Vol. 11 Issue 1
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
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About the Cover
“10 chickens” by Eve Wood. Acrylic on birch panel.
Table of Contents Art Mark Myavec 30-31 Sasheera Mehrani Gounden 17 Keith Moul 15, 21, 45 Emily Rose Schanowski 7, 35, 43 Olivier Schopfer 11, 39, 47 Eve Wood cover
Fiction Phebe Jewell Zach Murphy Alex Phuong Hamed Sayed-Zada Nancy Zhang
12-13 38 20, 44 26-29 8-10
Non-Fiction H.E. Grahame Chris Talbot-Heindl
32-34 24-25, 50-51
Poetry Nancy Byrne Iannucci James Croal Jackson Donald Gasperson John Grey Clara B. Jones Caitlin A Leggett Mark J Mitchell Kevin Neal Robert Ronnow Jacquelyn “Jacsun” Shah Dr. Mel Waldman Mark Young
16 37 36 18 4-5 6 14, 46 19 41 22-23, 42 48-49 40
Clara B. Jones
for Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929 – April 4, 1968)
“Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain, May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.” Phyllis Wheatley, 1773
Discover how to stay competitive in a technology-driven world. Everyone is a publisher: email@example.com I think sometimes poetry survives precisely because it doesn’t have a certain set of corrupting possibilities. Democracy in Congo is in trouble. Is that cause for concern? Last night I was with Norwegians. Karl Ove Knausgard is in town. He was unaffected and talkative. He’s very beautiful, physically, I mean. Behind every great Afrobot there’s a yellow submarine. The Kongo’s main export, until the early 1800s, is terrible just to think of—slaves. It is important not to confuse imaginative power with actually intervening in history; it’s not the same thing as an actual revolution in the streets—a mistake that the avant-garde has often made. Jamal programmed his Afrobot to have progressive inclinations. Don’t focus on the long-term; decide what to do next.
Keats died of tuberculosis at the age of 26. Schiele died in a flu epidemic when he was 28. Basquiat died of an overdose at the age of 27. Martin King’s last book, Chaos & Buddhism, was written in Malibu before he joined an ashram in Tibet, meeting his second wife who moved with him to Harlem, sewing orange robes after he took a vow of celibacy—walking in tandem—begging for food along Amsterdam Avenue. CIA’s hacking tools were revealed, and Frankfurt’s dominance in world finance will not change though Martin’s favorite meal was beans and rice that Juan served every Friday before Tasha gave him two onion bagels with creamed herring. People in Berlin were outraged over cover-ups while the New York art scene drew Martin downtown where he ate lunch in Washington Square Park while his wife sipped lattes at The Ritz®. Martin’s bhante said women have all the power so he set his sights higher than Manhattan when U.S. media provided a constant stream of unsourced stories about Birmingham. With material like this, the commercial spirit of people in Brooklyn was changing the conversation, but call for tickets today since Lorna Simpson’s exhibits are only shown in Queens. Martin King converted to Buddhism in 1963, and okra was his favorite green vegetable, but he only got one million from the settlement since progressive causes were his life’s work though he didn’t tell his doctor about the rash while chronic pain drained his energy before he dropped out of circulation. He was the product of his persona, but poets live forever as long as their collections sell—like blood charging through Martin’s heart when it skipped a beat. *Kongo [Central Africa] power figure, 19th century, see Lagamma A (2015) Kongo: power and majesty. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC, 308 pp. **Partially found: Ben Lerner, Huw Nesbitt, Peter Schjeldahl, The Economist (November 2018), and elsewhere.
Today’s Special by:
Caitlin A Leggett
CW: Discriminatory Language The first time I had a gun aimed at my head, I didn’t even flinch. I didn’t cry, scream, or yell because it didn’t make any sense. That wasn’t going to stop the young boy from pulling the trigger. So, I just prayed silently that he would think much bigger, Than making the next news title read Another dead nigga. Because I know the story all too well. Young boy, wrong crowd, Then down the rabbit hole he fell. Now all his homies screaming Free Him and Fuck 12, But now his mother prays as he sits in a cell, Paying for his crimes, like you pay for a lease. The difference is, his jumpsuit won’t read Rest in Peace. My family’s will, Then the cycle continues. Same story, different people, and maybe a different venue All the same, Another young brother incarcerated is what’s plated on the table and Written on the menu.
