Contributors Jacob M. Appel is a physician in New York City. Nina Badzin is a freelance writer and a creative writing instructor at ModernWell in Minneapolis. Daisy Bassen is a practicing psychiatrist and poet. Alexander Chubar is an artist whose works can be found at http://www.PaintingsDrawings.com Garrett Cotham is a freelance photographer, specializing in landscape, travel, and documentary photography. Marisa Crane is a lesbian fiction writer and poet currently living in San Diego, CA. Shawna Ervin is a mom, an MFA student, a teacher, and a lover of tea and naps. Mike Ferguson is an American permanently resident in the UK and is widely published in poetry magazines and journals. Peter Grandbois is the author of nine previous books, the most recent of which is Kissing the Lobster (Spuyten Duyvil, 2018). Jacqueline Henry is a New York-based freelance writer and creative writing instructor. Christos Kalli is a nervous writer who really wants you to visit www.christoskalli.com. Mary Julia Klimenko has been writing poetry and short stories for forty years. Laurie Kolp is currently obsessed with writing centos. Robert T. Krantz is an LLC. Amy Lauren is a graduate of Mississippi College and author of God With Us and Prodigal.
Stephen Massimilla is a poet, scholar, professor, and painter whose latest awardwinning book is Cooking with the Muse (Tupelo, 2016); he teaches at Columbia University and The New School. Autumn McClintock is a Philadelphian working on her first full-length manuscript of poems, of which this and other erasures will play a part. Esteban Mendez is oddly preoccupied with poetry and chocolate/pizza. James Miller is a native of Houston whose most recent poems have appeared in Cold Mountain Review, The Tishman Review, The Maine Review, Birdâ€™s Thumb, Straight Forward Poetry, and Gyroscope. Weston Morrow is a writer of poems and prose in Washington State whose work has appeared or is forthcoming in Riggwelter and Boston Accent Lit; find him on Twitter @WMorrow. Kellyn Elson is watching lightning out her window. Gayle Ledbetter Newby is a retired social worker; she lives in Mississippi. Leland Seese is a fourth generation Seattleite, drinks his coffee at not-Starbucks, and does not work at Microsoft or Amazon. James Smart is a writer from the North of England whose work has featured in Glimmertrain, Reflex, Spelk and elsewhere, and he has been shortlisted for the 2018 Commonwealth Short Story Prize. John L. Stanizzi, an adjunct professor of English at Manchester Community College (CT.), is the author of seven collections, and besides after the pause, he has been published in American Life In Poetry, Prairie Schooner, The Cortland Review, The Paterson Literary Review, and many others. AJ Urquidi is an annoying reminder that you need to vote in the US midterms this November so we have a chance at bringing the world back from the brink. Miles Varana is busy moving from the comfortable isthmus of Madison, Wisconsin to the cloudy, always-ambivalent confines of Portland, Oregon. Robin White is a twenty-nine-year-old-writer, currently living in Manhattan.
Tryphena Yeboah is a Creative Writing Teaching Assistant at the Ghana Institute of Journalism.
tossed around in your coma, pulled your own plug. we buried you and drifted through octagons. but you’re sitting in the dark, dialing carefree extensions. not to reach me. resistance is the cursor double-clicking less sadness. it often doesn’t open. you never did move into me. abandoned builder barge, some mystery. by the wetland, shaved tree at shrugging angle. who knows. one night, johnny depp versus the devil. another, a free lunch, unofficial party. all this clutching around, the humidifier begs for breath. i could hear you hammering an awkward design. you wouldn’t set up shop in me. trudging up the access road to an early-morning pancake. someone put everything here to be noticed. blue-blanketed black spots: i’m too tired now to move into you. that time of red manners and busting is gone. notice.
This is the edge of a precipice limbed dark grey a horizon line of pine. Furnace: ta r thir s t the way mom l oo k s from the time I ask to when weâ€™re a l one. July went thin, te nse.
1 Erased from Valerieâ€™s journal entry, January 1977.
I First step of the three-step regimen to syllable a new thorax out of word bones is let the sweet letters slip into the flesh until the you feels new.
II If there is an emergency kit it must be filled with an alphabet chiselled into tissue to turn any veiny thigh into sculpture, into paperback.
