Friday, December 1, 2017

The Last of Fall Issue

Dear Readers,

It's our Last of Fall issue!

The past three months have been a whirlwind. What a fantastic ride it has been!

Steel City and Affinity CoLab Presents Story/Poetry Slam:
Our September 2017 Story and Poetry Slam at Steel City Coffeehouse included the prompt RELIEF and became a promotional event for the Benefit Concert for Americares' hurricane relief efforts. We raised money by raffling off tickets to this incredible concert featuring some of our favorite local bands.

In October, we had a spooktacular themed slam that inspired our micro-issue: Ghost Stories, Words Unsaid. And, our most recent event with the theme, Tradition, was one of the most well-attended events yet! Our next event is NEW YEAR'S EVE! At our favorite coffeehouse Steel City on 12/31/17 from 2:00-4:00 pm, please join us for an Anti-Resolution Party!

The Creative Light Factory
We at Affinity CoLab are pleased to announce that we are joining forces with the Collegeville writers' meet-up, Just Write! Our mission to open a physical space for workshopping and writing is officially underway. This special nonprofit, Creative Light Factory, will open March of 2018, and we could not be more thrilled. Memberships available soon!

This issue's contributors:

A huge thank you goes to our contributing writers for this issue. Affinity CoLab exists because of you and our dear readers. Thank you for keeping this strange experiment turned online lit magazine ALIVE! I truly hope you enjoy this season's issue!

Tradition, Patty Kline-Capaldo
Relief and Tradition, Katy Comber
Tradition and Relief, Fred W. Feldman
Painting-Inspired Prose, Sharon Hajj
Poetry Works, Sam Traten
The Opposite of a Gun, Laura Woodswalker
Flash Writing Series, Abby Cohen
Poetry Series, deep blue river

Interested in becoming an Affinity CoLab contributor? Contact us at

Thank you dear readers!
Katy Comber
Affinity CoLab Founder and Curator

Tradition, Live from Steel City Series, Patty Kline-Capaldo

In keeping with this month’s theme of “Tradition,” I share this tribute to my Aunt Mim, whose heart and home were the center of so many of our family traditions.

My Morning With Mim
By Patty Kline-Capaldo

I floundered a bit this morning, trying to focus on what I came here to focus on. I puttered, I pattered, I puttzed, and I primed with a poem to get me pumped.

I wrote a little on a subject I’ve been avoiding—growing old, losing time. And then I walked, and as I walked my thoughts danced on being young. I want to climb a tree and scrape my knees and be a tease.

In my wanderings I came upon a wooden swing like the one you had in your back yard. It had two wooden bench seats facing each other. My child heart leapt. I sat and kicked off to set it in motion, and there you were, sitting across from me just like old times.

God I miss you! I miss your laughter; how you laughed with your whole body, from the jiggle in your belly to the bounce of your shoulders to the twinkle in your eye as you wiped a merry tear from the corner.

I miss your open arms, waiting for us to run into them when we came home for summer and the holidays. I still hear your voice every year, belting out White Christmas in a key that, well, just doesn’t exist. I swear you did it just to make us laugh.

I’m still mad at you for leaving so early when I still needed you. I could have used your support these past few years while I was taking care of Dad and Lori. You know how difficult she could be and how stubborn he was. Sometimes I felt your judgment because I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, bring them into my home to live. Or did I just imagine that, because you took in everyone in need, you would expect me to do the same?

Sitting on that swing this morning, feeling so much in your presence, I asked what you would say to me today, and I heard the words you spoke so often when I’d say, “I can’t wait for the weekend,” or some such thing.

“You’re wishing your life away,” you’d say. You tried to tell me how fast time—how fast life—flies by. I remember you wouldn’t let us turn the page of a calendar even half a day early. That was presumptuous.

Maybe you knew you wouldn’t have the 85 to 90 years that Grammom and Granpop had. Or maybe you knew instinctively how to do what I must consciously practice every day: Be Here Now.

