Black Fox Literary Magazine #16

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Black Fox Literary Magazine is a print and online literary magazine published biannually.

Copyright Š 2017 by Black Fox Literary Magazine. All Rights Reserved. Written and artistic work included in Black Fox Literary Magazine may not be reprinted or reproduced in any electronic or print medium in whole or in part without the consent of either the writer/artist or founding editors. Issue 16 Cover Art (The Future is Woke) by Gregg Chadwick ISBN: 978-1-387-14435-8

Editors’ Note Here we are at six years and issue #16! What a journey we’ve had. This issues features work from writers across the globe. When we first started, we never dreamed that we’d receive submissions from writers around the world, let alone publish them. We are humbled and thrilled that there are writers from so many countries who trust us with their work. We’re honored that you believe in this little, but mighty, magazine of ours. Black Fox has always been a labor of love for us and we will continue to pour our hearts and souls into it because we want to make sure that your stories are heard. We believe that if you keep the love of the craft alive, you will find your way in the writing world. So, no matter what, just keep writing. We say it all the time, but we can’t keep doing this thing, without all of you. Thank you readers, contributors, friends, volunteer staff members and supporters.

-The Editors Racquel, Pam, and Marquita

Meet the BFLM Staff: Founding Editors: Racquel Henry is first and foremost a writer. She is also a part-time English Professor, freelance editor, and owns the writing center, Writer’s Atelier, in Winter Park, FL. Racquel earned an MFA from Fairleigh Dickinson University and writes literary, women’s, and YA fiction. Her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction have appeared or is forthcoming in Lotus-Eater Magazine, Ghost Parachute, Moko Caribbean Arts & Letters, Reaching Beyond the Saguaros: A Collaborative Prosimetric Travelogue (Serving House Books, 2017), and We Can’t Help it if We’re From Florida (Burrow Press, 2017), among others. You can follow her writing journey on her blog, “Racquel Writes.” Pamela Harris lives in Greensboro, NC and spent seven years as a middle school counselor. Currently, she is an assistant professor in the Counselor Education Department at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. When she's not molding the minds of future school counselors, she’s writing contemporary YA fiction (and has recently started writing middle grade). Some of her favorite authors are Ellen Hopkins, Courtney Summers, Roxane Gay, and Stephen King. You can also find her at the movie theaters every weekend or pretending to enjoy exercising. She received her MFA in creative writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2012, and her PhD in Counselor Education at the College of William and Mary. Marquita "Quita" Hockaday lives in Williamsburg, VA. She is an adjunct professor who has never been able to shake her love of writing and reading. There is always, always a book near her. Marquita is currently enjoying writing young adult (historical and contemporary)—and most recently wrote her first middle grade novel with co-editor, Pam. Some of her

favorite authors are Laurie Halse Anderson, Blake Nelson, Cormac McCarthy, and Joyce Carol Oates. Marquita graduated with an MFA in creative writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University in 2012, and has completed her PhD at the College of William and Mary. Copy Editor & Reader: Elizabeth Sheets is a writer, an Editorial Assistant for The Journal of Proteome Research, and Managing Editor for Population Research and Policy Review. Elizabeth received a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Arizona State University. Some of her favorite writers are Stephen King, Anne Rice, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sarah Waters, Aimee Bender, Dan Chaon, Melissa Pritchard, Tara Ison, and Stacey Richter. Her creative work appears in Mulberry Fork Review, Apeiron Review, Kalliope – A Consortium of New Voices and in Black Fox Literary Magazine. Interview Editor: Alicia Cole is a poet and fiction writer. She edits for Rampant Loon Press, and has interviewed for Bitch Magazine and motionpoems. Her creative writing is forthcoming in Vagrants Among Ruins, Torn Pages Anthology, Gadfly Online, The Dawntreader, and Lakeside Circus. She spends much of her time either freelancing or playing with a menagerie of animals. Readers: Donna Compton lives just outside of Washington, D.C. and graduated from the University of Maryland University College with a Bachelor's degree in Psychology. She began taking creative writing courses a few years ago, with a focus on short stories. Currently, she's reading and writing a lot of flash

fiction. Her other favorite genres include literary fiction, mystery, thriller, science fiction, and fantasy.

Contents: Fiction After the Burning by Brigette Stevenson (9) The Last Mermaid on Mars by Kelsie Qua (32) Ann by Nikki Macahon (57) Joyride by Wendi Dass (72) Spilled Milk by Lisa Harris (83) Beyond the Sun by A.M. Bostwick (109) Reification by Mariana Samuda (137) Poetry letter from something like god by Tamara L. Panici (26) Selected Poems by Roberta Senechal de la Roche (27) Anna´s Finnish vase by María Castro Domínguez (29) The Scar by Amy Fant (30) Extremity by Heidi Hemmer (31) Selected Poems by Elizabeth Yalkut (45) Selected Poems by Kelsey Ann Kerr (46) Untold Story by Sanya Bery (50) I am Trying to Imagine that I am Imagining it by Guy Traiber (54) Sore Throat by Alice-Catherine Jennings (55) language by A’rikka Dion (56) Many by Rosie McMahan (60) Selected Poems by Natalie Crick (62) Selected Poems by Seth Jani (68) you and me, kid, forever and ever by Sofia Kwon (70) Selected Poems by L. Mari Harris (80) Selected Poems by Lorraine Henrie Lins (103) Selected Poems by Talal Alyan (107) Selected Poems by Heather Humphrey (132) Selected Poems by Samantha Zimbler (134)

Cover Art: The Future is Woke by Gregg Chadwick

After the Burning By Brigette Stevenson

I The sirens went off. I swallowed and choked a little. The red lights gave off a dancing kind of design on the dash. I wasn’t very good driving stick. They could be pulling me over for that. The old model was reengineered to meet standards, but only just. So I pulled over. “Territory card and utensils,” the officer said. He kept his gun pointed at me. I put one hand on my head. I saw a lot of people on the Free Web did this on videos they released. This was usually when people got shot. My heart pounded. I leaned for the glove box with the other hand. My ribs dug into the stick shift. “Territory card!” he yelled. His voice cracked. “I got it here,” I said softly. I didn’t need trouble. My divining rod rested on the passenger’s side floor. I knew I should have put it in the back. My territory card was expired, too. The real one, anyway. I couldn’t remember the last time I renewed it. I popped open the glove compartment. A small white light illuminated the box and cast shadows all over the car. They mixed with the dancing red lights from the officer’s 9

patrol. I pushed aside the papers and old Kleenex. The light was just bright enough to dimly shine on the diviner wand. I felt a sweat starting to build on my lower back. If I leaned to the left, maybe he wouldn’t… “It’s right there,” the cop said. I heard his voice more leveled now. I turned my neck to face him. My blood rushed to my face. His gun’s barrel was only a few inches from me. “There,” he gestured with the gun. He pointed to the sun visor. I leaned up and saw an old territory card paper clipped to the visor. “Oh,” I swallowed. “Yeah.” I pulled it down and tried hard to read it before I handed it to him. It was my picture but I didn’t know where it came from. It was a fake. Or was it the real one? I was losing track of what I kept where. The officer took it from me and lowered the gun. He turned the light gaze on on his helmet to read it. “You’re not from around here,” he said. It was the expired card. That one gave me as registered to the midterritory. The fake showed me somewhere south of the main town in the grassy red wasteland of the current territory. “No,” I said. “Just passing through for work.” He wouldn’t look at me. He just kept looking at the card. “A little young to be working, aren’t you?” he said more to himself. 10

“Probably,” I said back with a little laugh. He didn’t laugh back. “Pass your exams?” I shrugged. But he kept pushing it. “What work?” he asked. I swallowed. The shaman always said to tell the truth. He said they could take our trade and our land, but not to be angry. Not to fight back. “I’m a diviner.” Now my voice cracked. I didn’t look at him. “Oh yeah?” he asked. I didn’t know if he was laughing or baiting me. “We’ve had a few try to do that here. It’s illegal you know.” “Oh yeah?” I always played stupid when someone pointed that out. It was better to be the dumb girl who didn’t know any better than be smart and in jail. Or dead. For some reason, people always took pity on the dumb girl. I felt a low burn building in my chest. “The franchises like people to get water from them,” he said. He didn’t need to explain. Everyone knew what the franchises preferred. I didn’t answer. I just nodded. He passed the territory card back to me. I took it. “My wife,” he started. “A few years back got the Change Fever.” He paused. I looked into his white light gaze beaming into me. I squinted. “I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. 11

“Yeah,” he said. “Is it true what they say? Is the real stuff medicinal?” I bit my lower lip, thinking. I never knew how to answer that. Anything was better than the franchise bottled water. A while back an ungrounded scientist did research on it. It was popping up on the Free Web more and more. People said they were completely cured of the Change Fever after they went on a terrestrial water regime. But it was the Free Web. A lot of people said a lot of things on the Free Web. “Rumors are wild about old water deposits here,” he said. “We moved here after she got sick.” He looked at me a long time. I tried to look back at him beyond the bright light. I knew he wanted me to say something. But I didn’t. “Get a new card,” he huffed. He turned off his light gaze. “And get your tail lights fixed.” He walked back to his own car. It hummed away. He left me alone on the side of the road. I turned the old gas engine on and kept driving. The burn in my chest still prickled.

II I arrived at the place sometime before dawn. The buyer told me to get there around then. I needed to be in and out by the time her husband got back. He didn’t approve. Which was fine. She was paying me double to be done in a day. Plus, 12

being young, I was less conspicuous. Buyers usually said I was a niece from out of town if the cops came by. There was a bonus in it for me if no one asked questions. She’d said that, too. She was sitting on her porch drinking hot coffee. Her hair was long and tied up in a knot. People didn’t do that much anymore: let their hair grow long. It was too hard to wash. Her clothes looked linen, too. She must’ve worked for the franchises. Or her husband did. It didn’t need to be said. No one lived out in this territory with coffee looking like her. The draughts and fires hit this place first. Nice things were hard to find here. “Are you an Aquarius?” she asked as I got out of the truck. “Are you a Benjamin?” The code was stupid. I knew it was, but buyers liked thinking this whole thing is a spy movie, so I kept doing it. I always did what the buyers wanted. Whatever it took, I did it. She got up to take my hand. I shook it and we smiled. It was awkward. She brought me inside the house. Out of the dust, she said. She apologized again and again for the dust. We sat at the kitchen table. Everything in the farmhouse was franchise: the cupboards, the furniture, even the knobs on the doors. It was white or gray, shiny or chromed. The tiled floor 13

reflected my face back at me when I looked down. I was ruddy and a little twisted. My shaved head was sprouting hairs again. Each was holding clusters of grass, dirt, or cinders. It’d been a while since I could get a good rinse in. It showed. The buyer’s face was smooth and wrinkle-less. It was as pale and pristine as the house. She paid a lot to look that way. But her gaze was magnetized on me. My face flushed underneath its grime. “I’m trying to get back to nature,” she said to me sipping her coffee. “You know the old green movement?” She sounded embarrassed at herself. She saw me eyeing the place. I wondered if she thought I might leave a dirt trail behind me. “My husband doesn’t like it. He thinks the things we have are fine, but you know…” she trailed off a little. She took a sip of her coffee before pulling out the words to defend herself. “Sometimes I just wish I had one of those vintage gardens like they had before the warming? Grow my own food? Nothing from a box?” she laughed to herself. “One of my ancestors was a real farmer, you know. That’s why I insisted on this house. I wanted to get back to my roots.” It must have explained everything to someone else. It explained things to me, too. She just didn’t know how. My gaze fell on a single old dream catcher in the picture perfect kitchen. The last time I saw a dream catcher 14

was with the shaman. The old man with so much angry hope in his eyes. He’d taught me everything. But this one was different than I remembered from home. This one was made from franchise clothes she must have cut into perfectly straight strips. Each one was lined with plastic beads shaped like shells. Each bead was exactly an inch or two from one another. Even the webbing of the catcher was a perfectly perfect spiral. Nothing about the dream catcher was from the Earth. Everything was man-made. It rested on a pure white wall catching nothing. It was beautifully grotesque. It reminded me of the franchise cyber-models. Everything was with its symmetry, but with a ghost lurking behind it. She noticed my line of sight. “You like it?” she asked. “I took a DIY heritage class in town. They showed us how our preferred family tree members would have made them.” DIY heritage was popping up more and more often with buyers. You could be anyone or come from anywhere. They said culture was self-selected. Handicrafts from dead nations were starting to hang in franchise houses more and more. I’d seen a few. But this was the first one from my old nation. I blinked. Dead nations. The burning came back. “Anyway,” she cut in. “What are the odds of you finding real natural water around here? Give or take?” 15

I pushed a smile. “There’s never a guarantee,” I said. “But I’ll try.”

III The process was tricky, I told them. My rod wasn’t in good shape. I needed to stay out of view of the main roads. A lot of times wild animals already made off with what was left of the vein. There were so many variables to consider. They needed to understand divining took patience. I always stayed within eyesight of the buyer for the first hour. They loved it. Most of them watched. At first it felt like I was a zoo animal. I got used to it, though. Being something of a curiosity was who I was now. But that day I felt the sting of her eyes. I couldn’t shake it. So I scuttled myself to the tallest grass I could find. I didn’t want her watching me. It was a routine by then. Sometimes I brought a pouch of rust water I collected off of old city pipes, or other times it was just franchise water I picked up at my last rest stop. I let a few drops fall when they yawned or looked at their franchise Fones. I’d yell over how I found an old vein deep in the ground. I’d give them a story about my ancestors and the spirits. They lit up. A lot wanted me to take pictures with them holding the wand or pointing to the site. They always posted it 16

on the Live Web as soon as they could: Natural Earth water in my own backyard! Some even got hysterical. One buyer cried when he saw that rusted water. He dropped to his knees and wept. I almost felt sorry for him. What they didn’t know was divining was all in the feeling of the diviner and the wand. It wasn’t something you watch. You feel it. The vibrations of the Earth and the water and me went deep. We trusted one another. Well, the old Earth anyway. The warming change churned the Earth into this place. All real diviners know the new trick of the trade. And the trick is on the buyer. “Find anything?” she called from the porch. She was sipping Lemony Lemonade from a long filtration straw. It kept the free radicals out. “Not yet,” I called back. The whole landscape was painted deep red. It was like a moon someone lost in a story. Nothing but the dry tall grass grew. Nothing really thrived. Most people went to live in the franchise housing in the central territories. At least they had engineered trees. Not a lot of people stayed in these zones. I wondered why this buyer, with her franchise house and clothes, landed here. She sipped her Lemony Lemonade. I didn’t get to wonder very long. The wand pulled a little to the left. I loosened my grip. Maybe it was a bit of hot wind. It pulled again. I licked my 17

lips and tried to remember how this worked. Was it happening? It was so odd. “Something wrong?” she called out. “Nothing!” I shouted, probably too loud. I couldn’t believe it. The tug of the rod was soft. It tilted gently in my hands. I paused to let the wand float in my loose grip. I followed the pull just like I did when I was a girl. Then a deep breath. I learned so long ago. It was like walking into an old dream. Find the source, the shaman told me. And place a rock or a branch there. Nothing that will draw attention to it. You will return. Resist the urge to dig and never place a flag or pillar or a marker at the site. Nothing flashy. We must try to heal what we have left! Keep it secret. Share it with only those we can trust… I followed the pull. I felt the buyer’s eyes on the back of my head. But I wouldn’t lose focus. Usually I bored them half to death with nothing so they’d leave me alone. But I couldn’t resist. A smile snuck on to my face. I followed the pull of the wand. “Did you find something?” she squeaked at me. I pushed her voice out of my mind. The wand’s weight shifted again. It was dancing from one hand to the next. I relaxed my


grip and let it happen. I closed my eyes. I breathed in the Earth. I let go. “Oh my god, you found some, didn’t you?” Opening my eyes, I was kneeling on the ground. I was at least ten yards from the house in a thick patch of the tall dried out grass. The rod pointed to a little bit of ordinary earth within the scratchy reeds. “I have to call my husband! This is incredible!” She got up and was flipping through her franchise Fone. “Wait!” I yelled, getting up. I dropped the wand at the spot. I stood with the dry grass shoulder high. My knees shook a little. I saw her tapping at the polymer glass already. “Please!” She looked up. Her pristine beautiful face contorted. It changed to something ugly. It was there the whole time. I just didn’t see it before. Everything was with its symmetry, but with a ghost lurking behind it. She walked towards me. She stayed on the dirt side, not wanting to walk in the grass. She was wearing linen. The hesitation and intent in her steps made her walk like a cat. “You know what this means, right?” she said half hissing, half smiling. I looked down at the earth. No, the Earth. It was real…It was really real this time. I looked back down at where the rod rested. This changed everything.


