Contributors Cindy is a high school student in California who likes writing poetry and staring at the sky. Helen Armstrong is a queer writer with a disproportionate fear of butterflies, and you can follow her @hkawrites for more such fear-related content. Cath Barton is a writer who lives in Wales, which is not part of England. Michelle Brooks is the author of Pretty in A Hard Way which will be published by Finishing Line Press in September 2019. Ed Coonce Lindsey Doyen is an emerging writer hailing from Essexville, Michigan. Kate Garrett is a grungy glitter elf who writes, edits, and gets up to witchery while raising five bright and noisy children. Steve Gergley is a writer and runner based in Warwick, NY. Deborah Guzzi is a poet who wishes to be seen as a contributor to a universal solution, not the problem. Babo Kamel is being read to by a tiny golden rabbit in a very big chair. Jacob M. Hall is a PhD student at Texas Tech University and has recent prose out at The Forge Literary Magazine and Columbia College Literary Review. Heikki Huotari is a connected subset of the here and now. Sean Lynch is a working-class poet who lives in South Philly. Ania Mroczek is in the mountains, working on her debut novel. Robert Okaji is a question seeking answers. Chelsea Stickle prefers plants and animals to people.
Richard Weaver is a volunteer with the Maryland Book Bank, CityLit Festival, and the Baltimore Book Festival; he is the author of The Stars Undone (Duende Press). Molly Williams will begin her MFA at the Michener Center for Writers in fall 2019; in the meantime, you can find her at the nearest coffee shop. Zachariah Claypole White is an award-winning poet and singer-songwriter currently living in Chapel Hill, NC. Samuel Wronoski was born in Boston, Massachusetts, to mixed reviews. His work can be found in a file labeled 'documents. Jim Zola is a poet and photographer living in North Carolina.
The author has requested lampshades, flash bulbs, pullcords, all with subtle tricks. A switch should be drawn inside a lightbulb, only not the way he sketched it. Better from the angles that a looser hand can often turn. On every edge there ought to be a string of Christmas lights, confusing sockets, ritual converters that are only there to represent the change in current needed. Why not draw the pullcord
hanging through the page-top, dangle down from up the bottom? Funny. Might make people think. And other notes he scratched here Call your cover all the lights, but hide the title somewhere novel-people wouldn’t think to look. Don’t send me drafts – I find everything I start is dull until I change my first opinion.
Ennio’s ocarina heralds my demon on a black horse
I fight an unquiet spirit to reclaim these reins, lock sunburn eyes with a dead outlaw. He’s grasping for my heart like it’s gold in a grave – in hell they hand out prizes for a soul like mine. Twenty years he’s hunted me, the one who weeps when she hears the crunch of snail shell under her boot on rainy days, twenty years spent distorting conversations, filling mouths of lovers and friends with the gravel of grey storms where amethyst sunsets should be. With each passing summer he gathers strength for his returns: now he holds knives out to me until my daydreams call down rusted revenge for the smallest offenses, until I am nameless, until I am one with a gleeful gun. He is sure I’ll turn the bullets against myself – but decades harden, bless us with the wisdom of the damned. The pistol behind my back is cold in the cinnamon desert. I know the drumbeat of hell-steed hooves will troop over the horizon, but this time I am watching for the omens, waiting for the hollow call of wind through a cavern mouth. This time, with the first low howl and long shot, I will be ready.
In memory of angst
Angst Coffeehouse + Art Space, Cincinnati, Ohio: 1996-2000
Gingerbread smoke from our clove cigarettes curls around his snowy face. He wants to buy the shirt off my back, cut it up, sew The Smiths and Salford Lads Club onto his black leather jacket. He says it would be so rad. Not a chance, I tell him, so he laughs, and we talk about the music. Tonight it’s Jeff Buckley’s Grace on repeat. The world has already lost him to the river and the songs all sound like love and mourning and I don’t know at the time that I already understand them both, but I’m happy to be distracted. And while this boy makes his offer, flashes smiles, and we exchange our incense exhalations, I glance around to a tall blonde girl unveiling her nipple ring to the gathering crowd, sipping their Sumatran blends. The crowd includes my boyfriend, who will tell me all about it later. It is 1am and I am just eighteen and already so tired. So I talk to this guy, a gentle goth who wants to cut up my shirt, and idly wonder if we should all stay topless, and save ourselves a world of trouble.
