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Atlas and Alice Literary Magazine Issue 7 Summer/Fall 2016


Issue 7 Summer/Fall 2016

Atlas and Alice Literary Magazine Sioux City, Iowa www.atlasandalice.com atlasandalice@gmail.com

Š Atlas and Alice, All Rights Reserved.


Editorial Board Brendan Todt – Founder Benjamin Woodard – Editor in Chief Liz Young – Poetry Editor Summar West – Poetry Editor Whitney Groves – Fiction Editor Donald Quist – Fiction Editor Emily Arnason Casey – Creative Nonfiction Editor Readers: Sarah Braud, Sarah Kilch Gaffney, & Ian Wallace.


Letter from the Editor

This issue was due to post online last week, meaning the week of the U.S. Presidential election, but a severe funk kept me from my duties. To be honest, compiling a magazine felt so unimportant, so trivial. What difference did it make, anyway, if this digital magazine existed? But then I thought about the pleasures reading has provided my life. The escapism of media has always helped keep me sane, and though our little magazine isn’t going to necessarily fix any of the problems that have recently erupted, the incredible words within may provide a sliver of solace to a hurting soul. So here it is: Issue 7. There are some beautiful pieces in these virtual pages, some grasping at the heat and vibrancy of summer, and others easing into the dry, autumnal air. Many of these essays, stories, and poems touch upon the idea of survival, and maybe that’s something we need right now. Together, we will survive. I hope these words bring some comfort to those who hurt.

BW


Table of Contents Jennie Ziegler ≈

The Telling

9

Michael Garret Ashby II ƒ

Saving the Gladiator

13

Natalie Homer †

8 Hot New Tips Guaranteed To Make Your Summer Sizzle

23

A Woman Cop, the Driver Says Into His Phone

24

Sara Khayat ≈

Spinal Fusion

27

Tyler Atwood †

another dream about real life I think

31

Elias Keller ƒ

Must Be the Location

33

wren james †

grandma’s house

39

local news is still news

40

berlin

41

Jericho Parms ≈

Mummy

43

Martin Keaveney ƒ

Carcass

47

Enough

48

Noiseless

49

Matthew Serback ƒ

Lindsey Gilbert †

You’re Telling Me Pro Wrestling Isn’t Real? (Part XVII)

51

Whodunit House

55

Liquidity Crisis

56

Call for Submissions

58

Contributor Notes

59

Fiction – ƒ

CNF – ≈

Poetry – †


JENNIE ZIEGLER

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The Telling Rubber sneaker soles. Basement bars. Something out of Cheers. Glass bottles filled with amber, glinting dully against wood polished by arms, hands hammers on bartop. Billy Joel is crooning from a corner speaker, a low undertone. I sit under sticky tables, small hands swimming in wide stolen drums of bobbing maraschino cherries. A bite of red teeth. Outside, pine needles spread like rivers through red maple and white oak, dogwood and box elder. The Lehigh Valley, nestled deeply in Penn’s woods, is a scented sachet of gasoline, snow, and earth. Bethlehem Steel Stacks, the lone steel mountain against the river, is dark among the bright nights.

New Jack Swing on the radio. Hips begin to move feet, shoulders, arms. Dusty trolls, with great gems for navels, stand mute, scream in color. Watery panes of thin, aged glass rattle in peeling, painted frames as bass vibrations crawl through blacktop, concrete, brick. Pressed fingers leave smudges, the small prints like lingering scents in an empty room. The Italian boy, hair so black it rings violet in the sun, a rough bell of laugh. He tells us close our legs, goose pimpled under tartans and knee-highs—it reeks of fish.

A Southern vacation moon is lake green. The only one in miles of summers. Wooden skies scratch glassy waves, two legs push a trembling first stand. Dale Hollow, Tennessee. A buried town. Geodes for gravestones. Holiday fun. Adolescence is hungry, inhaling these last moments, last months. That great pearl hung low, a lone bulb illuminating the dark water. Time’s hooves are felt, are heard even, closer and closer. I cut across the black waves like I am flying, the ski path erased as if by swishes of a broom. Grab the cord that leads straight to my stomach, and pull it taut. Eclipse.

Knee socks stretching towards plaid. Rosaries worn like necklaces, like taboo talismans. A prayer swallowed and incense inhaled. Pigments, brighter than paint, than real life, bleed from glass onto worn cobble stones, moving by the will of the sun. A hum, a collection of throats, buzzing with life. Tongues twitch in their warm caves, resurrected by pipes. An Autumn Mass. First kiss under scaled lips. Two lizards parting.

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Water everywhere. Breath as Grail. Muscles are reaching, reaching, reaching. Legs fly and hands push. Back to the water, to the primordial venue, bleachers and benches and chairs, plastic or metal or wood. Blood duty. Survival of the fittest with an audience. Whistles, clocks, futures appointed and bestowed. Bodies shivering, pressed close together, skin the outfit, the costume, chlorine the perfume. Medals our charms. I call this now “the time before.” But Diana soon collects her disciples, bleeding them by month. Arrows keep us in her sights. Leather jacket and opaque eyes. I fell for you, Persephone whispered in the dark. A private hell, tasting fertility, a love precipitated of heated earth and frosted sky.

Women were first to roam, to move, to wander. The moon arcs through darkened sky, scattering us like the cold glitter of starlight. I went first into the woods. The moon did not light my path, but hung like a ripped smile behind me. Feet among the grass and wheat, then sand and stone, then sea and shell.

Cool ceramic, worn smooth with use and time and hands. Tile painted, forgotten, chipped, discovered in dirt, rubbed clean with a cotton cloth, placed inside; a return. Patterned lace. Quaker lace. Buttercream with age, with years stored in cedar chests. Awoken in the light, bleached by machine and sun. Gold ringed around my finger. Found items: neon shoelaces, jars swollen with coins, toys left behind books, a box filled with letters and stubs and cards and something else I dare not let out. A collection of narratives, of stories, of tells. Ghosts saturate my bones, take up space in my ribcage as grandmothers, aunts, cousins press in, whispering, whispering. Bells that warn. Water sloshes in my veins. Blonde hair. Blue eyes. Long nose. Faulty heart. Crooked toe. Crooked back. We’ve all seen this story before. What we all become in the old tales. In the end, I am not divided into siblings, children. I am strung by the bow’s string, a papered marionette. Knees ache and crack. My house never left the woods. I whisper pages when I snore. And I am preserved. I am used. Never finished product. One star in a greater assembly, one day to die and dim, scattering matter for reinvention.