“I’m obligated to share this. The franchises need to know we have real terrestrial waters…” Then I realized why she lived in this house in this place with these clothes. The officer said there were rumors. I felt raw and numb at the same time. The burning in my chest felt like a full fire now. Why didn’t I see this coming? I bore down my guilt. “No, please…” I whispered. “What?” she called to me. “I can’t.” She scoffed, crossing her arms over her chest. “I hired you to find real water and you did. This is good news, isn’t it?” I swallowed. “Isn’t it?” she yelled at me. Her voice echoed into the air even with the grit and heat. She must have surprised herself. She breathed in deeply. She smiled again. All the ugly disappeared from her skin. But it was still there. It was just harder to see now: a ghost lurking behind her. “I know you came a long way,” she began. She strolled closer to the grass. I sidestepped in front of the rod on instinct. Her linen pants flapped so gently in the dusty air. She was so clean and perfect. Everything around her was so hot and smeared. “You’re so young,” she mused. “Have you even finished your exams? I would just hate to have to call someone


and let them know you’re here. This is an illegal occupation, you know.” I swallowed. She had me. I felt the tug in the back of my throat. The smooth wet tears built up in my eyes. She had me. “Mark it,” she demanded. I blinked. The shaman said… “With what?” I asked. My voice cracked into hisses. “There’s three feet of grass here.” Her eyes darted around. In an instant, a look of pure conquest came over her. “Don’t go anywhere. I’ll get something,” she said running back to the house. She left me there. She left me alone out in the red and wild changed Earth. Do not draw attention to it. Keep it secret. I gently knelt down and picked up my divining wand from where it landed. I bent three blades of grass a few inches above the ground. Then I walked five paces to the right, and a few more towards the house. I dropped the rod again before she came back out.

IV Before I left the job she marked the wand’s spot with the dream catcher I saw earlier. She placed an ornamental 21

steak into the ground and hung the dream catcher from it. She even got a pair of scissors and trimmed back the grass around the catcher just for people to get a better look. The plastic shell beads rattled against each other in the harsh hot air. She giggled and took a picture of herself at the site on her franchise Fone. She paid me and I left. I heard the shaman over and over again in my skull. You will return. Resist the urge to dig and never place a flag or pillar or marker at the site. I felt a dull buzzing pain at the nap of my neck. I was out of Pain Stop Stoppers and the nearest franchise drug store was in town. Keep it secret. The buzz filled the back of my head. It spread to my temples. My eyes started to blur. I couldn’t breathe. Share it with only those we can trust… I went far off into the red horizon and pulled over. My grip on the steering wheel was tight. My knuckles lost all blood supply. I was breathing heavy. My eyes were hot and teary. I didn’t know what to do. The burning I felt was confusing. Was it anger? Was it hope? The sun beat down hotter than usual. I pulled the visor down to shade my eyes as I leaned back into the seat. It was real. It was a source. I divined. I made a fist with one hand and bounced it on top of my forehead. I bit my lip. My head felt full and swollen. Would they ever know? So many pictures 22

went on the Live Web of people with natural water sources. What made this one authentic? What would make the franchises know this one was real? The buyer might not be what I thought she was. She could just be another housewife with chrome and tiles on her walls. I looked up to my visor. My small picture smiled back at me on the expired territory card. Share it with only those we can trust… I drove about three or four miles into town. I saw the cop car parked in the alley. I smiled. I pushed down on the clutch and let the old truck fly through a couple traffic lights before I heard the sirens go off. I grinned again and pulled over to the side of the road. I already held my territory card by the time he walked over. The gun was still a few inches from my face. “Territory and…” he recognized me immediately. “You again?” “Hi, Officer,” I began. “Sorry about the lights.” He lowered his gun and glared. “Do you know the fine for a traffic violation?” “I do sir,” I said. “But I know those can be waived for a citizen whistle blower, right?” The officer raised his gun again. “What do you know?”


“An illegal natural water source was found at the old farmhouse out of town at the occupant’s request.” He blinked. “Oh?” he said. “Yeah,” I went on. “I also know that they have a marker, one of those DIY heritage dream catchers, on their property to mark the source.” The cop lowered his gun a second time. He took off his helmet. I finally saw his eyes. They were wide and brown. They were lined with something I’d seen before: angry hope. “Young lady, I,” he began. I didn’t let him finish. I thrust my territory card into his hand. “You didn’t confiscate this expired card of mine last time. I need a new card anyway, right?” I said. “Should I go and get one if you keep that one? Let me off with a warning?” I asked him. My voice cracked a little. There was always the chance this wouldn’t work. I’d go to jail. Or end up dead. The officer took the card. He read it over. When he flipped it to its backside, he took off his helmet. He read it over again. The map I drew was small, but it was there. The instructions were minimal, but clear. “Miss, I don’t…” “You were right before,” I said. “Real terrestrial water can be healing against Change Fever. But finding a real source


is tricky. They really don’t exist anymore. And they usually aren’t marked.” He looked down at the map on the card. He looked at me. “Yes, miss,” he said. “Why don’t you go reregister right now. I’ll keep this expired card.” Before he put his helmet back on, he smiled. The Free Web articles about cops say they never smile. “I hope your wife feels better soon, officer,” I said. “Thank you,” he said. “I think she will soon.” The burning stopped.


letter from something like god By Tamara L. Panici you are living your life as well as mine what i mean is you are layer upon layer of microcosm in this way you are you and you are everything you see the life that buzzes so fervently inside your universe of body is me and i only wish that you suffer with me because you know by now that only the godless go on like nothing is happening


Selected Poems by Roberta Senechal de la Roche

Gravity To engender reflexivity between chance and fast violins, we must recall that gravity determines what comes down again what is aerial or grave, whatever lasts or not. All these laws we knew, yet we who circled tight inside the net of flesh tried to race the sun, though better trusted night to let us love again. I like to dream you’re rising from the deep while I balance on a half shell, natural as the sound of mandolins at equinox of mountain laurel leaning over water moving in free fall. Eventually the clouds divide to ask us if it’s real enough, whether we just used it for the heat and light of it, or only when it really mattered. We could say we wanted more but when we feel the song 27

that moves the twilight fields whispering at our back like wind, it’s then we summon memory’s flight to deny the pulling dark its yield.

After Ophelia Anyone who cared to look could see the bridge was on fire, especially at night. We’d gone over it, back and forth a long time, while I put upon my lips the way of sourwood blossoms where a choleric wolf used to cross where a brindled owl looked for its chance where we once watched water pass below. Naming these always makes it worse and doesn’t help any floating thing waiting to go under and forget.


Anna´s Finnish vase By María Castro Domínguez The Finnish vase swirls like a lake its glass undulates into placid curves a scribble of a cloud if looked from above it came from Anna´s house she would place the last flowers of an expired bouquet there where their ashen stalks like an old man´s shins would bend magnified in the water its discarded leaves pricking the surface at teatime in her house when no-one was looking my little brother would press his fingers over its lips like a man reading Braille and it would sing a light staccato song sometimes the vase is placed like a trophy on top of the fridge others it resides on a shelf nesting between two tired cookbooks embalmed in rosemary and cinnamon like a freshly laid egg between the slats of a chicken´s rearing house when the evening sun touches its warm transparency recovers Anna´s vanilla skin.


The Scar By Amy Fant Maybe a hunting accident in the summer of 1949, when she and my grandfather, childless and wealthy, honeymooned at the duck camp in Greenwood, Mississippi. Perhaps, my aunts whisper, a little plastic surgery to fold the body that delivered them. Maybe a secret half-uncle via C-Section, now living in Albuquerque, or an abusive first husband. A car wreck, Ovarian cancer. Or what’s worse, what we don’t want to imagine—like when lifting her from her wheelchair to her car seat or to her bed, the dangers we could have missed when there are never enough hands. That even when everything else has gone, somehow a body can still bleed and bleed and heal.


Extremity By Heidi Hemmer Millie’s hands have spent days in the sun harvesting the dry raspberries. She has forgotten countless times to apply sunscreen to her hands, and they have aged: bony, wrinkly, and tan. Millie picks the raspberries for the last time this season and bathes them for eating. The cold water relieves the pain in her joints, her fingers free for a few moments. She pops a couple in her mouth, the juiciness reminds her of life’s sweetness. Millie will mow the plants to the ground, an easy death before winter.


The Last Mermaid on Mars By Kelsie Qua I got in the car. There would be no story if I hadn't. I'd been holding my thumb out on the side of Route 50 since dawn. Watching the sun sear the roadkill medium rare, and breathing in the rotten-sweet smell of death. Thinking this was probably some kind of grim premonition, but hoping it wasn’t. By the time the car pulled over, I'd been awake two or three days straight. Riding some, walking more. Reality had begun to contort on me, like a dream you don’t realize you’re dreaming. When the driver first rolled the window down, the feeling of cool air splashed against my skin and shocked me back to reality. As my eyes adjusted to the dim interior, hers flickered over me like she was scanning an article in the newspaper she didn't care to take the time to read. She was young, and pretty, even in a frumpy dress that looked like it’d been bought in a two-for-one bin sale at Salvation Army. I shifted and the sun burned a new part of my back. “Where are you going?” she asked. I glanced toward the interstate sign just past us, hoping for some clue as to what state we were in, but the words were too small to make out. I thought, anywhere. Said, “West.” 32

“Well, come on,” she said. I leaned in a bit. A small bag sat on the passenger side floor, but otherwise, her car was empty. For all I knew, she might have been running an errand. She might have just as easily been running away. “Are you sure?” I asked. She laughed. The sound was like bubbling water. “Of course I'm sure, darling,” she said. “Now get in the car before you have a heat stroke.” I stuck my hand on the door as gravity shifted. The metal burned, even when I just pressed my fingertips to it. I slid my bag carefully from my sunburned shoulder and opened the door. “It sure is a hot one.” “I faint in the sun,” she said. “Every time I pass a hitchhiker I wonder which of us will die first. Where are you coming from?” “Oh,” I said uneasily, “a mile or so north of Hell.” “Ah, we must've just missed each other then. Drink some water. There should be a bottle or two rolling around under your seat.” There were three. All cool to the touch. I nearly choked when I tried to drink from one, the liquid was such a foreign feeling to my throat.


“Why don't you just rest for a bit?” she said. “Close your eyes and let me take care of things for a little while.” My body felt heavy, my mind black. Soon, I didn’t have a choice. * I woke up in Wyoming. She didn't seem to notice, at first. Her eyes were focused straight ahead, unblinking, as if she was in some kind of trance. The soft glow of the dashboard painted her pale skin a sickly green, and the clock read 3:58 A.M. If it was right, we’d been driving for twelve hours. “I wish it would rain.” Her voice was low, rich. It made me think of a femme fatale in a film noir. I couldn’t figure out how she knew I was awake. “With everything so still, I feel like I’m on Mars,” she continued. “If it rained, I’d feel more like I was home.” Beyond the windshield lay nothing but a vast, dark wasteland. It did feel like another planet, but I didn’t speak up. There was something comforting about her voice. I didn’t want her to stop talking. “You know there’s only one planet in our solar system not named after a god?” she continued. “It’s ours. Doesn’t that strike you as odd?”


“I guess I’ve never really thought about it.” My head still hurt, and my body felt even worse. I was sweating and shivering all over. “I’ve thought about it too much.” She looked over at me then. “You still planning to keel over on me, love?” I shook my head again, even as I pulled my legs up to my chest and wrapped my arms around them. It felt like I was seasick on top of having the flu. “Here,” she said, and reached behind her to get to her suitcase. She drifted halfway across the empty road before managing to pull it up onto the console. “I don't have any blankets, but just put my clothes over you.” “I'm fine.” She held a hand out then, and felt my forehead. As she moved it back, I glimpsed a white scar snaking down her inner wrist. I wanted to ask what had happened, but figured it was none of my business. “You'll be alright,” she said. “I'd only be worried if you stopped sweating. That's when you know it's a stroke and not heat exhaustion.” “What's the difference?” “Heat stroke'll kill you. Heat exhaustion will just make you wish you were dead. Have more water. And some crackers. They’re in the glovebox.” 35

I did as I was told. She snapped open her suitcase and started throwing clothes over me. They were all very worn, soft, and smelled faintly of lavender. It all seemed so absurd, but I couldn't laugh. It would have taken too much effort. I couldn't do much of anything, except watch, feeling like a kid, all burrowed in a grown-up’s clothes. After I'd eaten three packets of cheese-and-peanut butter sandwich crackers everything started to calm down. I still didn’t feel well, but it was more like car-sickness than the flu. “Go on. You can sleep some more,” she said, but the best I could manage was to doze in and out of consciousness. After a while, I gave up, and just watched her drive. Watched her drive, and tried to figure out what was wrong with her. What could make such a seemingly normal girl decide, on a whim, to pick up a hitchhiker in the middle of nowhere. “Why'd you do it?” I asked, eventually. I wasn’t lucid enough to realize the question was hopelessly vague. She frowned, just slightly, and rubbed the scar on her wrist. “Oh, it—it was just an impulse. I can never seem to follow through, but I do reckless things and hope for the best.” “Follow through,” I repeated. “It’s always for the stupidest reasons. This is my sister’s car. Or, I don’t want to die in Minnesota. I make 36

excuses. Put things off. I’ve always been like that. So one night I just, well, I just drew a bath and fished a blade out of a plastic razor—” “No. I meant—I meant why did you pick me up?” “Oh.” Even in the dim light, her skin darkened with a blush. “Oh, I thought you were—I'm sorry.” “It’s alright.” “It isn’t,” she said. “Who says something like that, to a stranger? I’m terribly sorry. As far as why I'd pick you up— well, what would you like me to tell you? What would an ordinary person say?” “They were hoping I'd make it worth their while,” I said. She frowned. “Well that’s not the reason. Not that you aren't attractive, I just—” “You were looking for a serial killer, not a prostitute?” I’d meant it as a joke, but her grimace revealed she didn’t take it that way. “Shit,” I said. I felt a strange pull inside, like some tendril within was yearning to break out to wrap itself around her. I didn’t know what to do with that feeling. I wanted to apologize but felt that if I did, it would only put more space between us. “Pull over,” I said. “We’re in the middle of nowhere.” 37

“Pull over the car,” I said. “Really.” Even though there wasn’t another soul for miles, she still put on her blinker as she pulled off on the shoulder. Her signal struck me as unbearably sad, trivial as it was. I could see why she wouldn’t be able to kill herself if she kept so close to the rules, even here. She took the key out of the ignition and set it in the cup holder. Even now, she looked as she had when she first pulled over to pick me up. “You know, I really am sorry,” she said, in a rush. “I should’ve kept my mouth closed. At least let me drive you to the next rest stop—” “What’s your name?” A pause. “Miranda. Anderson.” “I go by Winters,” I said. For a moment she just looked at me. Really looked at me. And it felt like the first time she was actually seeing me. “I’m not always this weird,” she said, then. “I’m usually weirder.” “Thank God,” she said. “I was lying.” I laughed. “It’s strange. A thousand times they told me not to pick up a hitchhiker on the side of the road. That I’m bound to get myself killed. Yet somehow, when I try, I end up with you. Someone… someone nice.” 38

“Sorry for the disappointment.” “You could’ve at least tried to act deranged,” she said, dryly. “For my sake.” “I’m a hundred and forty pounds of dead weight in a desert. What could I have done? Fashioned a noose from my tshirt? What an awkward transition. ‘Oh, here, let me just pull my shirt off and choke you with it…’ that’s not very smooth.” She frowned. “Well, I’m sure you could’ve come up with something.” “I have nothing. No weapons.” “What about your bare hands?” “Look at my fingers. Bird bones.” She bit her lip very hard, but giggles burst out just the same. “Fine,” she said. “Perhaps you’re right. It is hopeless.” “What would you have wanted from me?” I said, trying hard not to laugh myself. “Be specific. Maybe in the next life I can be more prepared.” Her eyes searched the vacant land just past the windshield. “I would have... well, I would have wanted you to run me over.” “And then what?” “You’d put me in the trunk,” she said. “While I’m still breathing. Drive me to the ocean and drown me in it.”