A dozen clocks in the moon â&#x20AC;&#x201D; one for you, eleven for my own heart. Father, in this world, there are no empty bowls. It is I who must see past your remains. The landlord won't stop expecting the organs, the limbs. Must I carry your body for another night? June bugs line up on your palm and stay for days, candlelight restive & ignored. You ask them why treasure must be buried, why the Earth has to carry all the joy we cannot, why a time of year can be so much thicker than another. These days, your hands do nothing but break. my arms have stopped seeking the home you have fallen into. My own has entangled with the branches rising beneath the floor, coming to retrieve. I cannot sleep while you cough, anemones phantoming with their dark venom, begging for this home to spin me out. Oil lacquers your boots, granite entering & filling around your talon, whittling you down to stone. You swear: our bodies will outfly all else. Our failures will be made redundant by the storks. There is nothing higher than an organ that learns its own transparency. Daughter, soak your foot into more sand, tip the nights in slowly. Let the words be as big as they desire. Let this house call you home because nothing becomes what it has been before. Go on, open the door.
Happy Little Trees
Go now. Climb along a cloud-capped mountain, or build yourself rivers and ghostly vats. Peel back canvas like a stucco curtain, in these pages, the whole world turns flat, sprawling vistas and a duckling centerpieceyour life is a stock photo doormat. but you can still change. Brush leaves like fleece caught on the lashings of a thorny hedge, craft your new nature. Sketch another lease on life in the whisp-thin ends of a wedge, paint-soaked and dripping. You will be a cowed ficus, soaking sun on a window ledge. Piece by piece you pick up the know-how. Draw yourself. Draw yourself. Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s all better now.
Outside my new psychologist’s office I think of a time
when iron ruled the world. Not a time of swords and dams, but forests of ore, of open veins. Before bellows and forges, shields and rust—iron wasn’t afraid yet. It knew nothing of the stranger fast approaching. Like the life that once called this place home, iron breathed in deep. We call it the great oxygenation, the first mass extinction event. The rust took its time. Iron held firm to its reign, soaked up all the oxygen it could, slowed the process to a crawl. But that doesn’t matter: Rust is a casual violence. It chips away, cracks and gapes, until it reaches the core of you.
Coughing fit—door slams—sharp rattle of thin walls—woman whispers behind—receptionist talks in front . . . Yes Dr. Park he’s here right now—Len with elbows heavy on front desk stares at receptionist’s cheek—single gold hair in right ear—phone pressed hard to the other . . . told him that but he’s very worried and—with coughing fit passed callused fingers stroke chin— always hated shaving—at least I won’t have to worry about that anymore if— more whispering from behind—got to be seventy at least—sounds like the old man . . . going to see my granddaughter in Albany next month before I— lucky bastard—got to go in his sleep—didn’t have to deal with any of this shit—imagining it is the worst part—those last three minutes before the end—the terror and pain and confusion—with eyes slipping closed Len sees that scene from The Prestige—his favorite movie of all time—Angier drowning in that tank—his eyes wide and wild with horror—the struggle and the flail—mouth bursting open—water rushing in—at this Len clenches his jaw—feels the mucus filling his lungs—imagines his slow end in a hospital bed—it’s not just the pain it’s the knowing—eyes open and swimming he huffs out a hard breath—woman behind still whispering—words slow and quiet and sticky . . . yes it’s her second this one a boy—receptionist watches him now—quickly looks away. . . told him that but he doesn’t—Len tries to break in—raised hand cuts him off—chair squeaks with her swivel—outline of her bra visible through the back of her crimson sweater . . . okay that’s fine I’ll yes—clears his throat hard so he can speak . . . please just yes or no I know what he said but I have to—turning around she points to an empty chair at the back of the room—his face flames red—he stares at her hard—she pretends to not see—she peers up at the clock—Len follows her gaze—same kind they had back in school—second hand glides smoothly around the numbered face—never thought I’d be dealing with this shit at thirty-nine—so much wasted time—no college for this rock star—real fucking smart—could never even play—just wanted to look cool—twenty-five years of Winstons— 14
never wanted to do anything—never knew how to be happy—another roaring cough—spiked feather of phlegm in his throat—receptionist still ignoring him—thick carpet soft under worn Converse—trudges to the empty chair—finally sees the old lady next in line—very short and a neck like a turkey’s—laceless black shoes—little tassel on each toe—receptionist quiet now—just listening to her boss—with eyes closed hard Len rests his head on the wall—plaster smooth and cool—why am I even scared?—it’s just goddamn nothing—just emptiness—just silence—nothing to be afraid of— everything gone—all pain and thought and awareness—the entirety of all existence—so why am I so fucking afraid?—receptionist calls his name—voice high and bright and cheerful—upward inflection at the end—his body straight and standing in a breath—heartbeat a paradiddle behind ribs . . . did he tell you the results of the biopsy?—forced smile slicing red lips in two . . . he said it’s very important that he talks to you in person.