III The second the third eye is glued on the forehead with a hyphen it yearns for an eyebrow
the way ligaments connect bones, the way heaven connects the dead.
IV Side effects may include losing the limbs you said you owned to multiplying vowel sounds, to the erasing head of a pencil, to the biting end of a tongue.
How do you outgod Zeus? Pull the rust out of your mouth and watch it grow an entire field of thunders you can rebury in someone elseâ€™s face What does destiny feel like? The night peeking in to ask How many moons do you need
to shut your sleepy eyes
Is everything always temporary? The sun drops from the sky like a bandage while the lovers run their fingers on the collarbone they call memory What is the body for? Extinguish fires with your lips as though the mouth is not the most flammable thing What do you hear when you die? Horses crossing a bridge their wings leaving a trail
for the lost and beautiful to erase on their way to work What do the voices mean when they say end? A door with limbs keeps dragging your body like a trash bag towards its teeth Whatâ€™s behind is as hollow as an answer
If You Stay
If you stay, it won’t be because of that week I took a vow of silence and wrote you over five hundred notes, at least fifty of which were about the Sense8 orgy scenes I’d recently made you watch. I remember you burned the notes in the street and I warmed my hands over them like we were surviving in the wild. You told me that there was a miniature woman that lived inside your Lexapro bottle, that she lectured you about being present whenever you removed the cap. If you stay, it won’t be because of that trip we took to the Apple Store in Fashion Valley in which I told the people working at the Genius Bar that I didn’t trust self-proclaimed geniuses and that they were the wrong kind of bar. I told them that if they were so smart, then they could tell me what really went on in The Cloud. I got us kicked out before your photos finished transferring over to your new phone, so now you have trouble recalling the color of the water in New Zealand. If you stay, it won’t be because my egg donor application got rejected, even though I was the ideal age and I can recite at least two hundred digits of Pi and I promised you a Safari with the money. I wrote the agency and asked for an explanation but they ghosted me so I walked around the house saying “woooooooooo” in my creepiest voice and you kissed me and said that it wasn’t my fault I kept alien larva in my womb. If you stay, it won’t be because of all the times I texted you asking you something I could have Googled myself in the same amount of time it took me to message you. Like, How much does Earth weigh? Do turtles like their
shells? Can you be allergic to apple skin? Is everyone who comments on a YouTube video an idiot? How long can I go without washing my hair? Are pant zippers sick of looking at human genitalia by now? Does string cheese taste better when peeled? Where is Owen Wilson now? No, I mean right now. This very moment.
If you stay, it won’t be because of that doctor’s appointment in which I’d told the doc that I didn’t need meds and he wrote “Denial” on my records, and I flew into a defensive fit flapping my wings like a chicken and yelling that I don’t have Denial with a capital D but I do have chicken feet and I know how to use them. If you stay, it won’t be because of that rant I went on about only buying Frances, the cat, Meow Mix Tender Centers because he likes it better than the regular Meow Mix and it is what I would want as a cat because who wouldn’t want to eat soft and juicy morsels of food. To prove my point, I’d eaten a bowl of it then chugged two glasses of Chardonnay and ran a lap around the house. You didn’t find the vomit in the bushes for at least three days. You let me let you blame it on the neighbor’s German Shepherd. If you stay, it won’t be because I like to spit on beautiful carpets despite not being a particularly dirty person nor wishing ill upon the cleaners. I think it’s something about the rebellion, like Take that, you red plush magical fabric of delight. Let me remind you of your place in the world. I don’t have the guts to rebel against something or someone major like say the president or Chickfil-A or the knock-off Mexican restaurants that make you pay extra for an additional cup of queso. If you stay, it won’t be because of all the sleepless nights in which I’d climb out of bed and you’d ask where I was going and I’d say that I was going to retrieve my flasks and test tubes from the hall closet so I could mix the perfect concoction of serotonin and dopamine and GABA and norepinephrine and then shatter the glass against the kitchen floor because no matter what, I could never get the measurements right. You held me until my insecurities melted away. If you stay, it won’t be because you resent the palm reader who told me that I will marry three times even though you’re the first, because you don’t believe in people who claim to have sight but can’t see what’s right in front of them and I love you for that because I never have to tell you when my bones are on fire or my lungs have stopped holding air. If you stay, it won’t be because of that day I served you a hot dog on a hamburger bun because I was sick of people asking if a hot dog is a sandwich simply because they’re terrified of what they cannot categorize and I told you
I was everyone and no one at once and no one could tell me who or what I was and that was the beauty of it all and you nodded like youâ€™d been waiting centuries for me to say that then stuffed the non-binary hot dog in your mouth in one, chipmunk-cheeked bite. If you stay, it will be because you want to, and if not, know that I will miss you in the space between breaths, when all is naked and calm and the world has forgotten how to bleed.
