D e c e m b er 2012
“Boom for Real”—Keianh 2012 by Scott Parker
Stacia Fleegal Co-Founder, Managing Editor, & Poetry Co-Editor Teneice Durrant Delgado Co-Founder & Poetry Co-Editor John Steele Fiction Editor Omar Figueras Fiction Co-Editor Bethany Brownholtz Art Director & Co-Editor
About Blood Lotus is an online literary quarterly established in 2006. It is run by editors who refuse to believe everything has already been written and who want to promote your best writing as proof. Submission Guidelines Please carefully review the guidelines posted on bloodlotusjournal.com. Blood Lotus acquires first time North American rights upon publication as well as the right to archive your work online. ÂŠ 2012 No part of Blood Lotus may be reproduced in any form without prior written consent from the publisher. blo odlotusjour na l.com
In This Issue... Letter from the Editors Lisa Douglass
Open Letter to Jim Carreyâ€™s Character in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Neesa Sunar
I walk slowly
Thinking of Home in the Jungle J.D. Peterson
5 6 8 10 11
The Dangers of Panicked Reassembly
Chuck Marecic Statuesque No. 2
How a Man Becomes a Room Christopher McCurry
The Carnival Comes at Night M. R. Owens
Julie Brooks Barbour
14 15 16
Keith Moul Singular Ascension (CA 148-2 SF)
Tissue Hearts Robert Heath
The Straits of Johor Gregory Zorko
On the street
24 25 27 28 28
jesus anaphora: wherein god appears as a fetishistic refrain in a ploy to get poetry editors to read an entire poem about her
Statuesque No. 4 by Chuck Marecic
“Abaddon’s Eve”—Keianh 2002 by Scott Parker Parneshia Jones
The Folktale of Bruce Lee Parneshia Jones
The Veiled Lady Mahtem Shiferraw
I Asked Her if She Liked Fallen Trees Matthew Brown
35 36 37 38 46 48
The Way You Look in Morning
Statuesque No. 3 by Chuck Marecic
Tawni Vee Waters
Letter from the Editors
ur last issue of 2012, our 26th issue to date, is a true testament to how words can hold us together.
We’re speaking, at least, for us editors, who have had a wild year. Major transitions, new additions, traumas, blessings—you name it, we’ve tasted it this year. We’re sure you’ve had your ups and downs, too. Despite the lateness of this issue, we offer it now as our saving grace. When life is loud in our ears, it’s hard to bring ourselves to labor for pleasure. But once we actually sit down to read your moving poems and riveting stories, to view your gorgeous art, we remember the power of words strung together. We remember again when we string together the issue with those strung-together words, and a narrative emerges, a theme we didn’t choose at the onset. This issue holds so many individual voices that need to be heard. Most strong writing has a clear voice, and the voices here are especially compelling. They whisper and scream. Whether telling us of abuse, sex, myth, or heartbreak, they urge us, through craft, to listen, and be changed. May your new year be full of words and voices. Enjoy #26.
News Meet the new editors: Omar Figueras, fiction Co-editor, lives in Miami Beach, Florida and is a Master of Fine Arts Candidate in Spalding University’s Brief Residency Program, where he is a student editor at The Louisville Review. He writes fiction, creative non-fiction, and poetry, and is currently working on a collection of short stories and a poetry chapbook, both based on his experiences growing up in South Florida and time spent in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. Bethany Brownholtz, Art Director and Co-editor, earned a BA in English and Art from West Chester University of Pennsylvania’s Honors College. She is a master’s thesis away from an MA in Writing and Publishing at DePaul University in Chicago. She is a freelance author, editor, and designer, and her creative works have been featured in Writers News Weekly, Broad Magazine, and on other web sites.
blo o dlotusjour na l.com
Open Letter to Jim Carrey’s Character in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Dear Jim Carrey, Mind if I call you that? Although it may be unconventional for a perfect stranger non-stalker to be writing you so forwardly—I cannot resist. I’d like to start by saying as much as I want to I can’t remember your name in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and I know characters are separate from people who play said characters, this letter is for the other you, the not-real you, the one you played that doesn’t exist. You, Jim Carrey, no offense, have no meaning to me one way or the other—not that I wouldn’t like to sit across from you and watch your mouth and the one weird eye you pretend to not have but I can secretly see—then make fun of your face but not because it isn’t a nice face, I just want to do stuff to it that shouldn’t be allowed in any restaurant or public setting. It’s not you I am even writing to—it is a character you played. Although I have enjoyed some of your work here and there. Mask was particularly weird and funny and had a very goodlooking Cameron Diaz—an almost entirely different Cameron Diaz than the one we see now. Who was that girl? Someone swapped her out. But, I digress. Jim Carrey as character-who-likesthat-girl Clementine in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, I ask you, why don’t people like you exist in real life? Why is it always a version of you, but not the actual you? Oh, they may look similar, but they lack the self-awareness and emotional depth required to like the potatoes who dress up as people with hats and gloves that live on Clementine’s shelf. That main number one quality needed is missing from most people. Who else but you will try to smother someone with a pillow—everyone is so carefully tight with their feelings they can’t even let you choke them anymore. I do realize that since you are not the fictional character, but the person of Jim Carrey, this letter might be difficult to understand, but I was an actor once and all the characters I made were real and still exist within me—so, please allow me to address the character you played— HERE I GO: Dear Nameless, I don’t know if you can hear me, but it is you I am addressing, not Jim Carrey—he is more like your channel or casing like a sausage has a casing. Do you know it is Valentine’s Day in real life planet earth style? Here it is and the world is awash with loneliness and people sticking frogs up their privates for the sake of it. Humping and humping those poor frogs until the frog gives out and its legs fall off and its eyes go dim. Did you know this exists? And there is no real romance, just a series of men that suck and fuck and tell you to lick and suck and fuck, but no one really cares or looks you deep in the eyes of your heart to say: “You are odd, but I like odd.” Instead, they just write you how they want to put things inside of your pussy hole and do deplorable things to you, which isn’t all bad, I’m a fan of dirty—though it doesn’t go much further, so just the physical self is played to and satisfied without the deep satisfaction that comes from lying 6
on ice that has a crack and may or may not break while making up constellations to make the person laying next to you think you may be crazy. What is sad and has saddened me on this morning before the big day of no one to love and no one to care about my singular lack of love or lack of interest in the world or people around me—is the lie people tell themselves, that these meaningless interactions mean something to the greater expansion of the soul, because they don’t, they just get you through to the next day and the next day and the next day and the next day. And all those people coming in and out of your house get confused and run together like watercolors of names you can’t remember and don’t want to. To you, nameless fictional character who paid Lacuna to remove the memory of Clementine, it is you I am addressing. It is you I want to hold under the covers with a flashlight to read my weird stories to. It is you that I want to lock in my closet for a whole day without bread or water, in the hopes that you might organize my sparkly shoes and separate the suede from the things that might stain suede. It is you I would hope would understand my lingerie drawer and all its cupless, strappy things I bought for someone who wasn’t even there (not in the real sense). I hope you will see my playsuits and inspired choices as a homage to a love that cannot be because alas, there is that moment in the movie, that moment when Clementine looked into your lost eyes and said, “You will hate me and I will get bored of you and that will be the end,” and you said, “So?” or “Yeah” or some other bullshit that meant—I don’t care how fucked up you are, I want to be around your blue sometimes and orange other times hair and listen to the fact that as a child you didn’t think you were pretty and watch you get mad when I said you sleep with men to make them like you. It was that moment that I realized, I need you not-Jim Carrey, but the character to hang the mirror that my last few boyfriends promised to hang but never did. It is you I need to break into that store on Melrose with me and crawl through the attic over the washroom just to touch the things in the cases that we aren’t allowed to touch if the salespersons are watching (I stole the case key). It is only you who can be emotionally honest enough to tell me (because you are fake and not real) why people are so shut down and can’t connect and only want to eat your pussy because no matter how they like it, it is always the right kind of shaved or unshaved or wearing crotchless panties while they say dirty filthy words or sometimes even just hold you through the night kind of pussy. It is you who can tell me how scared you are to feel something real, and I will laugh and punch you and pretend I’m an old Jewish Woman who does that incredible voice that makes you pee. To you I say, Be My Valentine and see me for all my flaws and find those flaws to be the best kind, because they are the kind that make you feel stuff. Stuff that sometimes makes you want to live in a real big way and other times makes you want to die because you are the one who is not too scared to feel, stuck in a real time world where everyone else seems kind of flat. Tell me the movie kind of love is real and I will let you live here where I will tell you the stuff in my brain that is secret and saved only for you. With the eternal and forever kind of love that I feel for no one else, Lisa Douglass
I walk slowly I walk slowly because I want to take the scenic road And touch the endless bed of roses alongside my steps That go on forever like the parted sea of Moses. I walk slowly because I want to feel the droplets of rain in my hand And grow like the crops that Fed Adam and Eve in the chosen land. I walk slowly because I want to see the connected constellations of Abraham’s fate and every other creation of love. So even though I walk slowly, My prayers are not a game of innocence, Or a contemplation I display for your predatorial play. And my gaze is NOT a state of dreaminess Looking for your hungry promises to grace my day. Just because I walk slowly, Do not think you can pluck me off the street Like the girlish flowers you plucked from their feet, With your preacher-man stories of your past, Or your acrid lies of us being fated like a line in the sky— And don’t you take my hand and talk to me like how you Raped and assaulted those women as you told them of your Martyrdom and of your forsaken cries that come with your Bloodshed and knife scars you call affection. Your infection disgusts me when you lie next to a woman With your blind disease when you call yourself “Honest,” “Devoted,” “Sincere:” Hear this, That you are a cry for the destruction of your kind, The monster that devotes himself to preach the woman’s sinfulness, Non-existent thoughts that stain the reputation of the womb, The nutrients of the baby’s mother, The comforter of the child’s cry for food…
I walk slowly, because I tread on the hot coals of pride, For I have survived the slashes, Of the preacherâ€™s rhyme that is now reduced To ashes.