“Too risky,” I said. “If I ran you over, I’d leave you to get eaten by the coyotes.” “You could come with me to a cheap motel. Drown me in the bathtub. Or perhaps the community pool—yes, I like that better.” “What is it with you and drowning?” I asked. “I was a mermaid in a past life.” I laughed. “And you gave up everything for your legs?” “Yes.” “Do they still hurt?” She looked at me with an expression serious as hell. “Every minute, it’s like I’m dancing on knives.” * We shared a cigarette from her pack, passing it back and forth like a joint. We’d pushed back our seats so they were almost flat, and as we talked, we both looked out the windows at the sky, because it was easier than looking at each other. “I’m not a good person,” she said, at one point, with no lead up at all. I turned to look at her. “I’ve hurt people.” She stared back at me with a gaze I’ll never forget. A slight trembling invaded her fingertips.


“I’ve hurt them horribly. And if I’d known you in a different place, I’m sure I’d’ve hurt you—” “And I’m sure I’d have forgiven you.” She blinked up at me. “You don’t even know what I’ve done.” “There’s nothing new, Anderson,” I said. “Nothing new under the sun. Or the moon, in this case.” For a little while she didn’t speak. “Something real bad must’ve happened to you,” she said, then. “You aren’t afraid. And it’s only—it’s only those who’ve really suffered who aren’t scared anymore.” I was trying to find Orion, but couldn’t remember what it was supposed to look like. I knew her comment was really a question she didn’t know how to ask, and for a while, I couldn’t figure out how to answer her. The mere thought of trying to explain tightened a knot in my chest. Eventually, I asked, “Do you know anything about Plato?” “The philosopher, you mean?” “He had this theory... when people were first created, they weren’t like us. They had four arms and four legs and a two-faced head. He thought Zeus grew scared of their power and split them all in half to punish them. And that’s why people make love. To try to fit back together again. That’s 41

why such a thing as soul mates exist. We’re all just trying to get whole.” “That’s beautiful,” she said. I spotted Orion. Frowned. It was smaller than I remembered. “I think near the end, Zeus got lazy with all the tearing. He split some of us down the wrong seams.” She didn’t say anything. “If he split the body wrong, that created intersex people. But for some people, it’s their minds that just weren’t cut right.” “I don’t like that,” she said. I glanced over at her. “This idea that there’s right and wrong to it, that everything is black and white—it’s terribly malignant,” she continued. “Malignant.” “Like cancer in the brain,” she said. “You need to get it out, or it’s going to eat at you until it kills you.” “Funny advice, coming from someone suicidal.” “All the more reason to listen. If death was the answer, don’t you think I’d be the one to tell you?” I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t. I stared out the window, feeling weak.


After a little while, she said, in a softer voice. “You know, mermaids are genderless.” I laughed, despite myself. A tear rolled from my right eye; I didn’t wipe it, afraid she’d make out my gesture, even in the shadows. “Since when?” “Since always," she said. “Horny sailors drew all these pictures to convince people otherwise. But those pictures aren’t true. Real mermaids—real merpeople—well, they’re beautiful, but not like we imagine. They just swim and swim, and bask in the sun when people aren’t watching, and make daisy chains of sea-flowers, and race each other around the world.” “Is that so?” She nodded and closed her eyes. “And if you die by drowning, you get to become one again—because we all were, back when the Earth was just one great big sea.” For a moment she was quiet. “And then you'd always be happy, because no one’s ever sad in the ocean.” “Do you really think so?” She frowned and opened her eyes. “Well—I don't know,” she said. “But we have to try for something, don’t we?” *


We talked like that—madly, intimately—for a while. I can’t remember how the conversation petered off. Eventually, she started to drive again. And the desert slowly gave way to an oasis, and the sun split the sky into blood and bruises, and we were at the ocean. “Will you be happy?” she asked me, as I hauled my pack out of the seat and slung it over my shoulder. I frowned. “Terribly,” I said, and with a parting smile, started to walk away, even as my chest tightened into a knot. “You know it would’ve been better if you’d killed me,” she called. I turned back. She stared at me, for just a moment, with eyes somehow both innocent and haunted. And as I looked into them, the strangest vision came to me. The two of us in a grimy motel. The bathtub so full, water splashes over the edge. Her last breaths bubbling up to the top. Her skin turning the most delicate blue. Then I’m back, looking at this strange, beautiful girl, wondering what’s wrong with me. And that’s when I got in the car. There’d be no story if I hadn’t.


Selected Poems by Elizabeth Yalkut Library You are the only story I know: once upon a collarbone, long ago and far Alex, kneecap, fingernail, licorice-scented breath, addiction to the window seat, the Aristotelean climax of your eyebrows, red herring in the way you grip a fork, tell me the story again, different every time.

Poem from Exile The lilacs here, on this new street, are bleached, wispy things. I have to suck in lungful after lungful of air to catch the scent, and then there it is in my throat four-pointed blooms clustering—that cream-aluminium color, like shadows left too long in the sun


Selected Poems by Kelsey Ann Kerr The Cage of My Cadmium Heart Seated next to you at the Vanguard, I couldn’t stop watching the reflection of Bill Charlap’s hands in the Steinway buoying me back to the reflection of my own hands—anorexic for everything, opposite his full of satiation—at the last recital I’d ever give, back to when I wrote my own rag after Joplin and my parents helped me record it, time and time again, until the notes perched perfectly together as mourning doves coated in dew on a telephone wire. Now, as your thumb threads my ribs and nests there—I hope forever— Charlap’s fingers still scratch my scalp, asking, “What Are You Doing for the Rest of Your Life?” and I can’t believe they’ll never meet you, you whose head is pressed so deep against my chest it seems you’d like to fall in and live in that cage with my cadmium heart, your very thumb longing to pry it open, shut from the side, the pigment our children will bloom from bleeding out onto the bed iron strong as my father, lithe as my mother’s laughter… How do I introduce the dead to the living? How do I play one more song for them, now knowing, after hearing your lyric tenor soar, what it meant to my mother to hear Golliwog’s Cakewalk flowing from the keys as my body swerved in time and rhythm, trying to avoid the inevitable loss, as we all do, butterflies in our mouths, hoping to find someone hungry for what we have?


the boy with a fear of fins will end his life as a shark. or maybe he was a shark in his past life. or maybe he became a plane crossing the atlantic and dive-bombing for a swim, dorsal bobbing in and out of the ocean. maybe he was a dart stuck in a bullseye for so long that the bullseye became his eyeball and popped out like one of those comical sets of glasses, and rolled around on the floor of a dive-bar until someone stopped it under his boot, then tossed it into a fishtank. or maybe it goes that the boy with a fear of fins was a convict in the mermaid community who was tried for selling the monarch’s most iridescent fins on the black market, flicking his muscular tail from town to town 47

with his glowing bag of wares. as it is he can’t even look at a stick of trident gum, or chew one on this flight before he gives me the deepest, saltiest kiss.

What I taught my Korean students when I found out my mom was dying back in Seattle I taught them that you wear glasses when something is wrong, and let the fog roll in over the mountains, that it’s okay to hide from Christmas songs and that you don’t have to sing if it makes you sad. I taught them to accept the gifts people give you, beaded headbands with bows, prayers of paper-made whiteboards written with love. I taught them that you have to find joy in pictures, so they took my phone and took some of themselves before I left the room, stripping myself of the cardigan, my mother’s scent in every stitch. When I returned, they’d adorned the cardigan with flowered barrettes from their hair, and they smiled, proud, as they presented it to me.


Driving behind a school bus, I think of you, my student who almost died last week The red stars in the back of the bus light the road and dot your skin dotted with lines as you lay, apneic, once again in the hospital, your red curls falling off the pillow, your older sister grasping your flesh everywhere she can. Later, you hug me and I can’t help but imagine you a child back home in Columbia, so happy to run through yellow ochre orchids and gravel, holding each, so delicately, in your hands, nails painted maroon by your sister, who watched you, seated softly on the woods’ edge, your imagination never wanting to let go, Camila, your name a calla lily with its mouth wide to swallow you, everything, whole— 49

Untold Story By Sanya Bery

When she was born The hospital had run out of Pink blankets, So they wrapped her in Blue and the neighbors Thought she was a boy For four and a half Months. The summer before 2nd grade Her mom cut her hair Short: “A boy cut!” the barber Exclaimed, cynically, As the blonde locks Fell on the floor. But the haircut proved Helpful because her and Josh Dazing became best friends And would Climb trees every day after school. One day, she wore a dress and He asked her why, She replied, why not: “Only girls wear dresses” He sneered. The next day 50

She came back with Blonde extensions and An even pinker dress. At this sight, The trees remained emptyHer and Josh Dazing were Merely strangers. When she was 9 years old, On Valentine’s Day, The redhead who sat in the back Of the classroom Pushed her down And stole her candy. “Maybe he likes you,” The teacher whispered While rubbing Off bloodstains. She was confused— That didn’t feel like love. In 7th grade, her lab partner Was a tall, freckled boy who played soccer. They got a B- on their report and He yelled at her through Her new phone for Twenty-five minutes. She Giggled. “Maybe he likes me,” She thought. When she was 15 years old, A boy from geometry texted her on New Year’s Eve. 51

He Capitalized All Of His Words And Ended Every Sentence With A Period. she only texted in lowercase and his large letters overpowered hers. he liked it that way and so did she. on december thirteenth of junior year she got her first boyfriend. he had liked her since september, but asked her out the day he turned seventeen because he did not want his friends to know she had driven them to the first date. she understood, and waited, in the snow, for his car. in a college lecture, she sat on a chair, and as the seats slowly filled up, a boy with a stern jaw flopped down on the ground next to her. that did not feel right, so they switched and she was oddly comfortable with his narrow eyes looking down at her. when the class 52

had filed out, a professor with a baby blue shirt and dark arms held her back, and together, with painted nails, they scratched her name on the desk she never sat in. and then it all became clear. maybe that’s all she needed. one person that breathed bravery and equality into her tired bones. Maybe that’s all she needed. Enough Confidence To Start Capitalizing Words Again.


I am Trying to Imagine that I am Imagining it By Guy Traiber A wall of my house fell today. Unfortunately I was sleeping under it. Imagine that: black rain rushes into my house through the western wall. The house needs to be urgently repaired. I am lying under the wall and I am not sure whether I am alive or dead. I like the photos on my wall, the new kitchen we installed and the world’s map that places Australia in the centre, showing a world of blue. Imagine that: Shiva swallowed the poison and became blue. Buddha ate the sorrow of the world and became fat. I build my house to be of gods and now I am trapped. I cannot move and there is no one around. Gasping for air I cannot swallow any more sorrow and I cannot call for help. I am dry drowning. Imagine that: I am drowning in a pair of beryl eyes and they keep fading out. I am not sure if I am dead or alive and I don’t know whether I am lying under the wall or the wall is lying on me.


Sore Throat By Alice-Catherine Jennings —After Katie Peterson Sick in bed with a sore throat I can’t get out of my mind the image of the four agents— border patrol, from the Marfa Sector eating lunch at the St. George Hotel bar. They walked in like this: their boots squished into the foam-backed carpet as they tossed timid looks among themselves. I could tell they were uneasy in public. There is a new regime. A shadow can be a shape of an unknown individual with lips tumid from the desert sun and bare feet snipped and bleeding rock after scathing rock. The tips of the hoodoos by the river that separates one country from the next look like the chimneys of a fairy kingdom before the war was lost. The world they say is best with a wall but no good for crossing borders. Come here, I say to those men whose feet have never touched the lands where we who live here walk.


language By A’rikka Dion

Scratched stone Splayed ink and black dyed feathers that carved strokes into dried out hides Sticks and straight lines Tiddles Curved shapes that combine to make a sound A collection of patterns That build letters That build words That build lines That build language To soothe a tongue That is constantly struggling to find the exact way Just right to love you.


Ann By Nikki Macahon Alphonse sits on a red velvet sofa. He drums his fingers on his knee as the clock on the wall ticks. There are details in his head that tell him why he’s there and what he’s doing. These details might tell him about the gentleman that sits next to him with tears in his eyes. About the woman that lovingly strokes his back and squeezes his hand. It would tell him about all of the flowers and the cream-colored lighting and the stale quality to the air. Yes, Alphonse is quite sure that the details would answer all these questions, if only he could reach them. But whenever he tries to grasp one, it always slips away. This is what it’s like when the mind starts to go, he’s been told. Each day he misplaces more details, such as where he put his keys or whether he left his headlights on. Once, the thought of losing these bits and pieces of cognition scared him. It still scares him. He has his Ann, though. Ann, who isn’t afraid. Ann, who has pledged to always remember where his keys are. Ann, who at the mention of gray hairs and melting minds will promptly stick a spoon in Alphonse’s mouth, tell him to hush, and ask him if the sauce might need a bit of rosemary. Surely, she would know why they are in such a drab place. Alphonse 57

looks around, but he doesn’t catch a glimpse of that firecracker hair. Alphonse turns to the gentleman. “Excuse me,” he politely inquires. The gentleman looks at him, and the sight of Alphonse only deepens the crease in his brow. “I don’t suppose you’ve seen where my wife has gone off to.” Alphonse gestures, “She’s about this tall, red hair?” The gentleman, in that moment, seems to solidify. There’s no change in his demeanor but his face has…hardened. He swallows. “Dad.” The gentleman breathes. “She’s gone.” Alphonse is still for a moment. He doesn’t understand what this young gentleman means. His Ann was just here. Just a moment ago, he could have sworn… But then he thinks. He realizes. He hasn’t seen Ann in a while. He can’t think of where he was before he was in this room but he knows, somehow, that wherever he was it didn’t involve Ann. But why? Where is he? Where had he been? Where had Ann gone? Alphonse looks to the gentleman, but his gaze is fixed forward once more. Behind them, a door opens. A long creaking sound echoes as the doorway stretches open like a yawning mouth. Two suits click the doors into place and go back to the hall. 58

Moments later, they return with a casket. It’s then that the situation becomes clear to Alphonse. He walks to the casket, each step falters just a bit more than the last. When he’s in front of it, he places his hand on the glossed wood and weeps. The gentleman watches him. Alphonse, after a couple of deep breaths, straightens. His eyes are dry. He looks around the room idly, tapping his finger on the casket. He turns to the gentleman, with a polite smile that contrasts the tear stains on his cheeks. “Excuse me,” he says. “I don’t suppose you’ve seen my wife?”


Many By Rosie McMahan This poem is not for you unless you, too, have stood at the stove, your back aching, the drink in your left hand really too strong for a Tuesday evening pre-homework post meeting after meeting sort of day.

Then the surprise of Arborio rice soaking up warm garlic and butter and three cups of chicken broth, one cup at a time, and the sunshine of plum tomatoes gathered last summer and dried basil leaves.

Maybe that would affect you the way it did me. Because suddenly, swiftly, speedily I want to know how this precise aromatic plant came to me, came to be.

Please do not forget the fungi and the grasses 60

and the grains, the whole of antiquity and phenomenon and accidents.

Not to mention how one can find the shape of tree growth again and again in the design of our cells and in the dandelions that my grandmother would yank out of the ground and wash with water and sear with olive oil and onions before daring me not to love them as much as she did.

In case like me, you did not remember that the basil in that sauce is only one peak of a mountain of many.


Selected Poems by Natalie Crick

Spider The whisper Wicks from her lips. A soothing salve.

She bends, twists, Feet touching the walls In eight different places.

Her laurels always rove. Search. Hold.

Gagging the dawn chorus Until The hunger moon thins.

Dissecting a house fly, She commits Murder on the brightest window, 62

At first frost Opens the door Without a guest to feast.

The Moon’s Call Hush now, The sound of the moon Budding on the float of her own white voice,

Her call, like Spider silk strung from the darkest Branches, swaying woozily.

Moon turns her ripe eye To the ground, making Music that melts,

The whole wood Lit with alarm, Dawn like a black knife. 63

Midwinter Trees appear as brides, Their snow dance wounding The cosmos. I am numb to you. No one sees the snowdrops budding, A bright field of knives. If I turn away, they grow In lines of white flame and, As darkness falls, A kingdom of black blossoms Deep as a moaning mouth.

Remember Her When she turns blue Remember her as sky.

Gray, she is the sea Leaden, gone,


Still half-asleep, Dragging death by a string.