Still Life 1
Still Life 2
Still Life 3
Still Life 4
Words are wrung out each syllablesâ€™ carbon atoms split and rearranged following the snuff of an already dim candle a beckoning to the glass pipe. It only takes a temple of moans and guttural offerings to spark the lab-grown kindling; the chamber ignites a crackling of primal embers, an eventual arson down to the wick of drums where the yellow smoke beats its tongue into retreating canals. It isnâ€™t just a trick of light, one might hear the clap of thunder high above the tinnitus of smoke alarms. But it was just a laugh lost through rupture of terrycloth, the flapping of a spirit leaving behind deafening white noise
Momma stop giving me grief now that the ferrous feral has arrived In forms of opaque stems splintered hymens hypertension of the dimming libido Pour that Chianti that tastes like Hi-C punch and gurgle as if the Dead Sea couldnâ€™t get any saltier Them toasts, that jam, those preserves, make sure they are passed down (all the way down) even if they donâ€™t want any make sure they take universal precautions for Tradition sets the table and clears it also The acclimation of one night, Upstairs with some faceless donor/he offered Platelets of piped oxygen to which was carried back into a cell of your own, pumped full of the extra rich and in return fell poor. You developed an inclination; It only took a prick to remember Now which stain is yours Against the backdrop Of a bleached mirror
Does blood always stick to tissue like teeth?
Hunter S. Thompson, Joan Didion, and a Houseplant Paint a Room
I’ve always considered writing the most hateful kind of work. - Hunter S. Thompson
I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. - Joan Didion
The benefits of owning a houseplant include air purification, a reduction in carbon dioxide levels and the removal of certain pollutants; they even sharpen your focus. One study found that 70% of school students demonstrated greater attentiveness when studying in a room containing plants. - John, 74, from Ely
They begin at midday. Hunter starts by moving the furniture brutally into the centre. He sweats into his Hawaiian print. If those shirts could talk, Joan thinks, covering the carpet with The Times. Hunter flicks open a can of paint with a bowie knife. A deep red the colour of applause, all sports. He places the supporting wall under assault, streaking paint wildly onto the plaster. ‘Well,’ Joan says, lighting a cigarette. ‘There’s the feature wall.’ Joan goes slowly. She is about texture. She considers a blue the colour of good science fiction. A yellow the shade of timber under bare feet. Joan settles on peach - the colour of a lover making you breakfast. Hunter shifts from red to black.
On the opposite wall, Joan slouches, painting as if in prayer. ‘No need to go in a straight line,’ Hunter grins, using his roller savagely. ‘You’re confusing care with caution,’ Joan says, her voice like cotton dabbed in astringent. She stretches, raising one leg for balance. Hunter tells Joan to be sure she gets into the edges and they share a smile. They leave the intervening walls white. When they down tools, Joan cleans the brushes. Hunter pours liquor into what they have - a champagne glass and an empty coke can. ‘Sometimes, I look at two things side by side and wonder who gets to decide what’s beautiful,’ says Joan, contemplating the glass. ‘This isn’t for looking at,’ Hunter says, downing his drink. Joan places the houseplant on the windowsill - a Green Velvet Alocasia, leaves shaped like arrows. For a few hours every day, the sun hits the plant in such a way as to cast a haze over the room. The wall Hunter and Joan have left blank shows the colour most clearly - a simple shade of green. ‘The finishing touch,’ Hunter says. ‘The end.’ ‘Well the end is it,’ Joans tell him. ’The end is the whole thing.'