Thinking of Home in the Jungle I want the desert to turn the soles of my feet tangerine-rose of slickrock dust, cake my leg hairs in pink and ochre, open me up with great indifference. I want the wide alien land to drown me in color & wind & lilac dusk, in all that is thin, flowing; fresh water between rocks, light through a cactus flower, air so hot and dry each breath is like the gasp before diving. â€ƒ
From below, our canoe’s contour is a rippled shadow on the blind edge of light, unmetered thuds of aluminum breaking waves, the tinny pangs muffled in fluid space. It’s almost calm waking now from the rush, the bruising and swell of blood give out to the buzzing push of life, soon images return in a flush—the spinning grip of current, a swift western wind, the drops and dips of a wash over stubborn rocks—I couldn’t hold. My paddle struck and snapped, the split ran clean through my confidence, a sudden shift of weight, slam and tip and red… There are mottled shells embedded in my skin, lungs brazen from sluice and sand, but something here is revealed, a phantom root that binds me together. I know because I feel its snaking pull when I see your hand, blue-hued angling through the water. Take it. Take it.
The Dangers of Panicked Reassembly The scream rips him up, scatters his body. His legs wait with his pants for his hands to find his eyes; they are telling his mouth to open, to yell, but his tongue is in the sink and his lungs drape on a fan blade. He musters a toothless, Baby? as he scoops himself up, and then, Honey, we have to go. We have to go now. Where are your shoes? His feet sprint in and out of rooms. When he finds his brain in the tub thereâ€™s enough of him to lock the door, to drive to the hospital, but no time to think about what was left cooking in the oil spitting on the kitchen floor.
Statuesque No. 2 by Chuck Marecic
How a Man Becomes a Room His forearms wrinkle and thin into newspaper. He smells like homemade ice cream and pecan pie. He doesnâ€™t let anyone walk on his carpet in their shoes. He keeps the light out. He becomes a headboard, armoire, a chest of drawers. He dies whispering almost words like air through a vent.
The Carnival Comes at Night A fat man with dripping skin serves fried chicken and pork. The fire eaters and sword swallowers line the tents where the games are played. Boys peek at the bearded lady backstage while she dresses. You can see the fortuneteller in her rags. She’ll spit into a bowl, tell you every nightmare you’re ever going to have. That night you’ll dream her hand is in your throat; it’ll crawl out a fat-legged spider. In the morning your lip will have grown over your nose. You’ll suffocate.
M. R. Owens
Judie North and I walked through the biker rally, dodging leather tents, beer tents, BBQ
tents, tattoo tents, and burly biker-men. Getting rowdy was the last thing on my mind, but then again, all I’d thought about since we began the Dragon Tail ride two days back was the picture Bill emailed—a pink onesie wrapped around a newborn, fat like her jailbait mama with a serious face like my ex-husband. Halfway down the promenade Judie elbowed me, pointed to a spray painted sign that read Puddin’ Wrestlin,’ and said, “That’s all you, girl.”
“Like hell,” I said.
The only exercise I’d gotten the past six years was flipping through cable programs as
barren as my uterus. The doctor had said lots of people get dogs. I got a Harley.
“You should do it,” Judie said. “Begin the weekend out right. Besides, not a woman here
could match you.”
She meant it in a nice way, trying to build me up into the badass biker chick we were both
playing at, but I felt grizzly. I’d always been a tall woman, but my ass and thighs had grown out so much if I tried to swim, I’d float face down. Surveying the rally, I pulled my chaps out from where they clung too tight. Even though the sun was out the air felt cold. Tennessee at least had trees, big colorful October trees. Nice change from Trenton.
A mustard colored leaf floated down and stuck to my leather vest. Held up to the light, the
branching stems looked like little finger-bones.
“Let’s get drunk,” I said.
Judie and I made our way over to one of the many tent-bars and ordered a pair of Bud
Lights. Crammed all around us stood men in leather, wearing bandannas, or ponytails, or shaved bald. Some women too, but they mostly sat off to the side, or hung on to the 44” waist of some husband or boyfriend. A chopper prowled next to us. The biker’s shirt read: If you’re reading this—the bitch fell off. 16
Pointing the shirt out to Judie, I said, “I need one of those.” I laughed thinking about
piggy-backing Bill on the Harley I had bought—my severance package for twenty years of marriage.
After about two hours of wandering around the rally campgrounds, we popped into a
tattoo-tent. Besides a little squirrelly man covered with so much ink he looked rusted, no one else was around.
“What about barbed wire?” Judie said, pointing to a poster of tattoo designs. “Just like
On the tattoo-poster, there were fancy ways to write names of loved ones. I’d always
daydreamed that after I had kids, I’d get their names tattooed on my belly in Old English under a rose, or butterfly.
“I’m getting this leaf,” I said, and handed it to the tattooed man.
He nodded, and smiled as if impressed. “Got a spot in mind?”
I pointed to the soft place on my belly, where the fleshy part and hipbone met.
Judie said, “Carol, don’t!”
“I don’t want barbed wire,” I said.
We hadn’t made any deal about matching tattoos, just that we would get one. Judie didn’t
care anyway. For her, the motorcycle, the beer, the tattoo was all a way of getting back at her husband, Jack, for spending two weeks extra in Cancun after a business trip.
By the time we stumbled from the tattoo-tent, neon had bubbled to life all around the
promenade, frost formed on the vinyl awnings, and a group of bikers waited in a long line for the burnout pit. A stubby, short man burned for so long the rubber tore off his back tire. A group of petite women with perfectly fake boobs huddled around the sign-up sheet for a wet t-shirt contest.
“Go on Judie,” I said. “I’ll wrestle if you do the wet t-shirt contest.” Out of all my lady
friends, Judie had the best figure. Even though she got shafted on the boob front, just two little anthills, she looked good for forty-one.
Judie downed her Bud Light and tossed the plastic cup amidst the growing piles of trash.
She looked damn tough with that strip of barbed wire wrapped around her arm. My jeans rubbed up against the mustard colored leaf under my belt line, and it felt good. The C and D cup girls all stared at Judie’s A’s. They giggled into their hands, as she wrote her name out big.
When she came back, Judie said, “Now you.”
Unlike her, I begrudged each step back to the Puddin’ Wrestlin’ tent. Only a few names
were ahead of mine: Joan, Sandy, Louise. It was supposed to be fun wrestling other women, but the flab under my lumberjack arms made me feel less than sexy.
When I found Judie, she was hidden behind a keg-shaped biker. She had her little leg up
over his big leg.
“I did it,” I said and felt embarrassed by my deep, hoarse voice.
Judie pushed the man away. He didn’t resist, but kept both hands on her hips like he
meant to drive away.
“Wrestling Louise,” I said. “Fourth fight in.”
Judie said, “Nice to know you,” to the man and crawled out from under him.
“Ron Jeremy?” I asked.
“His brother,” Judie laughed. For being so small her laugh took up a whole room.
Things felt good with Judie, on vacation—two middle-aged women with motorcycles—
but the trip was different for her. She had a family, kids, at home. She acted out everywhere we went—fucking half drunk men who only vaguely looked like Patrick Swayze.
“Watch yourself, Judie,” I said. “No regrets.”
“Regret what?” she asked. “Telling Jack he’s not the only one fucking drunk whores?”
We made our way back to the wet t-shirt tent just in time for Judie to compete with a
D named Dee Dee. After they led Judie to the back of the tent, I lost sight of her. The place was packed with men, and a few of the Ds from outside, who huddled together smoking cigarettes, looking bored. I got the notion they weren’t there for fun, but to get paid. The men sensed it too; 18
they didn’t even bother to approach their boob-filled table.
When they called Judie out on stage, she had changed into a pair of ass-high cut off jean
shorts and a white half-shirt. I whooped so loud a biker-man sneered lesbian.
The announcer introduced them like they were boxers. “In this corner we have, weighing
in at about ten pounds a pair—Dee Dee!” He held up the big-breasted girl’s hand. The crowd roared, calling out sit on my face and feed me Seymour. Then the ref held up Judie’s hand and said, “And in this corner, weighing in at one ounce a tit—Judie!”
