the b’k bitchin’ kitsch
Vol. 10 Issue 4
The Bitchin’ Kitsch (2010-present) or The B’K is a quarterly compzine edited and published by The Talbot-Heindl Experience, LLC in Denver, CO. The B’K is an outlet for people who may not be accepted or considered by more traditional publications.
The B’K aims to have a diverse publication from a diverse set of voices and promises inclusivity, diversity, and respectful discourse. Issues are published in January, April, July, and October.
Editor-in-Chief and Design: Chris Talbot-Heindl
Editor: Dana Talbot-Heindl
The B’K has strict submission guidelines. Please read them before submitting something for consideration: talbot-heindl.com/bitchin_kitsch/submissions
For inquiries or concerns, write to: email@example.com
About the Cover
“Bat with Stalagmites,” by Emily Rose Schanowski. Ink and watercolor on paper.
T a b l e o f C o n t e n t s
A r t
F i c t i o n
- F i c t i o n
BT Hathaway 25 Sasheera Mehrani 12-13, 41, 56 Keith Moul 17, 39, 53 Mark Myavec 7, 35 Emily Rose Schanowski cover, 31, 49 Olivier Schopfer 11, 36-37
Seth Cable 14-15 Peter F. Crowley 20-24 H.E. Grahame 8-9 Chris Talbot-Heindl 44-45
Sunset Combs 46-48 Chris Talbot-Heindl 32-33 P o e t r y Henry Brown 18 Gary Duehr 42 David Estringel 16 M.L. Fenton 10, 40 John Grey 30 Clara B. Jones 5 Sandra Larkin 27 DS Maolalai 28, 51 KG Newman 52 26, 50 Alex Phuong 29, 43 Imogen Rosenbluth 4 Dorsía Smith Silva 6, 34 Alexander Swistak 38 Dr. Mel Waldman 54-55
by: Imogen Rosenbluth
CW: Misogyny and ableist hate-speech
after Terrance Hayes
all gimpy though, my boy-colleague said, one of a teenaged gaggle rating female coworkers on their “fuckability,” between sandwich orders.
And if you’re thinking I slammed down the dish I was washing and stormed in to confront him, you’re wrong because I pretended I didn’t hear, and then we took our fifteen minute breaks together, manager’s orders, the humane (read: legal) way to treat minimum wagers, and we scrolled through our phones in tandem, privilege and apathy, and the point is we entered and exited in silence, ignored each other from ten feet away, which is better than he deserved and that was how I became an accomplice to the hate crime of which I was victim—this teenaged burger-flipper calling me gimpy behind my back and me overhearing it, and not saying anything, as if I was the shameful one. In any case, wherever that boy is now he isn’t still there, and will never know that I let it go because I was afraid to lose my job or afraid to need to quit—which I did anyway.
“...and that was how I became an accomplice to the hate crime of which I was victim”
by: Clara B. Jones for
Sianne Ngai (2005)
Psychoanalysis is a theory; Psychoanalysis is a method, Though you are never calm when your Id is judged Since you want to keep your body safe— Choosing carefully, reducing error. Proof is not Forthcoming, but you are hopeful, nonetheless, And in 3 hours you can prove that your defenses aren’t A fiction. Tell your therapist if you have trouble Breathing. All you need is a visa to Kenya where Your sister catches poachers faster than other rangers Since her confidence is driven by neurons using Gene-modified transmitters at terminal boutons. Have you found a therapist? You seem to have a case
Of stage fright though you’ve read three chapters of The Awakening And know when a change of scenery can cure your symptoms.
by: Dorsía Smith Silva
On the dirty gray subway, you clutch your rose-gold leather purse a little tighter and quickly inch away from me. If you could, you would flee to another cart and blink away my existence. Instead, you put on your oversized sunglasses: a whitewash of safety. Would you like it if I stayed quiet? But history has shown that nothing is given to those that do not shout: demand more, move beyond eloquent anger. In this form, you see me as the perfect figure, a balance of your go-round lies, like spinning ugly language into gold thread.
“If you could, you would flee to another cart and blink away my existence.”
Life’s Matter and Matrix
by: Mark Myavec
Princess in the Stars
by: H.E. Grahame
Me and my princess in the stars two-stepped into our delicate, familiar waltz. Her hand wrapped around me holding me tightly, holding me close. She was happy, skipping along in the storm-soddened sidewalk beneath the glimmer of the antique marquee lights. Words tumbled gracefully from her lips, singing of princes in the stars and rose-colored allegories of life and loss. I listened to her croon on and on, dipping and pirouetting in the rain. She squealed whimsically, our embrace swelling as she pranced into the street in a playful race against the crosswalk countdown. Lights swirled across the wet pavement with glittering choreography, joining in our elegant routine. I spread my arms wide, the wind dancing against the tight drapes of art and color that dressed my wiry skeleton.
Suddenly her step faltered and her melody collapsed into dread, resonating with surprise and confusion, shattering the quiet street. The twirling car headlights fell still. The stars and princes wilted into puddles. My princess tumbled from me as the sunny, steel face of a rumbling school bus collided into her. With an hollow thud, she flew. I flew. The twinkling universe held its breath as we crashed into the asphalt stage. When everything finally gasped for air, it came like a mighty gust of movement and sound. It was a cacophony of footsteps in puddles and hushed urgent voices. All I could see was the inky sky above me. Where was my princess in the stars? Was she still dancing? Continuing our waltz without me?
