5x5 Issue #7
5x5 is a 501 ÂŠ (3) nonprofit organization and literary magazine that publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. We publish once a year between fall and winter. Submissions are accepted year-round. Simultaneous submissions are welcome, though we do ask that you notify us and/or withdraw your work should it be accepted elsewhere. Visit 5x5litmag.wordpress.com for information on submission guidelines. ÂŠ 2020 in the names of the individual authors. Subsequent rights revert to the author upon publication with the provision that 5x5 receives publication credit. Issue layout by S.J. Dunning About the Cover Image: "British Columbia Bear Skull," by poet and painter Ciara Shuttleworth, depicts a bear skull the artist's dad, poet Red Shuttleworth, found while living in British Columbia. It is part of the artist's recent series of paintings of skulls she embarked on "to work toward being more painterly and less exacting with brushwork."
5x5 Editors Editor-in-Chief S.J. Dunning Poetry Editor Jeff Pearson Fiction Editor Grace Campbell Nonfiction Editor S.J. Dunning
Letter from the Editor Grace Campbell
Table of Contents 8 Poetry
Rebecca Doverspike "[Taking moments for tiny prayerâ€Ś]"
Henry R. Williams "In Esse Blues #27"
James B. Nicola "Geometry and Genesis"
Jan Dennis Destajo "Song"
Daniella Deutsch "Narnia"
Mateo Lara "Debt to Man"
Phillip Fried "Diary of a Transformed Deity"
Fiction Ravneet Kaur Sandhu "Kismet"
Robert Stone "Apple"
Jane Snyder "Interior Paint"
Lee Matalone "Blacksmithing"
Noa Covo "Shower Rehearsals"
Lee Musgrove "How it Started"
Christel Wiggan "Encapsulated as a Boy"
Dylan Newitt Allen "Fran"
Jane Hegstrom "Prairie Backroads"
Kateri Kramer "Market Day"
Katherine Jackson Wade Distraction, Or An Ode to My Cleavage
"Party Cultures" "On Purging"
Mary J. Breen "Playing House"
Melissa Lewis-Ackerman "Something I Forgot"
AM Roselli "Seven Shades of Black"
Adoring Readers, It's been a minute. But here we are, and here we have some bundles of love to drop your way, and we couldn't be more excited to feature these pieces. Five hundred words is a tight squeeze, a deft parcel where so much needs to happen with such little space. These works weave through space in its variant arrivals: home, longing, the rich marrow of confusion and loss. We all know how critical art is, at this juncture of time when the impetus to call in sick and hide inside our fear is mighty. Take a moment to celebrate these writers who have committed so much love and patient attention to the act of art-making, and let their work get your own wheels turning. XOXO, 5x5 Editors
[Taking moments for tiny prayerâ€Ś] Rebecca Doverspike Taking moments for tiny prayer: sycamore seed, thistle, moth thin papery leaf, a little torn. Shy Coltsfoot lashes grow near a curled root and cluster like stars out of the ground. As a Catholic girl I was taught to step between gravestones but what has died without a marked grave? I was also breach, so perhaps I see the world upsidedown. After you died, the light kept gray for days. The worldâ€™s head, dulled pencil lead, like you said once of your own, missing its sharpness. On the day of your funeral it rained, pencil lead turned liquid. 11
I used to wonder if we could reconcile in dreams. Now some days I think: that’s the one path still possible between us, others: in wordless moods, you’re the one I want to talk to how do I do it, as if the moon could balance, focused, on the tip of a pin with all those dancing angels. Some days you are in each star clear, and I feel how light can scar. Others: all the blue in between. You tell me constantly how the heart gets bigger than the body. You say find me in the future that the past held. We weren’t there for nothing.
In Esse Blues #27 Henry R. Williams You may as well wait for the world to spin gold, as if fortuneâ€™s hurricane relies on you for its name. From sheets sweaty, rise & face the rainy day, whipt along curd among a soothing lull of hours which no accounting will return. Accentuated, eyes accurate tho deceived by long spill of bricks cannot construct a Geary where only a Keating stands. You told any ear inclined to be so abused, of how, once upon a fetishized foot you stood near the hanging gardens (or was it the Trump tower atrium). Distinguishing epochs was never within your skill set since all rushed into one quick flow & led back again sololy like disaggregated 13
instruments in quartet or orchestra: only to spring again back to unison with snare crack & revive that first faint melody in a sweep of powerful refrain. You donâ€™t play well by yourself, tho others hold even lesser promise.
Geometry and Genesis James B. Nicola A thought dropped down, when I was still a teen and not in Sunday service, where I slept, but in school, sophomore year, Geometry, and thinking about all the points between, and the wordlessness involved: if “Word” could mean word in the sense of promise to be kept— “You gave your word,” not necessarily in the sense of logos—then the meaning of John, “In the beginning was the Word,” was on point. Genesis came from Geometry. It all hinged on the If: the theory, or hypothesis, or promise, of a point, then two. If two, then I could find a third between. Then all the points between, you see, and past each end, toward infinity in two directions. If there was one point, and two, there was a line, sure as the Word 15
was being kept. All right. Let one point be not fixed but move around—not even free but spinning in a circle centered on that line—and we’ve a cone, or double-cone. Let two points spin like that awhile, then three, and what do you get but The Beginning, if there are points that move, of Everything— including you, in time, and even me. The Promise makes the possibility. The only God’s the God of Geometry.