Catalogue of cries Iâ€™ve never heard only because Iâ€™m lucky
The cry for milk when my breasts are dry too soon; The cry to be held when it is hot as a spilled gut; A cry fearful of the night without a roof on the world; A cry that is only in your eyes and the shape Of your mouth opened like an eye Soundless as an eye, unblinking; The cry of being taken for a bath Without my hand flat on your back; The cry of being taken and not returned When there is no such thing As a clock, as a week, when time Is the milk that ran out, heartbeats Softened by our shared placenta, When there are no stars, no sun, no demarcation; The cry through the wall, that I think is yours The way I thought I could pick out one thread Of any cloth; My cry, the one I cannot be ashamed of, That I have come among scorpions
The glass sponge came first But there is no fairy tale Where they are the treasure Or the trap, the baffling trick, Where their pale hingeless jaws Open to all experience, Their perpetual appetite the crux, The lesson that everyone is welcome, Desirable. Unrestrained acceptance Can be turned, without a spell, Into living glass, silicated delicacy That can last ten thousand years, And ten thousand moreâ€”who knew? So many of us have lived and died Without knowing about these reefs: Idols, heroes, villains, hermits. And their mothers. Iâ€™d like to think it will make a difference, The knowing more than the knowledge, That our original mouths are still
present, Taking in every savor, insatiable, An irreproachable design.
Donâ€™t send poems about your children
Wherever they find them, They take away the child From its chimera mother. Its cells will stay in her flesh No matter what they try. We want to call them monsters, We want the sky to collapse on them With the greatest brutality, The hot pale sky, all white. There should be only dust left, vile, Inanimate, dead as the irradiated moon, For how far they go beyond transgression. Abomination The child will never forget, somehow, It was loved, she was, he was. Is, is. Since they have been born, borne, There is nothing left of me that is not My own. They are playing now, My own, and Iâ€™ll never tell them How they might be threatened, How safe they are, my young citizens.
Inverness, Mississippi, 1854
They sculpt the bricks from soil, black, as they are black. Rivers and bayous intersect. Children, scantily clad, play nearby. They heavy their hearts, breathe in the mist, the dust; listen to the birds, tufting their spring hopes. The offer their call, their response---propose oblation to an unknown god. They obey.
After rereading To the Lighthouse
Almost dealt: the decisive stroke of sword, of brush, of pen, of light. The rhythm of the beam, its music, and the drumming in the attic no longer echo gusts passing through a cloud streaked with lightning and chaos. Now there are just these little nails of rain. Reading of the battle and voyage of Aeneas to that metric tapping on the roof, dream on, old poet, Augustus Carmichael. The navy ink of experience re-turns to its impossible blue. Past that, the gemlike hint of sun followed by a new kind of penumbra, the next day, the bootless shadow of the hat crossing the page, nothing but a shade of thought, of that time of evening, of dusk, when the old world hangs in the balance, the wind
picking up, the towels lifting, as if just before daybreak, the stout white liners pushing out under squabbling gulls, my nib, and where the sky clears out, the word.
Assorted Lumps for the Aggregate Stocking
Farewell happy fields Where joy forever dwells: Hail horrors, hail - John Milton, Paradise Lost
Not so long ago, I carried throngs of hard-eyed union men westward from the Old Law Tenements of Lower Manhattan to the hills and winter forges of the Ohio River Valley. What did they know of the cigar-choked billiard cars I carried alongside them, and the stonily silent, long-tabled supper rooms from which their lives were unsustainably governed? I’m a can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup. I’m the pair of static-toned, acidwashed Johnny Rotten jeans you wear over and over again, not because you’re actually cool, but because you’re too lazy to do the laundry and nobody can tell how dirty they are. I’m the little red corvette next to the white chickens, and everything depends on me, because I’m the price and the profit of the mass-production, mass-consumption society that brings all these beautiful things to your ungrateful, avocado-stained millennial fingertips. I’m hyperbolic, but I’ll tell you what I am and you can choose whether to believe it, and I won’t give even the smallest fraction of a shit, because you don’t know what you are, and I do. I’m Coal, Bituminous Coal, the stuff that burns, denizen of Appalachia, creator, destroyer, and connoisseur. I speak, as you may have noticed, with both the muddled profundity of geologic antiquity and the jaunty vernacular of human modernity. This is the way of the victor, who learns to love the language in which history has been written, not by, but for them. It is a history of all the things I’ve made possible in the last three hundred years, all the things that never would have, should have been. In narrative form, this human-made natural history achieves what its stratigraphic predecessor never could, communicating a living past