A girl’s been hit by a bus. No there’s no blood. Yes, she’s awake, came one hurried voice.
I didn’t see her. Oh god, I didn’t see her! another voice sobbed. Stay calm. Stay with me. It will be okay.
“All I could see was the inky sky above me. Where was my princess in the stars? Was she still dancing? Continuing our waltz without me?”
Is anyone a doctor here?
Oh my god, I’m so sorry.
The rain is so cold.
The rain. The rain.
A warm hand suddenly wrapped around me, an unfamiliar dance partner, lifting me from my damp isolation. I squinted, desperately looking for my princess in the fold of people clustered around her still body. Her chocolate hair splayed across the concrete like a dark halo framing her ashen face. She stared at the sky, counting the stars, with unblinking brown eyes as the raindrops kissed her cheeks and forehead. I moved above her, reaching as far as I could pulling the colorful vinyl dressing tight to shield her from the relentless downpour. Her eyes focused briefly on the Van-Gogh swirls of colors I’d stretched above her and a single tear slipped down her cheek. I stretched further, sleet continuing to drum against me as the rushed denouement of tonight’s dance came to a speedy end. The spin of paramedics and gurney wheels. The bleating of sirens and heart machines. The headlamps and emergency lights dancing across the wet, weary road. The rosy prince in the sky. The invitation for us to waltz again; her umbrella and the princess in the stars.
by: M.L. Fenton
She had beautiful penmanship (something. I’ve always lacked)
I thought as I looked at her Shopping list:
Hot dog relish
Bananas (two, ripped from the bunch)
Me, hurried and slightly annoyed after work.
Discarding the shopping list in the buggy, continuing with the minutiae of my, oh so important life.
later when she’s gone
I’m always looking for those shopping lists with her lovely handwriting when my hands touch the cold handle of any shopping cart.
by: Olivier Schopfer
by: Sasheera Mehrani
The Introduction of Trees
by: Seth Cable
Council President Addleson,
I will be direct: the introduction of trees to the Winding Brook neighborhood has been an unmitigated disaster.
Don’t misunderstand me; it’s not that the residents have rejected their new ornamentation. Indeed, it’s quite the opposite. So taken are they with the novelty of these tall and sinuous forms that we’ve been completely unable to impose order through the traditional means. Calls to assembly go unheeded as the residents instead encircle, embrace, and caress these new objects of fixation.
Indeed, a kind of symbiotic relationship seems to have formed, whereby the noxious chemicals typically expelled by the Winding Brook residents as part of their natural metabolic processes are actually absorbed by the trees they presently swarm, thereby promoting their growth and physical magnificence. This in turn has a stimulating effect upon those metabolic processes in the residents, leading to increased expulsion of said chemicals.
If this self-amplifying cycle is not interrupted soon somehow, we could well lose the entire Winding Brook neighborhood by the end of next century.
In light of these unexpectedly catastrophic developments, three lines of approach have been proposed. Several councilors have proposed that the trees be forcibly removed, but none can yet devise a method for doing so that wouldn’t also ultimately harm the residents presently physically attached to them. While some find the projected losses to be acceptable, the majority feel that damage to the value of the residents - and particularly to their harvestable portions - should be mitigated as much as possible.
Another option - though one that would take significantly more time - would be to poison the trees through their root systems. A narrow tunnel could be drilled from a position about 100 meters away from the trees, beneath the current position of the residents, and up to the root systems of the trees. Then, a pipeline could be snaked through the tunnel and a fast-acting poison injected at various key positions. The principle issue with this approach would be the timeframe involved. Current calculations place the completion of the tunnel and pipeline at nearly 180 years, assuming a quite conservative estimate of the
density of the wurtzite boron nitride substrate undergirding the Winding Brook neighborhood. Consequently, though this strategy would involve the least risk to the residents, it may simply not be feasible.
A final option - which I have done the most work developing and promoting - would be to effect a change in the residents’ opinions of the trees, through a coordinated, broad-based social-media campaign involving key cultural influencers. We’ve already spoken with both Morday the Vlocker and So-SoSo-So-Tamdy, and both are willing to contribute for the price we have offered. Morday is working on a thiel that will focus on the less pleasant aspects of trees. An early draft hits upon the following major bullet points:
• Trees don’t have feelings and are incapable of love
• Trees are covered in disgusting moss and frequently small worms
• Under the right conditions, after several million years, trees transform into petrified wood
• If “tree seed” is every accidentally swallowed, there’s a good probability that a tree will erupt from your chest, impaling you gruesomely in front of your loved ones and coworkers.
So-So-So-So-Tamdy has agreed to commence a whisper campaign against the trees. Though So-So-So-So-Tamdy whispers at a level well below aural perception, the regular conjunction of the visual impression of the trees with the unpleasant sensation of So-So-So-So-Tamdy’s moist whispering will be sure to engender a Pavlovian negative response in the residents, ultimately leading to acute antipathy towards the trees.
As you no doubt have noticed, the key issue with this third approach is the risk that it poses to the residents. Past attempts at such social-media campaigns have lead to a three-fold increase in bloodshed, and - during one notorious sequence - a four-fold increase in psycho-sexual dissociation. I am confident, however, that the factors involved in those particular incidents are now very well understood, and are easily avoided by following carefully regimented protocols (which we absolutely would adhere to).