Thank you, Mim, for being here—with me—today.

Tradition, Fred W. Feldman

By Frederick W. Feldman

I was offered a job based on my performance at university. They sent me a letter, and fortune was against me since my father got to it before I could. He had a bottle uncorked for me that night when I got home. But I said “no, no, I can’t take that.” He was aghast, and disappointed––as is his wont. But I was firm. “No, I can’t accept.” “Why on earth would you refuse?” he bellowed at me. “You know why. I’m quite set on it.” And I am. “I’m going to build a wonder. The first real wonder of the modern world.” After the ensuing row blew itself out, I began making arrangements that night. (Journals of M. W. M. Leheg, entry 67)

Norm had only one real question he wanted answered, and that was why M. W. Malcolm Leheg hadn’t finished his towers.
To answer this, he had taken a plane out to New Holland, Pennsylvania to look at the ruins. His wife and son were back in California, and he worried about them every time he thought of them on the drive, which was often. At any given moment, his mind was either on his current work and university career, or his family.
Norm had visited the first ruin, and was en route to the next one. He was extremely jealous of the photographs he had taken and was thrilled to have them, even though there hadn’t been much to photograph. They could be hardly be called ruins at all: Leheg had only completed the base of his tower. Still, there was a glaring absence of Leheg’s work on the internet––or anywhere else. If all went well, Norm would be able to put his name to a drop of new knowledge. The world would have to decide whether or not it was worth remembering.

I say that the modern era hasn’t produced anything rivalling the wonders of the ancient world. Old Karl Marx can prattle all he wants, however reluctant he may be, about how capitalism’s skyscrapers and bridges and so forth surpass all the achievements that came before it, but he is wrong. There is nothing wondrous about a skyscraper or a bridge, big ungainly things that they are. Neither are they modern, not in the sense that I believe modern ought to be. They are modern in the sense of manufactured. But I will create a thing of beauty, something that is a triumph of the individual, not of the economy. (Leheg, entry 69)

Norm had expected it to be quieter than it was out here. It was quiet, but there was the rush of the wind and the growling of his engine. He hadn’t seen a real highway in hours. Out here, even the highways looked like back roads. The landscape was dotted, when it was dotted with anything, with homey buildings––churches, some patched-up stores, and gatherings of homes. He wasn’t used to it, as PhD. student struggling to survive in the cramped city. Out here, the town planning looked like it was done very casually. Mostly it was acres of farmland, though.
When he made it to the second location, he called Leticia. He had cheekily set her entry in his phone as simply “The Wife.” Whenever she called him, he told his coworkers that, oh, it’s The Wife. He had only been gone a couple days, but he missed her. He was glad when she picked up.
“Hey, babe,” he said. “”How are you? How’s Jon?”
“We’re good,” she said. “Jon took a few steps yesterday.”
“Good for him!”
“He’s here with me now. What’s up?”
“I’m at the next tower.”
“Yeah? What’s it look like?”
“Same as the last one. Not much to see.”
“Just the base?”
“That right,” he said. “It’s big. It was obviously meant to be big, but it’s...well, it’s pretty flat for a tower.”
She didn’t say anything, but Norm could feel her nodding.
“I’m worried,” he said, “that that’s all this is going to end up being. And then no conference paper, no article...”
“You could still write a paper about it.”
“Yeah, but...”
“You said he was out there for a year, right? He must have been doing something out there. Did you get his journals?”
“I did. They got the pdfs to me a couple days ago. I’ve been reading them nonstop. And, yeah, he was busy. I’m just worried.”
“Don’t be. It’s not about you. You’re just reporting on what you find. If it’s interesting, then cool. You get the credit for it. If it’s not, it wasn’t because you did anything wrong.”
“Well, we’ll see what the last one looks like. I’m going to drive out there now.”
“They’re all close together?”
“Close-ish. I’m not sure what he was up to with the distance. Maybe he had some reason. I don’t know how tall he wanted to make them, so I don’t know if they would all be visible from a certain point. Or maybe there’s no reason. I’ve been reading the journals whenever I have a spare moment, but I haven’t seen anything about that. I’ll flip through it some more tonight.”
The motel looked like it had been built on a sandbox. Everywhere there was grass, except for the several meters surrounding the plot upon which the motel had been plunked down. There were few cars, and the only other visitors he saw were the members of a noisy german family who had all somehow smeared melted klondike bars over their faces and clothing. They paid him little notice.
The sun had set by the time he settled in. He was tired from his flight. He was tired from his adventures, and from worrying. He propped himself up on the creaky mattress and powered up his e-reader. The moon glowed outside, and the night lamp bulb wheezed heavily at his side.