Desert Dreams by:
Emily Rose Schanowski
Memento Mori by:
The day I got off the phone with the lawyers, I quit my job and flew halfway across the country. Katie, my supervisor, eyed me with suspicion as I handed in my keys to the modern art museum, trinkets that had provided me with food, water, and bed for the past five years. You’re going to regret this, you idiot, she yelled at me after I slammed the office door in her face. The news didn’t surprise me at all -- my dad had been knocking on death’s door for years now. In fact, it’s a wonder he even made it this far. Most people with his disease only got about three years after their initial diagnosis, but my dad got about ten (ten years too long, my brother often said). I figured my dad’s long ass survival rested on his very capable and expensive doctors. Dad, you see, was a pretty important person. He was the CEO of some pharmaceutical company raking in hundreds of millions a year, so he could afford the most expensive oncologists from MD Anderson and 24-hour home care, poor people be damned. My favorite memories of my dad were the Christmas Eve dinners. Every year on December 23rd, the maids at our house would spend the entire morning shopping for meat, vegetables, wine, a nuclear stockpile of canned goods, and spices. When I came home in the afternoon, I could smell the delectable aroma wafting out of the windows of our house, inviting me to start eating right then and there. Dad even hired a string quartet from the local orchestra to play his favorite Brahms pieces. On Christmas Eve, guests would arrive one-by-one in a punctual businessmanmanner with a stoic “Good evening” and “How are you sir” and stand around in the living room, gossiping about which congressman to lobby. I would then waltz in wearing my best plaid dress shirt (tucked in), black slack pants, and brown shoes with real leather and try to sweet talk the guests. What a well-behaved child, they told my father as they handed me a couple of bills. Get yourself a nice present, they whispered to me. As the years progressed, less and less people showed up at these dinners. My brother stopped coming after he moved out and got a fancy job in Chicago. Last year, it was just me, my dad, and two others. “These are my best friends,” he said. “They’ve been with me through thick and thin.” “Hear hear!” The one with a long face and bushy mustache drowned his glass. I cautiously took a bite of my mashed potatoes and spit it out while no one was looking. My dad had fired all his maids a couple of months ago, so he made the dinner himself with his arched back and hobbled knees. I felt bad, so I helped him clean up the mess before I flew out the next day to make the 8AM shift that Katie had so lovingly picked out for me. ***
My dad’s house was even more empty than I had remembered. Cobwebs lined the corners, and the furniture looked like a family had lived there but one day evaporated. There was a perfectly even layer of dust coating the surface of the tables and chairs. All the bedrooms looked straight out of a home decor magazine except there was a distinct air of loneliness. If I tried really hard, I could even make an echo. I wandered into the master bedroom only to find a single twin-sized bed and 40 square feet of pristine carpet. The closet, bigger than my own room, contained a couple of black suits. There was a single book lying on the carpet. The last time I saw my dad sitting on his bed, I found the contrast between his puny frame and his giant room almost comical. According to my dad’s will, I would get sole possession of his fortune, including his stock holdings and 2.4 million dollar mansion. My brother got nothing. If he was angry, he didn’t show it. I thought of his pristine smile and almond eyes with corners that curled up as if to invite conversation. I saw his slicked-back hair and rose-colored cheeks that exuded youthful vitality. I shuddered to imagine his delicate lips twisted into a hateful frown. *** One morning, I got a call from a stranger. Except it wasn’t a stranger but my brother who adopted a smooth, dark velvet voice after he graduated high school. “I heard you’ve come into quite a bit of money recently. I propose we make a business deal.” My brother was straight and to the point, a quality that happened to win him a lot of girls in college. “What kind of deal? You know my degree was in art history. If I had business sense, I wouldn’t be making $16 an hour.” “Invest a lump sum into my corporation, and you will be rewarded handsomely. Rest assured of our finances, I can send you our yearly income and budget. My company gets a boost, and you’ll get the profits. It’s a win-win.” As my brother rambled on about portfolio and stock options, I no longer heard the voice of hardened corporate veteran but rather the calculating and cold-hearted boy who once tormented me in the hallways of Leleigh Middle School. I heard the splash of my favorite action figure flushed down the pee-crusted toilet bowl and the jeers of his posse as they denied me from sitting in the cafeteria, forcing me to eat in the empty classrooms. “Oh shut up Greg.” I took a deep breath. “You know the reason why Dad didn’t give you shit is because you literally never called him except to ask for money. Do you even care about any of us? All you do is talk about your damn company.” There was silence on the line. Then Greg said, “If I came off that way, I’m terribly sorry. I knew Father was busy, so I only called for important matters. Did you forget that I sent you a gift every year for your birthday? I’m always thinking of you.” “What about those long hospital stays? The Christmas dinners? Dad kept asking where you were.”