In closing, please let me just say the following. I know, sir, that you were a very early supporter and promoter of the “Trees in Winding Book” campaign. Looking back, I believe that you were completely justified in this position, given our knowledge at the time. It must be acknowledged, however, that certain key assumptions underlying those proposals were simply mistaken. As a former member of the Committee for Bioluminescent Integration, I know that you are big enough to admit this mistake and come to the right conclusion in this matter.
Yours in Perpetuity,
by: David Estringel
Life is slow here in a border town where lazy palms scantly twitch in dead breezes— dry and pollen-choked. Everywhere. Nowhere. Cattle, brown against my hand and an expanse of cloudless blue, meander aimlessly, chewing cud that never quite hits the spot. Their eyes, like minds— blank— close to things made new by the blessing of the sun, cast downward upon cracks and clods of grey clay underfoot, where a fire burns beneath the ground. Life is slow here in a border town,
where—in-kind— like a shadow I wait for a shift, the balm of a breeze to kiss the delicate yellow from the retama and pave my road. Everywhere. Nowhere. Noon rages overhead (Devil’s at the crossroads) as flames whip and lick the sky, beckoning just beyond the watery promise of the horizon. So, I close my eyes here in this border town— everywhere, nowhere— seeing white and the blood that courses through my veins, dig my toes into the ground, and slowly burn.
“Life is slow here in a border town”
by: Keith Moul
north loop & chesterfield ave
by: Henry Brown
whispered breath of a toothless half-smile aches faintly: if this place were safe, would you laugh with your belly? flow of hair peaks jagged out over your left ear Here face to face in only the Smallest of ways
ricochet gazes! eyes unlocked still never go away if this place were safe, would we even know for shared certain? lips pursing prevaricating, tongue left hapless hanging quiet is courage sometimes, enduring for honesty
your hair curls now between tip of left ear and temple strands cascading together down, shifting silently in place could you tell me, please, what the hell kind of place is this? but right there’s the acknowledgement of prayers long forgotten:
language melted, distilled, refined, spit-shined speaking In a cheap display case, expressing nothing till it burns, black smoke rises to heaven! earth speaking in tongues! language met, merchandized hacking out of negative space
and outside still oscillates this place is not safe. Speaking signals anxiety, sounds come together bright brave barks! heavendrift language, favorite forgotten song shouting! can you sing with me in only the language we long for?
have they beaten it all out of us, have we forgotten? how can we howl out the strange place that surrounds us? grave glances between us spell out shared war-understanding laughing loud remains out of reach, but lips twist a little:
you look bright to my eyes: we will not lose our good humor to tragedy of lost language, we learned to speak fearless! words turn in time and we must remember our songs: quiet quells moment’s tyranny, but now please sing with me!
T h e J o b In t e rv ie w
b y : Al e x an d e r Sw i st a k
We met in a pale-yellow room without windows. Carefully scripted answers. We are two men with
But I didn’t show him to you. The character I was portraying, you asked I painted a lie about how I wanted a new challenge. In fact, I had lost my job due to having had a public
But I didn’t tell you this. Instead, I kept it close to me, Cradling my vulnerability like a veiled infant.
“B ut I d i d n ’t t e ll yo u th i s . In st ea d, I k ep t i t cl o s e t o me , Cr a dl ing my vul ne r a b i l i t y l i k e a v ei l e d in f an t. ”
Piece removed at the request of the author.
by: Peter F. Crowley
In my parent’s cellar, on the black water pipes running parallel to the ceiling, the previous owner’s son hung himself. His parents had went away and came home to find him. He was in his early 20s. My father told me that when they first were shown the house, the son’s friends were shooting up heroin in the finished basement area.
We moved in a month later, just before I turned three.
In my senior year of high school, I smoked pot heavily, usually by myself. Whenever high alone, I avoided going into the cellar, particularly to the unfinished part where the suicide occurred. A few times, I faced my unconscious fear and sat down underneath the pipes to debunk belief in ghosts as an aspiring existential rationalist. I wouldn’t admit it to myself then, but there was a kind of darkness to the unfinished basement.
Not so long ago, I received a call from an unknown number. As usual, I rejected it, sending it to voicemail. The same number called again a few minutes later. Again, I hung up. Shortly later my phone vibrated, indicating a voicemail had been left. I listened, expecting to hear an automated fraud message. Instead, it was a woman’s voice that sounded vaguely familiar.
“Sorry to bother you, Mr. Flaherty, but this is the current resident of 15 Powhatan Road in Blackstone. My husband and I really hate to disturb you, but we have a few questions about the house. Could you please return our call at 781-254-2333? Thanks so much! Jill.”
Strange, I thought. My parents had moved out a few years ago to live in a smaller place that required less upkeep. I had never met the new buyers or heard anything about them.
I waited a few hours and returned their call.
A man with a deep, serious voice answered.
“Hello. Could I please speak to Jill?”
“Who is this?”
“This is someone who used to live at 15 Powhatan. And I believe Jill contacted me regarding that.”
His voice suddenly warmed.
“Oh, yeah, of course. Jill’s my wife. We live where you used to live and wanted to talk to you about the house. It’s…” His voice trailed off.