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MICHAEL GARRET ASHBY II

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Saving the Gladiator He pulled the trigger while he was sitting right next to me. When I first heard the shot I kept trying to tell myself it was just another clacking of the train on the rails, but trains don’t splatter blood over windows or dress shirts. I felt guilty in some respects. From the moment he sat down next to me I was wishing, praying, that he would just leave and let me have a few moments of peace. Then he shot himself, and everyone keeps trying to speak to me about what happened. I don’t know what happened. “I’m just a sports writer; I’m on my way to Kinshasa. I have a story to write. I have a story.” One of the train’s operators was looking at me with a horrified face when the police officer handed me a towel. “You have a lot of mess on your face.” I wasn’t made for these kinds of situations. I fantasized about them a lot when I was younger. I went to school for journalism, but it all never really worked out. I had spent the last four years writing small articles for sports magazines. You need a lot of empathy to be a real journalist, and I just wanted to relax before the fight. My job was to write an article about the first major boxing match in a long time. It was going to be a massacre. The two men involved were both hailed as legends of the sport, but there was a considerable size difference. I imagined my articles sitting next to a black and white photo of a crushed corpse with boxing gloves on. The conductor moved me to one of the nicer cars, as a consolation I suppose, and I was joined by the cop from before. He would be my company for the rest of the ride. “You ever seen anything like that before? A suicide that quick?” The officer was staring at me sort of expectantly. I never imagined I would be the one consoling him. “No. I’ve seen athletes get their limbs nearly torn off, but I’ve never seen anyone just up and decide to off themselves like that.” “What is this world coming to that people are shooting themselves on trains? It’s beautiful outside. I love Africa. It’s gorgeous.” “Maybe that’s why he did it? He didn’t want to go back home.” He sat there and looked out the window, then at his gun, and back out the window. People get very touchy about death. They don’t like to be reminded things like that happen. Well, they don’t like being shown that things like that happen, they love to read about it. I had interned with a small publication back in America. The ChiefEditor used to scream, “You wanna be a journalist? You need to handle the grime. People love that garbage; they eat it up like its chocolate.” Violence and God, they’re the best sellers. The officer leaned in closer to me. “You travel a lot don’t you?” “I travel more than most people sure.” “Do you believe in God?” 13


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“I don’t think so, no.” “Come on man, you’ve got to be seeing hundreds of places a year. Mountains, hills, plains, oceans, caves, that kind of scenery, it’s got to inspire some sort of awe right?” “It’s beautiful. I don’t know that it’s holy.” He rubbed his hands against his eyes, letting out a sigh. A cop that needs validation, I feel very safe knowing I’m in his care. “I see these things. I’ve cleaned up a lot of suicides, homicides, and I see these places. I see Africa. I see America. I see Britain. I think there’s a God in that. There has to be. Otherwise I think I would just start leaving the bodies where they are. There’s no point in cleaning up sad-sacks.” “Other than cleaning up the house so it can be sold again, I don’t know that there really is a point.” We both looked back out the window. We had just entered a clearing, a healthy change from the trees we had been seeing for miles, and animals were running around in circles outside our windows. “You’re here to write about the boxing match?” “Yeah, it’s going to be a big one, that’s what they tell me at least.” “That kid is going to die, and we’re all just going to cheer.” When I got off the train in Makala I was immediately greeted by a teenager in a dull newsboy cap with glasses the size of saucers. When I use the word greeted, I use it very loosely, the boy had my bags in his hands before I realized he was sent to pick me up and guide me to my hotel. “Where do you get the kind of nerve to approach a stranger like that, kid?” He didn’t look like a kid with a lot of nerve. He looked like a kid that got picked on and kicked around in the dust. “I know you sir. You’re Jonah Harper, the writer.” “Yeah, but we haven’t met before—forget it. What’s your name kid?” “Obasi, sir, I go by Obasi.” I was ready for the boy to start saluting me. These weren’t the kind of children I was used to seeing back in America. He was young, full of life and respect. He was fit. Not like those fat little monsters that ran back and forth through the office, playfully calling themselves interns. I worked from home. I never even went into the office, but when I did, I hated them. Obasi wasn’t anything like those kids, and I still hated him. “So where are we going?” “To the hotel, sir.” “Is it a nice hotel?” “They have gotten you the nicest hotel available.” We took a small cart down a clay walkway through the area surrounding the

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train station. It wasn’t anything like what I had expected. There were white people all over the beach. There wasn’t a shack in sight, and there were jeeps. Those were probably the last two things I expected to see, white people and cars. There were taller buildings off on the horizon, like a modern city scape. They reminded me of spending time in Atlanta. “Has it always been this nice here kid?” “Ever since I’ve been alive, yes it has been this nice.” “It’s hot, but it’s beautiful. Like Florida or the west coast or something like that.” “Oh it’s not America sir, but this is my home.” The hotel was on the bank of a river. It’s where I saw the white people bathing. The coast was separated from the shore by a foot-tall stone wall and there were tiny umbrellas with an array of colorful plastic chairs placed upside down hiding from the sun. None of it felt authentic. I had come here to write about a boxing match, in which two Americans were going to attempt to kill each other, and the whole country felt dressed up and fake for my arrival. Sometimes life feels like a plastic fruit. Obasi dropped me off at my room, and returned my bags. I was going to be staying in the African equivalent of a Ramada Inn for my entire trip, what an adventure. “I will be by to pick you up tomorrow. We are going to see the town.” “What time?” “The morning, so you can begin your writing at night.” I hadn’t planned on doing any writing until after the fight. The towns, the sports, it’s all the same, regardless of the location. “Are you rooting for anybody Obasi, any of the fighters?” “I like the big one. He’s going to crush the other fighter.” I decided to get comfortable, to feel out the room before I did anything else. There was a mural plastered over my bed that featured multi-colored humans in masks, at least I think they were humans. They were holding scythes and spades, typical farming equipment. The mural was the closest thing I had seen to my traditional thoughts of Africa, and it was in my hotel room. The rest looked like a normal hotel, off-colored comforters and sheets, drapery that looked like it belonged in a thrift store, and imitation wood chairs and tables. It was all there, where I expected it to be. After rummaging through the minibar for a few hours I started looking for the standard hotel notepad. It was in the drawer next to a small leather bound book with golden engravings. The book’s cover said “Sai”.