Every day she’s standing there, the woman, standing outside the house with the sky-blue shutters, standing in the garden under the cherry tree, standing there in that long grey dress that ripples round her ankles like gentle waves on the seashore, standing there motionless. And every day, as we pass by in the bus, Martha asks me why I’m peering through the grime on the window, why I can’t stop doing that, why I’m so pale after I’ve seen her, the woman in the long grey dress, the dress with the rippling folds, the woman who reminds me of someone I can’t quite remember. And every day she’s there, that woman, so there is a reason, but I don’t know what it is. I know that beyond where she’s standing, beyond the house with the sky-blue shutters, there’s the edge of the land and, beyond that, there are grasses and sand and a wind off the sea. I know all that. But I can’t see them clearly now, the windblown grasses and the sand and the ceaseless waves of the sea. They’re beyond a memory I can’t reach, though every day I try, and I know that if she would just give a sign, the woman standing there so still, I would feel it again, that thing they call happiness. But she doesn’t, and I don’t. And every day my sister Martha purses her lips and sits back in her seat after we’ve passed that place, the place where the woman stands outside the house with the blue shutters, the colour fading, the motionless woman in the garden with the cherry tree which is no longer in blossom. And every day Martha says I should let go.“You should just forget it all,” she says, and her face slams shut then like a door, a heavy door I know I could never push open. And I know she thinks she is protecting me from whatever it is that happened, but she is not. And Martha turns away and is lost to me behind that closed door. And every day the past fades a little more, but the woman is still there, unmoving and unmoved. As we drive on, every day. 16
Zachariah Claypole White
Only Christ Himself knew the last time Jack Warthrop had slept in a bed. The rain, which always drew him back to consciousness, fired against the roof in metallic bursts, reminding him of the old man’s ‘68 Plymouth. That beauty had survived two decades of shoddy repair jobs before vomiting its oily gizzards across 63rd Avenue. Jack rubbed his temples. Thirty years with the firm, ten with his own practice, and this goddamn trial was his reward? Granted, the embezzlement had stained his legacy, but that was horseshit in the face of half a century of successful litigation. Now, if he had a chance to argue his own case, namely that he shouldn’t be here, he would win. But this? He hurled a pile of manila folders across the tiny room. The rain continued. Had to hand it to the Client—He kept immaculate records, although it was best to not dwell on the content. The Client had been spot on with that suggestion. Not for the first time, Jack toyed with the idea of searching for his own file. Or at least sending a letter upward to see if he couldn’t get an early release. He sipped from the plastic cup and grimaced. Already cold, of-fuckingcourse. You’d think the Client could shell out for decent coffee. Come to think of it, he didn’t know the Client’s financial situation. Jack made a mental note to ask and returned to work. # He jerked awake to wind clawing at the outside wall. Was it too much to ask for a sunny day—just one? On the other side of his window, silhouettes of unbalanced skyscrapers reached through the smog to fuck-knows-what. He really should work on the swearing. The Client didn’t approve. Which, all
things considered, was hypo-fucking-critical. Jack let out a long breath. Dammit. Moving away from the window, he began rummaging through the folders. 1863. Too far back. 1888. Might be worth a read, but not what he was looking for. 1943. Now we’re talking. He opened the file and recognized the Client’s impossibly neat handwriting, dissecting events with scalpel-sharp precision. The Client had written every cell, name, number, and death.
So much for leaving things to the imagination. Jack found what he was searching for in the middle of the file. The boy had been eleven years, thirteen days, and forty-two minutes old. He died alone in a windowless room, surrounded by the smell of shit and gunpowder. His thoughts, listed in bold print, were numbered like a goddamn shopping list. A memory crawled up Jack’s throat: a tattoo on his grandfather’s arm, a number he couldn’t remember. Forcing himself to swallow the image, Jack turned back to the folder, unable to tell if the black cursive reflected perverse joy or unashamed honesty. Either was possible, given his interactions with the Client. He checked his watch and swore. The trial would resume in ten minutes. Jack grabbed a handful of manila folders and ran. # As he did every day, Jack wondered if the design of the courtroom—identical to those he had paced at the height of his career—was purely for his benefit. The only difference was the book: a volume nearly a foot thick and the same in width. Jack didn't know what it contained, nor did he want to. He considered himself a simple man, and the book seemed anything but. Of course, if he’d been less of a simple man, he might not be in this predicament. Simple was a dangerous word. It stopped you from asking questions when your partner showed up to meetings drunk; meant you didn’t answer the phone when he called late at night; let you schedule another lunch meeting after hearing that the guy had given his shiny new shotgun a blowjob. Despite being filled to capacity, the room overflowed with silence. The Client, seated with back straight and hands folded in His lap, nodded politely, 19
as if the trial were a simple inconvenience. That word again: simple. Jack shivered. The Client was wearing a red leather trench coat with matching widebrimmed hat. Beneath the table, His polished boots reflected an empty room. Jack glanced up; the Client flashed a grin of perfect white teeth. Jack Warthrop took his seat. Beside him, the Client removed His hat, revealing black hair and neatly filed horns. “All rise,” came the impossible voice. The Devil’s Advocate stood and looked around the room. It was going to be another never-ending day.