It already sounds distant as The sharp gasp of ghost,

Punishing us, shy thing, By turning into a light leaf

Or leaping from The edge again

O so sweetly, Blood effervescing and receding,

The promise of forever At the end of every line. My hands write, poised like a pianist, And I wait.


Things of Grace Blue night is An absent shade now, A broken memory of sky,

Shadows moss-damp and Pearled with honey. There are corpses floating in the trees;

Things of grace, Swimming over us in flight, Fluent beings on bone-white wing.

They call to me

When the sky goes dark, When the clouds are a wish But no rain pours,

When the moon rolls past and My eyes catch fire. They curl over pools 66

To drink, Pale-eyed, beautiful, Something half-remembered.


Selected Poems by Seth Jani Golden Ships* From her eyelids, honey drips Down into her pupils. Dabs of bright unguent Settling on those black waters Like little golden ships. The bees weren’t intended to immure The dead, but the long night Fills with sweetness. Even in the afterlife A momentous buzz Must drone all day like music. In those jars stuffed with her organs, The festivities continue. Her candied heart stays colorful; A mauve bird drowning In a pool of light. *Based on the ancient practice of using honey as an embalming agent.

Absence Upon waking Only the birds Are familiar. A fitful yellow Between the trees. Am I one of them 68

Or something else completely? In the absence Of a narrative My life pieces Itself together. They are clouds Blown in from nowhere. Far from the need To be afraid, what I glimpsed Was emptiness shining. Even in the disparaging loss I can feel That rigorous light Behind my eyes.


you and me, kid, forever and ever By Sofia Kwon mom said you were leaving, but i know that ain’t true because you left your recorder here— you used to play it for me when i was young. when you played it, it sounded beautiful. but everything you did was beautiful— when you spoke, all i heard was music. “you and me, kid, forever and ever,” you said. even when you yelled, all i could hear was a stormy symphony. “we live in a dump,” you told mom, and the drums crashed in the climax. that’s why you’re not here, right? you’re looking for a new place for us. you’re exploring new territory. you’re fighting sunset-colored tigers in the green of the jungle; you’re battling sharks in the waves of the ocean, just for us. just for me. you always did love the ocean, didn’t you? you said you love the way the waves crash into the sand and sing to you; the way the waves bring you gifts of 70

seashells the color of old coins. “ain’t it a place!” “it really is, pop.” “you and me, kid, forever and ever,” you said. “wherever we go, whatever Somewhere we find ourselves in, we’ll stay together, you and me.” that’s what you’re doing— you’re finding us a new Somewhere. but don’t worry, you won’t have to do it alone. mom and i will look too. we will search the entire world— we’ll swim through torrents of rivers, uproot the ancient trees, dig through stones and rocks and magma, collect the jewels we find on the way so we can use them as decorations. we’ll tear apart the very fabric of this world; we’ll fly through the galaxy to see if there’s room for us among the stars. maybe we’ll find some place better. maybe by the sea—


Joyride By Wendi Dass Twenty miles from home and we’re already lost. Johnny eases the motorcycle into a filling station no different than any other in the flats surrounding Chicago. Dingy cars line up for self-service, their drivers attentively watching the meter. The glossy coat of white paint on the lone Lincoln in the full-service lane is a stark contrast to the ribbons of smoke pluming from distant smokestacks. I pull off my helmet and the harsh autumn wind whips my hair. The tassels on my hand-me-down jacket whoosh. Don and Sally hop off their ride. Johnny dismounts, too, but I can’t move. My ass is stuck, molded to the hard plastic seat. Johnny slips a map from the saddlebag beneath my leg, and offers it to Don. Johnny and Don, what a pair. How did I end up chasing Route 66 with a bunch of lugnuts who can’t even find the road? Johnny claims the trip was his idea. Don, naturally, disagrees. Sally, glued to Don like a leech on wet flesh, alternates between chomping on her gum and blowing brightpink bubbles. No comment from her. And me? I’m not claiming bragging rights to this ass numbing ride on the back of a piecemeal motorcycle. 72

I peel myself off the seat. “Ya know,” I say, shoving a finger between Johnny and Don, “West is to the left.” I point to the compass on the creased map. Johnny furrows his brows. His icy blue eyes perfectly accent his made-for-TV chin and crew-cut. “Grab me a Coke and a pack of Nabs, wontcha, Nell?” He turns back to the map and traces his finger left of Chicago, instead of right. I roll my eyes at his back—I’d trade one of the rips of his six-pack abs for an extra ounce of respect. “Come on, Sally.” I pull her off Don and head toward the convenience shop. Sally and I wade through wispy vapors flowing from the exhaust of a shiny, blood-orange Pinto. Sally’s one of those girls who’d follow anyone, especially a guy. She makes you wonder if she was dropped on her head as a child, or if her my-boobs-are-bigger-than-my-brain attitude is just an act. Not that it really matters—not to her. I suppose that’s a consequence of having a new step-dad every three years. Maybe my life would be different if playing dumb came easier. The Pinto revs its engine and peels out. A bus rolls in. My eyes track the Pinto. Wonder if Daddy soldered its muffler? Or is he working on Torinos these days? 73

“Upper crusts,” Sally grumbles. She snaps her gum with a crack. I glance back at her. She narrows her almond-shaped eyes at a kid exiting the bus—no, he’s not a kid. He’s our age. Late teens, early twenties. But, he’s not sporting a Route 66 patch on a black leather jacket. This guy clutches his canvas backpack straps and clenches a pencil between his teeth. He brushes past. The bell on the door jingles when he opens it for us. We walk through. Inside, Backpack heads straight for the back, where the Slurpee machine lives. I linger at the entrance. “Do upper crusts ride the bus?” I whisper to Sally. She shrugs and locks eyes on a man in tight-crotched jeans and a bomber jacket. He fixes a hot dog near the checkout. She pushes out her boobs even farther than usual and struts over. I can’t watch. If I’m going to spend a weekend coasting down highways with Don, it’s best not to observe Sally’s histrionic tendencies. That is, if Sally and Don keep their relationship that long. With Sally’s track record, it’s bound to be over before next week’s season premiere of M.A.S.H. The bus idles out front. The destination flip board snaps to City College of Chicago. 74

College. Upper crusts. Cultured folks. My shoulders stiffen. Daddy’s voice echoes in my mind. “Don’t get on your daydreamin’, Nell. Ain’t no money for college.” Ain’t no money for college or ain’t no money for your daughter to go to college? If Daddy has his way, I’ll marry Johnny before the year’s over, and pump out babies faster than I can ring a sale at Montgomery Ward department store. Good daughters don’t debate politics with their fathers or hide The Divine Comedy under their beds. They don’t get better grades in math than their brother and they sure as hell don’t go to college. College. Cultured folk. Upper crusts. “Excuse me,” a deep voice says. I jump. Backpack holds a Slurpee in one hand and Twinkies in the other—no sign of the pencil. “Where’s your pencil?” I step back from the door—the only exit. “Pencil?” His eyebrows meet. “My pencil!” He shoves his stuff at me and dashes back to the Slurpee machine. He returns a moment later, pencil in mouth.


“Shanks a—” He takes the pencil out of his mouth. “Thanks. Math class is freezing my brain faster than this Slurpee.” He grabs his drink from my hand and smiles. I try to smile, want to smile, but I can only stare. Do his parents work at the Ford factory or are they hifalutin professionals in Chicago? “See ya around.” He reaches for the Twinkies, and I gingerly place them in his palm, beside the pencil. He smiles again, nods and shoulders open the door. Through the dingy glass, I see the bus has pulled away. Backpack settles on the bench, arranges his pencil, Slurpee, and Twinkies beside him, and pulls out a tattered paperback. I can’t see the title but I don’t need to. I recognize the man in the red robe with a wreath of leaves on his head. It’s the same book Daddy took from me, ripped pages from, and threw in the trash. The same book I taped together and stashed in my underwear drawer. Daddy caught me smuggling the book to work. “Damn it, Nell! These dreams of yours are gonna get you fired!” He dislodged the book from my belt. “Daddy, I only read on break.” “Ain’t no breaks in the real world, Nell. You gotta work hard to make it in this world.”


Work hard. Daddy works hard at the Ford factory. So does Johnny. Six days a week, ten hours a day. But their idea of relaxation is chugging beer and yelling at the TV. Vacations? Bumpy rides to Moose conventions. Johnny’s bike growls. Oh. Don twists his throttle and the engine grunts. In front of the shop, they stroke their prized possessions: hunks of metal attached to engines boasting as much horsepower as Mom’s sewing machine. I frown and hurry outside. “Where’s my Coke and Nabs?” Johnny yells over the roar of Don’s bike. I feel Backpack’s stare. My mouth opens, but I can’t think of anything sharp-witted. I just shake my head. “Jesus, Nell.” Johnny pops the kickstand. “What the hell good are you, anyway?” My cheeks burn, but I raise my head high. “We’d be halfway to Milwaukee if—” Backpack stands, and the words die in my mouth. I hold his gaze, his jawline tight and chest thrust out like he’s ready for a fight. Johnny doesn’t seem to notice—he kills the motor and stalks past me into the store.


I study Backpack, the Divine Comedy shoved under his arm, a Slurpee in one hand, and smooshed Twinkies in the other. Another bus pulls up, hisses and stops. Backpack nods. He steps up to the bus and disappears behind the bi-fold doors. “What you lookin’ at, girl?” Don says. I shift my attention from the bus. Don picks his teeth with a ratty toothpick, fleshy gums where lip should be. He closes his mouth and curls his lips like a dog on guard. I narrow my eyes, turn back to the bus, and bite my tongue. The destination sign flips. City College of Chicago. Ain’t no money for College. I drop my gaze to the bench. “I said, what you lookin’ at?” Don says again. I look from the bench to Don. The bench again. Something catches my eye. The bus lurches forward. I shoot my arm into the air and yell, “Wait!” The brakes squeal. The bus stops. The driver reaches for the handle, pulls, and the doors wheeze open. Loose gravel crunches under my feet as I walk. Not toward the bus, but the bench.


The bitten-up pencil teeters on the bench. The soft wood is splintered and jagged. The eraser’s only a mangled piece of aluminum. I pick it up, squeeze it so hard the teeth marks mold into my fingers. “Hey, Don, Sally’s fucking someone in the bathroom,” I say. Don’s head snaps back, and the toothpick jabs his gum. His curses fill the air. “God damn it!” I fish two quarters out of my pocket and board the bus.


Selected Poems by L. Mari Harris My Beautiful Friend I have agreed to dine with Death on Saturday night, providing I wear my pink dress with the ruffles. Death is so sentimental, so lusty. We met at the scene of an accident many, many years ago and have managed to keep in touch. Death prefers the early morning hours, winter’s frost on the bare maples, to come for a chat in my warm bedroom. But now Death has demanded dinner. Almost what you could call a proper date. I accept, just like I once accepted that ride from that boy. My Death, so unpredictable.


When We Skipped School We skipped school almost every afternoon during the spring of ’76 to watch the old woman who lived in the paint-chipped bungalow on a dead-end street. All of us crammed in the bushes along her front porch, we heard her mumble to her cats and we laughed at the dust and cat hair that floated around the room when there was a breeze. On the last day of school we decided to steal the money she kept in a Folgers can by the kitchen sink because we wanted to go to the movies. We watched Brian sneak through the back screen door, stuff some of the bills in his pocket, and start to tiptoe out when a fat yellow tom hissed at him. He grabbed the can still heavy with coins and hurled it at the cat’s head. We went to the movies that night, laughing, flicking popcorn at girls, and forgot about the dead tomcat on that old woman’s kitchen floor.


When You Left Me at a Gas Station We drove down the deserted highway in the two-seater convertible your father lent us. I closed my eyes and touched the map—Santa Fe. You wanted me to look like Grace Kelly: Dark tortoise-shell sunglasses and an ivory silk scarf knotted beneath my chin to hide my black hair. You chain smoked for two hours straight, lighting one off the other. You cranked up the radio— I talked as if starring in a silent movie, but with no subtitles. You pulled up to a gas station, and I wobbled in my high heels across the gravel to the bathroom door near the back. A hand-written sign: Out of Order. I turned to watch you drive away.


Spilled Milk By Lisa Harris Maddie swabbed the stainless steel counter, folded the dish towel, and surveyed her domain—coffee percolated, beans ground, mugs at the ready, chairs pushed against chrome table edges. Tucking a stray strand of red hair behind her ear, she admired the counter’s gleam. Each morning was like starting over, without the stains that bespoke unruly lives. She spotted an errant jam smear next to the napkin pile and erased it with her cloth. She glanced out the front picture window at the pewter sky, darker than usual for this time of the morning. The clouds pressed like thick blankets against the surrounding spruce trees, their pointy tops all that kept the land from suffocating. They’d be busier than usual for a Tuesday. The threat of weather always brought people in, coffee warding off the loneliness that blows in on the toe of a storm. Plucking one of the blueberry scones from the batch Judy had dropped off earlier, still warm from the oven, she set it aside and arranged the others neatly on a platter, careful not to mess their swirled lemony glaze as she handled them. Scones with dinged frosting were always the last to go, as if their tainted dressing was a talisman of interior shortcomings.


Ting-a-ling. Ting-a-ling, the bells hanging from the front door handle jingled. Seven years of listening to those blasted chimes hadn’t changed the way she felt about them. They grated on her nerves and she’d asked Lottie a few weeks after starting work, if she could give them up. Lottie just raised her eyebrows in that ‘Where’d you come from?’ way she had and suggested Maddie think of coins rattling onto her palm each time the bells jingled, for nobody walked into Road’s End Café without spending money. The bells never sounded like a reward for a job well done. On the contrary, they jabbed her, reminders she hadn’t mastered prior tasks: flawless iron-creased button-down shirts, Architectural Digest’s invitation to feature her home, perfect pitch singing children. Larry hung his jacket on one of the coat rack pegs on the wall next to the door and slid onto a counter stool. “Morning, Maddie-Girl.” He eyed the bakery platter. “What did Judy bring us?” He didn’t mean any harm by the nickname, and come to think of it, being called Maddie-Girl made her feel like they were confidants even when they weren’t. Pouring him a mug of coffee, she scooted the bakery platter forward, wondering if he’d act so cozy if he knew what she had done, for if the tables 84

were turned, she’d keep him at arms distance. Cowbirds had it right, leaving other, more responsible birds, to raise their young. “They’re blueberry.” She pointed to the one with a fingerprint embedded in its icing. “I botched this one.” Sipping from a yellow mug with a smiley face on one side, he chose the damaged pastry, understanding house rules. She chicken-scratched on his tab. Coffee was free, but he reimbursed Lottie for what he ate. Maddie wasn’t sure what arrangement the siblings had, but at the end of each week she put the tab in the till’s drawer and come Monday there was a fresh one with “Big Bro” written in the top margin in Lottie’s loopy handwriting. Larry took a bite. “Don’t understand why folks are so persnickety about frosting.” Talking with his mouth full, he waved the scone. “It’s not like they’re works of art.” “That’s Summer People for you.” She should know since she was one once. “Sure glad summer’s over.” “Isn’t that the truth.” Short ferry lines, empty parking spots on Main, beaches free of screaming children. From now until next year’s Memorial Day she could roam the island without bumping into someone from her old circle who asked,


“When you coming back?” After seven years, they should realize she would not be returning to the mainland. Ting-a-ling. Ting-a-ling. Her back stiffened. She wasn’t sure what to hope for—rain, which slowed the ting-alinging but produced full pans of strategically placed containers in her living room, or the downpour to hold off until night so she could be that much closer in tips to affording new shingles. The door snapped shut with another rattle. “Larry, there you are.” Rick stuffed a knitted cap into his jacket pocket and made a beeline toward the counter, the soles of his work boots scuffing on the black and white square floor tiles. “I’ve been calling but you don’t answer.” Larry wiped his mouth with the back of a hand. “What bug’s boring under your skin?” “I don’t know why you have the damn thing if you don’t answer.” Rick sat on the adjacent stool and pointed to the cell phone bulging in Larry’s shirt pocket. Larry shrugged. “People know how to find me.” He took another sip. “Come on, hurry up.” Rick waved at Larry’s halfeaten scone. “I’ve got an emergency.” Larry placed the mug onto the counter. “Ain’t no such thing in the electrical business.” 86