“Hello? Can you still hear me? I’m not sure if the line was cut. Hello?”
After a few moments, a woman’s voice came on.
“Hi Mr. Flaherty, this is Jill. Is it possible to we meet in person? It’s just that the line seems to be breaking and there’s a lot to cover.”
“Is this about property damage? Or maybe a purchasing agreement? If so, I think either my parents or your realtor would be best to contact.”
“No,” Jill responded, pausing, “we already contacted your parents, but they thought you’d be the best person to talk to.” ***
Reluctantly, I agreed to meet them for coffee at a Starbucks near my old house. It was a very busy month for me, as a marketing director of Solvent, an AI firm that develops deep learning algorithms to detect Alzheimer’s years before traditional diagnosis.
Immediately upon walking into Starbucks, a shorter couple waved to me from the corner. As they stood to shake my hand, they looked to be around 5 feet tall, with the Jill slightly taller than her husband. They were probably in their mid-40s. He was muscular with a goatee and she was an attractive blonde with year-round tan skin. I mention this because it was February in New England when I met them.
As we talked, it soon became apparent that they had also heard the story of the young man committing suicide in their basement nearly 35 years ago and were trying to get answers anywhere they could. They also added, as a side note, that they were fans of the “Ghost Hunters” tv show and seemed to suggest that their basement may be haunted. But, had they sought an appointment with my siblings or parents? Why were they so interested in having an in-depth meeting with me?
After describing noises that they heard emanating from the basement in the middle of the night, they asked me about my past. They seemed to want a full bio – how long did I live in that house? Did I hang out in the basement often? Did I ever hear strange noises from there? When did I move in and when did I leave? And so on. I tried to answer them briefly with as little information as possible, as it slowly began to feel a bit like an interrogation.
The conversation seemed to be dwindling, as I was unwilling to offer much detailed personal information to complete strangers. For a few minutes, they changed the subject to the weather, Red Sox spring training and the team’s prospects for the coming season. It felt like they were trying to find ways to buy time.
Jill placed her hand on my wrist, as if doing so would extract further information.
“Did you ever write your initials anywhere in the basement?”
I thought back for a second.
The man squinted and gave me a hard look.
“Mr. Flaherty, are you being honest with us?”
“Yeah, of course.”
They remained dubious, so I continued, “I mean, I spray painted a couple band names on the front walkway, like Rancid. But I don’t think I’ve ever written my initials anywhere besides when signing forms.”
“You’re lying!” the man blurted out.
“Honey, relax,” Jill said, placing both hands gently on his shoulder.
“Your initials are CFF, right?” she inquired.
“Those initials are deeply scrawled into the basement cement.”
Unmeaningfully, my jaw hung open. I thought for a second.
“It could always be that someone with the same initials lived there before me. Or maybe CFF stands for something else – like a group or organization?”
Jill took out her iPhone and showed me the picture of the unfinished basement and zoomed in on the initials. It was CFF.
“OK, well, you’ve convinced me. They’re there. But I never saw them the whole time I lived there. And I definitely did not write them.”
As we parted, they seemed to believe me and said they would continue further research on municipal records to see who lived there previously.
While intrigued, I wondered aloud why it was such a big deal that they uncover who wrote it.
“You don’t seem to understand,” the man began, “every night we hear noises from the basement. When we go down there and shine a flashlight on those initials, it stops.”
I grinned, shaking my head.
“Have you replaced the old furnace yet? I remember that would always make a hell of a lot of noise.”
In a solemn, measure tone, the husband retorted, “This is not a joke, Mr. Flaherty, this is our lives. This is where we live! We can’t sleep. We need to get some peace!”
“OK, well, why don’t you guys go ahead and do some research and let me know what you find.”
It was a while until I heard from them again. The weather was warm, air conditioners were humming. It was early July.
They asked to meet again at the Starbucks near their house.
When I met them, they seemed visibly distraught. The woman’s once-tan skin had turned pallor and the man seemed to have lost a substantial amount of weight. The whites of his serious eyes shone out in panic from his gaunt face.
They cut right to the chase.
After getting coffees, Jill alleged, “Mr. Flaherty, there’s something you’re not telling us.”
“What do you mean? I was kind enough to divulge much of my past to each of you, perfect strangers, back in February. Honestly, I don’t know what you two are after!”
They exchanged glances. Jill began to speak, but her husband put his hand up.
In a slow, deliberate tone, as if premeditated, he said, “Mr. Flaherty, we have been completely forthcoming with you, about our home, our problems with the basement and the mysterious initials. We looked up the municipal records online, then went to City Hall to confirm. And then even reached out to remaining relatives of…”
“Don’t act like you don’t know!” Jill interrupted in a shrill voice. “You’re the bastard who’s keeping us awake!”
Anger seethed through her eyes and her husband tried to calm her.
“Basically, the gig is up,” the man contended, “CFF is Christopher Francis Flaherty. The name of the young man who killed himself in 1982. That is you!”
Abruptly, the woman took out a spray can written “Ghost Fighter” in large red letters and shot a biting mist into my eyes. For ten minutes or so, I couldn’t see anything and felt a throbbing chili pepper-type of sting. A Starbucks barista dabbed a cold wet cloth on my eyes. By the time I could see again, the police had arrived, and the couple gone.