My son a womb dream, five months till lung breath. I’m trying to book a sonogram, captive on hold. The phone yawns its humdrum dumbed down version of a Beatle song, when the Challenger explodes into world wreck. Time crashes out of itself. Hope smashes bug- like on a windshield and Christa McAuliffe ejects from her name. That moment freeze frames into memory, squeezes beside others when the world stops breathing. What it was before ceases to be. We can’t resurrect innocence, but we hold the impact of its loss, for as long as we can bear. Something to remember with a half- raised flag an appointed silence, or a story in a poem. It was lunch in the student lounge. My friends munched on the day’s diet trend. I waited through the news to get my appointment returned to class and felt the baby kick.
What does it need?
It needs space, a soft revolution, both orbit and uprisingâ&#x20AC;&#x201C; lunar absorption, an empty room. It needs the ability to speak both grace and fury. It needs the power to say: yes, no. It needs to know: plural renunciation, pouring (in and out) riot. It needs devotion, orgasmic stillness, self-destruction. It needs blood, bone, combustible air. It needs a name.
A Daughter It sat on her chest like a cat, batting her heart with its paw. It pulled moisture to the surface of her skin, beading sweat on her upper lip, slicking her hair to her forehead. Every breath drew pain and pushed cold into her stomach. She could never imagine being hungry again, and as she lay under the dark, she knew that it was slurping her organs out and crushing them between glowing canines. She kept her eyes shut throughout the robbery, aware of the panting in her ears and the musk in her mouth. When she was finally able to unglue her eyelids in the quiet she returned not to the room, but to her flesh—there were many little hers crawling on her belly and across her cheeks—and when she threw the light on, she was more alone than expected, and smaller, and tired as if she’d lost a battle, thrown down her sword, taken off her armor and lain prone on the field. She slept unwell. And at breakfast, she hoped no one could tell that her pulverized organs had been shaken like ice in a tumbler and stuffed back inside hastily, a hack job. She sipped her juice and choked on her cereal. She had been taken from herself. A daughter twice over, reborn broken.
A Mother I ate dirt by choice when I was three, lifting the spoon with care and searching for the moistest spot to dig. It was delicious in the way that sucking a wishbone to mush is delicious, or licking a tire, and I was satisfied, and vomited. I ate dirt involuntarily in the eighth grade, when Evan Thompson put his foot squarely in the middle of my low-to-the-ground back and pushed. Mouth full of wood and damp, I stood and spat a foamy glob that missed his shoe and landed on mine. He called me a dyke and walked away as I 24
slobbered. It was delicious in the way that pain can be delicious when you believe you are asking for it. When it hits right on the mark. That was when it found me: a tree that grew from a seed that had been dropped in the pit of my belly by a bird that had pressed its beak between my lips while I was sleeping. As I lifted myself up and spat and walked to the bench by the swings and watched the blood bead on my knees like dew, the tree sprouted from its pod and branches seized my heart, climbed my throat, squeezed. Leaves thickened my ears and poked through my eyes. I swallowed air for air. I knew the world of my body would end if the growing kept on. A teacher rushed over and told me to breathe, told me that it would pass, so I breathed as well as I could around the trunk in my throat, but I did not believe her. I still do not believe her—I rush to my teenage daughter when she swallows air and begins to choke on her cereal—I still feel the seeds collecting in the mornings before I am awake, and now I smell the fur growing dense and wild around my daughterJust as I become the tree when I must, she will become, from time to time, the beast.
