We asked our dedicated readers to share their Toledo perspective: is the (Glass) City half empty or half full? While many submitted emotionally-evocative writing that tugged on our heart strings, others were full of imagination—with some borderline unnerving. Read the top two entries for poetry and fiction, and remember, the glass is full or empty, according to your perception.
A City in Two Tales
By Dan Denton of Walbridge
1.The old city yawns, rubbing its eyes
in the early morning darkness
Yes, Toledo— you old city—
showing your age with crumbling streets,
with abandoned buildings, that sit- guarding
inner city street corners
monuments of the gaping wounds of lost jobs
empty houses— boarded up, housing lost dreams
of what could have been
A city that fights the cancer
of teenage prostitution, and heroin deaths
Toledo, you old city,
that’s on the watch list of municipal undertakers
Toledo, Toledo— dost the vultures not circle?
2. Yet, sometimes while on the way
to my job at Jeep, I cross the Glass City Skyway
and I see a tinge of pink in the dawn sky
that reflects on the shimmering glass of the Mighty Maumee
and I glimpse a hint of hope—
the hope that cries out in the Friday evening laughter
at Fifth Third Field
the hope that rings forth in a UT commencement
The hope that only a new day can trumpet
And for just a moment,
for one deep breath
that turns into an early morning yawn
I wonder— if the glass might be half full
for this old city
Judges comments: 4.5/5 A City in Two Tales [Interesting. Split vision. Nicely composed.]
By James F. Trumm
Cold rain beat on the slanted roof, but the attic room was warm and dry. Outside, October winds blew. The gusts changed the atmospheric pressure on the windows and walls, sucking them out and blowing them in, rattling the sashes and creaking the rafters.
Sam Hayes settled into a stuffed yellow-upholstered armchair. The fabric was stained, worn, and pocked with cigarette burns. Classic rock thrummed from speakers nestled amid overfull bookcases, a vintage sofa, an end table.
Sam sipped his whiskey. It was too bad outside to ride his motorcycle home. He contemplated the amber liquid. He stared through his glass at Rick, who was fiddling with his mobile phone, looking for more songs to play.
Sam tilted his head ‘til it rested on the back of the armchair. The whiskey was good. It left a soft warm spot between his ears. Above him was a skylight. The rain tapped on it and ran down in rivulets. A big red maple leaf was stuck to the glass. It was that season.
“What are you reading?” he asked.
“The new Ursula LeGuin,” said Rick.
“I haven’t read her, I don’t think. Not my genre.”
“Yeah? So, LeGuin. She from South Africa?
“What? No. Portland, I think.”
“Shows what I know. So yeah. LeGuin. Someday.”
“I’m also taking up Swinburne,” said Rick. “Again.”
“Swinburne!” Sam sat up straight. “Just because the masochistic little turd liked to clamp his dick inside a waffle iron doesn’t mean he’s any good. Dude wanted to be de Sade. Or at least Oscar Wilde. But he wasn’t as badass as either of them and he knew it. Poseur.”
“But he could write,” said Rick. I mean, what are you reading? Some jackass detective shit?”
It was an old argument.
“I’ll take John D. MacDonald anytime over Swinburne. At least he’s authentic.”
“Sure. Swinburne. What crap.”
Rick filled both their glasses and hoisted his own. “To Swinburne: ‘So long I endure, no longer; and laugh not again, neither weep. For there is no God found stronger than death; and death is a sleep.’”
“It’s your whiskey. Your house. So to Swinburne. But also MacDonald: ‘Should a man reach eighty, he has had only eighty Septembers. It does not seem like that many, said that way. It seems as if there are so few each one should have been better used.’”
They drank and lapsed into quiet. A song ended. The window rattled when a gust caught it.
“So. Hayes. What is going on with you?”
“Same. Nothing changes. Still trying to disentangle from Sara. Still can’t. Pathetic.”
He stared up at the skylight. He was beginning to feel like he could lean back further in the chair and spiral off somewhere.
“Look,” said Rick, “I’m just gonna say this, OK? It was the best thing you ever did getting away from her. I mean, no disrespect, but she was scary. It was always about money with her. She used to make comments about you, how you weren’t making the bucks anymore. She talked about how erotic she thought it was when you were pulling in two thousand a week. Man, you talk about Swinburne and his thing for sex and pain, but that’s some way more messed up shit, that sex-and-money stuff.”
Sam said nothing and sipped his drink.
“And I’ll tell you, after she said that stuff, things were never the same with her and me. I wasn’t gonna go near that. That scared me.”
Sam said nothing.