The police implored me to provide them with comprehensive information about the couple. I told the cops that the couple was mentally disturbed, and that I’d rather refrain
from giving any personal information about them. This drew suspicion. They cajoled me for more information so they could talk to the couple and have a record of the incident, even if I didn’t want to press charges.
I explained that I really just wanted to put the incident behind me and go home to recover.
They let me go, saying that they would contact me in a few days. ***
After a long nap and shower, I sat down to watch the Red Sox. Grabbing my laptop, I typed in “Blackstone municipal records.” It cost $40 to gain access. I immediately accepted. And then I saw it.
15 Powhatan Road, born 1961, died 1982. Christopher Francis Flaherty.
faded glory, at sunset
by: BT Hathaway
by: Noëlle Parlette
I grasped the strands of it
Your hair, last night
It smelt like bourbon
Secretly, your favorite drink
I saw you, pouring it into your coffee this morning
Along with milk and honey, after your colleagues
Mrs. L and Mrs. S
Leave the lounge
Cutting gossip short, Mrs. L obviously beginning to bald in the front
Leaving the place to breathe the relieved silence
Letting your throat open
Your stomach unclench
You check the mirror
Sad hazel eyes still alert
But not as lucidly afraid
You step outside the lounge, coffee in hand And walk into our classroom
The bulletin board with “Welcome to Miss Anya’s Third Grade Class!”
Needs to be re—.
by: Sandra Larkin
As I illuminate you. Ink soaks into the soft vellum of your innocent back, capitals adorned in scrollwork, vines bloom with dancing peasants and queens in line after line of angular script. Legends, prayers, mathematical proofs wind along your spine, songs change key in the tender margins of your wrists, neck to ankle, half-lies and secrets brushed under your hair, questions bracket your lips.
When light slants long on library shelves, when your gilded eyes ripen with reflection you will find yourself bent to the task of translation, absorbing all I told you, holding you still in sleep.
by: DS Maolalai
in the morning we try coffee with this new soya milk. it sinks in application; leaves the surface sundowned. we stir and sip quickly like lighting a stubbed joint - it clumps like sour cow’s milk, but still tastes just like coffee. in the garden black magpies flap around improvised birdfeeders and push the sparrows off to the ground eating seeds. this summer there will be no flowers blooming, only black coffee every morning, clumping and hiding the sun.
by: Alex Phuong
Uniting uniformed unity
You and I defy the sky
Team work and collaboration
Up to personal discretion
Civil Rights Civility
Minorities against majorities
Stick to the status quo
But should we...?
Defy thy stars
And seek new avenues
Harness the power of creativity
And merge sense with sensibility
“Utopia” was conceived by Thomas More
But all must still must strive for more
For he was A Man for All Seasons
Arrests might be criminal
But people cannot be subliminal
If they want to break free
Listen to words of wisdom from me “Know thyself, be thyself, harmoniously”
First published by Moonstone Arts CenterPhiladelphia Says: Haiku
by: John Grey
Yes, you have a role in this. Cheap feelings are not all down to me. (I do twinkle and shine a lot) And let’s see how I take my lips on your lips, at any given time. (Good choice on my part) But I’m tired of living like a better me most certainly would not. He would not say or do anything to hurt you.
Or he’d try to express it in terms of holy upon holy. And here I am, breaking the plane of your surface, looking to drown myself. in my own muck.
(As if I’m the only one that matters.) Leave it to my diary entry. Lots of water in the lungs.
Me or you?
Moon, light, couch, zipperyour fingers, my yearning. Outside, there’s traffic, people watering their gardens. Responsibility…how about a rain check? (You ask yourself, am I the only one here that’s actually loving.) Then you leave it all up to me. Ramifications will identify this man. Well of course, you have a say, What I mean is, whose version is this? What would we be doing if we were doing something else?
Yes, sex is what the stars do on the movie screen. But that’s just acting. We act for real.
by: Emily Rose Schanowski
by: Chris Talbot-Heindl
33 Chrissplains Nonbinary Advocacy
Why to Believe and Not Gatekeep Identity
Moments We Cannot Name
by: Dorsía Smith Silva
The doctor calls to tell me that my progesterone and hCG levels are crashing. Before I can ask, “What does this mean?” she tells me that I will miscarry. So simple these words, but so weighted.
It’s not like how it is on television or in the movies.
She does not tell me to sit down first or gives the preface that there is bad news. There are no pressed cotton square handkerchiefs to blot my grief or close friends holding my hands, telling me that I will be alright.
There is no time to turn away from this scalding spatter of words, before students rush into the large auditorium.
“Good morning, professor.”
I half-smile my way through the lecture to hide the waves of cramps rolling from my abdomen to the vulva, until the drive home when the tears clutch to my face, thickening into stains, and my body shivers to itself.
Why is death in me?
How does death come?
My body seeks answers to an empty reply.
Let Us Play
by: Mark Myavec
Strokes by: Olivier Schopfer
Fl e dgl in g s
b y : Al e x an d e r Sw i st a k
In my backyard. Oh, to be as those three
To be by one’s ancestors blessed. Now mother is near, with her worms, Babies chirp and sing for their meal. Oh, how my heart yearns
Piece removed at the request of the author
by: Keith Moul
by: M.L. Fenton
I never noticed the rolling green hills until I reached adulthood. My focus was always on the cement touching my feet.