“Unfortunately, those episodes always corresponded with particularly difficult market seasons. Think of my proposition now as my way of making up for my past mistakes.” I could practically hear his beaming smile and outstretched arms on the other side. “If I give you the money, you’ll pay me back and more?” I wrapped the phone cord around my pinky. “Absolutely, Alex.” It was the cincher line. The cincher line haunted me. The cincher line was a brother who stole all the perfect grades and accolades the school had to offer, leaving no such glories for his younger victim. The cincher line was an affirmation of my worth and inferiority at the same time. The cincher line was a broken promise for college visits. The cincher line gave me hope but only delivered despair. This time, I would be the arbiter. “On second thought, nevermind. I’ll invest it in my own business. One that’s better than yours.” I hung up and turned off my phone. I figured I should first harvest some money from the mansion itself. Dad’s house had a lot of antiques and useless junk. Some of them might be worth something, so I looked around. The basement was plastered with a pale, sickly yellow. Boxes were stacked upon each other, reaching towards the ceiling. Dusty books and tables were lined against the walls. Various mechanical parts painted with bright (and probably lead-filled) colors splattered the frayed burgundy carpet. Luckily, the room was well-ventilated, so there was no mold growing in any unwanted areas. I spied a stack of canvases in the corner and pried off the first one. It was an image of three peasants dancing in a circle during a feast. Candles illuminated the chilly night air, and the smell of melting meat simmering in hungry pots attracted the local animals. An extreme chiaroscuro highlighted the jubilant figures. I thought it might be a Bruegel, but the paint looked too new to be from the Renaissance. I took a closer look and noticed that one of the peasants had a dark hood. Hidden underneath was a pale white skull with dark pits for eyes – a personification of death. I remembered an old lecture from my art history professor back when I wasn’t failing the course. Memento mori was a famous symbol in art, especially popular among medieval Europeans who spent their current life preparing for the next one. Artists would often insert a skull or other symbol of death into their works to remind their audience that one day they would die. I could see my dad staring at the picture in his paper-thin hospital garb as his internal clock slowly ticked down to the realization of his own mortality. I tossed the painting to the side and picked up the next one. I found a skull in the corner. The next was a graveyard. I kept flipping through the canvases, but death stared at me in every single one. I smothered the entire collection in a thick rubbery tarp and turned off the basement lights. I did not sell the final gift from my father.
My Lesbian Body by:
Nicole is already in the yoga room stretching on her mat when I get to the gym. “Hi Allie.” She reaches for her feet, toes flexed outward. “What took you so long, babe?” “My mom called.” I plop my mat beside hers. “You know how hard it is to get off the phone when she gets going.” Nodding, she moves into downward-facing dog. Small but muscular, Nicole keeps her hair in a buzz revealing delicate, elfin features. It’s a sexy contrast to her more butch style and solid body. In the year we’ve been together her hair has been turquoise, platinum blonde, and, of course, Pride Purple in June. Today it’s a sedate chestnut. I’ve waited all week for this class. A runner most of my life, I have zero flexibility. Yoga has been a lesson in humility. I started last month because Nicole’s been begging me to try. She’s practiced for years, even considered becoming a yoga instructor before deciding to get her PhD in Comparative Religion. Moving to downward dog beside her, I study my long legs, slim alongside her muscular calves. As always, her short legs are stretched farther than mine, heels flat. When I sink to my knees to stretch my back, Nicole still holds the pose. The door swings open and a guy strides in. Sandy haired, nice-looking in a frat boy kind of way, if you like that sort of thing. He unrolls a mat next to me. “Hi.” He sticks out his hand. “I’m Chaz. I’ve seen you here before.” “Yes.” I turn back to Nicole. We’ve barely seen each other all week. Finally, a whole weekend together. Two days in bed, my arms around her, sheets tangled at our feet. Our teacher comes in, trailed by her disciples, thirty-something moms Nicole and I call the Namaste Squad. “What’s your name?” Chaz continues as our teacher chats with a
student. He removes his sweatshirt, checking himself in the mirror. “You look like you’ve been doing yoga for a long time. You’ve got the perfect body for it. Not like that dyke next to you,” he adds in a whisper. I look at him, debating the best way to respond, when our teacher dims the lights and starts the soft sitar and tabla riffs signalling it’s time to lie on our backs. The teacher, a middle-aged woman with curly hair piled in a loose bun, takes us through a slow progression of poses. We start with sun salutation, then move through warrior poses. Even though I am starting to understand the relationship between breath and movement, I struggle to maintain balance while Nicole moves seamlessly through each asana. Beside me, Chaz wobbles. Our teacher reminds us not to judge ourselves. When we move into tree I catch him watching my reflection in the mirror. As the class ends and we lie in savasana, Chaz breathes in and out with exaggerated sighs and groans. Eyes closed, I return to my breath, hips and pelvis open, floating on a wave of relaxed energy. We sit up, hands in heart center, exchanging namastes. The music ends and the lights turn on. Let the weekend begin. I lean toward Nicole. Chaz interrupts. “Hey. Do you have time for coffee?” I turn to him. “Thanks, but I’ve already got a hot date with my baby,” I say, resting my hand on Nicole’s firm thigh.