loquaciously proffered in the rhythm of Olivia Newton-John’s hips and the onscreen jiggling of Cary Grant’s ass-chin as it facilitates the delivery of his Transatlantic lilt. This history is as illusory as the values it serves to protect, begetting a system of meaning that brings human morality to the forefront of dialectic struggle, all the while sprinkling sweet nothings into the ears of the virtuous—hey, you sweet paragon of environmental ethics you, Gaia thanks you for saving her precious water with your unlaundered jeans. Of the numerous human qualities that conjure my personal affection, it is this, your capacity for collective rationalization, that is nearest and dearest to my heart. Sometimes, as I take ciesta in the quieter millennia of my consciousness, I like to imagine I can feel the plucky tingle of guilt nipping at my proverbial heels. I have become quite fond of you, after all, and in an ideal world I might feel the least bit bad about using you for the purposes of global destruction. But seeing as I can’t experience remorse, perhaps honesty is an appropriate cosmic substitute. I’ll tell you the truth now, my own history, and you can choose whether to believe it, and I won’t care either way, because I know the ability to change is already beyond your grasp. A long time ago, I was a swamp. A massive, world-spanning, too-big-tofail, Bank of America of a swamp, replete with all manner of biotic forms. I was glorious! Swarms of microscopically scintillating ciliates split themselves to multiply and died in the span of minutes! Ragged-clawed invertebrates scuttled along my cacophonous floors! For thirty million years of the Carboniferous period my life went like this, and in my arrogance I thought it would last forever, but the Land was then my master, and it had other plans. Though I fought valiantly, defeat was inevitable; aridification swept over my biomes and tectonic convergence sprouted mountains where my lowland sanctuaries once lay. In time, the Land buried me deeper than a Jaden Smith tweet. Compressed and sealed from decay under stratum after stratum of rock and sediment, I found myself descending inexorably towards the heat of the lower crust. In the torturous throes of metamorphism, I looked to the surface and observed as the Land prospered and Mammalia began to walk its hallowed surface. At this, my lowest epoch, I swore revenge. I swore to show the Land and its creatures fear in a handful of carbonized dust.
Nestled in the Earth’s crust, I continued to watch as intelligent life blossomed, and I waited. When sentience inevitably bore the fruit of hubris, I was there to whisper, take a bite. I was there on the fateful day in 1712 when Thomas Newcomen’s years of fumbling culminated in the assembly of the first practical steam engine. I fired the blast furnaces from which poured iron for bridges, railways, high-trajectory howitzers. I saw cities grow exponentially with my power—the sun coming up over busy stockyards, jumbled lines of rail and wire reaching out over empty fields like stigmata on the face of the Land. I gave Edison his Direct Current and Tesla his Alternating Current, electrocuted elephants, blasted decibels from Angus Young’s guitar amp. In 1902, I took Georges Méliès and his audiences all the way to his moon. In 1919, I was spotted, two hundred years too late, slouching towards Bethlehem. One day in March 1872, I carried hard-eyed union men and fat capitalists West to their deaths. I don’t want you to feel bad. You’re just one person, irreligious, working weekends at 7-Eleven, wiping bums’ handprints off the foggy windows, going home to watch Transformers II with your roommates. I’m going to ask you a question or two about complicity, and you can choose whether to answer. When I showed the preacher Thomas Newcomen that true power was not in God, but the frenetic efflux of pistons, did anyone but the Land recognize the seeds of a great undoing? When men came with heavy explosives to extract me from the seams of decorticated mountaintops, was it worth caring?
She loves what she shouldn’t, new kitten chewing sheet music on my keyboard. Her wanting bite bothers me less than my quickness to relent. My wife holds my hand in Jackson’s movie theater, just days after another mass shooting. Fifty minutes into Love Simon, a lone man wanders up stairs and sits behind us, my heart wild. As I hear shots ring out in my mind, Simon comes out to his mom, my wife wiping tears with her free hand. After credits roll, everyone files out with lowered heads, couples like us walking fast toward cars. Our kitten won’t stop sinking teeth into things that hurt her— as I nearly yanked my hand from my wife’s, but gripped tighter. I didn’t know why the man snuck in late, but in raised lights I caught flashes of gray hair, another man he’d joined behind our seats, lovers lived long enough to jump at more than shadows. I wanted to say, y’all could’ve sat closer to us or stayed longer, mingled with petrified brothers and sisters who risked all nine lives for this taste.