A Wife I have learned your mythologies, the fictions you tell yourself. I have also learned to avoid fueling the fire. Tonight I tell the wet of you, fresh from the shower, that it will not last forever. You shudder. You are welling up. “It will keep growing,” you say. “It always keeps growing.” I tell you as kindly as I can that you’re wrong. I hand you a small white pill from an orange bottle with your name on it. The letters blur. You grimace at the bitterness on your tongue. Your eyes glitter in pain. You cry soundlessly. I touch your beaded back. I ask if you would like a towel and you say no, so we curl up wet to dry and your silhouette imprints on the bed like a Pompeii preservation. I feel you slow down—your breath, your bones—and then it’s later and you’re up and walking dazed as if in a dream and you clothe your lean brown body and I say, “See? It’s not growing anymore, is it?” “No,” you say. “But there are always seeds.” 25
You’ve said before that the branches retract, the roots recede. I have learned to let you be a tree, even though a tree is not whom I chose to marry, just as I did not choose to mother a beast. Because what, then, am I—the lichen, the lice? A hanger-on? Or a circus handler. Or a woodswoman. A guide walking amongst the wildlife. Self-assured, knowledgeable, but keeping my distance. Nursing a healthy fear.
Mother I live off of you, poor thing—I love your children just as much as you do— I expand like a macrophage with food and breath—I slow and speed—I tumble across your soft parts and flatten myself inside your ribcage, playing chicken—I sit on your chest and spit on your skin until it shines—I clamber into your lungs and prick them, spur a small but mighty leak, a bursting dike, a dyke bursting—I grow in you and with you and you just can’t unseat me—I make you unmistakably you—Your mouth full of dry dirt—Your ears and toes and trunk blood waterfalls—You, creature, are stuck between me and the rest of it—I keep you so alive it hurts—I empty you, but I fill you first—And I grow with you until we share the same beating blood, the same tastes, the same name— You are the creature. I’m just the breath. The token parting your lips. Your name is on the bottle. Swallow me, or choke.
The Calabacita Walks Away From the Explosion and Doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t Look Back
Self-Portrait as Never
Within the unknown or could-have-been, this stance requires certainty, the ability to stand upright, rooted, implacable, relentless in the is and the no in time. I dream of faith, despite knowing its secrets. Atoms swarm, seed heads explode. Rivers reverse, the galaxy rots, and at the center, we fold our arms across our chests and deny or accept at whim, leaving behind no footprints, only lost words, some dust.
The Real Question
I ask myself why I mourn what has not yet occurred. Will that last fledgling fly or will a snake swallow its gravity before descending to a separate end? Coffee darkens the carafe and an egg poaches amidst the scent of basil. Sprinkling parmesan on buttered toast, I wonder where to unearth the real question, when to look into its eye. How to read its grief.
men who wall
ruined and spoiled ruined men men who own men who claim claim whatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s not theirs claim whatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s on loan loans without collateral loans with interest interest in control interest in power power to rule power and plenty plenty plundered plenty unshared unshared torture unshared longing longing for restitution longing for equality equality of the sexes equality of life life of mother earth life of father sky sky high sky folk folk powerless folk who have need need unfulfilled need water 31
water to grow water from the sea sea of she sea which roars roars in pain roars in pleasure pleasure of memories pleasure promises promises broken promises not consulted consulted self consulted in retrospect retrospect shunned retrospect useless useless death useless scars scars landscapes scars walls walls constructed walls with chinks chinks constructed
The neighborhood waxwings are drunk on fermented berries. They’re singing out of tune perched high in the Rowan tree until they lose balance and take flight before they hit the ground. One bangs against my bedroom window. Its beady black eye catches mine as it’s momentarily stunned. The red juice on its cream-colored chest looks like blood. Its wings begin flapping again and it flies back into my window at the same spot. I’m at my closet before I know what I’m doing. I spot an empty Nike shoebox I stashed away for possible school projects. With Mom dead it’s up to me to think about things like that. I poke air holes with scissors and line it with the ugly scarf I got for Christmas. The waxwing is still ramming itself into my window. In the fraction of a second when it’s stunned, I snatch it. “It’s okay,” I say. “I got you.” I expect more of a struggle, but it’s so drunk that the best it can manage is wiggling and chirping. It rams itself against the sides of the shoebox. A rubber band keeps it inside. I bring it downstairs to rummage for food that’ll sober it up. I settle on a slice of bread because I heard it soaks up alcohol fast. Dad enters the kitchen sipping his beer and quickly guesses what I’m doing. I think the chirping box gave me away. “You’re getting in the way of natural selection,” he says. It’s a fact, not a criticism. “People are born with all kinds of advantages,” I tell him. “What makes me helping this bird so much worse?” His dewy eyes widen with longing for her. He always called her softhearted while handing over his checkbook or picking up his tools for another family. He looks like he wants to call me that. Soft-hearted. Like the heart has anything to do with it. Absently he wipes the scar on his forehead like the gash is still bloody and fresh. I wasn’t in the car when Mom died, and if Dad says the deer came out of nowhere, then that’s what happened. That’s why we needed a closed