Song Jan Dennis Destajo And when I did not die, a fig tree started growing out of my mouth. Every day when I cannot dream, it consumes pieces unknown to my wake body. As leaves and branches reach the ceiling, I watch, like a hostage beside a window. My head tilts in increments and I think of all kinds of seeds I have swallowedâ€”now, an accidental myth disproving its own creation. Forget graft-versus-host for what I am is fed. In return, I carry us, 17
myself and this tree Outside. And the birds silently Hover, scaling just how much can I harbor. When it rains, half moist, eyes shut, And for some moments my body Exhales as if giving a signal to sing. But with the size of my mouthâ€” say I can close my eyes and wailâ€” anything close to a sound, a retention of the past, a cursing of what is mine that I never asked. And when I open my eyes there will be no sky. Yet the sun so often peers 18
in thin layers as the canopy dances with my mind, with the profusionâ€” the trill, wind approachingâ€” of nothing, nothing but leaves.
Narnia Daniella Deutsch the planet is named narnia named of course after Narnia it orbits the earth but will shortly forget its relation your narnia and my narnia and her narnia all come from the same narnia which are both named of course after Narnia her narnia heats up like upstate New York shivering off with a California breeze her narnia smells like coconut hair conditioner and half burnt marijuana we got from a guy who pulled upâ€” daughter in the front seat her narnia looks like crunched bookmarks gone through airport security x-rays too many times and three countries in three weeks her narnia tastes like honey Greek yogurt with bittersweet berries but please dear god hold the blueberries 20
her narnia sounds like the softest silence ever known to the soul as loud as the silence of that Brooklyn motorcycle engine at 3am heading for the bridge as gentle and as deserving as he told her sweet solitude would be.
Debt to Man Mateo Lara schmear a concoction of our potent bodies skin peeled back reminding of skinned animals foraged & gutted from a ruptured forest a sticky scent of you in my throat a harsh goodbye of my runny sentiment like juicy looks from predators stabbing at bark making boats for rivers red & vicious like a hard distance away from you I’m not holy I never was—but each wing-tipped fingertip into my body felt like resurrection, this is what Jesus felt as the dagger hit the side, your dagger hits the side—I’m suddenly reminded & capable of what I owe to your massive touch & every muscle that veiny existence pulsing drizzle on these tender parts of body I noticed how vocal incision & insertion good be 22
extinction is the next step after rapture and us between each otherâ€™s stiff spots, rummaging for another pulse another bite another sign & right way to skin a thing, to pleasure the world with more hungering resigning from these payments to a God another offering of flesh, still raw & dripping, with red & white all colors, pink & soft & wet & look at this weighty thing much more valuable than all your dirty dismembered treesâ€”
Diary of a Transformed Deity Philip Fried for my sister, Lillian Israel Monday, I wakened from my voluminous snooze startled to find I'd morphed into a Market, my sacred pneuma now dispersed in flows of cash and commodities. I was in bits, but ubiquitous, passed from hand to hand like the shards of a relic, and subject to a novel symptom, volatility. Tuesday, the exuberant adoration of the traders was reassuring, but what of the programmed "hymns" of the algorithms? I was getting good press on Wednesday, except for a few heretics, pseudo market gurus claiming the faith bubble had popped, spooking the skittish investors, inciting the pursuit of false profits in panic-driven selloffs. 24
Thursday, consulted my (financial) analyst, re the obsessive notion that I never had woken, but only fallen into a deeper dream, so these tremors and fluctuations occurred as electrical impulses in my cosmic neurons while my exterior was calmly iconic. Friday, I have fond memories of my future, perfumed with the incense of adrenalin, my myth preserved in the gospel of the tremulous, I've become an affliction that's far too big to fail.
Kismet Ravneet Kaur Sandhu We are a zip pulled down too fast by the hand of kismet, a tummy exhale and down goes the zzz. We are not ready for this. It burns my hands like your beard against my cheek. But it doesn’t stop licks turning into grunts. Our clothes are too wrinkled for my mother to not notice. Marigold garlands are strung on the gate of your family home when I return. I have the beard oil from America. And lube, wrapped in brown tape, hidden at the bottom of my suitcase. We were ready for this. We had talked about this. Your mother greets me. I nod, ask who the bride is. She tells me it’s the girl she had tried to set you up with. We had laughed about her overbite, her over-eagerness for an arranged courtship, with your head nuzzling my neck. I burn your wedding card but eat the mithai. My mother hums as she irons her outfit for your reception. I want to wear this sparkly red dress that will be so un-sanskari that it will talk of my ruin. But the zip won’t come down. I 27
am stuck in my motherâ€™s ironed outfit. I smile at your mother as she tells me how happy you are with your bride.
Apple Robert Stone I am not a great fruit eater, but that afternoon I was so hungry I decided to eat an apple. When I say hungry, I donâ€™t mean like an Ethiopian, I mean like a bored fat man who hasnâ€™t eaten anything for ninety minutes. I picked a red one out of the bowl. I thought red would be sweet. I shined it on my thigh to take the bloom off. It smelled good, but not exactly, to me, like food. It came from our own tree, planted by my late father when he was a boy. My teeth are not strong, but I thought I could bite confidently into an apple. I did so and felt the sickening crunch of bone on bone, the crash of teeth on teeth which eager lovers, even, will tell you should be avoided. Was this a trick apple? I peered angrily at its white body. It looked roughly alright. I dislike apples on principle partly because of the cores, which I consider inedible, although I have known those who have eaten them; the thought of that apple sinew sliding between the invisible gaps in my teeth and tearing off there makes my jaw ache. But I was nowhere near the core. I had only grazed the 29
surface, taken off the peel. There were bones in my apple. I could make out that much. They were covered with a shallow layer of the appleâ€™s flesh. There was nothing for it but to nibble, carefully, a little more of that away. I was chiseling this fruit, sculpting it, and slowly uncovering the form within, which was a skull, a human one. A face, I might say. Small, of course. The juices, sour actually, ran clear or just tinged pink with blood, I supposed, from my own damaged gums. The features of the face were fine, cultivated, cheeky. I nibbled further. There was an irresistible need to have a whole thing and soon I held one in my palm. This thing had lived. This miniature being. Various questions arose. Were the other apples concealing similar heads? Was this skull hollow or full of core and pips? Had I been wise to swallow what I had? Perhaps my family, the fruit eaters, had always known about this. It had a lovely set of unworn gnashers. Not a bashful expression. I looked hard at the banana in the bowl. The windfall in the garden was largely left to drunken wasps, buzzing groggily in their stupors. I remembered that I had once found a maggot, as slender as the paring of a babyâ€™s finger-nail, 30
writhing with anxiety in a peach. Exposed to the sunlight, it had squirmed. I stared up the garden path, through the French windows. Then I noticed two plump nectarines had rolled under the table, as though trying to escape.