“Yes, there is. Come on.” Rick slid from the stool. Larry wagged the scone at Rick. “Call 911 if your line’s down or the power company if you’re out.” And took another bite. That’s how she had come to Promise. She had followed his sense of humor. Northbound on I-5, she took to dogging cars with bumper stickers she liked. Kept her mind from wandering someplace she wasn’t ready to visit. His white Chevy pick-up truck’s tailgate had two which made her feel the driver was a kindred spirit: I’m not your 911 and Don’t follow me I’m lost. So when he turned off the Interstate she did too. As the road became narrower and the shoulderhugging trees wilder and taller, she began to feel like all that was left of the mad world was just her and the Chevy. She wished she had escaped the I-5’s semis flashing their lights at her to get out of their way sooner. When the Chevy banked right at the ferry sign, she tagged along. Idling in line as the attendant waved the cars ahead onto the small ferry, doubt dribbled in. Maybe she should go home. Maybe it wouldn’t happen again. It wouldn’t happen again. She’d make sure. Swiveling the steering wheel to leave the line, the attendant slapped her SUV’s hood and motioned her forward instead. But she knew she couldn’t make sure so she followed his waving arm. Hers was the last car on, the ferry attendant 87

barely fitting her Escalade with its two matching booster seats snug against Larry’s bumper. They’d be better off without her. She would be sure then. The rawhide string tingle-a-linged again and again. Tuesday morning Bridge Club. Sherriff Preston and Deputy John. Half of Promise Realty’s sales force. Maddie poured coffee, steeped tea, pocketed tips, schlepped an overflowing self-bus bin to the dishwasher. Her body raced to keep ahead of “Maddie, another espresso,” “Hon, package four muffins, I’m treatin’ the girls in the office this morning,” “Oh my, I’m running late (again), do me up my regular to-go,” and “Hand me the Record, would ya?” Knowing the most difficult task during her shift was telling customers she was out of scones or muffins or had one potpie left, soothed her. No mulling over which wall color would create harmonious feng shui in the new Capitol Hill mansion, no scheming about which after-school activities would favor admission to the exclusive kindergarten, no proper seating diagrams for Friday’s dinner with the Governor to boost Steve’s political career. She would have stuffed her Road’s End apron in the trash years ago if she had to make decisions beyond what coffee flavor to brew. Predictability was another thing keeping her at Road’s End. Regulars came at the same time each day and ordered the 88

same thing. They talked about the same things too—weather, price of gas, Summer People with holes in their wallets, and the hooligans passing stupid laws down in the Capital on the mainland. “What do those people expect of us?” was the collective sentiment. And she agreed: what did those people on the other side of the Bay, down I-5, in the suburbs of the Capital, expect of her? To return, head down, tail tucked, chanting mea culpa. To take up where she had left off: perfect wife, perfect mother, perfect…? That was the problem, chasing after someone else’s ideals, she had never discovered Maddie, and without knowing who she was, how could she know perfection? Ting-a-ling. Mr. Wilson grunted as he sat. Reggie, his Chesapeake Bay retriever, flopped onto the floor, his soggy fur a heady mix of seaweed and fish. Mr. Wilson let go of the bundle tucked under his arm and newspapers tumbled onto the table. He arranged the periodicals in the order he read them—New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Chronicle. And if it was Wednesday, when the local came out, he would slide Promise Record to the stack’s bottom. He spread open the Times’ front section. She wondered if Steve still thought himself worldly for devouring only the Times’ columns. Her husband had bugged 89

her to read them, saying she couldn’t hold her own at dinner parties otherwise. She had tried. Kept track of Susan Smith and Andrea Yates, for a mother who harmed her precious babies must be sick in the head. She had written Susan a letter, addressed it via the South Carolina prison, asking Susan if she had felt a burning sensation before driving into the lake. Had fire raced from her toes up her legs, burning through her stomach, clutching at her heart, so Susan gunned her SUV into cooling waters to save herself and forgotten about her children strapped in the backseat? Maddie never learned, for three months later her letter had been returned, unopened. Mr. Wilson moved the plate with the scone front and center. His wild eyebrows twitched as he nodded thanks. “It’s blueberry, your favorite.” She set a fresh mug of steaming coffee next to his plate. Mr. Wilson reminded her of her grandfather, who had the same toothy smile. Of all of them, Popsie was the only one who told her he understood. He came up to see her after the brouhaha settled, after she found the beach house with the leaky roof and started working at Road’s End, after she made it clear she wasn’t taking the ferry back to the mainland anytime soon. He told her he didn’t know how she managed to begin with. That she was brave and


selfless. She didn’t feel courageous, only that she had no other choice. Rick’s boots scuffed against the floor as he headed to the door. “Remember, I’m third on your route,” he shouted over his shoulder at Larry, who, from the counter stool, raised his hand in acknowledgement. Rick tugged on his rust-colored cap, glanced at the window, then at her. “Maddie, you put your pans out, didn’t you?” She nodded, the three-quarters-full coffee pot feeling heavy on her wrist. Why was it men underestimated her? She set the pot on Mr. Wilson’s table. Was being quiet, a counterbalance to chaos, interpreted as being meek and malleable? If so, Steve no longer questioned her ability to act boldly. Mr. Wilson folded the Times’ front section and placed it to the left of his stack. “She doesn’t need pans.” He looked straight at Rick. “Clouds aren’t doing anything but telling us they could if they wanted to, but they’re choosing not to today.” He unfolded the Journal and returned to reading. Rick shook his head and locked eyes with her. “I’d leave the pans out.” She studied the clouds. It was hard to tell if they would turn kind or not, as the spruces didn’t afford much of a view. She leaned forward, careful not to step on Reggie’s tail, until 91

she could see a swatch of sky above the airport’s grassy runway where Summer People flew in and out on their planes. She decided the clouds could be lifting. She trusted Mr. Wilson’s inclination, for, like Popsie, he saw past the obvious to discover the truth. “Maddie needs a husband to look after her roof,” Mr. Wilson said. “Not two geezers arguing over whether or not it’s going to rain, which it isn’t.” Well, almost the truth. Rick nodded. “If I was two decades younger, you know I’d ask, Maddie.” Wilson cleared his throat. “Try three. And what about the wife you already have?” Since she had arrived, the two had tried to marry her off to every available Year-rounder. She never let on about Steve, only shook her head at their suggestions that she would be happier, or at least live under a leak-free roof, if married. Maybe their couplings figured that way, but contentment had eluded her until she landed on Promise. What would a husband do with a leaky roof? Put out different pans? Call a roofer? Steve would have asked her to take care of the problem. They had started with happily-ever-after intentions. They’d married the day after college graduation. Steve was 92

bound for law school, with an eye to the governor’s mansion after a stint in his father’s practice. She sought non-profits, nothing confrontational which could later undermine his career, of course. Wouldn’t dare work for Save the fill in the blank or Museum of Contemporary Art, as endangered species conservation was construed as anti-job by some and the lifestyles of artists tawdry by others. Friends of the Library was a safe resume filler for the wife of a future governor. But when she became pregnant, he insisted she resign, for if he couldn’t take care of his wife and soon-to-be-born twins, why would voters think he could take care of them? Ting-a-ling. Ting-a-ling. A man wearing a plaid shirt and paint-splattered khaki pants stepped inside. Shivering, he rubbed his hands together. His ponytail-bound red hair swayed. An artist wannabe, Maddie decided, spotting the shirt’s designer insignia and pants’ iron creases, starched edging done by professional cleaner or maid or perfect wife. The orderly paint smudges added to the premise—signs of a timid paintby-the-numbers kit instead of a bust-a-gut Jackson Pollack installation. Promise attracted his type—people trying on personas. Being so far from the mainland, folks felt safe to peel the onions of their soul one thin stratum at a time. Sometimes it took a while to slough off the timidity of their 93

straight-jacketed suburban lives before they found their true self. Sometimes, one’s true self was disturbing. So as to not run into Wannabe, Rick stepped aside. “Weather changing for the worse?” He asked the man then glanced at Mr. Wilson. Wannabe looked over his shoulder and through the glass door. “I’d say it’s actually getting better.” Mr. Wilson grunted. Ting-a-ling. Ting-a-ling. –ling. The bells clanged loudly as Rick shut the door hard behind him. Wincing, Maddie picked up the coffee pot from Mr. Wilson’s table. “Come on in.” She pegged the visitor as a togoer—scouting a cottage with north-facing light so he could ponder the tradeoffs of chipping away his outer skin while dabbling with a brush. She shooed him forward to the counter with her pot. Reggie heaved from his throw-rug sprawl into a sitting position and growled. He was formidable asleep, and now, poised for action, with his broad head, shining rows of glistening teeth at waist height, and muscular haunches ready to spring, Maddie was glad he had taken notice of the outsider. The man hesitated.


Maddie patted Reggie’s head and spoke to the retriever, all the while looking at her new customer. “Be nice. We don’t need more naysayers.” Except for the dog’s low rumble, Road’s End quieted. At the counter, Larry swiveled around, his jeans scratching against the stool’s red Naugahyde. The Tuesday morning bridge foursome, sitting across the way from Mr. Wilson’s table, folded cards to chests and watched. “Don’t mind us. We don’t bite,” Maddie said, and headed toward the counter. Mr. Wilson eyed his dog. “Speak for yourself.” Reggie had licked her hand that first day, after she pushed through the door of Road’s End straight from the ferry landing, still following Larry. Mr. Wilson had squished his shaggy eyebrows together as she had reached to pat the dog’s head and said, “You’re either impetuous or know what you want.” Maddie was both. She had wanted a neat and tidy life. No messes. No surprises. No raised voices. And her life was just that until Olivia and Jackson knocked her off-kilter. When Jackson slept, Olivia rattled the crib’s railing. When Olivia nursed, Jackson demanded his diaper changed. When Jackson cried, Olivia held her breath until her cheeks burned crimson. When Olivia learned to walk, Jackson insisted he be carried. When 95

Jackson blew kisses, Olivia yanked the cat’s tail. When Olivia drew hearts, Jackson farted. “You’ll get on a schedule, just you see,” her mother had said. “You’ll figure it out, you always do,” Steve had offered. “When you’ve given life to them, messes and poor behavior suddenly become irresistibly dear,” her mother-inlaw had commented. The plaid shirt-wearing man followed her to the counter. “This place is supposed to have the best coffee.” Maddie met Larry’s gaze as she passed his stool. She hadn’t heard or seen a plane land, so the trek out from the village on such an iffy day was a commitment for a cup a coffee, even if hers was superior. But then again, uncovering one’s inner self required sustenance. Placing the pot on its warmer behind the counter, she noticed the Tuesday bridge club staring, waiting for her reaction to the newcomer. They hadn’t treated her like the new kid on the block when she ting-a-linged the bells that first time. Once Reggie had licked her hand, that was that—she was one of them and there was no turning back. Reggie had never treated anyone since with the same hospitality. 96

“What can I get you?” she asked. No need to hamper his search for self. God knew there were plenty of others who would. “Two shots in the dark and two straight from the cow,” the newcomer said. A hipster from Ballard or Queen Ann, a wannabe bankrolled by a trust fund, money to burn on whatever lark he decided to pursue. How much would he be willing to forsake to become the image he saw of himself? Maddie wondered. She set four to-go cups equally spaced apart on the counter, like toy soldiers at attention, and stacked up four plastic tops at the end of the row. She’d given up quite a bit. Reaching below, she plucked a cardboard carrier from the shelf. Four drinks would take him through a lengthy list of north-facing cottage listings. Larry jammed his notebook into his breast pocket and picked up his phone. The man waved his hand. “They’re for here. Not to go.” Maddie knocked over a cup with the carrier. For here? She righted and restacked the cups, nesting one into the other, a regiment turning tail. “You heading off, Larry?” Larry shook his head. “Not yet. Make sure that stray dog’s not giving you any trouble.” 97

That was their code to see if she needed help. She wanted him to stay in case the newcomer turned into a pest. But what trouble could an iron-creased ponytailed wannabe artist with a trust stir up? Still...four beverages…for here? The last thing she wanted was to listen to how hard he had it and how moving to Promise was just the ticket. “Just pour ‘em in mugs and I’ll take them to the open table.” He nodded to the one on the other side of the counter’s end, the one closest to her. Wannabe rolled his head right. After several popping noises, he rolled it left. Shutting his eyes, he raised and lowered his shoulders twice, both times accompanied by pops. “Want to wake up from the mindnumbing drive.” That’s where it had started. Like an addict, she had lusted for I-5’s mind-numbing high. The rhythmic click-clack of tires on pavement, ordered bedlam. Ticking by mile markers silenced Jackson’s whines and stowed Olivia’s scattered Legos. It disabled the clappers in the hand bells Olivia and Jackson ting-a-linged all day and what seemed like half the night as they sang Jingle Bells off-key in July. Perhaps she meant to go shopping. She had called her motherin-law to watch the twins. It was Costco Day, after all, and she had cash in her pocket. But I-5’s anesthetizing effect kicked in by the time the Big Box appeared and she whizzed by the exit. 98

The hum of the Escalade’s V8 soothed her. So she drove. Drove until her front bumper nudged up against the white Chevy with I’m not your 911 plastered on its tailgate. The miles erased an endless shopping list for yet another fundraising dinner party, afternoon appointments to interview more preschool directors, the red marks around Olivia’s neck. “You sure you can handle all this?” Her hand fluttered at the four mugs she’d set on the counter, at the imaginary pile of angst, guilt, loneliness, and despair she had sloughed off, peeling layers of her pain. Trust Fund Artist nodded, his eyes shut. She poured coffee into the first two and added a double espresso shot to each. She filled the third with milk and started pouring into the fourth. Ting-a-ling. Ting-a-ling. Ting-a-ling. A woman and two small children of similar height pushed through the door. Trust Fund Artist raised and waved his left arm. The children, a boy and a girl, had dark red hair, like the man’s. Like Maddie’s. Her wrist jostled and milk puddled onto the counter. Like Olivia’s and Jackson’s. The girl clutched a floppy stuffed horse. Olivia had a horse like that. She had called it Daisy.


Milk ran over the counter’s edge and dripped onto Maddie’s white canvas sneakers. “Damn.” She could feel the cold liquid wetting her toes, chilling her to the core. She had told Olivia to wait. She’d get her a glass but first she needed to clean up the cat’s upchuck under the dining room table, the table where Steve had announced his run for office a fortnight prior (“Maddie, start packing, we’re moving to the Governor’s Mansion!”). After sanitizing the floor, her hands reeking of partly digested tuna fish and bleach, she had come into the kitchen to find the cat retching again, this time under the kitchen table (what was it about making statements at tables?), the phone ringing, Jackson using the sink’s spigot as a climbing rope up to the counter, and milk cascading onto the floor. Olivia, watching her brother, taking notes for her own future expedition most likely, wasn’t paying attention to filling her cup from a milk container. The little girl plopped her stuffed horse onto Road’s End’s counter. “Oh-oh lady, you made a boo-boo.” She slid the toy away from the puddle, away from Maddie, so the horse would be safe from endangerment. The boy pointed to the overflowing glass. Then at his sister. “That’s yours.”


But they couldn’t be hers. Olivia and Jackson would be twelve by now. Wouldn’t they? It had been seven years. Then the dog had started yapping and Olivia had dropped the container. Splat. Milk had sprayed across the lower cherry cabinets, Yorkie, polished plank floor, Maddie’s silk blouse straight from the dry cleaner’s garment bag. She was on fire. Heat singed her legs, charred her viscera, scorched her heart. She had meant to reach for the sponge, but instead seized Olivia’s neck and squeezed. Staring into Olivia’s eyes, all the while squeezing, both of them understanding this particular task would be successfully completed. Jackson, upon reaching Mount Sink’s summit, nonchalantly grabbed hold of the far left water lever and sprayed his mother square in the face, interrupting Maddie’s progress. Two days later, when she signed the lease for the house with the leaky roof, her stomach still felt twisted from the blank look on Jackson’s face, as if he had expected her behavior. And her hand still ached from throttling her daughter. “Are you all right?” Larry passed her the dishtowel. Her platinum-haired mother-in-law had asked the same when the she’d shown up on Maddie’s front stoop an hour later. “Fine, just fine,” Maddie had answered, pulling keys from her purse as she sidled out the door without looking 101

back. “I won’t be long. Just need to take care of a couple of things.” With each click-clack on the highway, she had taken care of them. For what five-year old wouldn’t spill milk again? “You sure you’re up to all this?” Maddie waved the dishcloth at the four mugs sitting on the counter, the boy, the girl with the pony, the promise of a new life.


