Korea, our family moved in with Grandmom. I was eight, but pipsqueak Becky ran the show; the rest of us were there for her amusement. She’d plead: “Poppy, make me ’nother pitcher.” My Father would unclip the grease pencil from his butcher’s smock and sketch a horse, a cow, or the dollhouse he promised to build her. At night, he’d play piano with Becky next to him on the bench, his big hands pounding the yellowed keys, each covering more than an octave—Love Letters in the Sand, Red Roses for a Blue Lady, The Little White Cloud That Cried.

Becky took piano lessons, classical, hours, years of practice, recitals. She could read anything, was a natural. “I want to play with a symphony someday,” she told Mother while they did laundry in the garage. “It’s gonna be my ticket outa Philly.” I could see her fingers move in time over an invisible piano though I could not see her from beneath the hood of our ’53 Chevy Bel Air. “You’d better keep practicing, Beck, ’cause that ticket of yours won’t even get ya outta Kensington.” She turned her face away from the wringer and stuck out her tongue at me. The rollers caught her thin fingers.

Carmen catches my hand then lies back, her body a study of shadows against the cool tuck-and-roll. I brush my fingers across her quivering stomach. She moans.

My Father’s hands shook so bad, from being sliced open by knives and band saws, that he’d stopped sketching. But he showed me how and I got good enough to attend the Museum School of Art, on a scholarship, looking to become the next great illustrator for the New York agencies. I lived at home, which got tricky when I had girls over—not that there were many, not that my folks were prudish. Our family had developed a bawdy sense of decorum from living in a row house and listening to the neighbors on all sides go at it… either threatening to kill each other or screwing on sweltering nights. In either case, Mother’d turned up the TV volume and we’d ignore the clamor.

In my senior year, I dated the model from my figure drawing class. She was dark, not Negro, but Puerto Rican mixed with something else. When she modeled nude, nobody cut class. Painting her, I thought of Natalie Wood in West Side Story and got excited, kept my artist’s smock loose so as not to embarrass myself. We were in the back seat of the car on a late Saturday afternoon. Carmen removed her panties. I entered her. Our thighs slapped together. Her moans filled the musky garage that smelled of old grease.

The slap of Father’s hand against the side of my face explodes in my ear. He fakes a hook and hits me square on the chin with a right cross. Lights out.

I faked my way through my first couple jobs after college. For some reason, my talents didn’t impress the New York agencies. Then Carmen got pregnant and we had to move back to Philly and in with my parents and Granny. Becky had moved out, got her own apartment, and was working the perfume counter at Wanamakers, her left hand showing no sign of being crushed.

When our son was born in July, I took time off from my ad editor’s job at the Inquirer, but Mom and Granny stepped in to do the work and I was the odd man out. The newspaper became my refuge, and I stayed late and left for work early, trying to avoid restless nights with a colicky baby in that airless train car of a house.

Carmen and I argued, retreating to the garage for our donnybrooks. “We gotta get outta here, Bobby,” she yelled. “My cousin in Miami owns apartments. He’ll rent to us.” “We don’t even have enough money to drive there,” I yelled back, “and what would I do?” We continued going at it, both of us wet with sweat. Inside the house, the baby cried. Carmen moved toward the door: “Maybe I should just leave you and the kid. It’d be better for both—” I spun her around and slapped her hard across the face.

My Father slid inside the garage. He pushed me back then smacked me alongside the head. My cheeks burned, more from shame than anything. He came after me. I didn’t try to stop him.

The fire had burned the entire block. We climb out of the cab and enter the garage. I listen for the old sounds as I strike the match.

I stood on the balcony of our Seattle condo and watched an approaching winter storm. The phone rang. Carmen took the call and yelled at me to pick it up in the kitchen. “Did you see it on the news?” Becky said.

“Mom and Dad’s old house and the whole block burned.” “Christ, had they moved everything out?” I asked. “Yeah, all except the junk in the garage. That damn thing didn’t burn. Go figure.”

After years of coaxing, my parents had moved the month before, to a retirement home out the Avenue. They’d sold the old Chevy and had given the rest to Becky or to the Salvation Army,  shipping a few photos and boyhood trinkets to me. “They’re really freaked out about the house,” Becky continued. “Can you and Carmen come east? It’s been a few years. Ted and I can put you up since the kids are away.”