More than any other of the tales I had to sit through in Sunday School, I have always remembered the story of Babel tower. A group of people building all the way to heaven itself, foiled by the confounding of their language. But it was the people by whom I was awed, not by the divine retribution. The only place in the Biblical texts where God felt threatened! By a group of mere mortals, working together. And now they build their skyscrapers and suspension bridges––but this is the age of the individual. Or it should be. Could be. And with my own two hands, I will build my own tower of Babel. (Leheg, entry 154)

The following morning, Norm got into his rental and followed the GPS’ directions. He would call Leticia again as soon as he made it to the last tower. He worried too much. He knew he shouldn’t, but his son was less than a year old and having the boy out of his sight terrified him. The road fled past. She would want to know what he saw. It was her field, too, after all. They had met during their Master’s. She had foregone the academic career in favor of motherhood, but hadn’t lost her scholarly interest.
The field where the GPS took him was a distance away from any residential area. He felt his heart swell when his destination came into view. Norm could see the ruins of the tower jutting above the horizon like the edges of broken glass. There was an RV rusting in the field. That was where Leheg had stayed while he worked. Where the other two had been mere proof-of-concepts, this one was where Leheg had actually labored at realizing his wonder. Norm hadn’t been sure what to expect, but what the man had managed to complete impressed him. The ruins stood perhaps three hundred feet high, and the base was––like the others––a hundred feet in diameter. It was clearly meant to reach far into the sky. It was made of stone.
He dialed The Wife.
“I’m at the last tower,” he said.
He let out a long sigh, of relief and pleasure. “It’s an actual tower.”
He described it to her.
“I’m going to get a closer look. I’ll tell you what I see.”
His boots crunched over the grass, grown tall and wild. He walked into the long shadow of the tower.
“I see a few bricks here and there, but the building materials have been moved. He really must have laid each stone himself, though.”
“How did he pay for it?” asked Leticia.
“I’m not entirely sure. He might have taken out some loans. I know he had an allowance that he often complained about in his journals. That, I’m pretty sure, came from investments and other passive income that his father had secured for him. He was rich. There might have been some loans, too, which would explain if he took the materials away to pawn them off once he decided to leave.”
He reached the entrance.
“The door is a work of art in itself,” Norm told Leticia. “It’s engraved with ironwork that’s very delicate, very ornate. There’s something written on reads ‘Homo Ascendit.’ It’s been emblazoned about two feet above my eye-level.
The inside was bare and dark. Norm switched on a flashlight.
“It looks like he was going to save decoration for later,” he continued. “Even so, it’s got some neat arches and he even added some caryatids. Nice touch.”
His footsteps clicked on the floor. He happened to glance down, and what he saw caused him to take a second glance with his flashlight.
“Ah, this is amazing.”
“What?” asked his wife.
“The floor. It’s a giant reproduction of The Vitruvian Man. DaVinci. Wow.”
“”He stuck to his theme,” said Leticia, dryly.
Norm went up the staircase, passing several floors much less impressive than the first, until he reached the top.
“Not much up here,” he said. “Just some wall and the sun coming down.”
“Sounds like an experience,” she said.
“It sure is. Oh!” he smacked his forehead. “I need to get pictures. I’ll get lots of pictures.”
“Sounds like you have your discovery,” his wife smiled.
“I really do.”
“I wonder why he didn’t finish it,” she mused.
“I figured that out, too, I think. His entries at the end are a little vague, but I think I know...”
“What?” she asked. “Disease? Did the government stop him?”
“Boredom,” Norm replied.