Selected Poems by Lorraine Henrie Lins Waiting For Bobby RFK Funeral Train Trenton, New Jersey, June 8, 1968 I. We turn off of Bakers Basin bridge, just beyond the bend in the road, the dust chalking up our windshield, thick grit settling on the hood. We angle down the one-car path, slight branches slapping in through the open windows of our station wagon, scraping the side panels like fingered nails along fence pickets, rips of leaves settling in on the seat beside me. II. I’m six and the wait is too long. I stand between my father in his rolled shirtsleeves and my mother in her loafers and skirt. Kids slide pennies onto the tracks, lining them up, coin to coin along the glint of metal that stretches beyond where I can no longer see. III. I hear it before I see it. 103

The heft of its load calling ahead; militant wheels protest the curve, knock against the creosote ties, exhaling cool pearls of smoke— and the people that were sitting, stand. IV. My brother holds his ears closed with both palms though his eyes stay focused on the wheels, that staccato churn so close to the crowd. My mother places her hand on her chest as if pledging allegiance, my father lowers his head as if standing for the benediction and I wave at the train as it goes by knowing whoever is inside must be looking out.

Jack He’ll spend the afternoon swimming around you, pretending not to notice the way boys do. He is pale and narrow. Too tall, with the arms and legs of someone even taller. The dark of his wet hair, a sparse match to his underarms as he pulls up on the diving board, will thread to spikes as he shakes his head into the afternoon glare.


When he speaks, it’s not the southern twang you’ve grown to expect from the vacation hotel-pool boys but a smoother drawl, something far more delirious. Treading water in the deep end, you’ll call him Jack, but he’ll correct you. Jacques, touch your collarbone. He’ll be the first boy to say I love you in the swell of a thick coastal night, just before he leaves to go home.

David Visits, Late Summer Description: Like regular boys, cousins appear in various climates, though specific variations. Davids, are regional. Thick skull to aid burrowing, their eyes are no more than two dark hollows under the dome of a car light. Their mouths are wide and set in an under bite. Rich caramel tones, sheds seasonally; emerges at sunset on warmer nights. Can be tamed, but at risk of harm. He sang and drummed the dashboard in the half light, half dark of my car, stopping to pull swallows from the longneck Bud he wedged between his thighs. I watched the way his hands took up most of the conversation, the way they settled on his knees when he didn’t know what to say. We’d parked along the curb, two streets over. 105

Locked in the quiet between songs, he told me about school, his dad, how fucked up things have become— and just beyond the windshield late into the September night the streetlights threw sharp invasive circles every so-many feet apart.


Selected Poems by Talal Alyan How I Got Sober I don’t remember much of that year except that I had just gotten sober and all of Manhattan felt to me like a new world with less color and more light, and I’d spend my nights in a studio apartment in Brooklyn with all the windows closed shut watching sitcoms and wondering if I should catch a meeting, and when I’d finally leave the apartment it was only to get cigarettes or junk food and I never really thought I’d ever stay sober and I told that to someone at a meeting in an old church one time, before I finally stopped going to them, and he told me that the trick is to trick yourself into leaving one day and entering another and so that’s what I did until one day I woke up and I’d been sober for a year, and I told myself I was done and I told myself I had done it and I had –

Tourist try it this way from outside a beltway in a used car that you drove in from Dallas exit the rental on the side of a highway then walk until your legs give way to the weight of your body. the skin over both 107

kneecaps caked in mud. pray to all the gods. the ones before you and the ones after.


Beyond the Sun By A.M. Bostwick I was on the tire swing when the sun went out. The tired old rope creaked back and forth, lazy as a butterfly in the breeze on a hot summer day. I had been picking at toast with the last of our field-picked raspberries, the long grass tickling my ankles as I dragged my bare feet along. It wasn’t like a light going out; one fast, hard switch. It was gradual. As though the sun were merely dying, an old lady at the end of her lifetime, laying love and gratitude on her children soft as a warm blanket as she left. So many generations over. The sky became sallow yellow, then burnt orange; fading into a red that colored the landscape in its final flash. Like a weeklong sunset. I was five. I’m 15 now. The silver maple where my tire swing still hangs is dying. The white leaves turned crisp, like any other fall day, and wrinkled like dry parchment within a month. They fell off all in one day. Now the tree itself is rotting, wasting away to hollowed-out crevices as though it’s being wrung out from the inside. “Save the sun lamp,” Grandpa says, switching it off as I turn the spoon through my tea. He stokes the kitchen wood 109

stove. “Get ready for school.” I’m staring out the window at all the nothing. He hates when I do that. It’s nearly always snowing. Fine particles, like ash drifting from a stone, gray sky. “Go,” he urges me towards my room, and I do. I’d say I’m used to the dark now, but the truth is, you never really get used to the dark. Not once you’ve seen the sun. The babies that were born after that day never felt its rays. They never saw the way a lake glistened under white-hot light in June. And haven’t witnessed how tree leaves used to change from buds to green leaves to every color of autumn. Seasons are dull and void now. Those babies aren’t likely to ever be as old as I am now. The world is dying. I turn the light on in my room and pull on my layers. A knock at the door tells me Johnny’s arrived and I hurry to grab my books. He hates being late. “October,” Johnny says as we walk down the sidewalk. “What did October used to look like?” He always asks me for my memories, even though he has more of his own at seventeen. I continually play his game. “Well, it was warm at the start of the month, usually,” I say, biting half a dusty corn English muffin and handing the other to Johnny, who takes it in his mouth in one bite. “But


then it would get cold. When I was three, I was a unicorn for Halloween. There was snow on the ground.” “Snow?” he scoffs, flicking his eyes toward me. One gray, one blue. “October seems early for that.” We’ve known each other since kindergarten, when he was held back a year and I was in school a year early. “Not in the Midwest,” I say. We never had much sun to begin with. That’s why so many people got sick with thenirreversible neurologic and autoimmune diseases. We were too far from the sun, and our bodies didn’t produce enough vital vitamins. There are cures now, but no one gets enough sun anymore, no matter where we live. We are all dying now, just the same. There is no cure for the sun. “The Midwest always had early snow. Don’t you remember?” Johnny shrugs. He’s failing half his classes, and says he doesn’t care. Yet he goes to school every day, always on time. They give us artificial sunlight there half the day. The wealthy get it all day. Wisconsin is not in a wealthy district. I don’t think it’s the fake sun that draws Johnny to school, though. I slip a look at his sharp cheekbones under a streetlight, no bruises, not even healing ones. His dad is a drunk. Plenty of people turned to drugs and alcohol when the sun went out. Others outright took their own lives, like my 111

mom. Death by pill is approved now, it wasn’t before the sun disappeared. I link my arm into Johnny’s as we meld into the unspeaking group that marches into the high school. “Energy Crisis” is first period. Mr. Davey, in his 70s, thwaks a map with his pointer stick. “All of the nations’ money is dwindling. Why?” he asks. No one raises a hand. Heads bow flat on desks. We are a room of wilting flowers, soaking up the fake sunshine. As good as salt water IVs to cure a raging infection. I lift my hand. “Yes, Wynona?” “Because they are trying to create a false star.” He drives this into our heads day after day. Because it makes him mad; and there’s nothing he can do about it. “To save a small portion of humanity.” “Yes!” he exclaims, hitting his world map some more. No one stirs. “Because we are in a mad race against time. To save the population of this dying planet!” Mr. Davey can be really depressing. “But! Is the Star really the answer?” he inquires pointedly. “Science and history have taught us one thing. What is that?” Davey leans slightly forward, waiting for an answer that isn’t going to come. “To focus on the sure thing!


Find another Earth, another sun! We have strong evidence it’s there…we just need to determine its….” “Viability,” I finish. The Chinese built their own ark. Not for research, but to live. They put it in the sky with a false star on board. They all grow flowers and gardens and it doesn’t snow all the time. The government is trying to put a large enough false star together for the mid-United States. We’d all have to live there, crammed in like mice in a lab cage. It would give humanity a few extra decades at most, before the planet freezes from poles to equator. Like eating an apple from bottom and top to center. I don’t want to live there. Even if I did, Grandpa would never leave our farm to go there. Nor Johnny. They’ll both freeze here first. The U.S. Ark Expedition, for Earth 2, I don’t let myself dream about. It’s easier for me not to stash hope in other people finding another sun, a real sun, out there. The team aboard the Ark are going after those exact planets, though. The press doesn’t say much about how long the expedition will take, and it kills me to not know. I have ideas to find the planets. “So who is right here and who is wrong?” Davey goes on, and I give in and lay my head down with the rest. I don’t belong here. I have become a stranger to my own home, my 113

own orbit. I want to make a difference, and as long as I am lodged here, that will not be possible. It tugs at me every single day, like a dull ache behind my ribcage, my heart as heavy as the moon. When the lunch bell rings, I move towards the library. I’m not hungry, and Johnny will be outside smoking. After a search online for news about the Ark, and failing that, I sit in the corner by the window, overlooking a day of deafening gray. This window is an old black and white movie, always on play. I flip open an old science book and stare at the green plants under a yellow sun. Blossoming flowers, colors like a candy bin. “It’s like sun porn,” Johnny says, startling me. I turn to him and smile, shutting the book. “It’s for an assignment,” I say, slipping it back on the bottom shelf and drawing my knees to my chest. The librarian, Miss Castor, is asleep at her desk. Our bodies can no longer tell day from night, night from day. But I suspect Miss Castor is severely, irrevocably depressed. “Sure it is,” he says, stretching out his long legs. We stare out the window together, silent in our friendship. “I know what you do here every day.” “So?” “Nothing.” 114

Johnny pulls out an old pocket watch and turns it over in his palm. It belonged to his great-grandfather. The gold catches the fluorescent lights and shines on the drab library walls. We should be doing algebra. There’s a test next period. Grandpa helps me with the equations, every night at our marred kitchen table, a single candle burning in a pile of old red wax. I never grasp the math the way he does. I suspect Grandpa is a genius. I don’t know my father. Grandpa is all I’ve ever really had. If I can’t save this Earth, then I want to be someone, before nothing is left. I want to leave a mark on my generation before the planet is frozen in ice. I’ll probably take college online courses, try to get a degree in something. Science is what I want to do. I’m not sure I can hack the math skills needed; but I’m good at science. Science is the bridge between art and math – no one sees, but I do. Math is always a+b=c. No interpretation, no subjectivity. Like in art – which has room for analysis, for change, for opinions, for ideas; all which I love. Put art and math together, and you have gray: science. A tree grows because x+y=z. Yet no one can exactly pinpoint why a branch grows this direction other than that, why a leaf twists in the wind, catches the light to make a little girl smile. How come a cat would make friends with a rat, when another cat would just rather eat the same rat. 115

The variables. The openness. Open questions. That’s how I could help solve this. Johnny sighs and knocks his head back against the wall of books. “What’s it matter anyway?” he mutters. “Ten more years and we’re all dead anyway.” I look down at my notebook in my lap and pick at the torn corner where our cat, Tibby, chewed it off. My throat clenches and I stifle a sniff. I feel Johnny’s warm hand grasp mine. I pat it back, a slim forgiveness. “You gotta realize, Wyn,” he says. “It’s all for naught. This scrabble against time.” “So go home,” I challenge. That’s the difference between us, I want to live. “Drop high school.” He opens his eyes, clear and true. “Then I wouldn’t see you.” *** I set a box of powdered milk into the cart. Grandpa prefers the cheap kind, but I can’t stand it another day. I slide a box of rice crisp in front of it so he won’t comment. He’s examining the cans of vegetables. “I remember ice cream,” he says, inexplicably. I pull off my hat, stuffing it into my jacket pocket. “I do, too,” I say. 116

“We had cows growing up,” he reminds me. “I had to milk them every morning before school.” I know this too, but I say nothing because I enjoy his stories. “We always had cream for coffee. For drinking. For ice cream.” I look into our cart. Grains. So many grains. We used to have beef cows and dairy cows. Now dairy is at a premium, nearly extinct. The grass to feed the cows has to be grown under lights, and cows eat a lot. There is very little meat now. Protein sources are from grasshoppers, dairy is from goats, which is what we have now. Vegetables grow in greenhouses, under the same lights meant to mimic what is natural. Grandpa and I had a large garden in the back yard. I pulled carrots, tended weeds, a hat on my head shielding me from the very thing I miss the most about life today. Sometimes I wish I could forget how it was then. Grandpa shakes his head. “Green beans or carrots?” he asks, straightening his shoulders. They are sharp under his flannel shirt, torn at the elbows. I need to sew them shut. “Beans,” I answer. We pick up our weekly allotment of dried beans and grasshopper protein (Now, ground finer!) and checkout. Grandpa picks up a bag of strawberry-flavored licorice and shows it to me. I lift up the more expensive box of milk


powder. He examines the box and drops all of it onto the conveyor belt. He wants the best for me. *** Saturday morning, the snow cakes along my windowsill, thick and cold, biting through the glass. I have to put plastic over the windows, but I resist every year. I like to open a window every so often. Even though I rarely do in the dead of winter, I like the option. I like to have windows and doors and opportunity. There is so little left, for any of us; we take what we can get. My phone buzzes and I rise from bed, the wood floor cold against my bare heels. “Hey,” I say to Johnny. “Tonight. Let’s go to the Quarry.” “I have to study. Grandpa is going back to work next week driving through the holiday season. I won’t have him to help me with algebra most of the week.” “I’ll help you.” I hesitate. Johnny knows algebra, he just chooses not to help himself. “Maybe.” “Maaaaybe you won’t be late this time? I’ll pick you up at seven?” I wipe a smile off my face, even though he can’t see me anyway. “What do you want down there, anyway?” 118

The Quarry. Or it used to be, anyway. A real, operating rock quarry. Mined for granite, extracted for mica for electronics. The quarry is just a huge hole in the ground now, its tall walls seemingly miles high. There’s an old elevator that still works to ratchet people down for bonfires and dealings every few months. Back door deals to drugs, the end-it-all pill administered without required counseling, cigarettes, chocolate. There are other things, too. Train tickets to other places. Rare artwork. Car parts. People come from all over to go to the Quarry. “The usual,” he says. So, cigarettes and maybe a new, used sweatshirt. “Fine,” I say, clicking off and moving through the dark to a shower. *** It is especially cold. The snowflakes are tiny and dwindling, replaced instead by the bitter, thin air. I pull up my hood and slam the door shut to Johnny’s truck. Grandpa knows where I am. He doesn’t like it, his blue eyes examining me extra hard over a quick homework session tonight at the table. We’d had bean soup for dinner, crusts of bread. “Tell me again,” I say to Johnny, jogging to match his long stride. “What we’re doing here?”