I phoned our son in San Jose to let him know what was up. The red-eye flight to Philly was bumpy, the jet pushed around by strong crosswinds.

We slept the following day and didn’t make it to Madison Street until the next afternoon. “How’d this thing escape the fire?” Carmen asked, motioning to the garage. The neighborhood was gone, nothing but piles of rubble, like post-war Dresden. I keyed the padlock and opened the swinging doors. “I remember this place,” Carmen murmured. “I’m sorry,” I said.

Inside, the shelves were crammed with bottles and jars, a hoarding habit my Mother had never shaken. A tarp was thrown over the ancient wringer-washer. Paint cans, car wax, thinner and tools were dumped in a corner, rusting. The place smelled old. I smiled, remembering my afternoon delight with Carmen. But it was too quiet. Gone were the engine sounds, crying babies, tinkling pianos, arguing, moaning, the churn of machines, the flap of clothes hung out to dry on lines up and down the alley. The bell from a trolley on Allegheny Avenue sounded two blocks over. It was like I’d never heard it before. It was all wrong.

I pulled my Grandfather’s box of war junk off the shelf. Carmen caressed my shoulder and we kissed. A bucket of rags rested against the wall. She handed me the matches. I lit one and tossed it into the bucket. The flames flared and the tinder-dry frame caught fire. The crackling-popping sound of the garage burning followed us down the alley and out onto the wide boulevard.

Terry Sanville lives in San Luis Obispo, California with his artist-poet wife (his in-house editor) and one skinny cat (his in-house critic). His short stories have been accepted by more than 100 publications including the Fifth Wednesday Journal, Birmingham Arts Journal and Boston Literary Magazine. He was nominated for a Pushcart Prize for his story “The Sweeper.” Terry is a retired urban planner and an accomplished jazz and blues guitarist—who once played with a symphony orchestra backing up jazz legend George Shearing.


abbie leavensPoetry Editor Abbie Leavens describes how she wants poems that bite with absolutely necessary language, how poets can’t be afraid to let their poetry hurt, and how to approach writing with a full head.


Q) How did you learn about/become involved with Eckleburg?

Abbie Leavens: I first met The Doctor TJ Eckleburg Review when it was transitioning from Moon Milk Review into its beautiful, present form. I was fortunate enough to have a poem of mine, “Control”, accepted for publication at Eckleburg, and later, when the opportunity arose to work with the brilliant minds in the poetry department I jumped at the chance.


Q) What genre do you edit/what role do you have?

AL: I believe my official title is Poetry Editor, or at a minimum that’s what follows my Eckleburg emails. I have the great fortune to read and review the poetry that comes into Eckleburg, as well as help determine what we keep and, finally, upload accepted work to the review.


Q) What are you looking for in submissions?

AL: I tend to favor language that is uncomplicated, but absolutely necessary. Any poem that evokes a visceral reaction is gold. It has to feel real, it has to bite—don’t be afraid to let it hurt.


Q) What have been one or two of your favorite pieces you have seen in Eckleburg so far?

AL: I am a big fan of Amye Archer’s recent poem “Eating Children on a Fall Day”. I also dig the whole lot of nonfiction that has found a home at Eckleburg because I am totally in love with other peoples’ realities.


Q) What are some publications you have/accomplishments you want to share?

AL: Other than Eckleburg, I’ve had poems in Barnstorm, BlazeVOX, BLOOM, The Boiler Journal, Crusader, fortyouncebachelors, Reed, Wilde, Xenith, short fiction in The Battered Suitcase, and nonfiction in Gargoyle. I have a poem forthcoming in The Squaw Valley Review. I am proud to have been a Lambda Literary Fellow in Poetry 2012 and a Squaw Valley Community of Writers Fellow in Poetry 2012.


Q) How do you approach writing?

AL: With hot tea, a clicky pen, and a full head.


Q) In 5 words or less, describe what kind of a journal you think Eckleburg is.

AL: Smart, Sleek, Sassy, Bold, Unabashed.


Abbie J. Leavens grew up in Iowa. She lives and writes in Los Angeles, California. She teaches composition at UC-Irvine and Long Beach City College. A proud mother of two spirited boys, Abbie spends her moments of escape at little league baseball games and tries to see the ocean as often as she can. She is the poetry editor of The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review.