“So I know it wasn’t your choice and all, but it’s good you’re on your own. Staying with that would just mess you up.”
“Yeah,” Sam said.
“I mean, I’m just trying to help you here. You’re gonna do alright. Hell, you still seeing whatshername, Jackie? Jenny? Little thing who fucks like a demented mink, right? That’s not all bad. Not at all bad.”
Sam sat silent again. He wasn’t in the room anymore. He wasn’t with Rick. He wasn’t anywhere for some time. Then maybe he was outside feeling the cold rain sting his face and roll down his cheeks. He’d been with Sara for years and now he wasn’t. Those years had an asterisk by them now. It was all over. He held out his glass. Rick refilled it.
“You know,” Rick went on, “it’s hard to see now, but this is gonna be a good thing for you. In the end. Years from now. And good for her too. She’ll hook up with some guy with a fat wallet. She’ll be happier with that, if that’s what she wants.”
Sam leaned his head back again and stared at the leaf on the skylight. Even though the wind was blowing hard, it was still there.
“I never expected to be here,” he said finally. “We were the couple that met when we were seventeen. I liked that story. But suddenly we came to the last page and I couldn’t close the book and I just don’t know what to do.”
“Look,” Rick said, “the important thing is that it’s over.”
“Yeah. That’s the important thing.” He wiped his face.
“Close the book.”
They sat silent for a moment. The playlist had finished.
“Hey, you know what we should do?” said Rick, fiddling with his mobile again. “Let’s go catch Fast and Furious 7. Over in Maumee at 7:30. We can make it if we leave now. Leave the bike here and I’ll drive us.”
“Yeah? Now?” Sam stood up. He felt drained but clear. “Sounds good.”
They walked down the attic stairs. Rick pulled on his coat. They left through the front door.
The wet wind struck Sam full in the face. It was good. Even the sting was good. He’d been down but now he felt better. Maybe it was the booze. He thought of Jenny waiting at his apartment for him. Things were going to get better. He took one more gulp of rainy air and settled into his friend’s Buick.
Judges comments: “Half Over” does what’s perhaps the best job among all the entries in maturely using the half-half theme. It’s well written, literary, and strongly composed as prose. [“Little thing who fucks like a demented mink, right?” This sentence may not be usable.]
Inner City Freedom
By George W. Hayes Jr.
I look at Toledo different than most,
Before I get up in the morning to have my toast, we may hear the sound of gunshots, loud music or voices way too close.
After it quiets down, then and only then, the sweet sounds of the birds singing the blues come to life.
Two cities, Toledo and the Inner City, as some folk may say.
Where the norm is whatever, parking on the sidewalk, junk cars in the yard, barbecuing on the front porch next to my living room furniture.
Playing my music so loud that it can be heard blocks away, so what who’s going to tell because most people are scared as hell anyway.
Inner City freedom and the things that we do, again who’s going to stop us?
Judges comments: 3.8/5 Inner City Freedom [Honest. Fearless.]
Andie Comes Home
By Nathan Elias, of LA, previously Toledo
She returned to Toledo after four years with a broken heart and a U-Haul full of things she didn’t need. Neal left her for another woman after six years together, and to top it off he eloped with the woman before Andie even had a chance to leave Los Angeles.
“Maybe you can get a job with the film commission in Columbus,” her father said. He limped while carrying her box of clothes from the U-Haul to the front door of the house she grew up in.
Home for less than ten minutes, Andie thought, and I already feel like I’m being kicked out. The April sun felt cooler on Andie’s skin than she remembered, but it was better than the snowstorms in Colorado and tornadoes in Utah.
The screen door swung open, followed by a little girl with curly brown hair.
“Sissy!” the girl cried. She ran straight from the door to Andie’s open arms.
“Hi, bummy,” Andie said. She hoisted her five-year old sister into the air and kissed her from cheek to cheek.
“Where’s Neal?” the girl asked.
Andie’s smile fell flat.
“Amy, we talked about this, remember?” Their father struggled to open the screen door with the box of clothes in his hands. “We don’t talk about Neal around Andie, right?”
“I know dad,” Amy snapped. “I’m sorry, Andie.” The girl’s eyebrows caved inward while a furled frown contorted upon her face.
“Don’t be sorry, bum. It’s okay.” Andie forced a smile. The thought of Neal made her want to lock herself in her bedroom for days.
“Poke you in the dimples,” Amy said. The girl swabbed her tiny index finger into Andie’s cheek. Her own smile stretched, absent of one front tooth.
Their mother, a round lady with thick glasses, shoved open the screen door. The lady’s husband fell to his feet, spilling the box of clothes all over the front lawn.