Interior Paint Jane Snyder I love contests. I always think I’ll win. This one was to name a new shade of paint but when I looked at the paint chip all I could see was blue. Nothing special to catch the homeowner’s imagination. Could I see gray or green and call it frost or rime? Something suggestive of the deep blue inside the glacier, perhaps. Something beautiful in the dark cloud chockablock with ice and menace? Perhaps the beauty is in going from the cold to warmth and shelter. Picture a farm kitchen at Christmas, before the preparations become tedious. Everyone bright and full of kindly purpose. The crisp, fatty smell of cookies baking. The only snowflakes are the paper ones the children make to decorate shoe boxes they’ll fill with cookies. For the widow at church. The mailman. A teacher, not the one who slapped Sister. The children go wild decorating the cookies with sprinkles, white, red, pink, green. Bold, true, sugary, no aftertaste. Of course, the family can’t keep it up indefinitely, who could, and soon the darkness will swirl up, an ugly mist 32
will obscure the kindliness, and the cold takes over. The cheerful busyness is replaced by a chair in the room where a body lies on a table in the airless cold. Outside the ground is frozen hard. Anna Karenina lies on the table. What is she doing here? She should be at the train station where Vronsky can see her beautiful, unspoiled head. They brought her here to keep her cold, to preserve her body until burial can be arranged. What word can describe this blue? As often happens, you pick the light yellow shade, jonquil, imagining it will bathe you and your room in a romantic glow, a warm, buttery light but, in fact, this light will cause you to see, more clearly, how you have fallen short.
Blacksmithing Lee Matalone Only after you had drunk half the mojitos, the mint, his mother said, harvested from a plant her Danish husband acquired in Cuba, real Cuban mint, the blacksmith told you that the liquor was the cheap kind, and his mother and he nodded to each other like that was some secret, a trick you two, this young couple out here in the middle of nowhere, didnâ€™t know. The rest of the afternoon, your heads throbbed. You took ibuprofen and watched the hummingbirds fight the honeybees for sugar from around the feeder. You lay on the edge of the pool like you had all the time in the world when really there was so little time left. You were moving away, and he was here trying to learn a trade, trying to make something of his life, by working with this also-young-enough blacksmith fond of cheap liquor. You should have known, really, about the mojitos, when you arrived to the twohundred acre property and one of the first things he said, before showing you the anvil, the forge, etc. where he would demonstrate how to make a knife, was that, sorry, he was 34
hungover. He also said that someone once laughed at him and claimed no one forges knives anymore and he replied, well, I, emphasizing the "I," forge knives, dude. He said That is an old slave quarters. He said That is the smokehouse my Dad’s turning into a brewery. Sitting on the porch with the mojitos, a rooster walked by and his mother said, That’s our dog. They were not a talkative family, so you remembered what was said. Like when you told the blacksmith where you were moving and he said, Oh, that’s funny my girlfriend was from [TOWN] and she was fucking huge into the football team, she knew all the chants, and I just didn’t get it and he looks at you, this girl in tattoos and overalls like he’s expecting some thing, some connection to bridge between the two of you out there with the small forge fired and hot from the propane tank balanced on what looks to be a bongo, while your boyfriend stands beside you, trying to learn a craft, so he can move to your town and be with you, this blacksmith’s been giving you looks all morning, maybe looks derived from cheap liquor, but looks, nonetheless, and you think of all the boys you’ve loved like him, the sullen ones out on farms, metaphorical or literal, and you watch his arm drive the cross35
pein hammer into the carbon steel over and over and over, fashioning a blade that could slice you an onion that you would put into a quiche you would eat together on a porch with his mother, drinking mojitos, your heads burning.