He slows, breath fogging in the air like ghosts. He twists his pocket watch once in his palm, then pockets it again. For luck. “Smokes. Who knows? There’s always something.” I stamp my feet. The elevator is at the bottom, and we have to wait for it to come back up. Below, I see specks of orange, their flames hitting off rock faces. “Lot of people,” I say, trying to count the bonfire specks. “Good,” Johnny says, lighting a cigarette with a match. The brief fire illuminates his face in sharp contrast to the dark night. He shakes the match dry and inhales, looking up. I do, too. So many stars pierce the night. Pinpricks of hope over our planet, gasping for its last breaths. “Think they’ll do it?” “Do what?” I ask, digging my hands deeper into the pockets of my old coat. The lining is thin and my finger pokes a new hole in the fabric. “Find Earth 2?” I cock my head. It’s the first time he’s expressed any interest at all in surviving past Earth. “I don’t know,” I say. “I guess I’d like to think so.” “You’d live there?” He eyes me in the shadows. I stare back and nod once. “Not under a star here?” “No,” I say. The elevator begins to grown and creak. “You?” 120

He drags deeply on his cigarette, tip glowing. “I’d rather die.” The elevator doors open and a guy with a dirty beard and scuffed suit clangs open the door. “Two?” “Yeah,” Johnny says, motioning for me to get inside first. The operator shuts the doors and begins the descent. He’s wearing a hat with a weak yellow light casting an everbouncing beam in the cramped cart. I stare at my boots against the rusting floor of the elevator. “Got a lot going tonight,” the guy says. “Yeah?” Johnny asks. “Strange place,” he says. “Never know what there’ll be.” It’s like he’s the commerce guy for the Quarry. Technically, most of the deals are illegal. The cops never raid the Quarry, I don’t know why. Maybe because they need stuff from the Quarry as much as everyone else. The elevator shakes and jolts as it touches bottom. “G’nigh night,” the operator says. I slide out quickly, surveying the scene. Fires burn for a few miles, down different rock alleys and around corners. The ground is dusty and pocked with loose rocks. I adjust my scarf, it’s less windy


down here, the air acrid from the unmoving smoke. Johnny takes my elbow and moves down the main unnamed road. “Don’t run off to buy weird stuff,” he says. “That was only once,” I say, but I let his hand stay in the crook of my arm, loose yet firm. He doesn’t wear cologne, but he always smells the same. His hair falls over the top of his collar, turned up against the night. “I bought that jewelry box, remember?” “Of all the things you could buy in an outlaw market, you buy a music box with ballerinas.” He’s not mad, I see the corners of his mouth lifting. “It’s one of my favorite things,” I say. People hide their faces, backs to the road, faces to the hot fires. Someone walks along, selling roasted chickpeas. Someone else offers faux chocolates wrapped in shiny pieces of foil, glinting against the firelight. Some vendors have rough shelves set up, stocked with old electronics, packs of cigars and cigarettes, bottles of unmarked pills. The elevator doesn’t allow for huge items to make it down here. Most everything is cobbled together, concealed or promised off sight. “Want anything?” Johnny asks when we come to an all-food vendor. I scan the offerings, an old lady sitting on a folding chair with a cash box hidden under her stained apron. I’m struck by all the smells, of hot dogs and roasting potatoes. 122

I feel the edges of my stomach, where the soup didn’t fill. “Potato skins. Wyn?” “Hot chocolate.” “That’s all?” he asks me. I nod. “Make that two skins. And a packet of goat butter.” The woman gets up, moving quickly over her lit burners and wraps the potatoes in wax paper. She pours me a cup of hot (fake) chocolate and hands us the items as Johnny gives her a bill. “Keep the change,” he says and the weary woman offers a weak smile. Johnny salts and peppers the potatoes, putting half the pat of butter on his, the rest on mine. We sit on a rock the size of a small car and watch people slink by. The skins are good. We both drink the chocolate drink, down to the last dregs of bitter powder. By the time we walk again, the road has more people. Everyone shields their eyes under caps and hats, hunching in their shoulders, and scuttling into shadows. “I’d like a pack of reds,” Johnny says at his usual vendor. My eyes wander to where I bought the old box. She’s several yards down, an old purple sheet stretched over pipes to create a shield. I spin on my boot heel. It makes the stars blur


into one big Milky Way. I spin and spin, until I lose my footing and smack into someone. “Sorry.” The guy steps back to examine me, his face a landscape of crags, of deep fault lines and sunken pits. His hair is dried grass, as though it would break like a frozen blade of heather. “That’s okay, doll,” he says, smiling. It touches his eyes, which are a sharp and rare green. Snowflakes swirl around us without aim or destination. They catch in the eddy that is made in the quarry and drift around our faces. “You look like a girl who is going somewhere,” he says, shoving his hands into the pockets of his thick, khaki jacket. “Are you, doll?” Want and actual reality are two vastly different things. “I’d like to,” I say cautiously. “What’s going on?” Johnny asks. He’s turned from his vendor and I watch him closely take in the man. “Nothing, I bumped into him,” I say. “She yours?” he asks. “What’s it to you?” Johnny fires back, and I recognize that tone. I put my hand on his forearm and squeeze. “Sorry I bumped into you. Let’s go.” Johnny looks the man up and down once more before we step away. 124

“Wait,” the man says to us both and we pause. “Where are your cigarettes?” I ask Johnny. He’s buying me too much stuff. Where is his? He works 20 hours a week, sometimes more if he can get weekend hours, at the distribution center. Usually all freezer hours, he has to wear his winter jacket and snow pants, a thick hat with earmuffs I made him for Christmas last year, lined with thick rabbit skin fur. “They want too much. I can do better,” Johnny says. “I have something you might want,” the man says, louder now. Johnny and I turn as he reaches his long, sootstained fingers into his jacket. “Take a peek at this.” The man cocks his head, ushering us deeper into the dark cast between a rock face and the back of a tent. “Just tell me,” Johnny demands. “You’re wasting our night.” “Come on,” he says, coughing once. Twice. He clears his throat. “I’ll give you a good price.” I move my feet forward, maneuvering around Johnny, who pulls me sharply back. “You got a death wish? I’ve never seen this guy here before.” “I’m curious,” I say, which Johnny gives me a look that tells me he thinks it is synonymous with the same thing as 125

a funeral. I am curious. I have a feeling. It’s like an itch I need to scratch, a scab I ache to pick, a thread I must pull. I look into his two-colored eyes. “Please?” Johnny exhales angrily through his nose, like a frustrated horse, but he moves to see what the man is offering. All the man is holding are stubs of paper. Theater tickets, probably. To some obscure show that I won’t have the time or gas money to drive to. Plenty of people yearn for tickets like these. I’m just not one of them. “So?” Johnny huffs, reading my mind. But the man’s hungry eyes are all for me. “Want to go to the Ark, doll?” *** The Ark. It’s been loading for just over six weeks now. Tomorrow is the last day. A team of scientists, interns, regular people. They are in space, trying to determine if Earth 2 is viable, if their sun is. No one on Earth knows how, exactly; if there’s real hope. Or if it’s all just senseless air and theory that will die out just like the national treasury money did to send the people there. No one from lonely, desolate northern Wisconsin has gone. I think a geologist from UW-Madison was sent. “You crazy?” Johnny asks, voice high and pissed off. “You don’t have real tickets to the Ark. Real tickets went the 126

way of solar panels and SPF.” He grabs my shoulder and tries to shove me down the road, but I don’t move. I want to see the tickets. “Come on, Wyn. Don’t listen to this lunatic.” “Let me see them,” I say stubbornly. “Don’t touch,” the man says, tipping his head back to gaze behind my shoulder. He makes sure no one is watching. “I got this down south. Chicago. The girl to go? Was shot and killed. In her very own classroom.” “What are you saying? You lifted it off the body?” Johnny exhales hotly again, tossing his cigarette butt onto the ground and grinding it into the snow with his boot tip. “He did.” The man is offended. “’Course not,” he says. “Bought it. Fair and square. From her ma, she needed the dough. Make her kid’s life worth somethin’, won’t you, doll? Take her place.” He wipes his nose on a sleeve. “I’m not gonna hock you on it.” Regular tickets are transferable as long as the person is of same age, same gender. “Bull. He took it from another thief, another con,” Johnny says. “Don’t buy in, Wyn.” “I don’t have to take this,” the man says. “Just was trying to give the little girl here a chance. Don’t you want this girl to have a chance? Not to die here in the dark, like every 127

other half-brained idiot here who won’t leave? I’m outta here.” He shoulders past us and I turn as he walks out into the crowd, thicker now as the clock inches toward midnight. Darker night, darker deeds. My heart thud-thud-thuds, bloody and messy ripping between going and staying. “Wait,” I call, voice strained with want. “Stay here, Wyn, will you? Just for once – will you listen to me?” Johnny asks. “Trust me? Please.” Johnny takes off after the man and yanks him into another dark rock corner. He’s probably going to beat him up, I reason. For messing with my mind and my dreams of change, of making a difference, of living to see a sun rise even one more time. The cocoa has long since gone cold in my stomach, there’s a chalky taste in my mouth, a lump in my stomach. I glance at the stars, thread-thin beams of light on an ever-solid blanket of black beyond black. The constellations move, the stars change position. The Earth still turns on its axis. Yet the only thing changing on our planet is our ever-climbing death rate. I wonder if on Earth 2, will there be Monarch butterflies? Will smaller species that were killed off within the first few years be able to begin again with their saved DNA? 128

We have only survived this long because we are stubborn, because humans want to be, more than anything, immortal. If our planet freezes, though, there will be no way to find our history books. No way to research our internet history. It will be gone, crusted beneath sheets and sheets of ice and frost. The very same we used to welcome each winter, every Christmas, to skate across and make snowmen from. It’s no longer magic, I think, as the snowflakes float down in a dizzying spell. It’s our destiny. Unless someone changes it. *** We ride home in empty silence. The dash lights of Johnny’s truck have long since burnt out. Grandpa could fix it, I told him last year. It’s no matter, he always says. More dark is no more harsh than the rest of the dark we already live with and endure. My mother couldn’t endure. She killed herself before the sun even went out. That was when we still had its warm rays, and all the newscasters’ repeated warnings from scientists still seemed like they could be wrong. We all thought perhaps it would pass, like any other bad storm or tornado that just skims the top of a remote field. Surely we’d survive, humanity thought. Mom didn’t think so, or maybe she was just too sad to begin with. 129

“Why’d you do it?” I ask when Johnny parks across the road from my house. It’s dark inside, Grandpa asleep with Tibby on the quilted bed in the tiny room off the kitchen. “Because you wanted it,” Johnny says. “I’m nobody,” I say. The truck ticks as it cools. The wind whisper-howls and pushes at the doors, trying to invade the little heat left inside. I press my hand over my chest where the ticket sits, afraid it’ll vanish if I stop touching it for even a second. “I won’t do any good. It was a waste.” This is the last time the Ark will board. The last time before the mission ends in six months, to find an answer. Johnny turns to me, and under the yard light of our house, I only see his sharp profile. That long nose, hollow cheek, plump lower lip. I reach out, pull back, then reach again, resting my finger there in the hollow just below his mouth. He lowers his eyes and dips his chin. I feel the softness there, the stubble, too. But mostly the softness. The last time. “I love you,” he says. I kiss him once on the lips. I let my mouth linger there, for just a few sweet seconds. Any more than that, and I won’t go tomorrow. I won’t leave him here, in this cold truck without his gold pocket watch and cigarettes. Without everything he sold for me tonight. I’ll stay here on this dark 130

planet, only wishing for an answer. I’ll have his arms, but I’ll never have the chance to try. It’s time for me to not belong someplace else, someplace where at least I’m giving us all a chance. Me. Grandpa. Mr. Davey. Miss Castor. Johnny. Us. Johnny has taken the heavy moon from my heart and put it back into the sky. And I’m going to put the sun back in his. “I love you,” I choke out.


Selected Poems by Heather Humphrey

People on Ceilings Decided to only look at the phone upside down. From now on. To make my brain work harder like playing Boggle in Urdu like making castles out of playing cards. Like studying one of those pictures made of dots that some people look at and see a unicorn or Jesus, or Jesus on a unicorn (but I just see dots). I’ll change the setting so the screen doesn’t flip stays upside down with numbers making words and all my photos are of people on ceilings with mouths for eyes and arms growing out of necks; distorted. Like I’m standing on my head or that the image is correct and everything else is wrong. It’s all just so I can make it the second thought, and not the first— that you still haven’t called.

Want and Chase and Get My name means a kind of flower that grows where nothing else will loves acid, infertile soil; blooms in it. 132

I delete my photos because I’m no flower. I’m the only Irishman I know who won’t drink Guinness not even on parade day turns Smarties into flowers before eating them wears rope like a necklace because you always need rope and never leaves home without a notebook. Pisces try to fix people and when they don’t fix, I break but I was taken early, so I should probably be Aries, which explains the anger and the want and chase meaning more than the get. I follow a blog called do-not-touch-my-food. Keep me fed and I won’t get cranky keep me laughing and you can stay. I make art out of garbage stories out of words who cares if they get mixed up because— words are never garbage and stories are always art.


Selected Poems by Samantha Zimbler Dermatillomaniac on a Saturday Afternoon I take a clipping of the moon and pin it to my ceiling. I wear my three-dimensional glasses when looking at the sun. I’ve had a metronome stuck behind my eyes since conception. It’s still banging to get out but I accepted our union long ago. And now I just follow the beat. They call this detachment, sometimes. Sometimes from reality and sometimes from my own banging anger— But one, they say, doesn’t go much without the other. And so I write my words myself until the scars and scabs up my arms and along my shoulder blades are covered in the ink of my life. Notice the straight lines of penmanship, of rows of breaking skin. My body is my mind’s self-written book. My words, when I can get them out, are mine.


Organic America, come to me in your sweat-socked glory, in your blistered heels from your cheap pleather loafers. Come to me in the lemon lime trees of autumn where I sit among the half-national bums, rolling in and on the grass with dry grass curling upward, broken weeds exposed on a picnic blanket. You know, America, that I am no more than a naked twig on the dead ground, my human limbs sleeping and coming back to life under your divine swelling cumulous. I am waiting to see spider webs crawling out of my eyes, though I have suffered no head trauma, no retina detachment. I am a cigarette butt, expensive in the dirt, America. I live in the four-foot-high spider webs, I work through the trees, though I cannot see my own home, the tunnels of web between blooming and swollen branches. I am just one of the myriad forest sounds of velvet, denim, cheap metal, a half-eaten apple resting on a coffee cup. I am bathing in America’s early morning nicotine, the light feathers coming in and out of her mouth. Were I an eremitic monk in the rainy season, preaching the dharma (there is no beginning and there is no end), I would know that I am made of the same raspberry pigment as the leaves resting on the fall branches, I am no more than the small red ants discovering 135

the shy space between the motions of my own hand and the inanimate, the ever-changing striped earth. But there is no inanimate. It is all made to be trashed. All comes from everything else, and everything waiting to be trashed. I am no more than the autumnal owl carved on a tree trunk. In all your mother glory, sitting on the edge of a man-made lake, are we organic, America?

The Human Quiet We are slow moving animals, like the mastodons of the arctic tundra, marching, rushless, in an aerial line of spines. We are glorious in our noble mass. The static of our television screens is a flock of one million migrating birds. A mud colored humanity, full of sloths and wildebeests, chameleoning into another, roaming in the unresponsive silence of the vast plains. A silence that is potent. Beneath our heels, the grass—sensual, fertile— drinks in water that cannot sustain other plant life. Its green blades will rise again from the ashes of our fiery blazes like a phoenix, sorrowful in its own power.


Reification By Mariana Samuda 1. “You don’t remember what happened. What you remember becomes what happened.” –John Green (Abundance of Katherines) You meet him in a Barnes and Noble in Union Square when you’re trying to write a novel. You meet him in a Starbucks in Burbank. You meet him when you’re three years old and walking into your kindergarten class for the first time. You meet him in your freshman orientation for college. You meet him on a river raft ride on the Rio Grande, on a rollercoaster in Japan, behind a club in Brazil. You meet him on the train ride to Hogwarts. You meet him in the year 2130, in Ancient Rome, in the trenches in World War I. You meet him on a plane ride from Paris to Florence, from Trinidad to Jamaica, from New York to Jakarta, from point A to point B. You meet him when the sky is on fire, the earth is trembling, and the seas are raging. There is fear in his eyes and hope in his touch when he reaches for your hand, because the world is ending, but you—the you that is collective and together—are just beginning. You meet him in a queue for coffee on a drab Tuesday morning in Jersey. He already has his order of an espresso and a latte. Before you make it to the counter to order, he walks 137

over to you. I saw you looking at the latte menu, he says. He hands the cup to you. Care to join me? You look at the cup in his hand and hesitate, but he smiles, so you sit with him. He tells you his name and you tell him yours. It’s lovely to meet you, he says. You are sure, in any realm of existence, at any time, in any place, that you meet him. 2. “He was contemplation and enthusiasm. Ambition and strong coffee.” –E. Lockhart (We Were Liars) He could recite Yeats’ poetry to you, if you really wanted to hear that shit, but you were always more interested in what was happening in the Captain Marvel comics he pretended not to read. He could tell you the stats for every starting quarterback for every team in the NFL, if you really wanted to hear that shit, but you were always more interested in just sitting on the couch watching him watch the game. He could tell you each presidential candidate’s stance on foreign policy, if you really wanted to hear that shit, but you were always more interested in what he would do given the position instead. He could tell you he hated dancing, and you really didn’t want to hear that shit, but you were always more 138

interested in how he gripped your waist tighter when you laid your head on his chest, and then promptly stepped on your toes. He could tell you the address of every coffee shop in Jersey and their menus, if you really wanted to hear that shit, but you were always more interested in the cup he brewed himself to wake you up in the mornings. He could tell you that he loved you, he loved you, he loved you, if you really wanted to hear that shit, but you were always more interested in the way he read your writing in a funny British accent, the way he threw a blanket over you when you fell asleep on the couch, the way he held your niece’s hand when you took her for ice cream, the way he smiled at you when you accidentally snorted, the way he tucked your hair behind your ear, the way he said it without ever saying it. 3. “What I felt for him was different, / something crazy. The kind of thing / you look for all your life.” –Sandra Cisneros (My Wicked Wicked Ways – “Something Crazy”) You try to write about what it feels like to be with him. You start literal. It is hot. You are always semi nauseous. Your palms and underarms sweat more. You have