casket funeral. But sometimes I wonder if a slice of bread could’ve improved his reflexes enough to save her life. The waxwing eats up the bread. It nests in the ugly scarf. I set the shoebox in the empty guest seat at the dinner table. Dad looks at it funny but doesn’t say anything. Tonight he’s made spaghetti. Boxed pasta, canned sauce. Hard to mess up. We eat in near silence, offering up tidbits of information, aimless without the rudder of Mom’s conversation skills. Dad’s always been almost monosyllabic unless he was completely sloshed and his boastful side came out. Since the accident he doesn’t boast. He gets depressed and cries alone. I walked in on him once and saw the agony in his eyes. It reached into me and mingled with my pain until his overcame mine in desperate gulps as it tried to swallow me whole. He didn’t scream or ask me to leave. He didn’t have to. I ran out of the room, out of the house and into the darkness outside. The daffodils Mom planted the year I was born choked me with their sweetness. It’s been months and we still don’t know what to say to each other. I guess we never did. In the morning I pet the waxwing’s silky feathers and try to figure out whether it’s sober enough to venture outside. Its head swivels for the best escape route, so it’s alert and capable of planning ahead. It’s ready. The frost is crunchy on the grass. The air is sharp and deadly as it slices to my lungs. I yank down my sweater sleeves. With the rubber band around my wrist, I peek into the box. “Hey, little guy,” I say. “It’s time for you to return to the world. Be good, okay?” It’s hopping, hopping ready to go. More stable on its feet than it was yesterday. I open the box. The rush of wind against my face is bracing as I follow its progress, wings strong and certain, proud of myself. Until it lands in a tree full of berries and begins eating again.
The low water of the Liffey runs through my mind. The high cry of the flute sings in my heart. I stand at the cliff and look across the wide Atlantic to see a steel monolith rise. The depths of the ocean can no longer conceal the pain that I carry in knowing past and future loss. I sit by the crystal Shannon and feel the wildflowers break beneath my weight to become a bushel of waste. The lush fields once crossed by the free Finn McCool and his band of poet-warriors have been crushed by machines. The old woman of Ireland calls me home to fight for liberty, but her sons reject me, a mere American, and I comply to colony life. 37
I fly back to New York with a hole in my chest longing for the identity of my starving ancestors.
On the Dragging of the Feet
The walking monologists met and every now and then a cleaner fish was eaten and the feedback
precluded their completion. They are playing our dirge so let's synchronize our color wheels and meet back here at candy apple red. Should yellow dots be polka dots or cited by some novice scholar every other day? Should pairs of yellow lines connect them or construe? Should yellow suit a cat or mouse and if so like a tutu or a mu mu? So, do you know where your bliss has been? The great square inch in art, the “word” the cruelest master puts in “quotes” may “take” the “cake.” Fillet of brick and brack of glass – what would not pass through plywood? Pass the vacuum please.
I confess I was never born Eric Arthur Blair in Motihari, India, on June 25, 1903. Those may have been my circumstances but I rejected all that when my mother wisely left for Henley-on-Thames. A writer thinks he knows many things and writes accordingly. Wisdom flows like good scotch. Some are amused. Others pleased. A smaller few understand. It required no genius to stare at the obvious, to see what was plain, even ordinary in its fear and future brutality. I can only regret my present vision of an inevitable future, one that I will not survive, having seen too much too clearly. And said as much. I am here on this island, an island not England, writing as I must after the war’s savagery. And ill in health. But write I will, as the last man in Europe. One who stares dystopia in the eye of a sucked orange. Alone, with my son, Richard, my wife dead now 9 months after his adoption, my TB unresponsive to the beastly cures of many countries, I think hard and often about each new day, and what I must write, as if writing alone keeps me from dying. I stand behind “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear." It echoes and echoes. Having suffered and survived 46 years I can only hope that “at fifty, everyone has the face he deserves.” Myself included. 40
Rainer Maria Rilke
This day rolls along like a river with regrets. Why it sorrows, why such pain is a question others might ask. I for one am occupied with dying. The lonely arc of longing for death. Any moment I expect rain to join the party. It loves to drop in, unannounced and uninvited, and rarely brings anything to the table, other than the obvious pain of heaven’s promise. My body asks nothing of its excesses, like the rivers that overflow with its sudden awe-filling gift. My needs are few now. What passes for comfort. What mediates as grief. The awkward approach of evening as it slithers into an empty room. Loneliness embracing a nervous ocean. A river pushing north against its current. I flow. I ebb. “I don’t want the doctor’s death. I want to have my own freedom.”