Shower Rehearsals Noa Covo Breaking up with you for real was extremely satisfying. Your face went exactly as slack as I’d imagined it in the shower. Your fingers clutched your jean-clad knees like you were making sure you were still on Dave’s carpeted floor playing Monopoly. Compared to a shampoo bottle with very little acting talent, it was an acutely emotional performance. It wasn’t just my reflection in the bathroom mirror watching us, it was everyone, Dave and Annie and the rest of the group we’d handpicked together, back when we were sure we’d need to minimize our social circles like mothers minimized Tupperware boxes. Dave and Annie were like lowfat lasagna, Erik some sort of leafy vegan tofu, Sarah the remains of a sloppy shepherd's pie. They showed the exact reactions I wanted them too, not shock, not yet. The words started tumbling out of your mouth like I knew they would. You started stammering about love, twisting your wedding ring on your finger. Then I landed the blow I had performed hundreds of 37
times since I first saw her texting you. I called you a lying, cheating, bastard, it felt good to say it to something that wasn’t a towel. Now the remains of a potluck that we liked to consider our friends were properly shocked. You didn’t have anything to say for yourself, you never did, and I hadn’t even bothered to consider what would happen if you had tried to defend yourself. Then it was it, the end, the moment of triumph I had been waiting for. You pulled your golden ring off your long fingers, clambering to your feet as you knocked tiny motels off their lots and deposited the ring in my palm. Then you strode out the door and slammed it with such a reverberating bang that I wondered if you too, had rehearsed something like this. Our friends looked at me from around the Monopoly board, your ring sweaty in my fist. In the shower, I had always sent it down the drain with the last of the soapsuds. I made do, tossing it somewhere deep under Dave’s sofa, out of sight but easily found. I got to my feet and said my goodbyes to the sad dinner dishes I’d likely never see together again. I had only ever practiced up to this. 38
How It Started Will Musgrove It started with a pitcher of beer and evolved into a dare. We didn’t need that ceramic frog. We didn’t have lawns to put it in, to display its oversized tastelessness, its goofy grin. All the lawn ornaments we stole that night ended up on the railroad tracks, where we waited for a train to come barreling toward us. When the locomotive smashed into the ceramic frog and shards flew upward like fireworks, we cheered. We sipped the whiskey we’d lifted from the gas station just outside of town. I guess it really started a month before that when we drove around in circles. Some people call it scooping the loop, but we didn’t feel the need to give it a name. From the back seat, I leaned forward and placed my head between theirs. We were a body with three heads, twins conjoined by compassion for each other. It felt good to laugh about nothing. It felt good to be going nowhere and moving at the same time. I guess it really started about a couple of months before that when we sat on a leather couch, controllers in our 39
hands, throwing virtual touchdowns to pixels. No longer strangers, we talked about our raw selves, about how I’d never be alone again. I guess it really started a week before that when walked down that hill, one of them carrying a crowbar. Someone had something that belonged to my younger self. No longer a child, I stepped onto the porch. One of them handed me the crowbar, and they both hollered. We ambled back up the hill, our arms wrapped around each other’s waists. I guess it really started a month before, during those weeks of craving, when I showed up to their house, and then showed up again. It wasn’t awkward like these things tend to be, like I tend to be. No, we threw blitzed parties, drank fish bowl margaritas, and devoured Big Macs. We spent nights whispering secrets that I’d held in my chest for so long. At the end of it, we were more than friends, we were brothers, and Myspace proved it. I guess it really started—oh, I don’t really know when. Maybe it was when they told me it was going to be okay. Maybe it was when they cried after I aired my bruised 40
skeletons. Hell, maybe it all started by accident. Maybe we had no choice. Maybe. I know I have no choice. Fresh blame stings my arms and legs. I hope I find them out there. If I donâ€™t, Iâ€™ll never have the courage to pick up the crowbar. We ask God for something. Make me live up to their dream.
Encapsulated as a Boy Christel Wiggan I think about you a lot. I don’t know if this makes you smug, angry, or anything. We really didn’t know each other. The most interacting we did was for the middle school talent show and then in math class my senior year. None of those interactions were great for me. When I think too much, I replay your words: “I’m better than all these people!” You had a hard time with math too, but you were so harsh. I didn’t have a hard time venting to people about it because I was hurt. I try not to regret it. I wanted to understand why you were so hateful, careless, pompous. I have a hard time gathering why people do the things they do, so I desire roots to fill in the blanks. When I first encountered you, I was an eighth-grade poet whose father had been gone for two years. One of my closest friends had been outed as gay that year, and everyone started to rear their ugly heads. I saw more than I ever wanted to that year, and it infuriated me. I hadn’t been able to 43
do anything about my father leaving, and now I couldn’t do anything about people hurting my friend. Or hurting anyone else for that matter. I even let them hurt me. Because I liked them. My senior year of high school was only an intensified version of this. I cried a lot during both, but twelfth hurt more. That was the year I realized my friends were not my friends, adults could be children, and that I was put on suicide watch. It was also the fifth year of my father being gone. Back then, I didn’t think he would ever come back. I’m sorry I couldn’t be kinder to you. I was in a lot of pain and didn’t have many people to trust. Sometimes, I think I should’ve talked to you or something. But would it have done anything? Would you have stayed? Could I have helped, or were you unreachable? I try to think that people aren’t good or bad, but it’s hard sometimes when they hurt me so much. I hope this makes sense now. Please know I never hated you, and that I hope your afterlife is peaceful. A lot of people miss you. I’m not exactly sure what I feel. Maybe I miss you too when I hear, “Party in the U.S.A.” and think about you in the talent 44
show, dancing, lip syncing. God, they loved you. They loved you.
Fran Dylan Newitt Allen for Tom I remember watching you on the TV. You were a circular saw of neon colors: Mountain Dew green on the outside, hazmat orange towards the middle, blood-red around the socket of your eye. And as you slowly approached the shores of North Carolina, people stripped the stores of batteries and bread and water. They even nailed boards to the windows, cursed you in spray paint, and told you to leave. But you were stubborn or, as my grandmother once said, “a relentless bitch like Hazel.” You were everyone’s prayer request in church. They asked the Lord for you to go away, go away, go away, yet despite everything, you ripped on through the Bermuda Triangle. Eager and young, underestimating your witchery, I danced through the house with toy trains and made thunder noises. Meanwhile, my parents shook in fear as The Weather Channel told viewers at home that you had made landfall not 46
far from Wilmington, just a hundred miles up I-40 East from us. Shortly after 9:00 P.M., Mama put me to bed, but I couldn’t sleep. It was like Christmas Eve but with a lot of rain; however, the rain quickly turned into a waterfall, and the wind became a roar. Outside the small window over my dresser, I could see camera flashes followed by the boom of your hammer on metal. The Winnie the Pooh nightlight went out and so did the red digits on the clock. The line of white beneath the door suddenly turned black. Next, I heard a cracking sound, a break-the-bone kind of cracking. A tree fell on the tin roof, and then another. And another. Before I knew it, my mother busted into my room, her flashlight moving here, there, everywhere, illuminating random points in the darkness. It’s all scattered in my memory, but I recall her lifting me up and rushing me into the hall, where candles danced like the bright tongues of Hades. She said, “Everything will be alright. Don’t worry. Put this blanket over your head.”