developed a stutter. You didn’t know black people could blush. You want it to sound prettier. It feels like a summer day. You are hosting a flutter of butterflies in your stomach. Your palms and underarms have begun to cry in anxiety (you know that one is awful). Your words are tripping over your emotions before they come out. You didn’t know the feeling of heat in your cheeks. You want it to sound poetic. It feels like when the sun peeks out after a hurricane and you step out amidst fallen tree limbs and feel the heat on your skin. Your stomach muscles learn to contract under the weight of such intensity. Your tongue trips on pathways to speech it once knew so easily. Goddamn it, your cheeks feel like they’re sunburned, blood rushing through your capillaries, and you didn’t know they even had the ability to do that. You want it to sound real. It’s holding his hand, waking up to him in the morning, his hug when you didn’t even know you needed one. Your stomach is tight and you are constantly on the verge of throwing up every time he even looks at you. You are scared, you are anxious, you are feeling the weight of it all, and your pores damn well know it. You want to be careful with your words, make sure they’re right, and so they come out a little hesitant. You didn’t know what it 140

was like to have someone affect you like this, so much that your body learns new tricks. 4. “That—and no more, and it is everything.” –Joseph Conrad (“Task of the Artist”) You break down one day when your novel stalls and deadlines are coming but the money is not. He holds you. He rocks you back and forth. He recites poetry to you. He tells you your words are better than that. He tells you you are better than your words. He tells you he will support you no matter what. He tells you you are the best thing in his life. He holds you. And that is all you have ever wanted. 5. “You’re in a car with a beautiful boy...” –Richard Siken (Crush – “You Are Jeff”) He tells you he just redid the upholstery in the back seat and asks if you want to look at it. You wonder if that is his subtle way of hinting it is time for sex. You realize how tiny the space is between the driver and passenger’s seat when you both try to squeeze through it at the same time, laughing all the way. He tells you it’ll be like you’re teenagers again. You say you never did this as a teenager. He says he’ll teach you. He presses you down on to your back and you spare a thought to think he should’ve also re-cushioned the seats. He 141

kisses you and you marvel at the faint taste of coconut. Both of you use unflavored ChapStick. He moves to your neck and you see a copy of Amy Poehler’s Yes Please tucked in the pocket attached to the back of the passenger seat. You wonder what would possibly convince him to read that. He has moved to doing some pseudo-massage thing with your breasts that you are not particularly enlightened by. You wish he had a sunroof so you could at least look at the stars. When he leans back to pull off your panties he knocks a small black pouch off of the backseat. The contents spill out and roll on to the floor. When his fingers slide into you and your head flops to the side in pleasure, you notice three tampons now on the floor, and just beyond them, a pair of pink flip-flops under the passenger seat. You try not to think what it means. Instead, you look up and imagine a constellation of stars above you, mapping your way to each other. Instead, you tell him you like the blue-brown cross-stitch pattern of the seats, that it really brings out his eyes. Instead, you let him take you where only he can. You smile. You laugh. You sigh. You say, yes please. 6. “Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia.” –John Green (Looking For Alaska) 142

He tells you he wants five kids. He tells your parents he wants to marry you. He tells them you will both live in Colorado, far enough from Boulder so you can write in seclusion, but not far enough to be a long commute so he can teach. He tells you he’ll get you a dog, the golden retriever you always wanted as a kid. He tells you you will honeymoon in Paris and have your tenth anniversary in Cancun. He tells you he will go where you go. He tells you he will always love you. He tells you you are the only one. You tell him you know. He tells you it was only one time. You tell him one time doesn’t lead to the comfort of tampons and flip-flops on the floor of his car. He tells you he goes where you go. He tells you he will always love you. He tells you you are the only one. You think, yes please. You tell him you don’t like lattes. You tell him you know. 7. “As soon as you start thinking about the beginning, it’s the end.” –Junot Díaz (This is How You Lose Her) You meet him in a queue for coffee on a drab Tuesday morning in Jersey. He already has his order of an espresso and a latte. Before you make it to the counter to order, he walks over to you. I saw you looking at the latte menu, he says. 143

You were looking at the teas. He had the latte in his hand before he saw you. 8. “He is a secret that I have kept, and will keep for the rest of my life.” –Veronica Roth (Allegiant) You knew when you sat down in that coffee shop all those Tuesdays ago. He slipped the ring off his finger when he thought you weren’t looking. You knew when you saw the scratched out name on the latte coffee cup. He told you he tried to guess your name. You knew when he could only meet you on these days at these times. He said it was work. You knew when he didn’t want you to post pictures anywhere. He said they should only be for the two of you. You knew when he would absently rub his empty ring finger. He said it was a nervous tick. You knew when he would always look over his shoulder when you were together.


He said he was paranoid from watching too many cop shows. You knew, oh boy, you knew, but you couldn’t help but say, yes please. 9. “Not everything is supposed to mean something.” –Jennifer E. Smith (The Geography of You and Me) At the beginning of everyday, you learn a new word. Today’s own reads: reification |ˌrēəfəˈkāSHən| noun.

- the error of treating as a concrete thing something which is not concrete, but merely an idea. - the process of regarding as real things that are not. 10. “Whenever I look at it, it makes me happy. That’s the moral of the story. That’s it.” –David Levithan (How They Met & Other Stories) He left you in that coffee shop that one Tuesday morning with his number, a kiss on your hand, and the words, until we meet again. He said it every time he left you. If he was getting out of bed in the morning to go make breakfast in the kitchen, he said it. If he was going away on business— 145

business—for three weeks, he said it. If he was closing the door to use the bathroom, he said it. If he was closing his eyes to play hide and seek with you and your niece, he said it. He used to say he could reopen his eyes and he would be blind. He could die sitting on the toilet. He could burn the house down making breakfast. He could leave you without ever having a promise of meeting you again. You don’t know why the tampons wake you to the reality of the situation, but they do. You kick him out of your apartment, out of your life, but he still says it: until we meet again. You tape a tampon to the wall in reminder. Two days later, you find a note by your bedside table that says it: until we meet again. You slip. You smile. You think, yes please. You walk around with a tampon in for the rest of the day. It stops you from calling him. You fall asleep that night with the note in your hand. 11. “...sometimes a start is all we ever get.”– Junot Díaz (This is How You Lose Her) You are sure, in any realm of existence, at any time, in any place, that you meet him. But you are not sure that you—


the you that is collective and together—ever does more than meet.1


“Maybe they were nothing more than a footnote.” – Jennifer E. Smith (This is What Happy Looks Like) 147

Contributors: Cover Artist: Santa Monica based artist Gregg Chadwick has been painting for three decades. His current studio is an old airplane hangar where the flurry of takeoffs and landings on the runway outside seems to creep into Chadwick's paintings as he explores the movement of past, present, and future within his light filled paintings. His current series of paintings is entitled Mystery Train and evokes the railways of America, steel rivers that Chadwick says runs in his blood. His grandfather worked as a fireman stoking coal in steam engines before advancing to train engineer on the Jersey Central Railroad Line. For Chadwick, family gatherings brought the rhythms of the rails home. The sounds of railroad workers echoed in the music that Chadwick's relatives played in the shadows of the train lines outside. For Chadwick and many others such as writer Greil Marcus, filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, and musicians Junior Parker and Elvis Presley, the enduring mythos of America and its legacy is wrapped in the blues notes of the song Mystery Train. Chadwick’s current solo exhibition Mystery Train will be traveling to venues across the country. On The Future Is Woke With millions of others, I marched on January 21, 2017 in the Women's March. Our crowd in Los Angeles numbered around 750,000. The Future Is Woke is part of a series of paintings exploring that day and the continuing protests in this volatile time. As an artist I often use my creations as a sort of reflecting device that mirrors and focuses attention on social and political change. As Marvin Gaye sang so poignantly— “What’s going on.”


Talal Alyan is a Palestinian-American writer based in Brooklyn. His first collection of poetry, Babeldom, will be published by Astrophil Press in 2017. Sanya Bery is a recent graduate of Newark Academy and will be attending Wesleyan University in the Fall of 2017. She likes to experiment with words in the form of poetry, short stories, and personal essays. She has been published by Teen Ink, Creative Communications, Blue Marble Review and most recently, Canvas Literary Magazine. She has also won both a silver and gold key in the 2016 Scholastic Writing Awards. A.M. Bostwick writes Middle Grade and Young Adult novels. Her debut middle grade novel, The Great Cat Nap, earned the 2014 Tofte/Wright Children's Literature Award from the Council for Wisconsin Writers. It also earned the Moonbeam Children's Award Bronze Medal in the Pre-Teen Fiction category. The sequel and standalone, The Clawed Monet, hit the shelves in 2016. Her young adult novel, Break the Spell, released in autumn 2015. She holds degrees in both art and earth science. Her art will appear in the 2017 fall gallery at Wausau Center for the Visual Arts. Born and raised in London, María Castro Domínguez is the author of “A face in the crowd” which is her 2016 erbaccepress prize-winning collection. Her poems have appeared in Blaze Vox, The Argotist, Bareknuckle Poet, Apogee, StepAway, Of/with, London Grip. She has flash fiction published in Out of the Gutter and Friday Flash Fiction. She holds a Bachelor´s degree in English philology and is a freelance writer. Natalie Crick, from the UK, has poetry published or forthcoming in a range of journals and magazines including Interpreters House, The Chiron Review, Rust and Moth, Ink in Thirds and The Penwood Review. This year her poem, “Sunday School” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. 149

Her first chapbook will be released by Bitterzoet Press this year. Wendi Dass is an emerging writer from central Virginia. Her short stories have been published in several small literary journals, and she is currently seeking representation for her women's fiction novels. When she's not writing, Wendi can be found wrangling her toddler or devising deceptively delicious problems for her math students. A’rikka Dion is a poetry and fiction writer from Baltimore, MD. She is a jeweler and has a B.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from McDaniel College. Amy VanDeburgh Fant’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Weave Magazine, Nashville Review, Fiction Southeast, Kentucky Review, and Pulp Literature, among others. She’s originally from South Carolina, finished her MFA at Emerson College in Boston, and is currently writing and teaching in Nashville, Tennessee. L. Mari Harris lives on a cattle ranch in western Nebraska, where she works as a copywriter for a small marketing company. Lisa K. Harris has published more than 150 essays, fiction, and popular press articles about a variety of topics including growing-up, outdoor adventure, science, and coping with speed bumps. Her writing often has a quirky twist. She also has published an environmental policy book (Krausman and Harris, Cumulative Effects, CRC Press, 2011). Spilled Milk is a chapter from a novel-in-progress about life on an end-of-theroad island. Lisa lives in Tucson, with two daughters, four cats, one persnickety saltwater fish tank, nine desert tortoises, and a blind herding dog named Noel. When she isn’t writing or tending to her menagerie, Lisa works as a wildlife biologist. 150

For a complete publication list, please see her website Heidi Hemmer uses imagery to create empathy, awareness, and awe. She lives in the cold of Saint Paul MN, with her husband, and Instagram celebrity cat, Bandit Torpedo. Heidi has previously been published in Wild Leaf Press, The Southwest Journal, Talking Stick, Oddball Magazine and Nude Bruce. Lorraine Henrie Lins is the author of two full-length books of poetry, All the Stars Blown to One Side of The Sky and the forthcoming Bungalow at the End of Tipton, as well as two chapbooks. Lins is a county Poet Laureate in Pennsylvania and serves as the Director of New and Emerging Poets with Tekpoet. Her work has appeared in several journals and anthologies, most recently: The American Poetry Journal, Eating Her Wedding Dress, Inklette, Claudius Speaks, Literary Mama, and Mudfish. Born and raised in the suburbs of Central New Jersey, she now resides outside of Philadelphia with her family and several dogs where she has since learned to pump her own gas. Heather Humphrey is currently pursuing a PhD in English literature and creative writing at Binghamton University. She is the fiction editor for Harpur Palate and Assistant Director for the Binghamton Poetry Project. Heather has a passion for community service and plans use her degree to create a safe space in which at-risk youth can experience free exposure to the arts and where literacy can be re-imagined through creativity and play. Follow her on Twitter & instagram: @bigred9094. Alice-Catherine Jennings is the author of Notations: The Imagined Diary of Julian of Norwich (Red Bird Chapbooks, 2017) and Katherine of Aragon: A Collection of 151

Poems (Finishing Line Press, 2016). Her poetry has appeared in various publications worldwide. She divides her time between Austin, Texas and Oaxaca, Mexico. Seth Jani currently resides in Seattle, WA and is the founder of Seven CirclePress ( His own work has been published widely in such places as The Chiron Review, Pretty Owl Poetry, El Portal, The Hamilton Stone Review, Hawai`i Pacific Review, VAYAVYA, Gingerbread House, Gravel and Zetetic: A Record of Unusual Inquiry. Visit him at Kelsey Ann Kerr has a great interest in loss: holes both metaphorical and physical of the heart, holes in life left by the loss of parents, cauterized by love. She teaches writing composition at the University of Maryland and American University, and holds an M.F.A. in Poetry from the University of Maryland. Her work can be found in Slippery Elm, Stirring and New Delta Review, among others. Sofia Kwon is a young writer from New Jersey. She is the recipient of three national gold medals from the Scholastic Art & Writing awards for personal essay, poetry, and short story, and has won numerous regional awards as well. She has previously been published in the online literary journals Voices & Visions and Poetry WTF for short story and poetry, respectively. When not writing, you can find her practicing her music, advocating for social justice, or binge watching Netflix shows. Nikki Macahon lives in suburban Chicago. Her pastimes include staying up past her bedtime reading memoirs written by popular comedians and thinking about what she'll have for breakfast in the morning. (@nikmacpattywak).


Rosie McMahan is from Somerville, MA and lives in the western part of the state with her multi-generational family. She is a writer and caregiver, runs a small private practice, participates in community activism and loves to garden. She has received prizes for her writing, and her work has been published in a number of journals, including Silkworm, Typehouse Literary Magazine, The 2016 Gallery of Readers Anthology and Passager Books. Tamara L. Panici works on and off as a personal trainer and lives anywhere from Puerto Rico to Budapest. She has recent or forthcoming work in Abyss & Apex, Black Poppy Review, Fjords Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Carbon Culture Review. Kelsie Qua is a 24-year-old native of Upstate New York, currently living in the center of Suburbia, North Carolina. Her work has previously been published in Gone Lawn and The Quotable. Mariana Samuda is originally from Jamaica. She is a graduate of the University of South Florida and currently an MFA candidate at Chapman University. Roberta Senechal de la Roche is an American historian, sociologist, photographer and poet born in western Maine and raised in upstate New York. She graduated from the University of Southern Maine and the University of Virginia, where she received a doctoral degree in history. Currently Professor of History at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, she lives in the woods outside of Charlottesville near the Blue Ridge Mountains. Her poems have appeared in the Montreal International 2011 and 2015 Longlist, Cold Mountain Review, Still: The Journal, Yemassee, Front Porch Review, and the Colorado Review.


Brigette Stevenson is an author from Ventura County, California. She lives in an apartment with too many plants and not enough earth. She has poetry and prose published in the Morning Glory literary magazine, as well as plays produced. All the world is a stage, and she is merely a player. Born and raised in the sweltering Middle East Guy Traiber has traveled extensively throughout India and South-East Asia until he and found love in the cold mountains of Europe. Now he is pitched again on the soil of his youth. He practices & studies Chinese Medicine and hold a BA in Sociology & Political Science and finds that those relate. His writing has appeared in few journals before and has been rejected by many good and well-known publications. He would appreciate your message at Elizabeth Yalkut is a writer in New York City, who graduated from Emma Willard School and Barnard College, Columbia University. Her poetry has appeared in over two dozen journals and anthologies since 2012, and is forthcoming in several more. Her website is

Samantha Zimbler is a poet and activist who works in digital publishing. She has taught memoir-writing in a maximumsecurity prison, is the founder of the Brooklyn zine Damsel Rouge, and has given numerous academic and creative presentations, such as at MLA conferences and The New Jim Crow read-out. Zimbler has had poetry published in the Sigma Tau Delta’s Rectangle, the Rutgers journal, Rejoinder, and Adelaide Literary Magazine.


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