Same with the excised building, a ramshackle Dive-bar on its finest day. In the 2 x 8 blocks
Hemmed in by a highway and two rivers (who’s names Pre-date this nation we live in). Gone was The decay, behind it lush greenery
Soon in this fair season of rebirth the Lot will be filled with clover flowers and Perennial rye, that will shimmer and shake by an unseen hand.
a wilder no more
“I never noticed the rolling green hills until I reached adulthood. My focus was always on the cement touching my feet.”
by: Sasheera Mehrani
What Degas Saw
by: Gary Duehr
So much these days is accidental— Odd, cut-off, ephemeral—
As any snapshot. Even with Degas, In “Place de la Concorde,” 1875, he saw A fragment of the Vicomte as he Was strolling with His Daughters—what was he Thinking of, cigar in teeth? Their dog preoccupied With something out of frame, as were they all, as if they eyed An exit strategy.
And now they stood there in the open, anxiously.
According to MOMA’s Chief Curator Kirk Varnedoe, the harsh collisions Of living in the modern world owe an allegiance Not to photos but to paint.
One hundred fifty years ago, a general complaint Crept in to taint our view.
He says that isolated strangers on the street are nothing new: A jogger striding down the avenue To make the light, a few Business types and cyclists jostling past. It’s over in a second. Nothing lasts.
by: Alex Phuong
Change is the only constant, but only those willing to change themselves can make the world a better place
First published in Art Block Zine, Volume 4, Issue 2: “Processing,” July 2019.
When Time Stopped at a Gunther Toody’s
by: Chris Talbot-Heindl
CW: sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia
One moment, they were staring into their date’s twinkling eyes and admiring her beautiful laugh, sipping on one of the two straws stuck in a strawberry Surfer Smoothie placed halfway between the two of them in a tacky, red vinyl booth at Gunther Toody’s; the next moment, everything stopped.
Billie heard – or rather didn’t hear – the café go silent before they noticed that everything had stopped; everything except themself. Jimena’s almond eyes and dark cherry lips held in place, one strikingly well-defined eyebrow raised at something Billie had said. The wait staff were frozen in mid-step, their kitschy hot pink uniforms caught like photographs.
From what Billie could observe, they were the only animated object or person in the joint. Even the soda machine had frozen with a trapped stream of Mug Root Beer half way between the spigot and the metal container they used to make malts and shakes.
Billie heard the tinkling bell of someone entering and watched as a white man quickly approached. Billie felt themself freeze as well; not by the same mechanism everything else had, but by fear. Billie’s therapist had assured them that this was perfectly natural.
“People think there’s only fight or flight, but there’s a third fear response: freeze. This is quite common in people who have been sexually assaulted. It is perfectly natural and nothing to be ashamed of. It’s the hormones flooding your body,” she had said.
Billie imagined those hormones flooding each and every inch of their body, causing this seizing up.
The man wore green cargo pants with too many pockets. That was Billie’s first thought – there are too many pockets; too many places to hide things. Billie wasn’t sure why that thought, but anxiety didn’t have to be logical. He had tattoos all over his arm –not quite a full sleeve – but splotches and groupings of tattoos. Some were obviously professionally made, others looked like an amateur had done them with a needle and some India ink. And quite prominent on his upper forearm was a large swastika.
He strode up to the booth where Billie and Jimena sat, he eyeballed them both –spending an uncomfortable amount of time on Jimena’s mouth, Billie’s afro puffs and naked face – and then he brought his face close to Billie’s.
Billie could see his 5-o-clock shadow on the top of his head, the wrinkles that betrayed how often this man must frown and worry, and a ridiculous patch of sideburn on either side of his face – like Wolverine’s, but being the only bit of hair on his head or face, it didn’t have the same effect as the superhero’s.
“You will not replace us,” he practically growled. Billie could smell a mixture of eggs and beer on his breath and wished he would take a few steps back. “You have forgotten that girls are girls and men are men. Look at you here, pretending to be a man with your little date with this doll!” he gesticulated wildly at Jimena, and Billie was afraid that he might strike her, but couldn’t move to do anything about it. Billie felt droplets of cold sweat drip down the back of their neck and soak the neckline of their shirt.
“Our Western culture is being crippled by your negro, lesbian, communist ass, and her chola bullshit too. But we men – those born with a penis, just so we’re on the same page – we aren’t going to take it anymore! We won’t be ashamed of ourselves and accept the blame for slavery, the wage gap, gay-bashing, or anything else you people try to pin on us,” the man had worked himself into a frenzy. Billie could see his veins bulging and the vein by his temple throbbing with exertion. This last sentence was in a near shout: “We were the past, we are the future, and you will not replace us!”
As quickly as time had frozen, it now restarted. The din of the 50’s diner replaced the panic-ringing in Billie’s ears; Jimena’s infectious laugh replaced her previous stillness. The man turned and approached a grouping of small tables pushed together across from Billie and Jimena’s booth and pulled a Bible out of one of the many pockets of his toomany-pocketed cargo pants.
“Chad! You made it! I’m so glad,” a man wearing a button-up dress shirt pulled out a chair for Chad and Chad sat down nonchalantly like nothing had happened. Billie had to wonder if anything did.