“Nana Dotty’s in the hospital,” their mother said. She heaved, her face flush. “She had an accident. The doctor doesn’t know if she’s going to make it.”
On the way to the hospital Andie sat in the backseat with Amy. She played with the little girl’s mermaid dolls the way Neal had when they waited in line at Disneyland the past October.
“It’s not the same as when we were stuck in Neverland,” Amy said. Andie thought it a miracle that her sister’s face wasn’t soaked with tears. Things with Neal seemed perfect then.
“What did we say, Amy?” their father asked from the passenger seat.
“We don’t talk about Neal…” The pink mermaid in Amy’s hand dove to the dirty floor of the car. Nobody spoke for the rest of the ride to the hospital.
When their mother parked the car in the hospital garage, she looked back to the girls, her eyes magnified by her thick glasses. “Just wait here while we talk to Nana,” she said. “Give me about ten minutes with my mother and then bring Amy inside.”
“Okay, Mom,” Andie answered. She retrieved the lost mermaid from the ground and transitioned into playing.
“Where is Mommy going?” Amy asked. The tone in the girl’s voice turned toward a whimper.
“No crying, okay?” Andie said.
“Okay.” Amy embraced the pink doll with both hands and pressed it to her face.
The sisters sat quietly until Andie’s phone buzzed. It was a text from Neal.
I’m sorry, the text read. Did you get home okay?
Andie looked at the time and, seeing that fifteen minutes had passed, ignored Neal’s text. Before helping Amy out of the car seat she deleted Neal’s number from her phone, even though she had it committed to memory.
Andie held Amy’s small hand as they searched for Nana Dotty’s room number in the Flower Hospital hallway.
“Wait!” Amy cried. The girl stopped in her tracks. “Shouldn’t we go to the store and get something nice for Nana? Maybe some pretty, pink flowers.”
“Maybe later, bum.” Andie tugged gently at her little sister’s hand.
“Please?” Amy’s eyes puffed up, forming tears.
“Nana’s waiting for us, Amy.”
“I wish Neal was here.”
Now Andie’s eyes mirror Amy’s.
“Is Nana Dorothy going to die?”
Andie knelt down to her sister.
“Remember,” Amy said. “No crying.”
Andie cracked a smile and shed a single droplet that inked down her cheek. Amy poked her finger into one of Andie’s deep dimples.
“Don’t forget to smile,” the girl said. She stepped forward and pulled Andie along. While Amy marched forward Andie noticed that she did not read the room numbers as she passed them—she kept peering her head into each room until she saw their grandmother.
My moral compass is inferior to my five year old sister’s, Andie thought. She tried to force the thought of Neal out of her mind. With her free hand grasping her cell phone, Andie fought the urge to text him but couldn’t resist typing his number from memory.
“Nana!” Amy released Andie’s hand and rushed into their grandmother’s room. Andie put the phone into her pocket before finishing Neal’s number.
“Oh, hello, sweethearts,” Nana Dotty said. The woman sat upright in her hospital bed, her face as pale as the walls of the room.
Andie’s mother wept. Her wails echoed into the hallway.
“Nana, you can have my mermaid. We didn’t get flowers.” Amy held the doll up for her grandmother.
“Let’s go,” their mother said. “Nana wants to talk to Andie alone.”
“There were men I loved before I married Papa,” Nana told Andie. The two women held hands. “Some of them broke my heart, and I guess I broke some of theirs.” Nana Dotty breathed in a deep, wheezing gasp. “But in this life you’ve got to make decisions. And you’ve got to live with the decisions you make, Andie. You can’t go back.”
Her grandmother’s thin skin felt dry against hers. Andie rubbed her thumb across the top of Nana Dotty’s wrinkled hand. The room went silent.
Judges comments: “Andie Comes Home” is sweet, and it does an adequate job of uniting three generations of women in a family at a point of passing along wisdom and advice.
Judge Joel Lipman
As Toledo’s first poet laureate (2008-2013), Joel Lipman’s work has been published extensively in the small press community. A former creative writing instructor, including 37 years teaching at the University of Toledo, Lipman has made an impressive literary career, and in 2013 he opened downtown’s ABRACADABRA Studio of Poetics, which offers an intimate, studio-style poetic learning environment for local writers.
Poetry & Fiction Party
Join us to celebrate the power of the pen.
We will honor the contest winners, enjoy readings of selected works, nosh on snacks and sip drinks.
Think you have the write stuff? The public is invited to participate in our open mic. Five-minute reading slots are first come, first serve.
Wednesday | August 17th | 6-8:30pm
Wesley’s | 1201 Adams St.