The stadium was completely empty aside from Obasi, the event manager, and myself. If

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I screamed my voice would have echoed through the rest of Africa. It only took us a few hours to get to the stadium from the hotel, and Obasi was excited to show me the buildings and half-made skyscrapers that he was so proud of. “It’s like the Empire State Building.” He said that about every building we passed. It’s odd to think that I was expecting something different and more vibrant from this country. “This is where it happens, like the ancient gladiators of Rome, eh?” The event manager was a six-foot tall ape-like-man. I was tempted to make jokes about his “monkey suit”, but he could have squashed me with one hand if he wanted to. I didn’t want him to. “Yeah, it’ll be a blood bath all the same I suppose.” “In the best of ways, yes. These rings, they are where men come to showcase their talent, their raw power. Gladiators used to die in the ring for others’ entertainment, boxing is not as dramatic, but we still share in their traditions. Many of these men, they come from nothing, broken homes and poor families, but here they’re stars.” That’s the American dream isn’t it? To come from nothing and turn yourself into a symbol. A person so unreachable and powerful that people want you to sign your name on pieces of paper, to wear a belt with validation on it. “A lot of the gladiators used to be slaves, actually.” “Yes, yes, my father taught me all those things. I am well versed in that.” Obasi was standing in the ring while me and the event coordinator sat in the bleachers. I scribbled notes into the notepad I took from the hotel; they looked a bit like this: Opened in 1952. Seats 30,000 Something from nothing Gladiators Ape-like-man I never used these notes for anything but flair. They made the articles look like more than a score card, you finish thinking you learned something. It’s the whole reason they fly you out to other countries and give you free rooms, so it doesn’t feel like you watched the match on television and reported it. “I think I have all I need. I appreciate the chance to sit down with you Mr.?” “It’s Eugene, and the pleasure is mine.” His handshake threw tremors into my arm, and he smiled like he knew. He could probably kill me right now if he wanted to, Obasi wouldn’t stop it, no one would. Obasi took me through the rest of the city. He wanted to show me the progress they’ve made, the magnificent city and its people.

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“I have a question for you kid. I was looking through my hotel and I found a Bible with the word “Sai” on it. What does that mean?” “Sai is a local shaman.” “He has his own book?” “He is a conduit for something malevolent. He writes many books.” “Does he stay somewhere around here?” “Sai preaches in the city, and provides sermons in his home. He is strongly despised by many around here. He talks too loudly for a lot of citizens.” Authenticity, that was my first thought. An outcast religious zealot in the heart of Africa, that’s authenticity. The only breathe of it I had felt since I had arrived. I knew right then that I wanted to meet him, to see a sermon, to write about him. If gladiators sold papers, gods had to sell books. I met god in a small shack, hardly hidden under the brush of two or three trees. The roof was covered in leaves and long sticks that reminded me of the overhangs you would see in public parks, and the floor itself was comprised almost entirely of mud. I have to admit that the thought crossed my mind that if Jesus were the real thing, he must have taught in a similar space. Sai was standing on a small wooden stage that was raised just above his audience. The first thing I heard him say was this: “If one were to play the devil’s advocate, then he himself would be doing something atrocious. We consistently place our prebuilt expectations on nature and situations. Who gave us these expectations? They are not from me, I tell you this. They most certainly are not from me, but rather the advocates that would see my hanged.” I looked at Obasi. “They want to hang him?” “We all do. He threatens a lot of the citizens. He threatens our way of life and our security.” “Yours included?” “Mine is included, yes.” Sai walked towards a man sitting in the front row and placed his hands over his eyes. He shouted something aloud, but all I understood was “lest he be well again”. When he lifted his hands the man fell on the floor and began rolling around. I turned to Obasi again. “The whole thing is staged. He’s so full of himself.” The entire sermon was over by the time Sai had collected himself. He had supposedly restored a man’s sight, but of course no one knew he was blind before Sai’s performance. It all felt cliché again, like a play or a plastic doll house. The mud didn’t even seem real anymore, and Sai, in my mind, was just a man and not the god I had hoped he was. “Introduce me to him, kid.” Obasi looked at me with concerned eyes. “You want to talk to this man? After

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all this?” “It’s a story, kid. Maybe it’s worse than the fight, but it’s a story.” He was just standing there, waiting for us to come talk to him, and that’s exactly what we were going to do. I still don’t know fully why I wanted to speak to him after his display, but it seemed important at the time. “Welcome to my church. I am delighted to have you on such a joyous day.” His eyes were shining, glimmering with some sort of light. “I’m a little surprised at what happened here today.” “Well, miracles are rarely expected.” “I expected you to be more authentic, not full of parlor tricks.” I wasn’t pulling any punches, not while talking to a man called god. “You mean the miracle? a parlor trick?” “I mean healing a sighted man, yes a parlor trick.” “I promise there are no tricks. Would you believe in God if he was a meek and silent man? I don’t think you would. It takes change, a radical shaking of one’s foundation to wake a man from his sleep.” “I don’t think this was radical or shaking, as much as it was staged.” He stood back for a moment. Seemingly shocked that I didn’t believe in his miracle, but I couldn’t help myself. I was upset. I thought I had found it. The real Africa, the authentic life blood of the country, I thought I found it in this man, but he was just another plastic tourist attraction. “Pretend for a second, pretend that you believe in who I am, and what I preach.” “I’ll humor you. Sure, I’m pretending.” “Now ask yourself, why I believe what I believe, what made me believe what I believe. And please come back and see me tomorrow.” Ridiculous, that was the only thought I had along the way home. It was all ridiculous. My brain was racking and raging against this disappointment preaching in a shack, all while Obasi cursed and ranted about his ways. My African-Ramada room was waiting for me at the end of the road, and I loathed looking at that mural more than I hated thinking about Sai.