*** That following morning, you were gone. I woke up in the hallway, the house hot and stuffy from a broken air conditioner, and when I staggered to the kitchen, I noticed every window was blocked by branches and leaves. Throughout the town, powerlines were Cat’s Cradles tangled up, and the Black River just about flowed over the bridge. Yards became ponds, ponds became lakes, and out behind Papa Jessie’s cottage was a dark sea of cottonmouths that swallowed the shed and the swing set whole. But in the picture that Daddy took, I stand on the back of tree trunks, my hands up and small teeth exposed. I’m wearing a t-shirt with Simba on the front, and my pants are comically loose. Behind me is the apocalypse, but I am happy nonetheless.
Prairie Back Roads Jane Hegstrom In the late autumn of 1960, nearly everyone in the Dakotas wore political buttons bearing the slogan “Experience Counts—Vote Nixon and Lodge.” The government sent nine hundred U.S. military advisors to Vietnam and Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested because he refused to leave his seat at the lunch counter of an Atlanta department store. None of this mattered to me because I finally had my driver’s license. The first day my dad gave me permission to drive his car, I thought all I wanted to do was pick up my girlfriends and cruise around—maybe past the high school, or down Main Street, or, better yet, around the lake. Instead, with the car filled with cigarette smoke and giggling girlfriends, I chose a gravel road north of town where I could, without drawing attention, drive as fast as I wanted. A sleet-like snowfall from the night before glazed the cornfields with a delicate frost. I was, of course, driving too 49
fast when a ring-necked pheasant skittered out of the ditch and into the path of my car. Arms instinctively rose to protect faces, accompanied by a loud chorus of “Jesus!” The pheasant’s white-collared, iridescent green neck held his red-masked head. His eyes, tiny black pupils encircled in amber, stared momentarily through the front windshield as if to size us up. His wings strained stiffly upwards, wildly flapping in a banked arc that would surely lift him to safety. Instead, he smashed into the windshield, thumping over the top of the car to lie motionless in the road behind us. Shit, damn, scared the hell out of me, and then quiet as we drove on. It’s been a long time since I was a young girl living in the Dakotas, yet even now something stirs within me when I see the thin light of the low winter sun shining on lightly iced fields and I recall how the recklessness of my fledgling independence marked an end to something wild, beautiful, and innocent.
Market Day Kateri Kramer Dear Dad, From my bed inside this forgotten and lonely Monastery turned into a hotel I can hear the thump thump of Mayan tortillas being pat in the market across the street. I have only been here long enough to wander through the closed fruit stands and hear the church bells ring once, but I love this place with its crisp highland air that smells of smoke and the sapient weathered faces of its inhabitants. Thump thump. Thump thump. Thump. The day before the market begins it is quiet, Iâ€™m told. The sellers must prepare for the weekend ahead. There is a hush that settles over the stalls and the church steps like the low clouds that settle over the hilltop cemetery visible from the top of the street. You would have loved this quiet, this air, this town of many colors. Before I drift off, church bells and fireworks intermingle above tin roofs, reminding townspeople about tomorrow. As the sun sleepily begins to rise, the sellers wake from their 51
resting place beside their market stalls. Children bounce small rubber balls, babies gurgle, grandmothers find their place beside the tortilla stove once again. You would have already been awake, coffee drunk, sketching these sounds into lines and colors. Sketching the smell of incense seeping beneath wooden doors from the white church, shared by Mayan and catholic ritual. Sketching the smell of fresh fruit being pierced and tomatoes resting inside green plastic crates. Sketching the mountain air scented with earth and trees. I try to draw you into lines and words, afraid that I wonâ€™t remember the way you looked or sounded. It is hard to turn voices into words, to turn laugh lines into pencil marks. You never remember them the way they looked. Mayan women wander with chickens and goats in magenta ceremonial dress. You would have used this color in your sketches. Love, K 52
Distraction, Or An Ode to My Cleavage Katherine Jackson Wade When I’m ten, I forget to put it on before school. I have a hard time remembering to put it on, remembering I have the bra at all. I don’t know what it’s really for. When my mom picks me up from school, she is angry. I can see your boobs, look, she says, when she stands me in front of the mirror. Everyone can see you. When I’m thirteen, the boy I have a crush on sneaks into my best friend’s backyard at a slumber party. I show him my boobs under a streetlamp in the alley while he sits on his bike. When he asks if he can see down there and points to the zipper of my jeans, I say no. He puts his hand under my tshirt instead. He kisses me with an open mouth and his braces taste like pennies. When I’m sixteen, I get the part of Dorothy in a school play that I won’t remember the name of. Dorothy, a traumatized socialite, wears a strappy golden gown and gets to kiss the leading man. The climax of the play is Dorothy 53
reenacting the termination of a pregnancy by beating herself in the stomach. I throw myself on the ground and the lights fade as I wretch and try to cry believably, clutching my golden gown. We perform at a contest, and I wait anxiously for the judge to give me notes about my big moment. It’s very distracting, the grey-haired old man who smells like antiseptic says to me, for you to be bent over onstage in that low-cut dress. When I’m twenty and I want another boy to like me, I buy a bra that advertises it can make my boobs look two cup sizes bigger! It has thick padding underneath—the bra feels like wedging a stuffed animal in my shirt. I wear it to a party where he’ll be. When we play beer pong in the smoky garage, I’m drunk and I put my hands on either side of the table and lean over the plastic cups. He misses the shot. When the boy kisses me and grabs at me in the back yard, I know all he gets is a handful of cotton padding. He fucks me anyway. When I’m twenty-four, my mom asks me what I want my wedding dress to look like. I tell her I want to feel pretty. What I mean: I want it cut like the golden gown. The first time I try it on, I tell her, lower, and she takes it apart and sews it up with less fabric. She has to put three different support 54
inserts in it get the look just right. He cries when he sees me. He doesn’t try to hide his glances at the lace fringe at the neckline of my dress. I feel lovely. I feel like truth. When I’m twenty-six and I have my not-wearing-abra phase, I remember what my mom said in front of the mirror in fourth grade, and I hope she’s right.