Jason walked into Claire's office and sat down on the upholstered chair opposite her desk. “We’re going to assassinate the ayatollah of Iran in less than four hours,” he said. She could not think of a response. She looked up from her computer and met his eyes. They had a kindness about them, which was ironic considering his profession. Jason stood and leaned over her desk, putting his hand on top of hers. “I’ll be back before you’re done prepping our next assignment,” he said. Claire glanced to the open doorway and pulled her hand away from his. “The keywords for this multiverse indicate an unstable environment. It's troubling,” she said. “This is my job, trust that I can do it.” “And prepping your travel is my job. I know what you’ll be facing. The odds aren’t good.” Jason straightened and walked to the door. “Good thing I'm a betting man,” he said as he winked and left her office. Claire took a seat in the control room overlooking the Portico. She heard the humming of the particle accelerator beneath the floor. She inserted the flash drive into the console and the contents underwent an automatic upload. All of the descriptors she had spent the last three days typing now translated into a series of frequencies. Watching the Portico activate was always a marvel. First the humming, then the light. An infinitesimal black hole was created in the accelerator and the resulting gravity was directed by the frequencies to pull a specific multiverse to our own. The Portico emitted a glow that soon dominated the room. Claire watched as Jason and his team of four walked into the light. Jason had shared 43
that, much to his disappointment, there was no specific sensation when entering a multiverse. He had been expecting some change in pressure, a tight squeeze perhaps, but instead, nothing. Crossing was effortless. Claire's part in this transport was complete so she went back to her office, shut the door, and took a deep breath. She was always nervous while clients traveled , especially when the clients were army. The program began as a strictly civilian endeavor, but within a year the military had stepped in. Laws and regulations quickly followed. Inter-universal travel now featured red tape and significant portions of the calendar were blacked out for military maneuvers. As the mission's end time approached, the entire team got fidgety. Travel cap was thirty-two hours. Beyond then the passageway within the Portico would degrade and collapse. An alarm blared and three men emerged from the Portico’s light, one of them limping. Claire straightened, tensing. Where was Jason? After the three soldiers exited the Portico, they signaled that the mission was complete. The group sitting at the console waited. Again the soldiers signaled mission complete. The connection to the multiverse was severed. Following protocol, the Portico was powered down and the room fell into momentary darkness as their eyes adjusted to only fluorescent lighting. The incomplete team headed for debriefing and Claire caught up to them before they entered the room. “What happened to Jason?” “That’s classified.” “I have clearance. Hell, I prep your missions.” “Classified,” they repeated. The team entered the debriefing suite and closed the door. Now what? Once a multiverse was accessed it was forever altered. You couldn’t return to that exact world again. If he was alive, Jason was now irretrievable. Yet with an infinite number of multiverses all things are possible, she reminded herself. Which means there were any number of universes containing an alive Jason. A healthy Jason. She only had to be specific enough in her search terms. Who knew what he was doing? Waiting for her? 44
She brainstormed specific keywords, beginning to plan how she might pay him a visit. Then she stopped, the realization crushing. It wouldn't be the same. It wouldn't be her Jason. Not really, not anymore. Her Jason left on a mission and never returned. Her Jason was memory, not physical embodiment. She could not replace him with a copy in some other universe. No, she would not travel. She would remain. She stretched her hand across the desk to where it had been the last time he touched her. She would remember.
About the Author
Of course, he’s hidden them, the pages and his outrage – he’s shouted out his name in places you would never think to look for it the way a fly between the blinds and window does. Confident as an editor of someone else’s book of poems, I’d guess he’s ripped apart sequential thoughts. He likely says he’ll put an end to every manner of sincerity that’s carried in an open hand by angry, earnest, crying, tender, all of us. But I’ve discovered in this very book a place where I pretend he may have planned to write them once, imagined unsaid dozens of the thoughts that could have cheapened everything. I wrote this summary in ways I told myself he might have been in life, had he allowed himself the luxury, then stuffed the words in places only I could find, and lifted this from his familiar style.