The crowd hollered all the same, and Judie looked so damn happy I thought she’d tip
The ref stepped down from the stage and opened a water hose on the girls, blasting
them both with a steady, high-pressured stream. I don’t know what I expected from a wet t-shirt contest, but I thought it’d be sexier. Instead, after a few seconds of knocking the women around with a hose, the ref cut it off and carried two pitchers full of beer on stage. He handed one to Judie, who bobbed and weaved. Dee Dee took her pitcher in both hands and squared her hips. The crowd chanted chug chug chug. Even the career-boobs chimed in. With the pitcher in one hand, drinking down the beer, Judie held her other fist high in the air.
On our way over to the pudding-tent, Judie said she wanted me to ride in. It could have
been the amount of beer I drank, or the dried leaf tattoo that itched and burned where names should have been, but I agreed.
We walked back to our camping spot and mounted my bike, Pearl, after my grandmother.
I put Judie on the back, and cranked Pearl open, letting her roar throughout the campsite.
The open pudding-tent was so full I couldn’t see the pool, but over Pearl’s loud idle I
heard my name.
After a few revs, a space opened in the crowd and we rolled in, parking just beyond the
little blue kiddie pool. Across from me, stood Louise. Closer to my size than most women, she rocked a little pink baby in her big boned arms. She handed the infant off to another woman, shhh’d it quiet, and stepped up to her side of the pool.
The crowd clapped and whistled as we stepped up to the announcer, an old timer with
white hair and liver spots.
He smiled and said, “Y’all might want to lose some leather.”
At first I stripped down to my jeans and t-shirt, but then I went ahead and stripped down
to my underwear—nothing special, just run of the mill cotton panties. The crowd roared then, and to my surprise they whistled and hooted. Nobody had seen me in my underwear for years. I’d been living in a muumuu, drinking Mellow Yellow, watching anything that came on TV. Bill had slept in the spare room for years. Only occasionally trying to get some.
Louise stripped down, too. She had a loose belly, like me, and a whole lot of ass, but she
had a baby. Something I’d never have.
The old timer had us shake hands. When he rang the bell, I tore after Louise, trying to
wrap my arms around her belly. The pudding, three inches deep, made it impossible to stay standing, and we were both slipping around more than wrestling.
Finally, I got her down, and heard the crowd chant. Get her done. My feet slipped
out from under me and Louise flipped me over and pinned me down with her knees. A thick cesarean scar ran like a jet stream across her belly. The crowd hollered and clapped. I kicked my legs. The announcer slapped the mat next to us—one, two, three—at four I bucked her off and slipped trying to get to my feet. She had managed to stand up, and so I grabbed her by the legs and brought her down, again.
Judie clapped and screamed, “You fucked with the wrong woman!”
The ref was back down slapping the ground—three, four—I thought about one night,
before the divorce, when Bill came to my bedroom, and without a word, held my hand and we watched TV—five, six—After we learned no baby would come, we had stopped touching— seven, eight.
Louise kicked and pulled my hair, wild with grit—nine—The x-ray had shown adhesions,
little black patches in a mess of my otherwise white uterus. Mama said, Nobody else in the family’s ever had trouble. 20
The announcer yelled TEN.
Judie jumped up and down next to Pearl, and yelled, “She’s too much woman for you
The ref helped me out of the pool—covered in a thick layer of brown goo. I stood there
half-naked, while he raised my arm high in the air, spinning me around for the audience to see. “We have our winner!” he hollered.
Louise emerged from the pool, and stood there next to me. We were each given a pitcher
of beer. The crowd chanted chug, chug, and I leaned back, drank, taking in the cold, burning liquid.
Julie Brooks Barbour
Everyone I knew understood how to reach out and welcome help, but I waited on a hand-me-down couch holding a baby and the phone never rang. No one knocked on the door. No voices but the cries of the baby and a letter from my mother saying that my daughter needed me, something I knew more deeply than what I’d studied or memorized: poetry, classical drama, the words to songs I loved. Those didn’t dig so deep. Those didn’t cut into the marrow or leave me sick and spinning or hungry for what turned on the other side of that door.
Singular Ascension (CA 148-2 SF) by Keith Moul
Tissue Hearts They were playing chess and the hearts flew all around. He wore charcoal gray. She wore white. Both had red shoes. He was about two inches taller, but she wasn’t short. She held a bishop in her hand. She had only recently learned. He was about to make a move. She smiled, placing her right hand against her cheek. She didn’t always remember the moves he’d taught her. He didn’t seem to mind, would just shake his head a little, resetting. She didn’t take that as anything snide. He was a statistician. He was going to a conference in a couple of weeks. He asked if she’d go with him. She paused, fingering the bishop. How many pawns to sacrifice? Not that she cared, particularly, about winning. Okay she said and the hearts fluttered down. She caught one. It was made of tissue paper, a little crinkled. She smoothed it out. Others came down. Who was doing that, she wondered, sitting above, dropping heart confetti down on them? It fluttered to the floor and onto the table like leaves. She caught one in the air, and it was a leaf. He was sitting there smiling, not contemplating his move. They had been indoors, in his kitchen with the black and white tiles and the pale green walls, the lamp hanging from a cord. The walls were now gone. It was snowing. Snow collected on the board, piling on the pieces. Red from her shoes bleeding into the snow. She could no longer see the black tiles on the floor or the black squares on the board. He was smiling as if nothing was wrong. She reached over to touch him. He fell backward, like a piece of cardboard. He was a piece of cardboard. She started to shiver. Her hair was covered with snow. She shook and what came down was ash. There was a smell in the air. The sky was orange and pink. She pulled at her hair. The gray was not from the ash, but its color. Her dress was loose and long; she had shrunk within it. Before this moment, she had managed to stay calm. A voice, somewhere behind her, said Do you play chess?
I used to live in a flat—Edwardian convert, not a prefab. It had bay windows big like a teen girls eyes. A sloping drive, front door inlaid with coloured glass. Kinda looked regal from yards off. been re-defined as a space. One domain, now compartmentalised into boxes for the less so. Mine was top floor. About the only thing I was top of was that building. There was me, Guy by the name of Graham, guy called Adrian, woman called Tracey, —only ever knew anybody by first name. And there was a shared bathroom, else everything was in one room. Bed. Sofa. Cooker. Life. And you can do that with your mind too, put it all in one room. Used to play cards—not for money, too broke on benefits and the scrounge. So we’d all meet up like we was entertaining. And every room was identically Different. Mine looked like Tracey’s except she had china dolls and I had Keats. Graham had some model cars, 25
Adrian an old book of photographs. Like I was a junkie, Tracey a piss-head, Adrian had lost his mind, Graham had lost his kids. But we were none of those things when we played cards. We’d shark it up like we was big movers in some casino. We’d play poker for smokes, A drag on a joint A swig of cider. Nobody wanted to fuck anybody over. Nobody cheated or took shit. We just dealt the cards and played the hand we got given. Since then, Now that I have bettered myself and become not a junkie. Not a flat dweller. Not any of that. I have been surrounded by people who want to play the hand they did not get given. They want to play their neighbour’s hand, or their partners hand, or their bosses hand, or God’s hand. But never the hand that they got given. I kinda miss that bit you know.
Untitled 2, by Allison Doan 26
The Straits of Johor In the scuffle of bottleneck traffic, a mouth and muffler cough. A laborer’s motorbike idles in transit at the border he crosses six times per week. Through smoke muffle, he coughs up his change at the toll and a permit for the border patrol. It’s 6 a.m. With a cigarette clenched between his teeth, he slows to a biker’s gait and permits customs to search for any bags of bootleg. The cigarette wets in the biker’s teeth, as the official unzips too many pockets. The customs agent fingers the dime bags and sleeves of half-packs of cigarettes in shrink-wrap, and tells the biker to turn out his pockets. He says to the cuffed man, you temps never change and pulls up his sleeves to reveal an arm wrapped in a black tattoo of two marbled sea snakes winding up past his shirt cuffs, a permanent pair with unhinged jaws, swallowing one another’s tails. Following old tire marks, more laborers snake past the two-stroke engine idling by itself. They rubberneck with wide eyes and mouths at the motorbike in the scuffle of bottleneck traffic.
On the street
I donâ€™t feel comfortable on the street. So put me in a boiling pot, to feed the Croatian army with leeks and fresh red onion. I want to rumble in the stomachs of serious dark haired men. To tell them that the mountains and streams will give them splinters, and to remind them how the sharp bleeding of a lamb sounds like morning.
The speedy butterfly contains you, just as you contain the smooth nostrils of Barbados. Dark island sphinx, beautiful with eyes of teal plaster. Your skin absorbs cubes of salt, it makes your mouth turn to the shape of a bullfrog. I am really alive when I catch this happening.