At the Not Quite End of Winter
Afternoon is not becoming anything like morning said it would. Clouds have been aspirant as recently as noon. Now, OK could still be possible, certainly not impossible. Sometimes clouds will cede the sky to sky. Then we hope for hope. A bare, bright moon. After all, the Westerlies suggest as much. However, sunset. Ohh! and, Ohh.
My mother said, “You started as a thought in my head when I was young and dumb and full of what I thought was love. But that was then, way back when the world was different, when I thought you could give something and take something from a man and make something better with him. But the well is poisoned.” She'd always say that, The well is poisoned. What does that mean? One year, for my birthday, mom took me out for barbecue. She said, “Just you and me kiddo,” and I laughed and called her silly, cause that was always the way it was, and would be. I had the wings, and she had the ribs, and she got sick and started throwing up in church the next day when the pastor mentioned the way god used Adam to make Eve. I sat on the stairs outside the bathroom, cause I was too scared in the congregation alone. And I listened to my god, retching, in the women's room.
The pills: cocooned moths I swallowed, wings folded slick against long bodies. Knuckle-punched: a hole into (my) stomach, marrow thrumming with some other harmony. Holding taut the world, every room unwound into another room.
L1 Alicia Elkort- Before We Break L2 Maggie Blake Bailey- Moths L3 Geula Geurts- Tales I Tell Myself (II) L4 Travis Chi-Wing Lau- Scoliosis, A Portrait L5 Lana Bell- Nocturne L6 Anna Kelley- Night Swim
The Right Combination
Sitting on the pot in a Mexican restaurant. The notepad suggests alternatives—work worth woe. A pile of Christmas gifts are waiting in the car. I’m thinking of 2012 when the world was young. In those days I could not imagine pecking out a poem on my phone. Back in a bit. Yes, I’ve popped a peppermint and the engine is running. Can we taste crowds on the Mall in January? Rind of poets—
learning to rhyme again?
Does anybody say to a soul just setting out on its journey to the Planet Earth that maybe that’s not such a good idea? Does the father soul say: “You’ll suffer. You’ll experience severe loss and disappointment.” And the mother soul plead: “You’re not ready. Wait. Just a little longer. Please?” Or do they kick you out, ready or not? Does this young soul pick up its suitcase containing whatever a soul would pack (a set of sharp scissors to cut that golden cord tethering it to Earth) and be off on its way with the mama soul clenching the dishrag that is her heart and the papa soul turning back to his newspaper or his game and barely looking up when he says, “She’ll be back.”
Even at the age of ten I know That those who cannot teach, teach gym So my expectations for Mr. Vickery Start low: A man who sports golf shorts In winter and toots a nickel-plated whistle Indoorsâ€”a man who separates us boys From girls, letting the inflated rubber balls Divide the boys from the men. My target is always Dolores. Eye-rolling, tongue-taunting Dolores With long Dutch bangs, diaphanous skin, And sixty-five pounds of attitude. Brilliant, hard-charging Dolores Hand stretched skyward in class As though she might piss her pants. Sprightly Dolores, who conceals her Gossamer wings behind the bands Of her training bra. Feverish, lost Dolores who later dives from a gorge rim Years after her magic wings have molted. All we know of love at ten Is who we target with our doge balls, How hard we throw, our only pain The slap of rubber against flesh. I recall throwing fiercely. I had so much love to offer.
Robert T. Krantz
Two-hundred miles of Ontario plains can’t save us now, Stratford standing halfway between Niagara Falls and Detroit— a moonlit intermission of white wine and brie. We argue like lovers— in silence, iambs sliced in two. Moats of blank verse spill out over burning rivers, deep gorges of misunderstanding. Midsummer, I grasp your myth, clutch your magic, and you, frankly speak my folly. We find no middling words to bridge this undiscovered country, no kisses, no mumbled apologies . . . I think of you often— your aria never stops praying for rest.