When I woke up I had a different thought, maybe it was the re-emptied mini bar or the mural slowly driving me insane, but I wanted to go back. I wanted to see Sai preach a calmer sermon. I wanted to go without Obasi. I wanted to experience the real country, and I wanted to experience it without a guide. I brought my Bible, and for the first time I noticed that there was a message written on the inside. It said, “The author would like to meet you.” Sai was speaking on the stage when I got there. Part of me felt guilty for

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showing up late, but I had no idea when his sermons began. “If there are faithless, then bring me the faithless. If there are faithful, then bring me the faithful. I will protect and provide for all, and we will protect and provide for one another. The fate of all of us is the fate of one of us. I have felt the presence of the gods, and I have become one of them. There are many, but I am yours. The Greeks, the Hindus, they know of these things, but the Muslims, our Muslims refuse to accept these facts. We must play our part in change. We must revitalize their sight, and remove the scales that have been placed there for so long.” There was a shining in his eye as he glared down towards the ‘blind man’ from yesterday’s sermon. The whole thing reminded me of Catholic Church growing up. The grandiose speeches and rituals, all of them put in place to give off the feeling of significance. Sai called me up to the stage, and I joined him. “You’ve been drinking, my son. I can smell it on you.” The mini bar was still fresh on my breath. “Even Jesus turned water to wine, Sai.” “Kneel for me, child.” I found myself on both my knees in front of a sea of black faces. I started thinking about the mural, about the minibar, about the fight, about the massacre I was going to report on, but before I could think any further a warm feeling spewed out onto my body. It was water, warm water. “I am rebaptizing you. You are no longer the product of a false prophet, but rather a champion of Sai. You are reborn unto me, your new father.” My hands hit the stage floor, and I started crying. It all felt so real, a warm wave of reality crashing over my head, washing the plastic lenses off my face and eyes. “Thank you. Thank you. I feel—I feel alive.” “You are alive, child. You are alive.” The entire performance was cut short by the front doors of the sanctuary flying open. There was shouting all around me. Sai had disappeared along with most of his follower while I sat on my hands and knees, water still in my eyes. “You weren’t at your hotel. You need to get up.” I recognized the voice. It was the only person who could have been looking for me. It was Obasi. I wiped the mixture of water and tears from my eyes. “I was busy, kid. Why are you here?” “The fight starts soon. It is my job to prepare you. Clean yourself up, come.” I didn’t want to go to a fight. I didn’t want to see a massacre. I wanted to go home. I wanted to be done with the whole country. Whatever newness I felt wore off when Obasi came through the door. He must have interrupted something, it all felt unfinished.

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Obasi took me back to my muddy Ramada, and I changed into my formal wear. I grabbed my notebook. I would go to the fight. I would finish my job, and then I would go home and be done with it. I had never seen thirty thousand people in one place. It looked like a coliseum, there was no roof, just rows and rows of voyeurs chanting and cheering. The stadium felt like it was shaking from the sound waves. I sat directly in front of the stage for the fight; the event coordinator sat just rows away from me, slightly raised from the crowd, like a makeshift emperor. The gladiators came out, accompanied by their lavished parade of female show horses. I wanted the large one to die. I wanted to see the underdog win. For once I just wanted to avoid the massacre, to avoid the impending doom. I wanted to change the outcome. “And he’s down.” I snapped out of whatever concentrated haze I was in, and looked up at the stage expecting to see blood and bone strewed out on the white fighting mat. I expected to see a monster standing over a gladiator. There wasn’t a massacre. There was a gladiator standing over a monster. Obasi was yelling next to me. The coordinator was smiling ear to ear, and the stadium was shaking harder and faster than before. I couldn’t escape the feeling that it was all connected, the shooting, the baptism, the surprise victory, all of it intertwined by some sort of determining factor. “Obasi, I think I controlled the fight.” “Then you are a just and powerful god, sir. No one could have changed that fight.”

I wrote the entire article on the train ride back. It was over. I was glad it was over. I was glad something had changed. In me? Maybe. One can’t be too sure of these things. I looked over at the passenger sitting next to me and started thinking about the man on the first train, the mess on my face and the ordeal that this trip started out as. “I met God down there, you know?” The stranger stared back at me. He was dressed in a trim grey suit with white accents. It seemed to shine as he looked me up and down. “In Zaire? You met God in Zaire?” “Yes, he gave me this.” I handed over the Bible that was left in my hotel room, and flashed a smile before going back to my article. The headline would read “How I Saved the Gladiator”. I imagined it being my breakthrough to real journalism. “You believe in Sai?” The stranger turned back to me, with the Bible open in his lap. “Yes I do. He baptized me in his church.”

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Three shots rang out. For a moment I tried to imagine that it was just the clatter of the train running over the steel bars, but a strange pressure started forming in my stomach and head. It felt like warm water was rushing out of my body and onto my skin. I felt my hand grab onto the stranger’s jacket. Passengers began screaming in the background and the noises bounced along the walls. I felt tired, tired of this trip and the train. I just wanted to go home.

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NATALIE HOMER

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8 Hot New Tips Guaranteed to Make Your Summer Sizzle 1. The honeysuckle will bloom limp yellow hands. Hold the flower and pinch / just above the calyx. Pinch hard enough to break through the petal, but not all the way to the insides. ………..You’ll see what I mean. 2. Mix things up by imagining someone else spraying poison up the chimney, knocking egg sacs down. 3. Try keeping your clothes on / as you walk into the river. It will be uncomfortable going in / and again, coming out. 4. The dryer will sing in the basement. Don’t be afraid to roll the lint into a ball / the color of a storm. 5. Leave the lights on. I mean all of them. I mean the bulb in the refrigerator. I mean Ursa Minor and the oxidized sconce on the corner of the garage / scratched / and full of bugs. 6. Brush your teeth. Stare at the enamel / basin. Wonder if the dead russet rat, soggy and fat, was a dream. 7. Use your hands / bare / to collect worms when they drown up from the ground. 8. Collect also / the first branch that brushes against your hat. Put it in your bag like it’s something worth saving. Better yet, plant it in the ground. See what it has to give.