This is an example of the orange fox becoming fox-like. When at first he learns the odor of Indian corn and he goes to the highway and eats dead crows. He attaches himself to wide shadows, thatâ€™s how he remembers the breasts of his mother. The sky is obnoxious blue. There he goes swiftly. He crawls into a rifle, searching for his own two thumbs.
jesus anaphora: wherein god appears as a fetishistic refrain in a ploy to get poetry editors to read an entire poem about her i hear roses my eyes wonâ€™t open eye = hermetic the broader landscape elusive i found bread spelling out secrets the crust cryptobiotic our teeth unsure if they should break it i heart jesus beyond simple belief elusive just heart i hear roses furling from her open palms his split side i found bread broken and passed boys with silver platters sweet wonder! sweet hostess! i heart jesus butter-annointed her people i hear roses she blesses & brakes
for her friends & enemies i found bread crumbled down the shore 10,000 ministrants too full to eat it all i heart jesus i don’t know her i hear roses melismatic monophonic scarlet scales sung inside mary’s mouth i found bread rising in the cupboard & fainted from the holy spirit’s yeasty aroma i heart jesus’ unleavened body i hear roses salting the earth i found bread i chewed & swallowed her our spirits stared each other in the face then merged i heart jesus— that cute & lively little musk deer frolicking everywhere 30
searching for roses i hear roses under the little deerâ€™s hooves crushing out perfume, bread rising i found bread in the nick of time i heart jesus the most political of all prisoners i hear roses walking across waves i found bread bobbing i heart jesus & donâ€™t know why i hear roses shaking their rattles in the babyâ€™s crib i found bread under his tongue i heart jesus as a good mormon girl should i hear roses lining the bottom of the ocean rehearsing for rapture
i found bread— artisanal— inscripted with my friend’s poem i heart jesus & only the most patient of editors will understand why, will even read this far i hear roses piercing false religion i found bread tasting of your ashes i heart jesus you don’t have to get it i hear roses (my lady will think it wrong) i found bread and quail and fire i heart jesus & just fuck the implications i hear roses i hear the holy spirit (only on vinyl: fuck digital) i found bread between our bodies i heart . . . jesus? 32
i hear roses the stamen & the pistil unpetalled in her throat on her canvas blooming on the sheets i hear roses i hear roses fuck what they look like
Statuesque No. 4 by Chuck Marecic
“Abaddon’s Eve”—Keianh 2002 by Scott Parker
The Folktale of Bruce Lee
Obey the principles without being bound by them. — Bruce Lee (李 振 藩) Legend has it; the Gods placed fire and water inside the petals of a lotus flower. They placed the flower on the tongue of a sleeping dragon. From the breath of the dragon a warrior emerged. A fighter beyond definition, he broke the rules of human and being. The East and West of his arms and legs rewrote the philosophy of a lethal weapon. When asked for his name, the warrior’s nunchakus moved like wings of a firefly, translating the whispers of Lee Jun-Fan into Bruce Lee. The warrior traveled the rim of the sun teaching his disciples, suited in white, with belts the color of rainbows, to be like water. The phoenix, sent by the Gods, watched him closely as he marveled the mortals with his speed of sound movements. The phoenix returned to the heavens to tell of the warrior’s supernatural gifts. The Gods decided they wanted him back so they ordered the dragon to swallow the warrior whole and from the dragon’s breath the warrior transformed back into a lotus flower and returned to the garden of the Gods— fire, water, and myth dripping from the petals.
~for Kelly, Ellen and David We are the two head city the living covering the dead the dead hovering the living — Kelly Norman Ellis, “PONTCHARTRAIN” Still is the gift he gives. Behind the shutter, in the crescent of a city, three women become the Voodoo, in the aperture of a conjure man’s eye. They unpack their lives—let loose their hips, let down their copper and magenta manes. The shape-shifting shutter of a lens captures the supernatural framing metallic silhouettes of beguiling superstition. Daughters of Dust and Duende, they feast on oysters and gravy, blue crabs and grits; let men they will never see again fall in love with them, gypsies reading the fortunes of the world off their switching legs of revival. Conjure Man watches this religion of women. Rampart and Bourbon become the dark rooms of the dancing dead. He shutters their re-telling of history, their ghosts revealed in the flash. Deities dance a Boogaloo in the bayou. Curved bellies full of Oya baptize the leftover who are still forgiving being left behind. Three women come to release their Voodoo. Conjure Man waits in the Black of this magic. His looking glass salvages the saved. Stills the born again. 37
The Veiled Lady
I pass the woman in the scarf without much thought. I’m separated from Gregory for
these few valuable seconds, and I must make my selection quickly. If I take too long, he’ll come looking.
It’s not until the purple silk crumples at my feet that I bother to pay any attention. I pick
up the expensive looking material and hand it back to the woman, jerking back at the sight of the stranger’s face. The woman, it seems, has no lips.
I’m embarrassed by my knee-jerk response. I try and pretend my gaze is transfixed by the
array of canned vegetables on display behind her, not her deformed face.
“Thank you,” she says, taking the scarf from my frozen, outstretched hand. I’m struck by
the way she talks, forming the words with her teeth between two splayed, mangled ridges of flesh. There is only a slight hindrance to her speech, though thank you, I realize, is a phrase free of m’s or p’s, or any other sound that might pose a greater challenge to what used to be her mouth.
The woman is young, her eyes framed by full, dark lashes and perfect eyebrows. Her one
flaw is hidden again by the scarf, which she reties with expert speed.
“You’re welcome,” I finally reply. She pushes her cart toward the boxes of pasta. I grab my
items, counting each can of tuna as I take them. I rush back to Gregory in our designated meeting spot at the deli.
He ignores me as I drop the four cans in the cart one at a time. I automatically count—
always counting—in complete, even numbers. Gregory curtly thanks the hair-netted deli woman and pushes our grocery cart forward. His sharp eyes focus coldly on me.
“Laura,” he says. I grab the side of the cart like a reprimanded child. The hour is late, but
I’ve yet to eat any dinner. Gregory would not be pleased that I didn’t have a healthy snack before he got the chance to cook for me. He doesn’t understand how difficult it is to work up an appetite while I wait for him in the evening—the anxiety his homecoming inspires makes my insides churn. 38
I cough into the crook of my arm to cover up the sound of my stomach rumbling.
Gregory’s look changes instantly. His face melts into concern. Gregory wears emotions like a hat, and they are easily changed or stripped away. I lower my hand, smiling apologetically. “Let’s hope you’re not catching a cold.” Gregory stops the cart, pushes a loose piece of hair behind my ear. He cups a hand around my neck and kisses me deeply, right there in front of the cereal boxes. I let him. After the kiss he gives my neck a squeeze. It feels more like a warning than an affectionate touch.
I grab the cart tightly and welcome the cold metal digging into the palm of my hand. We
move like that, as one, gathering groceries. If I want something I turn to Gregory. I silently get approval for raisins. Coffee. Tampons. He rolls his eyes at the tampons, but nods. Same reaction I get every time.
Throughout the store, I continue to count the goods and admire their precise
organization on the shelves. Gregory ignores my mental distractions, to a point. When we hit the bath and beauty aisle, my pulse speeds up as I take in the shock of colorful soaps and shampoos on display. They glisten in their plastic packaging. Their crisp, laminated price tags shimmer even in the dull florescence. I am struck by the numerous ways to attract a consumer, how I am lured like a moth. Gregory stops the cart and glares, silently questioning me. I grab a random bottle, pop the lid, and inhale the scent deeply.
“Out already?” He asks.
I nod and take the next bottle. It is supposed to smell like cucumbers and melon. I know
the scent well. It is artificial and smells more like furniture polish than fruit. It is not what I want, but I have to smell it anyway.
I continue inhaling the contents of the bottles like they are exotic flowers. It is a slow,
detailed process. Gregory is a statue, leaning against the cart, one leg crossed over the other. His stern disapproval seems to radiate from within. The only move he makes is to glance at his watch. It is a wordless warning that I’ve spent my allotted “weird ritualizing” time. It’s all he’ll stand for. How much we can say, I think, without moving our lips. Lips.
The veiled lady glides her cart past our aisle. For some reason, I am inexplicably relieved
that Gregory’s back is turned to her. The glance she gives me is soft yet questioning. I imagine that in some other world we would be great friends. I quickly look away, scared that she’ll see through the thin guise of normalcy Gregory and I attempt to wear for public view.
I get to my usual brand and scent. It has vanilla, mint, and eucalyptus. I pop the cap and
breathe deeply, closing my eyes to feel the sheer high of calm that overwhelms me. My obsession with this compound that does nothing more than clean my hair is borderline psychotic. But I need it. I need that daily aromatherapy fix. Shower time is mine.
I take four bottles.
“One,” Gregory says quietly.
I freeze in front of the cart, hugging the bottles to my chest, pleading with my eyes. He is
in a mood, I realize. This is a punishment. Something to make me suffer.
“Please,” I whisper, turning to him. I can’t take just one. Such an uncomfortable,
asymmetrical number to me. He knows this.
“Laura,” he breathes. In a split second he is around the cart and gripping my shoulder. He
turns me around to face the shelf, shifting my body like I have the weight of a rag doll. He stands close behind me, keeping me firmly in place with the length of his body molded to mine. “This is getting ridiculous,” he whispers. We can’t make a scene. “Your hair’s going to dry up and fall out. Your skin is destroyed. It’s like sandpaper. You must be sneaking showers while I’m gone.”
I avoid his eyes. Lying to Gregory is about as healthy for me as the need to scrub my skin
until it seeps blood.
“I pay for your therapy, and where’s the progress? I want to start seeing it. Now.”
The last word he says through clenched, white teeth. Still, I can’t loosen my grip on the
shampoo. Four is my number.
Ironically, the terror I feel for not being clean enough—perfect enough for Gregory—is
the thing that gets me in trouble with him the most. I relish the form and order of my trivial hygiene routine. It is the small portion of my life that is all mine. Unless he decides to take that, 40
Gregory’s elbow meets my spine, hard. I gasp and drop the bottles. I shut my eyes tight,
waiting for what will come next.