Party Cultures Keegan Lawler A friend invites me to introduce her at a reading. Several years younger, and much more novice than her, I’m surprised, but accept. The biography and summary of her work I write feels less important than the cadence or strength of my delivery, so I practice, trying to add the punchy power of a poet as I speak. I’m early to the event, a consequence of having inherited my mother’s chronic need to be early, but I’m welcomed in anyway. The house is owned by a professor I don’t yet know, but he’s nice. His living room is covered in tens of feet of vinyl records and paperback books. A print of the cover of one of his books is framed on the wall. His young son runs down the hallway, and then, as he sees me standing there, turns into his father’s legs, nervous at the stranger in his house. The Poet’s wife invites me into the kitchen and hands me a small brown plate. She shows me a bowl of chips, filled with millet and quinoa seeds, and then points to a mixing 56
bowl and says, “It’s edamame hummus.” I barely know what either of those words mean separately. Baby carrots, snap peas, white bean dips, and salad mixes circle the rest of the table. I gather a small plate for myself and nibble the edges of carrots in the living room. I watch people I only vaguely know trickle in. They bring bottles of wine, plates of cheese, and thinly sliced salami. I shove myself deeper into the far end of the couch. They stand in tight groups around me, talking about their work, publications, and manuscripts. These are the real writers, I think. Books and chapbooks and fancy foods. I fumble blindly through Word documents. These people. The poems they write. The books they publish. The food they eat. I’m not a part of any of it. At home, words like quinoa and millet might as well be Greek. I didn’t know what gluten was until I was nineteen. I didn’t know anyone who drank wine, much less knew the differences between a red and a white. I wonder if I am as obvious in my ill-fitted nature as I feel. 57
At home, they celebrate with long-neck bottles of Kokanee, Great Value bags of fried potato chips, and mystery meat sausage smothered in Sweet Baby Ray’s Original. The only similarity between the people here and at home seems to be the smell of cigarettes on their coats. The Poet calls attention to the front of the room and I’m welcomed up to introduce. I unfold the paper from my back pocket and read it too quickly, too quietly. I don’t think anyone can hear me, and my legs won’t stop shaking. My friend reads her essay, and we all applaud. I say goodbye to her and all but run out of the house, searching the street for the car that will take me home. Only then do I notice the plate still in my hand.
On Purging Keegan Lawler My mother has done it for years. She tried to teach me the joys of purging when I was a child, making it a mother-son activity, but the fire didn’t spark in me until after I left the house. Ill-fitting clothing being gathered at regular intervals throughout my childhood, stuffed in white garbage bags, and left untied in front of a closed Goodwill drop-off center. I don’t think she’s aware of the term’s more common use in people suffering from bulimia, but she’s been calling her desire to clean, scrub, and throw away “purging” for as long as she’s done it. Now an adult, and more specifically the “cleaner” in my relationship, I too have found the strange pleasure of purging. Anything out of place should be in its place, and anything without a place should be thrown away. A woodburning stove lets me purge junk mail, paid bills, and first drafts of writing in a more satisfying way. I can watch these frustrations pile for weeks in the kindling box, and then 59
witness how they disappear in seconds, lighting the wood that will warm me. Whenever I move, Mom can’t help but jump in headfirst to the process. Hundreds of square feet cleaned in a mere afternoon of mania. Our chaotic energy builds off each other. She asks me if I really need this lamp. No, I’ve always hated that lamp, just don’t tell Amanda. We smirk wickedly at each other. My partner echoes the words of my father decades later. “Where did you put this?”, and “I swear, I left this here two minutes ago”, and “Have you seen my phone… my keys...?” I’m the resident expert on lost things. Every dish in the dishwasher the second you’re done with it. Moving placemats and rugs to their perfect spot fifteen times a day. When I can’t purge, I stack. Important letters, journals, dog leashes, beanies, all in one teetering pile, because if I can’t throw them away entirely, I can trick myself. In one pile, even stacking six inches, endless bills and catalogues, don’t feel as clustered and scattered. Mom attributes her purging to her mother’s smoking. “Keegan, you can’t imagine,” she says, “my letterman jacket 60
smelled like a pack of cigarettes.” Because of this, she focuses more on scents than I and has been told more than once that she should buy stock in Febreze. Both of us are medicated and see counselors regularly for anxiety, and in retrospect, we both attribute my grandmother’s smoking to an undiagnosed anxiety disorder. That might imply purging is biological, or more accurately the anxiety is, and purging is a somewhat healthier alternative to cigarettes for coping. Whether my desire to purge comes through a series of genetic mutations, or from having been nurtured by a serial purger, it’s a sort of bond we share, my mother, my grandmother, and myself. In that way, we get each other. Understanding ways we are the same, making the ways we aren’t much easier to understand, to appreciate.