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A Woman Driver, the Driver Says Into His Phone Burnt summer in full swing with its scorched weeds that crack the concrete. Show me the Queen Anne’s Lace, clover, and chicory. Gather them in a bouquet, nail them by their stems .to the pantry wall in the basement to dry through the ashen winter. The petals wane into dusty pastels, dry, ……….yes brittle, ……….yes but still beautiful in their way. What have you got to prove? They said. I said whiskey, watered down. I said red and blue, my own independence day parade with its metallic flashes and powdery cracks of flame.

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SARA KHAYAT

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Spinal Fusion 1. Count backwards from one hundred. Ninety-nine Ninety-eight Ninety… 2. Bend over, she said, touch your toes. Doctor ran her hand along my spine and shrieked. Eleven years of a lifetime summed up by pencil-marks. Mother read me hospitalbedside literature. 3. Eyes open to see Brother talking with doctors. Years of IV’s dripped knowledge into his mind. Being a doctor is draining, he said. I asked if there was a cure for that. 4. Vicodin and Morphine set Sister’s hair on fire. I had dreams that gave cold sweats. Sometimes I forget the cold that meanders its way through the cracks in the laced gown. Sometimes I forget the heart monitor’s lullaby. The way the dead looked at me stiffly when passing by my hospital room. I waved my heavy hand and let gravity do the talking. I wanted them to know I caught their last mobile moment. I was there to see them out; I was their standing ovation. 5. Hands pushing me forward— Sit up, they’d say, take deep breaths. The machines kept shrieking. Keep breathing, urgent now, you have to keep breathing. Don’t stop don’tstopdon’tstopdon’tsto 6. On a scale from one to ten— 27


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7. Closed eyelids were never an answer. Darkness never sufficed. Wake up, they’d shake me. Bathe me. Stitch me. 8. Father is on the phone again speaking Arabic to family overseas. I don’t understand; he doesn’t want me to. I’ve got all these words but no context. Language is lost in the woods. Cedar trees stand tall. I keep breathing. I thank them for the oxygen. I thank them for the roots. The bent spine, the American tongue—apple too far from the tree. 9. French braids and caged televisions. Imagination trudging through mud. Closed eyelids. Heart monitor singing life into cold, tiled halls.

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TYLER ATWOOD

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another dream about real life I think I look in the mirror & see fading light in the window of the mobile home my father looks across the frozen hayfield maybe if they had made it to spring maybe holes in a shabby pair of Dickies palms blackened by newsprint ice-filled cooler b/c there’s no gas for the generator the missed land payments thick envelopes stacked in the PO box [red-letters/caps-lock] I see a coyote appear near the draw gaunt shadow third time this week in fading light & the bleat of an ambulance in the distance empty frozen pasture screaming wind black ice on the road & a tire kicks a rock into the windshield the only car that still runs got to haul the bundles to sunrise chin up eye on the rear view in the dead of winter he asks if I will help now I am a pallbearer in black rewriting & rewriting & rewriting the eulogy b/c the ink keeps disappearing I try to steady myself gauge the tempo long deep breaths I carry the body heavy heavy I sink & sink & sink beneath the casket I am covered w/ a handful of dirt but my dreams are liars b/c the mortician let my grandfather rot while negotiating payment we had to cremate him instead I smell smoke from the woodstove they had before the roof caved on the old place three or four winters back I smell the dogs that kept the coyotes away I smell the hay but the sheep are gone & the ground is too hard for the shovel to break it I never saw the urn & b/c we lost the land I suppose we can’t bury him there he’ll stay on the shelf in the mobile home tucked w/ the photo albums to travel so far & never reach the hearth I deserve no better put me in a jar

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ELIAS KELLER

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Must Be the Location I just lost another tenant: that’s five in as many years. Vicky’s Pet Shop, Shaya’s Healing Stones & Crystals, Alana’s Judaica Boutique, Mimi’s Party Supplies, Lisa’s Sports & Fitness—all out of business. But stores close all the time, for good reasons beyond anyone’s control: the economy, competition from big-boxes and online retailers, mismanagement… Still, other stores in this same shopping center, some only a door or two away, have been thriving for years or decades. And the shopping center itself is well-trafficked—it’s just my location that’s become a commercial dead zone, that can’t keep a retailer in it for more than a year. The electricity and plumbing works fine, though, and there’s a goodsized stockroom, a back door to receive merchandise—there’s nothing physically wrong with the property. So if it isn’t a physical problem with the actual retail space, and if the general location is fine—then I’ll have to look deeper for an answer. I can be a touch introspective now and then: especially if it might benefit me. Hell, maybe I should look into those crystals Shaya sold—for nine months, anyway. Ah yes: serene Shaya, the yoga teacher out to spread love and enlightenment by retailing stones and crystals bought wholesale from a Chinese sweatshop devouring young women and belching out black fumes of death. When she signed the lease, I’d predicted she wouldn’t last the year—but why keep the space empty when here was cash at hand? I was right, though: I don’t think Shaya had even one profitable month. Her knack for business was—laughable, if I’m being polite. What surprised me, though, was how angry she got at me, personally, when she had to close up shop. What was it she called me? “Hypercritical, controlling, and manipulative.” That was an interesting meeting. And there was one more thing she said—Oh. Yes. The retail space was “set up to fail.” “How so?” “It has a negative energy.” I rolled my eyes. “Well, why don’t you use your crystals to change it?” “I tried,” she retorted. “Sometimes the energy is the energy.” Sounds like a bunch of hippie bullshit, but who knows? Maybe she had a point. All right, then, fine. I’m willing to open—ugh—my heart chakra and meditate on her accusation. Had I really set up all these retailers to fail? I went through the defunct stores, one by one, and I did start to see a distinct pattern. I had scoffed at all of them, not just Shaya’s flaky New Age shop. Take Vicky’s Pet Store: I thought pets were too much hassle, too much noise, too much mess and responsibility—ergo, the dog and cat accoutrements she sold were a ridiculous waste of money. Energy bars for dogs and refrigerated gourmet cat food—seriously? Now, it’s 33