Cycle He has always been more interested in
She has crumpled in her hands the
the colors of walls and the stains on
pages she’s ripped out of the Bible.
beds than he’s ever been in her. She
There is always a holy book in
herself has always thought that the
wayward places. There is always
way the veins in his hands move when
something of the permanent and
he flexes his fingers, makes a fist or
godlike, the way the moon remains
clicks a mouse, is mesmerizing.
above you no matter how far you drive.
Someone next door screams in despair, or pain.
An animal howl tears from beneath her skin: it scores the room. A
They have not had sex in weeks
crescendo, slowly building. Above,
because the roof on the house has
through the ceiling and past the mice
needed repair, and Jonathan had been
that skitter through the space beneath
unwilling to call someone for 10 days.
the roof, the moon sits very low and
They’d moved into the motel for the
large. It’s the curve of the earth that
time being to live out of suitcases and
makes it appear bigger; it’s the curve
found it preferable to being home.
of God that makes us appear so small.
(And she knows that he’s gay and always has been, because that is how
It’s a fully round thing as it hangs
these things work.) She takes a very
pregnant in the night. She had wanted
slow sip of her wine, as bitter as the
to pray over these pages, the origin
discount bottles could deliver. The
story of pain, but she finds that the
only time she ever thinks he loves her
transformation is too much, that her
is when she is soft-wine-drunk, so she
skin and mind is rupturing, and prayer
sets down the glass as he says, “Do
you think we should be concerned?”
Fur sprouts from places she has tried
She begins to answer yes before she
to keep clean. Her teeth are growing
sees that he’s talking about the girl in
long, her organs being stretched. It
the next room who’s screaming, and
feels like she’s being pulled to the
then she shrugs with her whole body,
beginning of time, to where the
her pinky toes flexing outward as if to
woman ruins it all, and is punished.
deflect the question toward the rest of the room. “Of course. There’s a girl
Becoming a wolf is pain.
screaming next door.”
Disjointed things come to her, puzzle
pieces she could put together and still not have a life: a picture with a black
She also fancied herself gay once.
hole in it, the faces of the people she
Reach for the wine bottle. Top off the
loves all veering inward because they
glass. Pick it up again.
do not understand.
And a long sip.
It is the normal things, and it’s Mairead, Mairead whose socks always
Now she thinks that desire may be
had holes in them. She’d poke her
something else entirely and not what
toes through and press her toenails on
it felt like when she was 20. She knows
skin, laugh, and leave small half-moon
that the girl next door is not
prints behind like a signature. Hands
screaming in sex-pain because she
on her waist and two pairs of
knows what those noises would sound
emerging breasts, pressed flush, the
like coming from a mouth that is not
whole world vibrating.
hers, and this isn’t right. The pitch is wrong and the tremble is something
Anger and joy, the fight of staying
hidden, the pleasures of the lie. The day Mairead’s dad found out. The day she failed an Algebra quiz.
Mairead asked if it was worth it.
It is also simply unlikely that someone would do that kind of thing in this
Now as her bones stretch, she wants
kind of place. Jonathan rolls to sitting
to change her answer.
up, pressing his book face-open-down
Her eyelids flash open, her pupils no
into the stained comforter. “Should we
longer floating in a green sea; amber,
The television has not worked for the
Her spine has elongated, each knob
entire time they have been here. It
jutting into her skin, pressed to the
means nights of silence. Eating out,
mattress below. Her legs are wide
ordering in. Leftovers from the mini
open and her arms, too, are legs. All of
fridge and running into each other in
her salutes the ceiling, and she pants
the tiny bathroom, getting ready for
as the last of her disappears: her feet
are covered in fur, no more half-
The roofer is now finished with the
house. They could move back in.
She is an animal thing, and her
But the television here doesn’t work,
thoughts slow, turn black-white, until
and the one at home does. Going
the bad things are clear and her body
back would mean going back.
She glances at the wall, a new round
She wants to do everything with it.
of screaming pushing through it. “We
Soon she will tear at the pages of the
could.” She sips. “Or we could just…”
Bible, rip them to shreds.
“Let’s just.” He jumps on it quickly,
How can you believe in anything? she
though he’s standing now, and needs
will ask, only her voice is no longer a
something to do with his body, long
girl’s voice, but some new monster-
as it is. She looks up at him.
thing. She will kick down the door.
Founded in 2014, After the Pause is an online literary journal based in Indianapolis, IN, featuring poetry, flash fiction, and artwork, published quarterly. We look to feature the best creative arts from new, emerging, and veteran creators. Find us at afterthepause.com or on Twitter @afterthepause and Facebook /afterthepause. The 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 2019 All rights of the material within belong to the authors.