Playing House Mary J. Breen In 1968 when my daughter was born, we new mothers in the Maternity Ward—overjoyed and clueless—were given a lesson in real-life Playing House before we went home. We were escorted to a room deep in the hospital basement to learn Bathing the Baby. However, our precious, slippery babies were still safe up in the nursery; we would be learning on baby dolls. Except we were girls of the 50s; we knew how to bathe dolls: just hold them by the back of the neck and dunk. Bathing our real-life babies was something we had to figure out on our own. The care and feeding of dolls was a big part of Playing House in small-town Ontario back then. Someone just had to say, “I’ll be the mother and you be the kids,” and we were off to gather dolls and carriages, castoff dresses, too-big shoes, hats, and gloves, all redolent of talcum powder and mold. With battered purses containing nothing but allbut-empty perfume flasks, all-but-empty powder compacts, and Avon lipstick samples no bigger than the bullets in our 62
holster belts, we promenaded up and down our street, pushing doll carriages and walking into our future. Back “home,” we changed our dolls and fed them pretend milk from pretend bottles. We gave our older children and any imaginary friends who showed up mud pies and green grass tea served in tiny white china tea sets. Our tables were decorated too, our fingers stained brown from the dandelion bouquets that now drooped out of old cream bottles. In the summer, our pretend houses were front porches furnished with old card tables and big porch chairs. An upside-down cardboard box with spiral elements drawn on top became a stove. In the winter, we tried to make snow houses for an Indigenous experience, but no one told us that the Inuit used blocks of ice, not snow. In the fall, we used leaves to make large fill-in-the-blank houses that were actually only floorplans—rows of squashed leaves delineating the walls of the living room, kitchen, bedrooms, etc. We’d spend a whole afternoon in these would-be houses, sitting on invisible couches and sleeping on invisible beds, carefully opening and closing pretend doors between the rooms like the door to Les Nessman’s office. 63
It all came back to me a few years ago at the ruins of Tintern Abbey in Wales. Most of what’s left of the abbey buildings are the tops of the stone foundations now almost obscured by grass and wildflowers. The once-polished floors are now lush carpets of grass. I was strolling through where the refectory, cloister, and chapterhouse once were, “seeing” those silent monks coming down the worn night stairs to pray, and “seeing” them washing in the stone basins when I realized why it seemed so easy to imagine so much with only the outlines marked out at my feet: I had found the pleasures of Playing House all over again.
Something I Forgot Melissa Lewis-Ackerman Rob takes me to Coney Island in the dark. It’s not pitch black like winter when life’s coming to an end. The boardwalk's dimly lit by random light poles. Wood planks feel oak-like, uneven beneath my sneakers. Stretching my body against a cool rail toward the sea I realize I’ve lost the scent of the gulf that whipped at the heels of my youth, while seagulls reared heads back, mercilessly squawking. My daddy placing an orange life preserver around my neck. Cool city scents mingle with earth and water. There's a burst of sound in the distance that belongs to no one. Rob wishes Nathan’s was open, that he could ride the Cyclone one last time. He wants to read the sign again, “This Year Faster Than Ever.” When I lose Rob to the blue box privy, it’s monumental to stand alone. The night closes in around me. I'm stunned by my own weightlessness. Air catches in my throat. My body heats from the inside out. The underbelly of 65
my existence opens. Things frozen that have no sound are always that close. It doesn't matter that I'm older. The privy door creaks open. Nudging my shoulder with his, Rob and I return to a bench, remembering something I forgot. An old navy sweater that once belonged to my aunt Mary. Her worn knuckled hands made me peanut butter crackers. She smelled like Dove soap. I whisper to Rob, “I'm glad to have been here.” The island almost makes me cry. I'd always wanted to see it just this way. Harsh metal rides gone ghostly, like they’ve been abandoned for a million years.
AM Roselli Seven Shades of Black 1st Sparkles on the ocean. How they lift from the waves to her candy-caramel eyes. She was a determined mermaid, collecting her father’s paychecks before he drank them away. Her parents divorced after the family changed apartment buildings for the ninth time. In later years, her father gained employment at a soup kitchen. Leaving work one evening, he was beaten to death. 2nd Inside academia’s halls bustling with black shoe-clad nuns, her fluent mind will absorb several languages. She’ll be a teacher in pencil skirts and button-up blouses. She’ll swim laps, pray daily and sing her entire life watching notes float beyond Saint Bernadette’s altar and up to God. 3rd His curling hair, the well-formed brows, the coat on his 67
broad shoulders, the size fourteens gliding him in—things richly black. His name is Vito William. He will introduce himself as Bill, the striking man with the gunmetal-blue eyes. 4th Her many children will come to call them pearls, the absurd things she’ll occasionally do, as would anyone running in all directions in a singular moment. Bill buys her a metallic Lincoln with great black tires and bright whitewalls to match her real estate teeth. While running errands, he sees a polished Lincoln impaled like a silver saint on decorative railroad ties. Admiring the car, he tries imagining the mindless driver who’d back a car onto a retaining wall. The woman speaking with the tow truck driver resembles his wife. 5th Uncle Robert sang Puff the Magic Dragon for us whenever he visited from San Francisco. Sometimes he brought a friend along. Our gentle uncle lifted us on his shoulders when we were small. He lifted us with his songs—always. The last time we heard his sing-song voice there was a large sore on his 68
knee. He told us it wouldn’t heal. The last time she saw her brother alive, she was standing beside his hospital bed in California. No one understood AIDS back then. 6th I can’t wake your father up. 7th Emergency room—blackness outside the big windows pushing hard against the glass. It’s trying to smother us.They said it was a clot. Not in time. Though her silver hair was colored chestnut, to them she was old. Hadn’t they seen her brilliant teeth of white?Her resigned eyes gaze into the mirror beyond her crippled body and constant pain. I kiss her beautiful head. Ruffled hair flattened beneath silly olive straw. Black sateen bow wrapping the brim identical to the dark circle that entered her brain. She wears hats now—big floppy hats in the sun.She tells me she needs to be blessed. The sky is loaded with sunlight. Blackness presses at the windows. It’s trying to smother us. She once crossed oceans, moving as though each day of seven was the singular day granted to live 69
lifetimes stuffed into her black overnight bagâ€”brilliantly used.
Contributor Bios Dylan Newitt Allen is from Erwin, NC. He received his BFA from East Carolina University, where he majored in English and minored in creative writing. As an undergraduate student, he worked for the North Carolina Literary Review (NCLR). He now studies at North Carolina State Universityand writes fiction and poetry in his free time. Mary J. Breen lives in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in literary journals, essay collections, national newspapers, health journals, and travel magazines. She worked as a clear language writer and editor with a special interest in health topics. Now, among other things, she teaches creative non-fiction and memoir classes. Noa Covo is a student and an aspiring writer. She enjoys having arguments in the shower and has never won a game of Monopoly. She lives in Tel Aviv, Israel with her family and her fat cat. This is her first published story.