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not like I prevented customers from buying stupid junk for needy helpless animals who’d be just as happy with a stick or a piece of foil… but if my opinion could fill the space with negative energy, it certainly did when Vicky was there. Next up: serious, meticulous Alana seemed like the best businesswoman of the bunch. Alana, the religious widow with a fat inheritance check and a lot of time on her hands. She set up a nice store, too, clean and precise and well-merchandised. The problem, which I diagnosed even before I’d deposited her check, was that her ultraposh Judaica boutique catered to a ridiculously tiny market: how many people really need sterling silver dreidels or organic soy artisanal Shabbat candles? Even worse, her merchandise only highlighted the nauseatingly superficial side of organized religion, something I’d divested myself of long ago. So—yes, I’d stocked Alana’s shelves with plenty of negative energy (even if partially justified). What about garrulous, festive Mimi? Well, I’d seen the party store as frivolous for sure. Balloons, decorative paper plates and napkins, plastic trinkets, wrapping paper and gift bags—gaudy nonsense to be used once, and then to the landfill. I remembered looking at dangling baggies of glitter, in dozens of different colors and shapes, and wondering how we as a species had come to this. Parties! Noisy shallow charades of fools—how plebian! Or just as bad, the overdone children’s parties: all that money and time spent desperately trying to make spoiled snot-nosed brats happy for an hour. Besides, life was grim and hard, to be endured and battled, not celebrated. But here was Mimi, selling joy and fun and parties. Well, I guess I showed her. And spunky, athletic Lisa? At first I thought she had a real shot of succeeding. Physical health and fitness wasn’t a bad thing. I did some exercise myself and ate healthy food. But I had no interest in running marathons or biking across the country or any of the other sweaty boondoggles Lisa helped people “accomplish.” It’s ridiculous, though, isn’t it? Droves of healthy, energetic men and women channeling time and energy into running nowhere, rather than improving civilization. We’re trudging through a Dark Age, I’d think, looking at the digital pedometers Lisa sold— and we can track our every step. Eventually her store became so depressing to me I’d actually felt a little thrill when she told me she was closing up shop, too. Maybe civilization was realizing there were more productive and meaningful things to do than lift heavy pieces of metal and strengthen our cores. OK, OK, I admit it. I had picked at all these stores. But why? Why this compulsion of mine—like an unstoppable sneeze—to pass judgment on their stores at all? All I really had to do as the landlord was get a check and a signed lease, and then hand over the keys. Why should I care about what merchants want to sell and consumers want to buy? But Shaya was right. I’d filled all those stores with negative energy and set them up to fail—as though that’s what I wanted. So you get to be right, I murmured to myself.

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But wouldn’t it be to my gain, too, to have a long-term, thriving retail tenant?— You’d be jealous. Almost like I wanted my tenants to fail or be failing.—Then you keep the upper hand. OK, maybe Shaya was right. But now I had to do something to change the energy. This constant merry-go-round of retailers was time-consuming. And I’d had my fill of heartbroken shopkeepers struggling to remain businesslike and not cry as they called fixture scavengers and returned the keys. Maybe—maybe what I’d do is take the space myself and set up a proper realty office. Sales, rentals, purchases, property management. Right now I just worked from my apartment, my car, and my phone, which gave me flexibility and freedom. I’d never really wanted to open an actual office, something with my name on the door. But now the idea was somewhat attractive. And I really would try to stay positive. I wouldn’t think about how I was just one more realty office in the herd. I’d even try to avoid those really dark moments when I brooded on the ultimate futility of owning anything, on the brute fact that eventually the species would go extinct and not even Shakespeare or Gandhi’s achievements would matter, let alone my piddling mercenary work, buying and selling empty cubes of space. Yep—I’d just stay positive and believe with all my negative little heart that I’m helping people improve their lives, to “live their dreams.” Maybe I can even convince myself that my realty office will be helping civilization: property rights are the backbone of a civil society, right? That’s a stretch—but worth a shot, I guess. Anything’s better than more accusative lectures and weepy meetings with failed retailers. And you know what? Maybe I’ll even pick up some healing stones and crystals for my new office. Just for decoration.

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wren james

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grandma’s house folded palms dance on the hood of the car. drive up to the attic and pull out the sun, drag it out of the house hold it like a host. i give it to you to swallow. it’s fine when we’re together. it drips out your eyes. it sounds out your mouth, but even if you cough, i can never swallow you back

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local news is still news last night while you were sleeping, i went down to the traintracks. i lay on the floor by the metal and the stones. i pulled dead leaves over my body like a blanket it was warm in there because all around me was dying. if i held the composting leaves close they would suck me down with them in a quicksand of wherever they were going back to. i wanted my head pulled up as my body was sucked away. i wanted the stars in my eyes as the last thing i ever i saw . i wanted you to worry where i was

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berlin the east side gallery. the river spree. i can see the O2 world blinking and blinking. dangling our feet over the concrete bank, smoking cigarettes, flicking the butts into the water i don’t feel so bad because it’s better than shooting bullets into the water

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Atlas & Alice | Issue 7, Summer/Fall 2016

JERICHO PARMS

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Atlas & Alice | Issue 7, Summer/Fall 2016