“I’ve got it, hon.” Gregory’s smiling as he bends to pick up the bottles in front of a couple
that meanders past. He places all of them back except for one.
I get a flash of the previous night’s events as I stare at the back of Gregory’s head. A
horrific scene in which he barges in on my shower and catches me scrubbing. Wash, scrub, rinse, repeat. Repeat. Repeat. I know I’m supposed to stop before the blood comes, but it’s the one way I can be sure I’m clean enough. Gregory crashes in, and even the rising steam and clean soap scent aren’t enough to mask the alcohol on him. The shower curtain is ripped, and I am shoved against the cold tile. I have to endure Gregory’s slurred lecture without the dignity of clothing. I count every tile, ever crevice on the wall. The number sequences keep my mind from the pain of my bleeding arms. My bruising back. Gregory’s screaming disappointments. I don’t feel any of it.
“Laura, will you grab the milk? I want to stop by the liquor case.”
I blink at him, banishing the memory from my mind. That’s all it is now, a memory. I nod
and take the cart. I am cut loose twice in one visit.
When I turn down the next aisle, I stop, frozen in front of the imported cheeses. I panic
and practically bury my face in a variety of smoked Gouda. The man I’ve spotted walks right up to me. I raise my head to face him. He looks pleasantly surprised.
“Laura? Wow. I’ve been waiting for us to run into each other like this.”
“Hi there, Warren,” I reply. I have his gentle face memorized. Charcoal eyes. Dark hair.
Quietly good-looking. The most attractive thing about this man is how genuine he is.
“I guess it was bound to happen,” he says. He fiddles with the strap of his reusable grocery
bag. It feels strange—the feel of a real smile forming on my face. Despite where I am and who I’m with, I welcome his presence and conversation. I should duck and run. But I can’t seem to resist.
“Wasn’t sure I’d ever get to talk to you outside of our, um, meetings,” he tells me. “I
wanted to.” 41
“I’m glad to see you out and about. Look at you. Strolling through a grocery store like it’s
“Oh, you wouldn’t believe the progress I’ve had,” he says. He places a hand lightly on my
cart. Not much of a gesture in the scheme of things, but for him I know the friendly step toward me is major progress. He seems so happy. And happy to see me.
“I even joined a book club,” he tells me. “I wanted to invite you but it seemed, I don’t
know, not the right place at therapy. It’s at a coffeehouse not two blocks away from my place. Probably the only reason I could get myself to try it.”
“It sounds amazing,” I say.
“I know you like the classics.” He puts his hands in his pockets, oozing shyness and
“Who’s this?” I feel my spine straighten like a rod, every muscle a steel wire.
Warren meets Gregory’s unwavering gaze and steps back. He seems to shrink. I can tell
he’s going into his mind, hiding in a shell like he did in the beginning of our group therapy. His bright eyes darken.
“Oh, this is Warren,” I say, putting a calming hand on Gregory’s. His knuckles on the cart
are pure white. “He’s in my therapy group. We happened to bump into each other.”
Gregory sizes Warren up. Then he looks at me, and I see him argue with himself. He is
deciding whether or not to believe me. I suppose he convinces himself that I am not at fault for this accidental transgression. Just as suddenly as his temper flared, Gregory’s expression is now smooth and friendly. He moves close, wrapping one long arm around my waist and reaching out with the other to shake Warren’s hand.
“I’m Gregory. Nice to meet you. I hear that group is really something.”
Gregory has heard nothing about the group, has never wanted to hear anything. He only
knows that I go. Not how it saves me.
It takes a visible effort on Warren’s part, but he reaches out to take Gregory’s hand. We
all stand there silently, Gregory’s arm pressed against my waist. He kisses my neck as his hands 42
glide possessively over my arms. They clamp around each wrist. Warren looks away, but not before briefly meeting my eyes. I tilt my head in wonder. What had I just seen in Warren’s timid expression? Hurt? Jealousy.
Gregory’s fingers are digging into the raw skin on my wrists and hands. I flinch, and
Gregory’s hands only tighten. I know I am going to pay for this later, this brief, fleeting happiness I felt during my chance meeting with Warren.
“Pleasure meeting you, Warren, but we’ve got to go. It’s late and I’ve yet to make dinner
for Laura.” Gregory believes I can’t do anything to take care of myself. I’ve started to believe he is right.
“Perhaps it’s time to think about going to therapy one on one. I’m not sure if group is
really working for you.” I close my eyes to his words and allow myself to be dragged in line at the one open register. I don’t bother to turn when someone comes up behind us. I hear a squeaking cart, so I know it’s not Warren. I am both relieved and disappointed.
When I know Gregory isn’t looking, I lift my jacket sleeve to survey the damage. Looks
like I’ll have finger-shaped bruises in the morning. There is a gentle tap on my back. I wrench my sleeve down to cover my arm.
I turn to see the veiled lady. The corners of her eyes crinkle, and I imagine the mangled
remnants of her mouth pointing up in a hidden smile. She places a single finger over her veil, indicating for me to stay silent. I peek at Gregory, who is digging into his wallet for his ID to buy the whiskey. Gregory is thirty-three and still gets carded every time.
Deeply curious—to the point of being stupidly risky—I turn my back to our cart. I lean
my elbows on the handle in a casual stance. I look like I’m simply resting my weight. She passes me a folded piece of paper, watching Gregory to make sure he doesn’t see. I unfold the paper down at my waist and read the hurried writing:
This is what it took for me to leave. Stop waiting.
Chills sweep through my body. A picture of the jagged lines on her face are imprinted
into my mind. My guess is scissors or a serrated knife, something like that. 43
I stuff the note in my pocket. Gregory hasn’t seen any of this. He’s helping the cashier bag
items, and doesn’t expect me to lift a finger. The wheels squeak again. I see the mystery woman turn and go, over to another line that has opened up for her. As far as Gregory knows, she was never there.
We exit through the sliding glass doors and I can feel the note burn like fire in my pocket.
I place my hand around it, squeezing tightly. Oh, God, I think. Oh God, oh God, oh God. What are the odds? That she was there, that she ran into me and saw me for what I was, what I had allowed myself to become under Gregory’s control? What was the chance of a stranger who had struggled with her misery, reaching out to help me with mine? Like a divine answer, a bolt of lightning steels across the night and a ground-shaking clap of thunder rolls.
“The sky’s about to open up,” Gregory says. “Wait right here for me. The last thing you
need is to get sick and lose your appetite. You’re too skinny already.” He smiles and kisses me, taking no notice of my dry lips or weak response to his affection. He takes the cart and crosses the lot.
As Gregory departs, the door opens and Warren strolls out. The idea is as quick and
bright as the lightening. I know this is it, and I have to act now, or I will lose the best chance I have at a quick getaway.
Warren doesn’t see me huddling against the building, out of the rain. There isn’t time to
say what I need to say to him out in the open. He walks quickly to his car and I follow, attempting to sink into my coat and become invisible in the rain. Gregory will be driving around to pick me up at the door by now.
Warren beeps his automatic locks. When he takes his groceries to the trunk, I slip in the
passenger seat. I let out the breath I’ve been holding. I can’t believe I’ve just done what I’ve done. I hear the trunk close and brace myself for Warren’s reaction. I don’t know what to expect, but I know I’m not afraid of it.
He doesn’t notice me until he’s behind the wheel with his door shut. His mouth drops.
His keys drop.
“Lock the doors?” I ask. He closes his mouth and does what I ask. Color starts to return
to his face.
“You scared me,” he says.
“I know.” I smile weakly. We are both breathing hard, as though we’ve been running for
miles. I feel a rush of adrenaline. Now that I’m free, I feel like I can do anything. I look at Warren. “Is this alright?” I whisper. “Are you okay with me being here?”
“I just…Laura, you really scared the hell out of me! I never thought…” he lets the words
get lost. I contemplate jumping out of the car. I’ve just frazzled the nerves of a man who has only recently been able to make it past his front porch without a crippling panic attack. But then Warren starts the engine and reaches out to squeeze my hand. He has come a long way, and is much stronger than I think. I want to be like him, pushing myself to my limit.
“Let’s get out of here,” he tells me. “We can talk about it at my place.” I nod, barely
managing to keep the hot tears from spilling.
As rain hits the windshield in sheets, I have a brief dark flash of Gregory searching for us.
Following us. Catching me. I scrunch down in my seat as we pass the black SUV parked by the store entrance. Warren looks straight ahead. He chews at a fingernail, but manages to keep calm, driving at an inconspicuous, parking-lot pace. I can’t help but look back.
I see him there, through the torrents of rain. Gregory rushes in and out of the store’s
sliding doors, disoriented and furious. He tugs at his perfect hair, baffled. He doesn’t look our way as we turn out of the lot. The last image I see of Gregory is his fist flying out at his driver’s side window. It shatters, and he sinks to the ground, staring at the back of his hand.
There must be blood everywhere, but I’m too far away now to see. As I face the dark and
unfamiliar road to Warren’s, I feel a waking fear. But at the same time I feel light. So light.
after David St. Johnâ€™s â€œThe Faceâ€?