Billie was still frozen, dumbfounded.
“What is it? What’s wrong?” Jimena asked. Billie felt her warm hand cover theirs. Billie did as their therapist suggested and shook out the hormones to unfreeze.
“It happened again,” Billie answered quietly. “I’d like to go.”
“Of course. I can get the check,” Jimena immediately began what Billie liked to call her Action Mode – analyzing steps and making things happen. God, Billie loved this woman.
“No, I’ll just leave a $20.” Billie grabbed their wallet from their back pocket, dug out a $20 and left it on the table. They grabbed Jimena’s hand and swung out of their side of the booth, assisting Jimena up from hers. On their way out, Billie turned once more towards the Bible group seated at the grouping of small tables scrunched together and caught Chad’s eye. Chad winked as they pushed the door open to leave.
First appeared in Cat on a Leash Review, www.catonaleashreview.com
by: Sunset Combs
CW: Instances of childhood sexualization, slut shaming, and bullying. When we played, I always had to be the boy. With my baggy shirts and jeans, being taller and wider than the rest, I was never allowed to play anything but boy verging on man. She, petite and blue-eyed, an Aeropostale mannequin, was always the girl. I came home from work with wads of fake money, rolled and stuffed into my pockets. She asked me about my day. She smoothed out the covers on the bed, carving the shape of a Venus clam into the fleece with her hands over and over again, and we sat beside each other on top of the blankets. This was all just build up, getting comfortable in our roles before the real game began. The real game was kissing.
She was smaller than me, as the girl was supposed to be, so my arms wrapped around her shoulders and hers wrapped around my waist. I longed to have her arms around my shoulders, to look up like she got to, to do that smile only a girl’s lips could create. I bent my neck down and our lips were wet against each other’s, sloppy smacks of uncertainty under our noses, on our lips and chins. There were just two girls in the room, so we were allowed to keep the door closed. We kissed silently, our game a lump of secrets sitting in our stomachs. But behind closed doors the secrets unfolded, opening like morning glories in the sun of our solitude. While we waited for her mom to pick us up from latchkey, sitting at long tables with snacks and Legos, she would send me carefully folded notes. Do you want to play Boy Girl? □ Yes □ No. I would color in Yes and send it back discreetly. We knew school was no place for our game.
Inside her room, or her parents’ room when they weren’t around to catch us, we were together out of wedlock. My voice got lower and she twirled in her dresses. We kissed, me on top of her, inside of canopied baby doll beds and setups because we knew all about what not to do before marriage; we had met in Sunday School, after all. When her mother opened the bedroom door without warning, we froze, our lips and bodies coalesced but hidden by the shrouding pink and white cloth. We knew all about halflistening for footsteps and turning keys, pounding hearts beating against each other and filling up the entire room with our sin, about carpet-burned elbows. After a few silent seconds, her mother left, the door creaking closed, and we resumed.
Some days, when I was feeling brave, I would ask to be the girl. No, she always told me. It didn’t make sense for me to be the girl. She had flowers sewn into her nice jeans, eye shadow the color of clear skies and calendar oceans. No, she always told me. She was a cheerleader, wearing short skirts and learning to part her legs into a full split. I had quit after one week. She was the one with boyfriends since kindergarten, who knew what a hickey was before anyone else, and made me beg the entire day before she told me, her
lips sucking on the skin of her arm and showing me the purple love splotch, saying, “But you’re not supposed to give it to yourself, a boy’s supposed to give it to you.” She was the girl who looked at porn just to laugh, who kissed the boy who made fun of my big ears and glasses in fifth grade on the walk home from school, and who didn’t even blush. The girl who would lose her virginity first but would keep the details from me because there were some things a girl like me just wouldn’t understand.
It just didn’t make sense for me to be the girl when her mother got her books about becoming a woman, her bathroom full of what it meant to be feminine. When my grandmother realized my period had started, she called my dad over and whispered the dreadful news to him. “Oh no,” my father whispered, and I was driven to the store and sent in to get what I needed, the money in my hand and my other grandmother waiting out in the parking lot. I stood in that aisle for what had to be fifteen minutes, blood filling my cheeks and my hands shaking, pretending to look at something else whenever another person walked by. I tried reading the fine print, but I couldn’t concentrate on the words, didn’t truly know their meaning. Eventually, I grabbed something, covered my face with my hair while I checked out, and ran back to the car with the contents hidden behind my folded arms. And we all went on pretending that day hadn’t happened, pretending I was something other than grown up. My family hadn’t told me what becoming a woman meant. I looked at my friend’s books and acted like I didn’t care or didn’t need them, everything in front of me a ball of clay I easily formed into the shape of a joke. I kept my womanhood concealed, stealing pads from my friends’ houses in small batches so no one would notice the difference, waiting for the day when I could buy them myself. When I could claim my womanhood as my own. Until then, I got good at hiding what I had stolen in the waistline of my jeans, where no one could see the bump, and no one could question me.
No, she was the girl who would constantly be sent pictures of older guys’ penises and somehow never gasp like I did when she showed me. Who, later, would sneak onto the computer and show me anonymous webcam chat rooms, where guys flocked to her, writing out long messages about how sexy she was and oh my god, whats wrong w ur friend? I would position myself so that I sat on the edge of the webcam’s glare, and no one could see me after that. They never laughed at her, this child who knew exactly what to say to men, who told me how to flirt over the phone, whispering daring innuendos I half understood into my ear that I was meant to recite into the receiver as if they were my own, although I never succeeded. No, she always told me. I could never be the girl.