I finished another floor today. How many more do I have to go? Sixty? Eighty? One hundred? I don’t remember, honestly. I look at the plans every day, but I don’t look at them. I count every foot I gain, and groan at how many more are left. And I wonder, what am I doing this for? What God am I trying to dethrone, anyway? Like as not, no one will care what I build. After all, they have their skyscrapers and their bridges. My towers...would be beautiful. If I completed them, they would be beautiful. But who will care, other than me, and will I even care?
I have never been one for routine, and now every day is routine. I see routine behind me, and routine ahead of me...well, in all honesty, the last few days I’ve mostly spent poking around town and writing up some new sketches in the bars. It’s funny, at first the locals acted like I was some sort of devil; now I barely draw a second look... (Leheg, entry 323).

Norm caught a flight that night, and flew home to his family.
Thursday, November 30, 2017

Relief and Tradition, Katy Comber

by Katy Comber

A sigh
A breeze 
A gulp
A hug 
An “I love you, too.”

A coke, just a sip,
a swallow to satisfy 
the addiction allowance

The perfect sentence.

A promise fulfilled 
A lifetime vowed 

A LEAP into freshly laundered covers 
still warm from the dryer 
after the longest day

The unleashing of a secret 
strapped to the yoke too long
An answer to a question
that tied the tip of the tongue 

Laughter after the joke 
The pin drop silence before the slap of applause 
And that Helping Hand just because

by Katy Comber

Trembling. I held her hand. We looked at the icy water below. In my mind I was cursing tradition. Don’t ef with tradition. One of my brother-in-law’s colloquialisms for living that my husband often quotes far too often for it to be someone else’s anymore, comes to mind. First day the pool opens, every year, my daughter wakes up as she does on Christmas morning. Bright eyed. Alert. By breakfast, she’s counting down the minutes until the community pool opens and eating scrambled eggs in last year’s bathing suit. This year it is not quite 70 degrees outside. But. Tradition. You don’t ef with tradition. 

We warm up by playing tennis at the high school. When noon rolls around, we leave and as the car brakes and parks, she bolts. A flash of neon pink, a jumble of elbows and kness, toward the pool. We all reluctantly follow. A parade of fools. Happy laughing fools. The neighbors peer out and shake their heads. I wonder if this is their tradition too. The Comber parade of floats and towels trailing behind and gathering strands of grass from the first mowing. We enter the code and pass through the gate that declares we will be swimming at our own risk. No lifeguard on duty. 

Then. She grabs my hand. I kick off my shoes as she races me over to that deep end side. We stare down. Our toes curl over the precipice marked with a large number 5. Okay. Kid. We got this. Tradition, right? Her wide eyes stare back as she nods. Solemn. Serious, but radiant. In this moment, like so many these days, she makes me wonder in delight of her. Her being. The personification of joy. An eight year old version of my mother and my sister. All this in a millisecond burst of pride. In nonverbal agreement we grin and nod. “Okay. Here we go. 1.2.3 JUMP!” 
The icy chill shocks my system. I feel it in my bones. Water fills my ears and nose. I burst out and up to the surface. Teeth chattering. I’d swear my skin is tinged blue. Then, a moment of panic. The cool water is seemingly empty with the exception of my shivering body. I look for her. Nowhere. Where is she? A crackle of laughter above me answers my question. I am alone in the frozen pool. The joke’s on me and the joker is warm and swaddled in a towel that is perfect, fluffy, and dry. 