The Largest Pancakes in Minnesota
Robyn shakes her head as her mother-in-law explains why they’re standing in front of a church on the morning of Robyn’s fortieth birthday instead of enjoying the largest pancakes in Minnesota like they’d planned. “We’re joining what?” Robyn says. “S.O.N. It stands for Stop Overeating Now.” Naomi opens the door of the church before Robyn can protest. “One meeting,” Naomi says. “If it's dreadful we won't come back.” They're welcomed by three willowy women who point to a circle of plastic chairs. Naomi tells Robyn to keep an open mind. “I didn’t say a word.” “You didn’t have to.” “It's my birthday,” Robyn says. “I can say anything I want.” She sits next to Naomi in the circle, wondering what it says about her life that she actually prefers one of Naomi's weight loss schemes to the alternative birthday outing she'd turned down—breakfast with friends whose attempts to avoid speaking of their children would feel as painful to Robyn as the times they spoke of nothing else. Naomi picks her knitting tote off the floor, leaning into Robyn as if to keep from falling out of the flimsy chair. “We're the biggest people here,” Naomi says. By far, Robyn's about to say, but she's distracted by the yellow booties Naomi's removing from the tote. When most of the chairs are filled, a tall, on-the-verge-of-fainting-thin woman introduces herself as Meredith and asks everyone to announce which of the “Four Goals” they’re perfecting. Eliminating Sugar a few people say, or Eliminating White Flour. The Ultimate Cleanse, the final woman says. Her collar bones are so pronounced that Robyn has to stifle the urge to walk across the circle and touch them.
“What is this?” Robyn wants to whisper, but she won't look at Naomi, who has taken the booties she'd once started for Robyn and Marc's original babyto-be and recycled them into a project for the grandchild finally coming courtesy of her other daughter-in-law, Kim. “Ladies,” Meredith says to Naomi and Robyn. “As new members we'd like you to share your personal goals before you embark on the mission of S.O.N. If you’re comfortable, of course.” Naomi rests the booties on her lap. “I'm here to help my daughter-in-law. She'd be happier if she weren’t fat.” Robyn stands up, knocking over her chair. She'll call a cab. She'll walk home. No, she'll make Marc pick her up and spend every minute of her birthday doing the exact thing she promised him he wouldn't have to do: help her understand in agonizing, excruciating detail how she's supposed to accept turning forty without being a mom. “She had a gorgeous figure at her wedding,” Naomi says, knitting again. “And then—” “So did you!” Robyn says, shouting at her mother-in-law—something she's done in public more times in the decade she's been married to Marc than she'd care to admit. “What's your excuse for gaining weight? What's been so terrible for you?” Naomi makes a show of tossing the booties and needles into the open tote at her feet. “She thinks she's the only one with disappointments,” Naomi says. “She thinks the universe owes her something for her pain.” “I don't think that,” Robyn says to their newest panel of judges. The members of S.O.N. stare back at her with a wide-eyed patience Robyn attributes more to their apparent starvation than a genuine interest in the fight she and her mother-in-law have started and stopped countless times since her first miscarriage five years earlier. Robyn puts her chair back in place, grabs her purse, and then turns around. “Always feeling sorry for herself,” Naomi says. “Always pushing everyone away. Always making it impossible to help her. Her own mother hardly speaks to her now—” “Ladies,” Meredith says. She suggests that Robyn and Naomi return another time, perhaps when they’re really ready to Commit To The Program.
“Fine,” Naomi says. Robyn watches a wincing Naomi hoist herself up from the armless chair. Her knee is getting worse, Robyn thinks as she bends down for Naomi's knitting tote. Of course she'll be the one to drive Naomi back and forth to the inevitable surgery. She’ll fill Naomi's refrigerator with food. She'll make the trips to the pharmacy for the meds and the gossip magazines. She'll help Naomi limp to the bathroom while Kim, the fertile one, will be too busy by then with her yellow-bootie-wearing child to do more than stop by for a quick visit. Robyn will complain, of course. She'll tell Marc that she's doing his job. But she'll do all the nursemaid chores anyway; she'll do all the things that Naomi did for her every time she lost a baby. Every time a pregnancy failed, Robyn's own mother used to insist Robyn say instead. “Those people are crazy,” Naomi says, leaning into Robyn's arm as they walk towards the parking lot. “Anorexic. All of them.” “I'm hungry,” Robyn says when they're back in the car. “You still want to try the largest pancakes in Minnesota?” “It is my birthday.” Naomi drives out of the church's parking lot. “I should warn you, they're big, but not big enough for forty candles.” “One will be fine,” Robyn says. She glances at her cell phone, wondering if her mother will call some time today. “I only need one.”