Mummy As a girl, I wrapped my mother’s resting body. Gathering jackets from the hall closet, scarves from her drawers, I lay them across her breast and snug around her torso. I reached for the plaid Irish blanket she kept on the futon and the orange afghan draped on a nearby rocking chair and covered her legs—a poncho or overcoat joining the knees and ankles. I encased her head and neck in a headdress of one of her favorite scarves— light and gauzy, from some place far away. Lifting at the wrist and elbow, I crossed her hands on her chest. Her body was still, her limbs stiff with discomfort. She surrendered to my games as long as I kept my movements gentle, as long as I refreshed the damp washcloth on her brow, its cool touch inadequate relief against her throbbing forehead. Before letting her be, I pressed my palms together in a gesture between make-believe and prayer and whispered, “Mummy” as if calling her back to life. There is a photograph of my mother wrapped this way: prepped like Pharaoh Hatshepsut for burial. When she calls, I tell my mother that my migraines have returned. She stays on the line as I turn off the light and crawl into bed. She listens on the other end as I lift the heavy covers and settle into the unyielding scream of my body before I hang up. In the numb darkness, I feel the corners of a cold compress resting like coins on my eyes. I feel my body sheathed by the cotton duvet and sense myself harden like clay. Sometimes, during these episodic spells, I’m convinced that if I just close my eyes I could disappear, sink six feet, flake away, decompose. Perhaps this is a dramatic expression of melancholy or morbid disturbance but from one such bout of grief I first imagined having a child. Or rather, I imagined a small body kneeling on the bed—a quiet visitation—leaning slightly across my ankles as she smoothed the blanket from the pyramid of my cloaked feet, along my shin and thigh, and reached to tuck in my shoulders. Ancient Egypt had no word for Queen. Hatshepsut, nobility aside, was once a girl, ruled as a man, perished as a woman, lives forever in stone and hieroglyphic. Scientists say she died in pain, something to do with a chipped tooth—an abscess as the result of removal, like the largely erased history of her reign. Her burial: a secret. Her remains: said to be little but fragments in a canopic jar. I imagine the urn of ashes my mother had to search for after my grandmother died. According to tight-lipped family tradition, there had been no ceremony or memorial, just the rigid silence of a western ranch house—an unused bridge table, glass tumblers and eclectic housedresses already given away. As a grown daughter my mother waited for her father to leave the house and, after an exhaustive search, opened a decorative jar displayed unassumingly on a table—drawn to the pottery’s ornate azure glaze—and found the dust of her mother inside. 43


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Excavation is a human impulse, but archeology accounts for only pieces of the story. Inevitably, I will break from empirical evidence and listen to the mercurial patterns of the body instead. In this case, perhaps somewhere between the eye and the temple there is a sacred meeting place where womanhood and pain collide, where a generation ago my grandmother might have embalmed herself in scotch, and decades ago my mother, lost and uncertain, may have been born again, again—if not for their children. If the estrogen running through our cells can account not only for debilitating headaches and hereditary sadness but an intrinsic desire, then perhaps the same darkness interred within us can engender an unworldly capacity for love. If that is true, then maybe, even further back, in some similar shadowy past, Hatshepsut may have first imagined Neferure by her side, and heard her whisper “mum” in the darkness or, even better, a word for queen. The women in my family get migraines, don’t sleep well, cry in the shower, and—with the exception of my mother—drink too much. As a girl, I grew up with neither faith nor religious practice, but I had a remarkable curiosity in ancestry and ritual comfort, which has never gone away. Our lineage is wrought with a threshold for pain, madness, and mania that taught me the importance of lying down in the dark until the throbbing subsides, until we fully dry out, of mummifying the self against our own decline. Is it wrong that, if I have a daughter, I want to teach her this: To entomb herself now and then? To close her eyes and play dead for a few hours until she can handle the light again? Is it wrong that I want to share the peculiar relief of sitting up, fog lifting as we unwrap ourselves, straighten the bed sheets and blankets and step back into the world, preserved?

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MARTIN KEAVENEY

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Carcass Dead carcass sinks. We watch. Dragonfly passes. Old, worn, out. Out, worn, old. This is where it ends, the trees begin, the heat begins. This is where it began, where it ends. We don’t move through generations, don’t love through generations. Not like the boggy mess, twenty million in the ground. Use rings to age if you could. We have no rings. Out of sight, it sinks, it stinks. Old, worn out. Out worn, old. Sinks carcass dead. .

.

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Enough Listening, helping, talking, knowing. These are my skills. Walking, eating, crying. These are what I do. I told them that in a small room, to three of them, one suited, a jacket, one just a shirt, the third, a long dress-like ensemble. Old, tired. You have a lot to offer. Looking, helping, talking, knowing. These are my skills. Walking, eating, crying. These are what I do. Enough. . .

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Noiseless Light is short. Nails tacked. More nails, no hammer. No hammer, more nails. Noiseless. Light comes, light goes. Occasion of light. More dark, less light. More nails, no hammer. No hammer, more nails. Tap the nails, no hammer. Light is short. Light on, light off. Nails tacked, head first. Noiseless. Light comes, light goes.

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MATTHEW SERBACK

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You’re Telling Me Pro Wrestling Isn’t Real? (Part XVII) “And what you see before you is the greatest example of evolution that you will ever see.” – Triple H You had left me there—all scrambled and intertwined with the wires of your television. There were black wires with green tips and white wires with blue tips—spelling out some undecipherable code from the future. You were covered in the same dust that covered the remnants of the house, the last vestiges of a life lived. Since the hospital— since the cancer, really—you were forced into the bed. You had decided it was time to upgrade your home entertainment system. “It’s my life now,” you said. You were a simple man who struggled to adapt. An old man who understandably struggled with technology. You had tried rigging the television and Chromecast and the DVD player yourself. You had tried bringing the ends of the wires apart and connecting them back together in a meaningful way. You just couldn’t figure it out. “Sometimes there’s sound and no video. Other times, there’s no sound but video,” you said. You could never pull it all together. Evolution always continues. And you have to look to the future, and I look to you. You headed to the bathroom as I wedged myself between the wall and the entertainment stand. I shoved male adapters into female adapters—meticulously. I tried to reverse engineer the umbilical cord. I tested—as we all are tested—my handy work. The television came on—and all we had was a black screen. A void looking into the future. I grabbed another remote— the same object assuming a different function—and turned the DVD player on. A blue color washed over the screen—Loading Menu. I felt accomplished—like I had finally rewarded you. The blue loading screen gave way to some clumped together pixels of a DVD titled Young Buns 12. All of this—the wires and the help—was for pornography. You see, in life, everything happens for a reason. That’s just the natural process of evolution. I didn’t need you to teach me about want. That was a lesson that we all learned, and then relearned, on a regular basis. I understood that it required two hands to read one palm and that it required deep breaths to remain calm. I understood the desire to reach back into yourself and pull something more beautiful out. If you don’t have what it takes, you will be left behind. So if you wake up one day, and you’re lying in a hospital bed, and you’re all beat up, and you’re wondering to yourself what the hell happened. There is just one answer for you. Evolution has just passed you by. I watched the brunette, bent over, wiggling her butt from side-to-side. Her underwear cupping each cheek. She was stuck an infinite loop of smiling, wide-eyed 51


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and full of frenzy, but always wiggling her butt. I wondered when I would become you. I wanted to know when would I be young enough to lust for something more, but too old to understand the easiest way to get it.