Relief, Fred W. Feldman

Fiction Works, Sharon Hajj

By Sharon Hajj

Becca stood in front of the flower bed letting the sunshine warm her both inside and out. The light bounced off the white rocks she lined up along the edge, their smooth surface making the garden look like it was surrounded in clouds. She left space between the azalea bushes as the perfect spot for her petunias next spring.

Life couldn’t get better than this. Becca was content. She had her home, her family, and satisfaction in her work. Nothing could disturb her.

She took a deep breath and patted her hands, stirring up the scent of the moist garden soil. Looking down, she sent a thank you to the flower bed for bringing her joy. Before she turned toward the front door, the sound of laughter from the neighbor’s children caught her attention. Their giggles filled her with love, remembering all the fun she had with her own children when they were that age.

Back in the kitchen, Becca turned on the stove and placed the tea kettle above the soft flames. The sound of the laughter came closer when her phone rang.


“You won’t believe what happened.” Her friend Shauna’s voice screeched in her ear.

Becca pulled the phone away from her ear. “Tell me,” she said, leaving the ear piece a distance from her.

“Margaret said the mechanic charged her double for the part. My friend recommended him though. I know he wouldn’t do it!”

The sound of clinking rocks flowed up through the window. Becca peered toward the window but she knew the phone would get cut off if she moved too close to that spot, something she did sometimes when talking on the phone with her mom when the conversation didn’t have an end.

“Maybe you should talk to your friend. Maybe he knows.” Now she heard the sound of rocks being tossed against each other. Becca felt irritation creeping over her skin. A lump started to form in her gut.

Shauna’s voice still streamed into her ear but she could no longer discern the words. Her mind, out on her flower bed, listened to the mixture of happiness now mixed with deviousness. Those children better not be messing up my yard, she thought.

“I have to go, Shauna. Go call your friend to find out what happened. There are always two sides to the story.”

Once she clicked the phone off, she rushed to the front door. When the children saw her standing in the doorway, they dropped the few rocks they held in their hands and ran away.

In front of the flower bed, she saw a few scattered rocks. I’ll have a talk with the parents later, thought Becca.

Becca stepped down to the ground and rearranged the rocks, back to their evenly lined row.

Her neighbor, Henry, an older gentleman who retired last year, let his screen door slam shut behind him. “They remind me of when I was a kid, always getting into trouble.”

“Yeah, and how did you learn to stop? What should I tell them? They’re really messing up my zen.”

“Oh,” he swatted at the air as he paused, “They can’t mess up your zen. You’re the one responsible for yourself.”
Becca saw his smile, a genuine smile. When she looked over to his front yard, she saw rocks strewn across his sidewalk. The rocks curved in a way and something about them drew her closer. She stepped across the grass and met him. Henry whistled while he leaned over and gathered the rocks. He turned and placed them on the ground next to his flowers without saying another word to Becca.

Henry’s eyes twinkled when he turned back to her. “Enjoy your evening.”


The next morning when Becca sipped her coffee, she exhaled when she realized she had nothing on her to do list. When her phone rang and she saw Shauna’s name, she rolled her eyes. She clicked decline and picked up her copy of House Beautiful. She flipped through the magazine pages when the phone rang again. She slapped the magazine down on the table.


“Becca, you won’t believe it! I spoke to my friend and he said Margaret misunderstood. I’m fed up with people don’t take the time to figure out what’s going on before they react.”

Shauna’s voice had an edge to it which twisted a dark cord of discontent through Becca’s veins. “Yes, you’re right. It happens too much.” Understanding and agreeing with her friend, didn’t keep Becca from feeling a bubbling anger growing inside her.

“I’ve told her before but she keeps calling me and complaining. I don’t want negativity in my life.” Shauna huffed into the phone.