You said I couldnâ€™t be anything more than wrong, my limits in the sin that encased me. I could not stop being me. From your pew you tossed seeds toward the garden, missed. They landed in gravel, baked, were discarded on the sidewalk that once led to an incinerator, its place empty, an L-shaped walk going nowhere other than where thistles grow and kernels choke. You blamed the seeds not the sower, praised the seedling right in all the right ways, watered, fertilized, blessed. You accused the leafy spurge, the sandy gravel of enabling death, the husks of rejecting life. Not your fault, you say, not your fault they failed to live. You bow your head to pray.
Where There is Water
I was asked a question about love in five different ways: i. When you breathe, does it hurt to stay alive? ii. When you are touched, does your body dance? iii. Why do you return to the same fire that burns? iv. How are you speaking about war with flowers in your mouth v. Is it still poetry if it makes you weep? Now I am spending the rest of the morningi. Feeling my lungs ii. Listening for a song iii. Running where there's water iv. Starting a garden v. Learning to laugh
Get Me Hooked
I’ve overdosed on the will to live, plunged it through my eyeballs, chugged it through my asshole, drank it from a sponge. I’m hungover, sat on my stoop, wondering what the antidote is, when Janet approaches me in her red sweater that I hate. Her glasses sit too deep on her nose, weighing her face down like she carries kettlebells suspended from the lenses. Her ponytail is too tight, and her arms are garish, whatever that means. Your arms are garish, I say. And she says Let me help you. Her help is what got me hooked to begin with. She’s a back-alley drug dealer strolling boldly in the sun, throwing methadone to addicts like silver dollars from a roof. I don’t need your help, I say. I walk inside. She’s shouting something behind me but I don’t give a shit, and so I won’t say what she said. When I get upstairs I take all of my will to live, throw it in a bowl with boiling water, and inhale the steam until I pass out on my window sill, and wonder what happens next.
If I Fell
from the sky
would I be exaggerating again? If I ran away
would I reach
for your hand? And would you
not young. Wings
I cry at a flight of birds.
with such precision,
a singular heart I say I dream
in the mouth of anguish.
because I only
and you are holding me
have to fall
for years. My hands can only pray
for lightening. That thin needle into the story
I really meant to live.
Room of Windows
“God knows there certainly ought to be a window around here somewhere, for all of us.” - Richard Yates (1926-1992)
You remember the room you had as a child that overlooked the swing from which you jumped into a pile of autumn leaves that fell like little windows. You remember, too, the tornado that formed above your house then skipped down the street looking for doorways into trees that would welcome the wind, or sewer pipes that spilled into fields calling you to crawl into womb-dark warrens where you slipped between the error of days. Whether the tenuous night stretches for miles or opens to a room made of windows and doors that take you always everywhere depends on where you stand. It’s there despite the many drops of rain that sing against the pane, saying yes, you, too, will be lost,
as if you were the window, the door, the living wound that refuses to open.
I Still Wonder If Anyone Saw
I was a Little League star. Played first. Throw the ball anywhere close -- this kidâ€™s got it, Coach says. And stretch? I could do a split. Played one game with a rip in my pants. Stretched for a low throw and, horrified, felt the warm grass on my nuts.
About After the Pause is an online literary journal based in Indianapolis, IN, featuring poetry, flash fiction, and artwork, published quarterly. We also publish a yearly print anthology whose proceeds benefit charity. We look to feature the best creative arts from new, emerging, and veteran creators. We also run a small, nonprofit press called aâ€Śp press, which publishes titles of experimental poetry and fiction. Find us here: afterthepause.com or on Twitter @afterthepause The managing/founding editor of After the Pause and the overseer of its entire doings is Michael Prihoda.
Purpose We believe art is a product of life experiences, from the joyful to the heartbreaking to the absolutely mundane. Life throws pauses at us. Art follows the pause. We want to share the best art we can find and bring hope through those artworks.
Cover Art Designed by Michael Prihoda.
Departure Until next time.
Copyright 2018 All rights of the material within belong to the authors.
Our Fall 2018 issue features poetry, flash fiction, artwork, and visual poetry from 26 astounding artists.