After a while, when she sent me the note, Do you want to play Boy Girl? □ Yes □ No, I colored in No, and added a note at the bottom that said, I don’t think we should play this anymore. We never brought it up again, the secret rotting in our stomachs, wilting into brown petals that fell into the bottom of us. I still went to her house every day, still stayed the night whenever I could. I had a crush on her short and blonde middle school boyfriend and sat beside them on every one of their dates. When they kissed in the faded red seats of the movie theater, I was there, watching the way he gently blew on her face, her straightened hair fluttering, so that she would know when it was time
to stop watching the movie and start kissing him. When they ate big greasy $1 slices of pizza, I was there, watching the way he kept an arm around her waist, and she ate despite the feeling.
When they broke up and she started dating a high schooler, I was there, walking the stretch of the mall and jumping on the furniture in Macy’s on a dare, making them laugh and be glad that they thought to bring me along. I loathed her, but I could never say no to her, not again. I went where she asked, did what she asked, made her laugh even though I was tired of joking. I hated her, but I loved her. For her birthday, I recorded songs I had made up on a cassette tape for her and I sat on her bed beside her as we listened. I stood up for her in middle school, to the girls who mocked her endlessly, insults written on the mirrors in the girl’s bathroom and shouted through the halls; they hated her for her beauty, for her desire; and I understood that hatred but I also cried for her. I had known her since before Kindergarten, had grown beside her, had slept beside her, had shared with her, had shared the taste of myself with her.
Going into high school, the beautiful Freshman and Sophomores soaked her up, dressing her in crop tops and short shorts, laying her down in tanning booths and teaching her how to be hated and act like you don’t care. I watched her drift from me, orange but angelic, and I was grateful to see her go, to be rid of her, to lay it all to rest. And I told anyone who would listen what a slut she was, brandishing that word for protection because I took her womanhood as something she brandished to hurt. But whenever she drifted back, I fell to my knees, doing whatever I could to make her laugh. When she asked me, “Did you say that about me?” I swore to her she would never taste such foul words on my lips.
As we grew and years passed, she stopped drifting back, and she never will again. And I was thankful when I started seeing nothing but the back of her, walking farther away from me, and I hated her still. Though, with time, the hatred eased into only a tension inside of me that, once I aged, I could no longer locate or understand. Surely, this girl couldn’t affect the way I dreamed and laughed after eight years of parted ways, and the games we once played didn’t matter anymore. Surely, this girl’s kisses meant nothing, could disappear into the void of forgotten memories, unattached. Surely, I wasn’t still looking to her to tell me what I could be. Surely, I am not asking her to grant me girlhood when I am supposed to have sprouted into woman, knowing what it is to carry this burden and standing despite the ache in my limbs.
by: Emily Rose Schanowski
by: Noëlle Parlette
I used to want to ask my father
Did you always hope I would turn out this way Or did you wish for something different?
Someone more pure, more clean Gave you grand babies so you could Pass on the last name.
Pass on the line
Be proud of something fresh and new Born out of sin, of course Sin. Sin. That aching, oozing black mold. That haunting, whispering, guilt impersonator
I used to be afraid of the devil
But now I worship him
I make love to him
In different forms he comes to me
He caresses me.
I call him daddy now. Does that hurt?
Like being six
by: DS Maolalai
I love it; the st annes dog park and watching them running and complaining. life boiled to a soup, condensed and thick as dishwater. animals, snapping, sniffing arseholes and saying their sneaky hellos. it’s like being six and back in school again - you can see the mummy’s boys and the few who’ll grow up happy. german shepherds good at games and playing, terriers like Dean (remember him), hanging out by the corner and violent if you get too closeking charles shy as frosted flowers. their owners getting sunburned and not caring about sunburn, watching and offering water like parents and polite conversation
by: KG Newman
When you adjust to grief you see inside your skull, the asbestos and offal, the trees outside turning to skeletons amid rushed comparisons. Maybe grief isn’t what you thought it was as stones fill flower beds while a red horizon indicates poor air quality today — and it’s not just today you’ll be coughing for. The X-ray dye will show something spectacular. The doctors will laugh. You won’t be able to stop smelling her hair.
by: Keith Moul
Night Journey into Bizarro Country
by: Dr. Mel Waldman
The unreal taste of sweet phantasmagoria & the scent of anguish & I search for divine illumination
&/or a raw revelation & I leave the sprawling light behind & drift from daylight to twilight & into the deep of the night & on my night journey into Bizarro Country my flesh flows into spirit & the dream of cosmic breath & my Mind’s Eye gazes at otherworldly signs
& here in the nowhere of the everlasting night inside the overflowing darkness oozing trauma I search for the Mysterium Tremendum the terrible mystery buried in the deep snow of the invisible chasm of Bizarro Country howling in my broken brain
& I don’t know why I follow the long lingering howl into the caverns of my mind & I listen to eerie echoes perhaps the shrieking of my soul until I vanish with the terrible nothingness that swallows me
by: Sasheera Mehrani