Jan Dennis Destajo currently works in an architecture firm in the Philippines. He graduated from the University of Santo Tomas where he won awards for his poetry. With his friends, he co-founded a small art collective, Kalapati Retrograde, that produces zines and chapbooks. He resides in Cubao, Quezon City. Daniella Deutsch is a 24-year-old from Los Angeles, California. She graduated from Skidmore College with a degree in Psychology and Theater. Daniella has been on stage since she was 5 years old and acted all the way throughout her college career. Her additional passion for Clinical Psychology has led her to hopefully return to school for a Masters in Creative Arts Therapy. Until then, she has landed in New York, NY as a proud preschool teacher. She has had two pieces published by Ink and Voices, a piece in Little Death Lit, and also will have a poem running in this summerâ€™s issue of Gargoyle Magazine. Rebecca Doverspike grew up in WI though feels most at home by the ocean. Lifelong goals include working as a
chaplain, writing books of poetry, and continued deepened practice in the Zen Buddhist faith. She is currently training as a Resident Chaplain at MGH in Boston. She holds an MFA from West Virginia University and an MDiv from Harvard Divinity School. Every Present Thing a Ghost was published by Slapering Hol Press in 2019. Other work can be found in Ruminate, 5x5 Literary Magazine, Midwest Review, Periphery, Leveler, and others. She loves writing letters to dear friends and taking long walks with them or with her pup in the woods. Philip Fried is the author of Among The Gliesians, his eighth book of poetry forthcoming in the spring of 2020 from Salmon Poetry, Ireland. Thomas Lux said about his work, "I love Philip Fried's elegant quarrels with the cruelty and ignorance of the world or, more precisely, its inhabitants." Jane Hegstrom currently lives and writes in a small town near the Chesapeake Bay. She holds a PhD in sociology and specializes in social psychology and gender. She is also a graduate of the Masters of Writing Program at Johns
Hopkins University. Her writing has appeared in Bookends Review, Little Patuxent Review, and BoomerLitMag. Kateri Kramer is a writer, illustrator, and book designer from Colorado. When she doesn't have a pencil in hand, she enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains, rock climbing, and baking. She is a graduate of the Mile High MFA at Regis University. Her work has been published in Trampset, Parhelion Literary Magazine, and Axon: Creative Explorations. Mateo Lara is queer & latinx, originally from Bakersfield, California. He received his B.A. in English at CSU Bakersfield. He is currently working on his M.F.A. in Poetry at Randolph College in Lynchburg, VA. His poems have been featured in Orpheus, EOAGH, Empty Mirror, and The New Engagement. He is an editor for the online literary journal RabidOak. Keegan Lawler is a writer living in Washington State with his partner, their two bassets, and their cat. His essays, stories, and poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Washington
Poetic Routes, Cascadia Rising Review, Homology Lit, Trestle Creek Review, and Post. He’s currently an MFA candidate at Western Washington University. Melissa Lewis-Ackerman is a bi-coastal Writer/English Professor, dividing time between LA and New York. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Queens University of Charlotte. She’s received two Pushcart Nominations for: "The Ducks and the Vagrant" (Awakened Voices), and "Missy's Got a Gun" (Eckleburg). Her essay, “A Whore at Heart,” is forthcoming in GRIST, and “Where Have All the Jews Gone,” is forthcoming in UCLA’s Westwind. Lee Matalone is the author of HOME MAKING, her debut novel forthcoming from Harper Perennial (Winter 2020). She writes about death and loss for The Rumpus. Her writing has been featured in The Offing, Denver Quarterly Review, Hobart, Joyland, Jellyfish Review, Nat. Brut, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, crag, Bridge Eight, The Austin Review, and Cosmonauts Avenue, among other places.
James B. Nicola is that author of the full-length collections Manhattan Plaza (2014), Stage to Page (2016), Wind in the Cave (2017), and Out of Nothing: Poems of Art and Artists (2018). He has received a Dana Literary Award, two Willow Review awards, six Pushcart Prize nominations, and Storyteller's People's Choice award. His nonfiction book Playing the Audience won a Choice award. Ravneet Kaur Sandhu loves thick novels and sugary coffee. She is originally from India. Her short stories have been published in The Offing, Gordon Square Review, and The Rectangle. Jane Snyder is the author of Interior Paint. She is a retired social worker and lives in Spokane. She was graduated from Eastern Washington University's MFA program in Creative Writing in 2019. Robert Stone was born in 1961 in Wolverhampton in the UK. He was educated at the University of East Anglia, Norwich and at Jesus College, Cambridge. He has worked as a press analyst in London for more than twenty-five years.
Before that he was a teacher and the foreman of a London Underground station. He has two children and lives with his partner in Ipswich. When not at work, he spends his time reading, writing, and mooching about. Kaytee Jackson Wade is a graduate student and instructor at Texas Tech University, pursuing creative nonfiction. Her writing centralizes on womanhood, sexuality, and inequality in all its forms. Her work has appeared in Harbinger and is forthcoming in Pidgeonholes. She currently lives and writes in the South Plains. Christel Wiggan is a York, NE native with a Bachelors of English-Writing and a Philosophy Minor from Wayne State College. They have been published in Southeast Community Collegeâ€™s Illuminations along with Wayne State Collegeâ€™s Judas Goat. They identify as a chronic overachiever and lover of indie media, aspiring to post-grad dreams of residing in PDX and becoming an author/singer/songwriter. Henry R. Williams was born and raised in the piedmont of
North Carolina. His poems have appeared in The Emergency Almanac, Southern Humanities Review, random, Fire, The Brooklyn Review, and Offerta Speciale, among others. His first collection, Seasons Smooth & Unperplext, was reissued in 2013 by Dzanc Books. He currently works in Manhattan and resides in Maplewood, NJ with his family.