The monster. The dreamer, the eater. The eater monster. You the monster, I the monster. All of us the monster. The monster in us, the monster in you. The monster in all of us. Us the monster, the cheater, the weaver. The monster the cheater of life, the cheater of death, the monster of the woman, the monster of her servant. The monster the cheater, the monster of the tears, the tears of the monster. The monster and the flesh, the monster with the flesh, the flesh of the monster. The monster the eater, the monster the cheater, the monster the servant, the monster the monster. The monster of these walls, the walls within the monster. The monster in you, the monster in me, the monster in us. The lover. The monster the lover, the monster the monk. The monk and the flesh of the monster, the flesh of the monk with the monster. The monster the eater, the monster the cheater, the monster the servant the monster in you. The monster in here, the monster in Sesame Street. The monster of the children, the children in the monster, the child in the monster. The monster of money, the monster of disease, the disease of the monster of the flesh of the monk. The monk. The monster. The monster the eater the monster the cheater the monster the servant
the monster in you the monster in the monk the monster the child of the child of the monster. The monster in all of us. The monster in water, the monster of this liposuction, the monster in LA. The monster of LA. The monster of the flesh of LA, the monster of the child in LA, the monster of the servant of LA. The monster. The dreamer, the weaver. The monster in Hollywood, the monster of Hollywood, Hollywood and the monster. A love affair. The monster and the love affair. The monster and the flesh of the monster in a love affair. The monster in you on Venice Beach, the monster in Culver City, the monster in here, right now, right there, nowhere. The monster nowhere. The monster everywhere. The monster the eater, the monster the dreamer the monster the lover, the monster the flesh of the monk of the child in LA. The monster of you and the monster in me. The monster in all. The monster. The child of the child of the monster. The monster in all of us. The monster in water, the monster of this liposuction, the monster in LA. 46
The monster of LA. The monster of the flesh of LA, the monster of the child in LA, the monster of the servant of LA. The monster. The dreamer, the weaver. The monster in Hollywood, the monster of Hollywood, Hollywood and the monster. A love affair. The monster and the love affair. The monster and the flesh of the monster in a love affair. The monster in you on Venice Beach, the monster in Culver City, the monster in here, right now, right there, nowhere. The monster nowhere. The monster everywhere. The monster the eater, the monster the dreamer the monster the lover, the monster the flesh of the monk of the child in LA. The monster of you and the monster in me. The monster in all. The monster. â€ƒ
I Asked Her if She Liked Fallen Trees We sat together in an open field and skyed each other’s wounds. Her eyes : my stitches healing in a summer breeze. I asked her if she liked the bitter water pooled in the quarry across town; the one the city let drown in the rain. She said someone drove into the quarry last month the first day of July, like they had planned it. I didn’t taste that but I remember how we both love the sudden days of cool or sun, the hiccups of weather. I look into her eyes : my stitches unravel into blood-feathers, a wet blue
The Way You Look in Morning It was a year before I learned the right way to pull myself over the top row of fence wire, pushing the calloused knot of my soft belly against the barb and swinging my legs over the stumped pasture, over saltlick and compost pile, the quiet heat of decay, without getting cut. Until someone ran an electric line through, and sent charged pulses around the woodlot and back, all at once, waves of liquid blue and yellow fire burning only when touched, meant neither to hold something in, nor to leave it out. â€ƒ â€ƒ
Statuesque No. 3 by Chuck Marecic
Would it have been different if Hair didn’t end with nakedness. If my head hadn’t been letting the sun shine as the snow fell on 46th and 7th. Different like values, like seconds, like naïve flecks of green among bright gold viscosity. If I hadn’t walked the 26 blocks and 6 avenues back to my studio apartment. If I’d taken the subway like anyone else avoiding weather. But the snow sparkled the pink neons like good morning starshine. I walked with fingers outspread in my mittens, singing along to cab horns, remembering life auslese. Alone after the show, I told the truth. I held myself, heat-stoned at the shoulders. Would it have been solitude to drink possibility-fire from my own breast. Would it have been salvation to petroleumhigh-smile at fire engine lights, to not need you. Would it have been love to place an umlaut over the analog clock that tocks overhead. Would it have been peace to remove my knit hat. A run-away to scale the pointed triangle of the Flat Iron building like a hillside. To toss my hat over Madison Square Park. A bare-blooded revolution to need windbitter edges of cotton stripped from my dancing body.
“Careful not to drip…”
Did he? She pauses mid-waddle. Her eyes fix on the mirrored closet door. Did he just ask
her to be careful not to drip?
With all of the might that Betty Leigh’s kegels possess, this is what she is concentrating
on, with her legs crossed and wobbly like a five year old who had delayed going potty so as not to miss the denouement of Darkwing Duck. Not dripping is her goal, but that is immaterial. How could he, who had only mere moments earlier fervently informed her neck that he loved her, use that same mouth to form the statement “Careful not to drip…”???
The lights in Michael’s apartment are turned off but the window is open and the partial
moon casts enough light for her to see his eyes in the mirror, staring at her reflection. He had always treated her delicately. He had called her Peanut, making light of her allergy to make her smile. He had brought her home to meet his family. She had been nervous about this but he had told her that his mother would love her and he was certain. The way he looked at her, it had been easy for her to be charming. Sometimes she looked in the mirror for hints of what he saw, but the image was only clear when reflected in his eyes.
She had blinked and everything had changed. She had reverted to her original position
with men: a sure thing. Never did she want him to see her that way, but that is what he was doing. She is certain, no ifs, buts or coconuts about it: he is telling her not to dirty his ratty carpet with his jizz.
For some reason, she had believed the lie that every woman believes, that she had met
the last good guy on God’s green Earth. How wrong she had been. She should have listened to Tamara: “There are no good guys, only prudent women.” Tamara McKay, Betty’s closest friend since freshman orientation, was always coming up with lines, or stealing from Dorothy Parker.
This one in particular stayed with Betty. Tamara had whispered it through the curtained
dressing room at Anthropologie seven months prior while Betty was selecting an outfit for her second date with Michael. Betty, Tamara, and Lucy Berkman, who was tagging along, had 52
decided that Betty needed to consider sleeping with a man and other associated tomfoolery semi-serious business. Betty wasn’t in college anymore, and she needed to start respecting herself. Her mother used words like ‘trollop’ for the girl she had been slowly but surely turning into, like a slutty cargo train, loading and unloading. Her friends chose a dress with this reimaging campaign in mind. It was strapless, pleated, and covered with little red bicycles. The panel decided that it was the perfect second date outfit because it was wholesome and suggestive.
Betty resigned herself to the confines of a strapless bra. These bras are less than ideal
because she is top-heavy. This forces her to wear the bra extra tight so that she need not spend the entire evening pretending she had an itch just below her armpit in order to bring the girls back to a proper level.
Despite this, or rather, because of this, her friends insisted upon the dress. Like the snake
oil salesmen girlfriends often become when wardrobe is concerned, they turned it around on her. Tamara chewed her cuticles. She always did this when she felt she was circling around a profound point, similar to the way Michael Jordan stuck out his tongue for a slam dunk.
“Do you want to be comfortable? This is a second date, you don’t want to be comfortable,
Tamara was flat-chested and therefore incapable of understanding, but Lucy, who was
not, came in with an assist.
“Yeah, you really don’t want to be too comfortable. And if you’re wearing a strapless, there
is no way you’ll let that dress come off.”
Lucy’s statement sealed the deal. Betty’s bra sectioned her off like a frog pinned for
dissection. Heart, lungs, breasts. Her outfit offered the same insurance as granny panties: She would not be doing anything that wasn’t second-date appropriate.
Yet, she still ended up fumbling around on Michael’s lumpy couch on that second date.
He was sweet, and she couldn’t recall the last time a man had opened a car door for her. And so, one gentlemanly act paved the way for her unladylike behavior, strapless bra be damned.
A DVR remote was wedged behind her back while she grappled for a comfortable
position with his weight pressing down on her. He tried to pull down her dress and she felt the 53
tugging of a distressed zipper.
“You’re going to rip it.” She hadn’t meant to be abrupt, but she felt an impending
gloom because she realized that her dress was just a covering, and she was the same girl she had always been. She wished there was a way to keep him around, but, since a woman is full of contradictions, she wanted a way to have her fun, too. A Dorothy Parker quip admonished her preemptively: you can lead a horticulture…
“I’m going drinking?” How the hell did he get that from what she said? Selective hearing,
an invention of man, bested only by the wheel.
“No, you’re going to rip my dress.” As a concession for speaking so pragmatically, she
arched her back so he could reach for the zipper. He unzipped slowly, looking directly into her eyes while he did it. She always wanted to laugh when men were serious. She looked off to the side and noticed a suspicious blotch on the couch. This was the same couch, she realized, that all of the boys in high school had in their parents’ basements. She was always on this couch.
He raised himself up slightly and she took a deep breath that manifested as a sigh. She
had a million things on her mind and she must have been making a weird face because he said, “What’s that goofy look about?”
She pretended her feathers were ruffled by his comment and pouted. She knew she had a
cute pout; it was one of four endearing things she could do at any given time (she could also flip her hair, smirk, and spread her legs, simultaneously, if necessary). Betty knew that she had all of the necessary charms to seduce a man, but she hadn’t a clue how to hold their attention after it was all over.