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LINDSEY GILBERT

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Whodunit House Two are striking: grandfather and mantel. The old clock rectifies the new clock’s brain. They’ll be bashing it out if we don’t intervene. We are the constable. Take out your notebook. Under this shade is a lamp with a switch: three clicks for full brightness. Find out where it’s going. Two fans: ceiling AND oscillating, both of them running. Which one blows back the featureless curtain? Where do the air currents go when they meet? It may be the suspect stood by the window and saw someone else in the vestibule’s mirror. You can check out the story by standing there too. The mirror is blotchy where they touched up the silver. You’ll notice the matte patch absorbing the glow. What do you think the matte patch is hiding? What do you think of the lamp? Is it a clue?

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Liquidity Crisis The one who whispered through the bench slats about the liquid drying up was painting the bench with a stiff-bristled brush. The sign he left was for our notification: Better sit while the sign still applies. He turned up again under the parking garage, mouthing the drain lid. (It’s true it never rained here, but it was time to hose the concrete.) Some said they heard it coming from the snowed-in fire hydrant, “Shovel me out.” Others said the sprinkler system had a new pop and hiss, but the men in the rain coats denied it. They weren’t too aware of exterior conditions. On this we can all agree: Three years ago we saw him in the city’s burbliest fountain, trading aggressively. Delphina’s mouth squirting, and Cupid’s bow sourcing a dribble. We threw him coins then, for wishes, and clapped in delight, like seals. He threw us back kisses, and made oinking noises. It can’t be his fault, or ours. All it took for a business 56


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built on confidence was none of our business. Plus, he talked the best babble, and murmured a lot. At certain volumes certain words sound alike, like “surge” and “fall” and “brook no.” Remember those puzzles with the slippery bubble in the linear grooves? What a regulatory failure. It all came out later. (“Is your life mercury free?” got a no from the authorities.) See, nothing’s risk free. He gave us a whisper, and winked at us, I think, or maybe his eye needed moisture. “Are you managing your risks?” “Are you sure about this?” “There is no way to know what a crisis is.”

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Call for Submissions ______________________________________________ We’re always looking for writing that spans genres, that demands to be read, that might be considered the black sheep of a family. Art and science thrill us, but so does the simple image of a man standing at a crossroads. Surprise us. Thrill us. Make us laugh and cry and cringe. Tell us your thoughts. We can’t wait to hear from you! For submission guidelines, please visit http://atlasandalice.com/submit/

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Contributor Notes ______________________________________________ Michael Garret Ashby II is a writer and poet based in South Florida. His works have been published in literary magazines and journals such as Spark Anthology, Digital Papercuts, eFiction India, Touchstone Magazine, and Coastlines Literary Magazine. More information about the author can be found here: http://www.writerashby.com Tyler Atwood comes from a long line of subsistence farmers, but knows very little about the planting or harvesting of crops. He is the author of one collection of poetry, an electric sheep jumps to greener pasture (University of Hell Press, 2014). His poems have appeared in or are forthcoming from Profane Journal, Palaver, 1001 Journal, Word Riot, Lunch Ticket, and elsewhere. He lives and works in Denver, CO. Lindsey Gilbert is an editor living in Washington, D.C. graduate student at Oklahoma City University’s Red Earth MFA. She has been published in Hot Metal Bridge, The Donut Factory, and Razor Literary Magazine. Natalie Homer is an MFA candidate at West Virginia University. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in Salamander, The Lascaux Review, Sierra Nevada Review, and others. wren james lives quietly near the ocean with his wife and children. Find him: @wrenajames and wrenjames.tumblr.com. Martin Keaveney’s stories have appeared in Small Lives (Poddle Publications) (IRL), Crannog (IRL), A New Ulster (IRL), The Galway Review (IRL), Gold Dust (UK), The Crazy Oik (UK) and Agave Magazine (US). Flash fiction has been published in Burning Word (US) and Apocrypha and Abstractions (US). Poetry will appear shortly in Carillon (UK) and Sleet magazine (US). He has also written, produced and directed many short and full length independent film projects, which have been screened at local and national festivals, including the Galway Colours Festival, the Fastnet Short Film Festival, the Galway Film Fleadh and the Flatlake Festival in Co. Mongahan. Elias Keller is a Philadelphia native. His fiction has appeared in Wordhaus, Literary Orphans, Crack the Spine, Every Day Fiction, APIARY, Slush Pile, Forge, and elsewhere. He currently lives in New Orleans. www.eliaskeller.com. Sara Khayat was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She is editor-in-chief of Paper Plane Pilot Publishing. Her latest book, ¶: unspeakable poems, is an experimentation with strikethrough and language (nouns that become verbs, verbs that become nouns in different contexts). She always chose truth over dare at elementary school parties. Proof of her writing can be dated all the way back to old kindergarten findings and floppy disks. Her mind is full of wildflowers, ladybugs and grey matters. Give her a shout and she’ll give you a whisper. Jericho Parms is the author of Lost Wax (University of Georgia Press, 2016). Her essays have appeared in Fourth Genre, The Normal School, Hotel Amerika, American Literary Review, Brevity and elsewhere. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, noted in Best American Essays, and anthologized in Brief

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Atlas & Alice | Issue 7, Summer/Fall 2016 Encounters: A Collection of Contemporary Nonfiction, and Waveform: Twenty-First Century Essays By Women. She is the Assistant Director of the MFA in Writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts and teaches at Champlain College. www.jerichoparms.com Matthew Serback’s debut book will be available in October of 2017 through ELJ Publications. He has short fiction everywhere in 2016. He’s the managing editor of scissors&spackle, as well as an assistant editor with Bartleby Snopes. He has short fiction pieces upcoming in Crack the Spine and Knee-Jerk. Jennie Ziegler completed her M.F.A. in Nonfiction Writing at the University of Arizona. She is currently an Instructor and Outreach Consultant at the University of North Florida where she teaches fairy tales, food writing, and adolescent literature. You may reach her at jennieziegler[at]gmail[dot]com.

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Note: All images within this issue courtesy of morgueFile and Unsplash. Cover photos by Benjamin Woodard.

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