Becca’s hand squeezed the phone. “I don’t either, Shauna,” she said. With a dramatic push against the phone screen, she ended the call and tossed it onto the table. The sound of tumbling rocks drew her attention to the front of the house. When she looked out the front door, the children had rocks in their hands and sprinkled at their feet.  “Get away from here.” The power of her voice caught her by surprise. She took off her slipper and threw it with all her strength down to the grass, in the space where the children stood only moments before.

Dark storm clouds passed in front of the sun turning the sky into an eerie tumultuous reflection of Becca’s actions. “I’m tired. I’m tired of the lies and anger and fighting.” She screamed up into the sky expecting a response.

A soft voice did respond. The words came from her neighbor, Henry. “Becca, life is all about balance. Don’t forget.”

Becca lowered her head. Lumbering footsteps came up behind her. She turned to see the sweetest smiles and most innocent faces. “Sorry, Miss Becca. We didn’t mean to mess up your garden. We want to put the rocks all back. Is it ok if we do it now?”

Becca sighed. Many angry thoughts twirled around in her head but she couldn’t muster the strength for them to escape. Better let it go, she thought.

She nodded towards the children and gulped when her eyes filled with tears.

“Don’t get down, Becca.” Henry’s voice soothed her. “We all have our days and we all have the chance to start fresh.”

The bright light from the sun broke through the clouds, warming her face, reminding her of the light and peace she strived to achieve. Focus, Becca, focus. She reached her hands out wide and spun around before looking back at her neighbor. “You’re right, Henry. It’s a beautiful day.”

Poetry Series, Sam Traten

Variation on Jim Harrison Themes – Complaint & Return Sam Traten 11.26.2017

Late November sun smiles with thin lips, trudges head down.
Cold, seemingly insincere. Do not be fooled. She has much
on her mind, longing and hope.

She does have a heart tho I can’t break it
with foolishness, pride, a flashy
grin, and flattery.

Instead, I’ll keep Spring in our plans, November and me. Live life simply,
without jewels, with joy and unconditional mirth.
Tonight, sleep soundly on winter-splintered hay. Save featherbed for the days to come.

Winter solstice in December signals a shift, a slow, incremental return to kinder comforts,
a soft transfer of power, a lip-balm to interrupted dream. Wind stills, tide stops.
A U-turn is imminent.

For Jennifer Hetrick’s Traveling Poetry group, 11.26.2017 at Dairy Queen in Gilbertsville, PA.
The Opposite of a Gun
by Laura Woodswalker

A man walks in the lobby with his luggage on a rack
It's bigger than a coffin & twice as black.
The manager calls the cops and says “you better come...
this guy has a suitcase, and I think it's fulla guns!”

Well the police come and they block off the door
they grab the suspect and pull him on the floor.
The man says “come on folks, I don't mean to hurt no one...
what I got in the opposite of a gun.”

Well the people all were trembling and scared as they could be
and the whole city's watching the story on TV.
So they open up the suitcase and what do ya think they found
a Moog synthesizer, full of awesome sounds!

It's got sliders and knobs, buttons and faders
a mad scientist dream of twirling oscillators...
with every color lights that flash so pretty
'its like bein' in a disco in New York City!

Well it sounded like science and psych-a-delik drugs,
And aliens dancing the robot jitter bug!
As grand as the history of the human race
Mysterious as a galaxy way out in space.

He says “some folks are crazy...they can't get chicks in bed 
so they buy a machine gun and shoot people dead.
But you better give a listen and clear out your head...
get yourself a music makin' gizmo instead!”

If you're going crazy it'll help you stay sane
And if you're bored it'll wake up your brain.
And if you're lonely, there's no need to fret,
cause the Moog synthesizer is better than sex.

If you got a problem it'll help you survive
if you're dying it'll keep you alive.
It'll make the dead rise before you're done
Cause music is the opposite...
...the opposite of a gun. 

Yeah, music is the absolute opposite of a gun.

For more of Laura's work, check out her historical science fiction novel, TESLA'S SIGNAL, and her website.