By allowing him to unzip the dress, she had tacitly consented to second base, but now,
in a state of panic, her mind returned to that dreaded insurance: her strapless bra. She realized insurance like this really only guarantees that something will happen and she cursed the worthless panel. Friends, hah!
There was no polite way for her to say that she hadn’t scheduled for them to go this far,
this soon. Even worse, there was no way for her to explain that things didn’t look the way they should look, right now. At that very moment she could feel her breasts squeezed into their
sausage casing. Guys don’t know about the secret language of strapless bras and granny panties. No, only women would come up with something so plotted and pointless.
He had uncurled her dress to below her belly button so that it rested on this woman like a
bunchy skirt. Her hands moved to cover her chest and stomach. She would like to tell herself that she didn’t want him to see her because she didn’t want them to go this far, or because she had on that hideous bra, but that wasn’t the full extent of her concerns.
Betty had a tradition before sleeping with someone, and like Catholics going to
confession after boozing, she had been faithful to this ritual since she lost her virginity five years prior. Betty and a group of girls from her floor were all going to a frat party because they were freshmen who didn’t have older siblings to point out obvious mistakes. Betty didn’t know these girls; the only thing that bonded them together was that they all lived on the same floor and wanted to attend a real college party. Of course, Tamara was in the group, but back then she was Tammy and she wore insecure gobs of eyeliner.
If Betty had lost her virginity before the party, she would have known that the Kappa
Alpha house smelled like sex, beer and pot the moment she entered. She picked up on the beer and pot. The girls’ plan was to never leave their drinks or another girl alone. The latter part of the plan disintegrated almost immediately, luckily, the former did not.
Betty grabbed a cup, but she knew that something was off because it was already halfway
filled with stagnant beer. She had unwittingly dissembled a pyramid for flippy cup mid-throw, and she was met by a chorus of boos and party fouls.
Someone gave Betty a sympathetic glance, and she made the mistake of looking back
appreciatively, which gave him the confidence to approach her. Though he must have introduced himself, Betty did not catch his name, and by the time they were kissing against the wall by the bathroom line, it was too late and awkward to ask for it. Since he had played a significant role in her life, Betty needed him to have a name, so she always referred to him as George Washington Carver.
GWC whispered atrocities in her ear regarding certain initiation rituals. Betty knew
that she would never be able to look at elephants the same way, and she was drawn to him out of morbid curiosity. Betty had been the one to lead GWC back to her dorm room. When she 55
unlocked the door she breathed a sigh of relief.
“Good, she’s gone.” They had tried GWC’s room first, but his roommate, an introverted
legacy pledge, had been at the computer drafting Ochocinco for his fantasy team. GWC took Betty’s comment as an invitation to undress, which seemed brazen at first, but paled in comparison to what he did next.
He grabbed her dorm mate’s unopened jar of peanut butter and dipped his finger, testing
it the way Betty’s grandma inspected marinara. Seemingly satisfied, he scooped a larger portion and slathered it on his junk.
GWC looked up at Betty and said, “You like peanut butter, don’t you, bitch?” There was
nothing in her years as a seasoned third base umpire that had prepared her for something so abrasive and ridiculous.
She said the only thing she could say, “I’m allergic to peanut butter.”
“Oh,” he said, and he looked down and made a face as if his nudity was a cruel epiphany.
He was ready to bolt, and she probably should have just allowed him to bow out ungracefully, but she was in college now, and she was eager to be done with her virginity the way women put away their white shoes after Labor Day. She took a condom out of her roommate’s drawer and said, “Let’s just get this over with.”
Once it was over, Betty had two thoughts: sex hurts, and her roommate preferred crunchy
peanut butter. It didn’t take Betty much longer to deduce that she had a peanut-induced rash, down there. While the university nurse examined her, she became determined to never be caught off guard by a man again.
Her routine is slightly unconventional but entirely effective. Every time she sensed that a
relationship was heading in the clothes-off direction she stood in front of the full length mirror in her room completely naked before the date. Then, she began shouting potential replies to hypothetical sex queries.
“Yes, I do swallow, but if you don’t warn me, it’s never happening again.” Or “You want me
to stick this cucumber up my pussy? Fine.” Or “No, I don’t think it is a good idea for me to choke you with my scarf, even if you do have a safe word.” Or “Please take off that clown mask.” 56
Five guys after GWC, she was lying on her stomach anticipating a back massage. Instead,
the guy she had been seeing put a beer bottle cap on her back, placed a cotton ball dipped in alcohol on the cap, lit it on fire, and covered it all with a pint glass. The glass attained Dyson-level suction properties. This experiment left her with a circular purple bruise with a star blister in the middle, and the certain knowledge that she could never prepare for everything.
When Michael tried to remove her hands from her chest and stomach, all she could really
think was I’m not ready for this. I haven’t done my routine, and when he succeeded she blurted out, “I have a peanut allergy!”
And he said, “That’s too bad.”
She was almost too afraid to ask. “Why’s that?”
“I can make an Elvis sandwich that would rock your world.” She hated guys like him. Any
guy, really, who made her want to sleep with him despite the fact that it was the second date, she was wearing a strapless bra, and she hadn’t gone through her routine, was a guy who she hated purely on principle. She pulled her dress back up over her stomach and her chest.
“You seem rather insistent about keeping yourself covered.”
She stared at the stupid red bicycles; her ruse to appear demure was preposterous. “Can I
just ask you, what weird thing are you going to do,” she hushed her voice to a whisper, “you know, sexually.”
He laughed. “What’s considered weird?”
The pout was for real this time. “It’s not funny. I wasn’t prepared for all of this to happen.”
If she told him what she considered weird, he would know how much she got around.
Since GWC, five years had passed and so had 26 guys. Every guy did something weird, in his own way. She had friends who swore their adoring boyfriends were utterly vanilla, but Betty knew it wasn’t true without knowing the guys. Every man has something that they want, but they’re usually afraid to ask for it. They weren’t afraid to try anything with her because she was a slut, and that made her a sexual guinea pig. Betty couldn’t tell Michael any of that, not that night, at least.
“I guess, for tonight, this is the weird thing I’m going to do,” he squirmed his arm 57
underneath her and zipped up her dress. “You know, sexually.”
He offered her a ride back to her apartment. He turned on the radio, but immediately
subdued the voice of the late night shock jock who was saying something about the world’s end. When he arrived at her apartment, he opened the car door and escorted her to the threshold. He said goodnight, and he meant it.
When she got back to her room, she stood in front of her full length mirror in her slightly
disheveled dress without answering a single question. She climbed into bed fully clothed and decided against calling the panel. Her well-meaning friends would ruin everything by pointing out the obvious: Even if Betty hadn’t gone all the way, she had still revealed too many cards.
She should have known seven months ago that he was too smooth. That one day, as it
turns out, this day, he would request that she be careful not to drop, and now here she is, standing in front of him, a naked fool with her knees turned inward. She is a deer caught in the spotlight, a bullet to the brain.
He had fooled her because in the end, he was exactly the same as all of the peanut butter
dicks out there, he was just better at hiding it. She had become content. If her serial dating had taught her nothing else, she should have at least learned that there was no point in a relationship that she should feel comfortable.
“What did you say?” She can’t even look at his reflection anymore.
“I said, careful not to trip, Peanut. There’s a lot of stuff on the floor.”
Trip. Careful not to trip. She looks down and realizes that the floor is a mess. She puts her
hand to her mouth to hide a laugh or a cry, but she hiccups instead. Betty won’t trip over a single thing.
Tawni Vee Waters
Damn straight, I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree, but if I wrote one I’d say when the wind blows, the roots in their soil shoes groan and grieve, and the branches brag, sporting torn bark sleeves, and the trunk bows low in its brown turtleneck, watching dying beetles. The pine’s just dyed its hair punk green, and its knothole eyes shine with sinister sheen, and its toes soak in the cool blood of James Dean. But you to me? You’re prettier than some morbid tree. You are as forever as the universe, not this one, but the one two cosmic zip codes over, the one that goes on and on and on, that isn’t expanding at the speed of light because it has already swallowed all the nothing and is resting now, grooving on its everythingness. That universe ate the grapes of wrath for breakfast eons ago. That universe forgot what dead was. That universe crank calls our universe sometimes and tells it to go catch the running toilet. Our universe cries and hangs up, thinking everyone hates it, wondering if it’s fat, contemplating Botox. And the forever universe laughs and and cracks a beer and goes on being all. You are like that. Everything you ever needed to be. I write novels dedicated to your knuckles, and then you move your hands, and I have to start over, because now you are something new. You’re like a never ending two plus two. You never equal four because you never stop.
#26 Contributors Julie Brooks Barbour is the author of the chapbook Come To Me and Drink (Finishing Line Press, 2012). Her poems have appeared in Waccamaw, Kestrel, UCity Review, diode, Prime Number Magazine, and on Verse Daily. She teaches at Lake Superior State University where she co-edits the journal Border Crossing. Matthew Brown has edited and been featured in a variety of journals including, Crab Orchard Review, Bellingham Review, Shenandoah, Copper Nickel and New Madrid among others. His chapbook, Glory Glory, was published in May of 2012. He currently teaches writing and literature at Middle Tennessee State University and lives in Nashville with his wife, son and dog. Lara Candland is a poet, librettist and vocalist with Lalage, a duo that performs Candland’s poetry with live electronic looping and manipulations. Her first book is Alburnum of the Green and Living Tree from BlazeVox. Her cd of poetry performance, Lalage: Live on Sonarchy is available through Comprovise Records. She was awarded a special recognition in the Larry Levis prize in 2012, and her work has appeared in Fence, The Colorado Review, Barrow Street, Unsaid, Free Verse, and other journals. She has also received a Genesis Prize for New Opera and her work has been performed by Almeida Opera in the Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. Holly Current studied English and creative writing at Northern Kentucky University. Her fiction has appeared in several publications, including The Writer’s Digest Short Shorts Anthology, Five Minute Fiction, Trembles Magazine, Dark Gothic Resurrected, and The Write Room Literary Journal. She spends her time as a toddler teacher and mother, writing fiction on the side. Her work can be found on her website and blog, A Little Literary, (a lotta Coffee). Lindsay Daigle is a second year doctoral student in poetry at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. She received her MFA from The New School University in New York City after receiving a BA in creative writing and philosophy from UWM. Her work has appeared in the Clemson Poetry Review, the Best American Poetryblog, Columbia Poetry Review, Artichoke Haircut, and elsewhere, and is forthcoming in Barn Owl Review. Her poem “Mise en Place” won the 2012 AWP Intro Journal Award and is forthcoming in Quarterly West. Lindsay teaches composition and creative writing at UWM. Milwaukee is her heart and home and hopefully the smallest city she’ll ever live in. Lisa Douglass’ fiction has been published in Transformations, R-KV-RY, Westwind (UCLA’s journal), and Blood Lotus Journal. She’s won some cool prizes that have fed her narcissistic slant that calls for outside validation because of an imagined childhood neglect; including the MacDonald Harris Prize for Fiction (UCI 2012); the Shirley Collier Prize (2010); first place for The Ruth Brill Award (2010); first place winner The May Merrill Miller Award (2009); and was named best published work in Westwind’s Journal for 2009-2010. She was a finalist in the Poet’s and Writer’s Writer’s Exchange contest (2009) and received an honorable mention in Writer’s Digest Annual Competition (2011) in the literary mainstream category. Her upcoming publications include Rules for Writers in Defenestration and an inclusion of Red Starbucks Girl in an anthology called “Love Hurts” put out by the editors of Eric’s Hysterics.
Robert Heath is a forty something project manager in the engineering sector by day and in the very early hours, before work, a writer. Avid reader. Proud family man. Happy. Living with my long-term partner. Two great kids. As a fiction writer and a poet he is influenced by the greats as he sees them – Kafka, Dickens, Bret Easton Ellis, Hubert Selby, Cormack McCarthy, William Faulkner, William Burroughs, Phillip Larkin, W H Auden, Adrian Mitchell, Charles Bukowski, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Pablo Neruda. He has to date won an online short story competition and had several pieces of poetry published in various magazines such as Inclement, Poetry Now, Poetry North West, Bop Dead City, Bare Hands and Gold Dust to name but a few. Theodosia Henney is a circus enthusiast who enjoys standing in the spaces between raindrops. Her work has appeared in over a dozen journals, including Dirtcakes, Grey Sparrow, RATTLE, and Fifth Wednesday. Louise Henrich reviews books for Heavy Feather Review. Her fiction has appeared in FortyOunceBachelors and Danse Macabre. She lives in Saint Charles with her husband and son. Alison Hicks’s books include Kiss, a collection of poems, Falling Dreams, a chapbook, Love: A Story of Images, a novella, and Prompted, an anthology. She received the 2011 Philadelphia City Paper Poetry Prize, and has twice received fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Her work has appeared in Eclipse, Fifth Wednesday, Gargoyle, The Hollins Critic, Pearl, Permafrost, Quiddity, and Whiskey Island, among other journals. She leads community-based writing workshops under the name Greater Philadelphia Wordshop Studio. Parneshia Jones is a recipient of the Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Award, the Margaret Walker Short Story Award; and the Aquarius Press Legacy Award. She is published in several anthologies including She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems, edited by Caroline Kennedy; The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South, edited by Nikky Finney. She is a member of the Affrilachian Poets and serves on the board of Cave Canem. She has performed her work all over the United States including the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York City, the Art Institute in Chicago, and Vanderbilt University. Her poetry has been commissioned by Art for Humanity, in South Africa; Shorefront Legacy, and featured on Chicago Public Radio. She studied creative writing at Chicago State University, earned an MFA from Spalding University, and studied publishing at Yale University. She holds the positions of Sales and Subsidiary Rights Manager and Poetry Editor at Northwestern University Press. Zachary Lundgren is a MFA student in poetry at the University of South Florida. He received his BA in English from the University of Colorado at Boulder and grew up in northern Virginia. He has had poetry published in several literary journals and magazines including The Stray Branch, The Tule Review, Barnwood International Poetry Magazine, the University of Colorado Honors Journal, was nominated for the 2012 AWP Intro Journals Award, and was awarded the Estelle J. Zbar Poetry Prize in 2012. He is also a poetry editor for Sweet: A Literary Confection. Chuck Marecic is a photographer and writer based in Washington, Maine.
Lucian Mattison is a graduate of the University of Florida and is now enrolled in the MFA program at Old Dominion University. He currently works as a TA and edits poetry for the Green Briar Review. He can be reached at Lucian.firstname.lastname@example.org. Christopher McCurry teaches high school English in Lexington, Kentucky where he lives with his family. He is an intern for Accents Publishing and a student at the Bread Loaf School of English. Keith Moul’s poems have been published widely for almost 45 years. Recently two chaps have been released: The Grammar of Mind (2010) from Blue & Yellow Dog Press and Beautiful Agitation (2012) from Red Ochre Press. This photo is among about 200 he has published in the past 2 years. In 2010 a poem written to accompany one of Keith’s photos was a Pushcart nominee. M. R. Owens was born in Memphis Tennessee, but now lives in Iowa City where he works as a Teaching Fellow while pursuing an MFA at The University of Iowa. He has most recently published fiction and non-fiction in Crazyhorse Literary Journal, Hobart: another literary journal, and Redivider. Scott Parker hails from Santa Fe, NM. These days he calls the Land of Ports aka Portland, OR “Home”; here he works as a materials technician for a local specialty hospital. In his downtime he plays music, writes fiction, poetry, shoots photography and paints on canvas not houses. His poems have appeared in Dream Fantasy International, Nomad’s Choir and are forthcoming from Brutarian and Black Gate. Utilizing both digital as well as the tried and true 35mm, he has also been an avid photographer for more than fifteen years, shooting overseas in addition to 35 of the 50 states. His record label is called A Monkey’s Tea Party ©1994. Jason David Peterson is a psychoarchaeologist with a Jungian bent. He studied poetry aggressively at the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire, and currently lives and writes in Minneapolis. His work can be found in The Rivers Meeting Project, Fire Ring Voices, The Cathead Biscuit Review, Fire and Light, The Fugue, and on permanent display in the University of Wisconsin Women’s Studies Department. His writings are also available at his website. Mahtem Shiferraw is an Ethiopian poet and artist living in Los Angeles. She received her Bachelor from Loyola Marymount University and holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Her poems have been published on 2River View and Blast Furnace. Mahtem is currently working on her first chapbook. Hear Mahtem read her poetry here and check out more here. Neesa Sunar, 26, is a musician through and through. Trained as a classical violinist and violist from an early age, she now has focused herself on violin teaching and being a singer-songwriter. She performs frequently at the Anti-Folk open mic stages in New York City. Her passion for poetry started in high school when she first studied the operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan and listened intensely to raps of Eminem (2001 and before). The lyrics she writes for her songs often are natural and conversational, and they always “seem to work out.” There is certainly a musical element involved as well. Neesa also writes poems in her spare time, which serve to express thoughts of all types within her, without censure. She only has a few publications at this point, but there’s quite little meaning in that is there?
Tawni Vee Waters is a writer, actor, and gypsy. She has an MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of New Orleans. Her work has been published in Best Travel Writing 2010, Bridal Guide Magazine, Ft. Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, Albuquerque Journal, Albion Review, ABQ Arts Magazine,So To Speak, and Conceptions Southwest, among others. She is a regular contributor to Burlesque Press and was a regular contributor Albuquerqueâ€™s East Mountain Telegraph. In 2010, she won the Grand Prize in the Solas Awards Travel Writing Competition. In 2009, she won the Editorâ€™s Award for Fiction from Ellipses Magazine. She teaches creative writing at Estrella Mountain College and is teaching at the San Miguel Writers Conference in 2013. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her children and a menagerie of wayward animals. In her spare time, she talks to angels, humanely evicts spiders from her floorboards, and plays Magdalene to a minor rock god. Gregory Zorko is a 22 year old poet and history student. He loves Lorca, Vallejo, Khlebnikov, and the Quran. He has been published in NANO Fiction, Busk, and Burning Word Magazine, among others. He lives and works in upstate New York.