Bus Annunciations by:
Mark J. Mitchell You slide into the last seat on the last bench. A young woman taps her phone. You sit on her purse. She tugs it safe and continues her missive. On your other side—too close— sits a gray messenger in gray jeans. Vodka years and cigarette decades waft from his beard, forming fog. He spots your name and claims it. He asks your sign—your stars align. No escape. Poke me, he says, at Geary. Then falls asleep, dead as an angel.
Nancy Byrne Iannucci
Dickens Street sixteen-wheelers block my way / exhaling dense fog from their nostrils / crawling in & out of caves like serpents // And it’s always at noon, too, when I’m trying to get through // warm bagels go cold in a paper bag / starving / I slip on their blood / slicks of iridescent strips / spin clouds of effluvium above my hood / dross belches out of air dams / Puff! / another fist punches the ozone // Westbury Paper Stock // rubbish and recycling // Puff! cardboard, cans, and bottles / pulverize into mosaic piles / mountains decorate lairs // and I wait / wait for them to pass / in & out / and I wonder about it all / is it true / is it really happening / or does it Puff! / like magic / a myth / like Dragons // or is it dragged with the damned down Giotto’s tubes / to hell.
Sasheera Mehrani Gounden
Good Samaritan Flunks Out by:
John Grey I will find what is deprived, down there in the shadows, armed with nothing more than scripture, a ready measure of my goodness, and the kind of spiritual unselfishness I freely adopt as my calling. Yet I find nothing where everything is. Nobody wants my help. No surfeit of glory. Everything diminished, me likewise. What is more lowly than the man crusty-faced, burnt-red nose, but comfortable in his habitat in the tall weeds beneath the overpass. I’ve found a survival mechanism that doesn’t involve religion, that figures it’s as useful, as appropriate, as anything in the universe. So what if he has crippled hands, rickety legs, and scraps from garbage cans are paying his way. He’s made a nest and found a life. What’s lowly about that? I put my good book away. His gospels are moss, graffiti shards of glass and a half-full bottle of gin. All magnificent. All God’s work. I slip him a ten-spot anyhow.
The Hand of God by:
Kevin Neal The hand of God on your chest, Put there by me (the older brother), Shining red and welling up, All fingers showing in clear bas-relief, Matched the one you gave me. We stood and took in our creations, And the mirror took back proud brothers— As we used to be. Some years later in the car When you swerved to miss the semi truck or commuter (all accounts are different) the hand stung on my chest. At the hospital, I waited for staff to tell me their apologies, With the iron lung singing its victory to be purposeful again And a field of lights cultivated by cheap strangers Calling to my heart’s guideless guilt. “We lost a lot of good men in Vietnam,” the doctor said, His plush hands choking his rolled up camo bandana, “I know what it is to lose a brother.” Again, the hand clapped on my chest, shoving me to grieve. I wished I would trade with you if I could. At the gravestone, with another balloon, I felt judge me as it drifted away, My chest burned in guilty bas-relief, Reminding me if I could trade you I would not.
Ryan Gosling by:
Within The Notebook, there is an interesting story about an ordinary man named Ryan Gosling that might be somewhat melancholic. His best friend, Sebastian, asked him, “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” Ryan was not afraid, of course, but he did feel like a Blue Valentine after breaking up with his girlfriend. The breakup with Emma broke Ryan’s heart, but he simply reminded himself that the real world is not La La Land. His relationship faltered on The Ides of March, but Ryan was determined to move on through personal motivation and Drive. Sebastian asked Ryan if he wanted to be the First Man at Sebastian’s wedding to his fiancé named Mia, and Ryan was more than happy to do so simply because Ryan was one of The Nice Guys. Relationships might have given Ryan Gosling Goosebumps, but that is simply the nature of Crazy, Stupid, Love.
Guaranteed to Shine by:
Jacquelyn “Jacsun” Shah Whenever the aliens come I plan to be ready. I’m engaged in preparations necessary to make a good impression on any comrade-being green-skinned purple-nosed pointy-eared or otherwise. Getting really meticulous, I’m scrubbing the floor of my brain, working from the inside out certain they will delight in clean thinking & honor an earthling rational, sensible. I mail-ordered some useful texts, which I study. Now I know I’ve got a knack for power conversation, but it seems I need instant guts. There’s no doubt I could catch a thief in action with my micro-miniature pinhole camera complete with microphone. Nothing would escape me though I could escape anything, anyone even aliens if I had to. I’d pull out my handheld insult machine, not to use it on an alien but a low-grade earth-dweller, one who thinks it’s funny to spray fart putty in the air, or squeeze a gassy teddy bear. Removing all the life-like legs from closets beds sofas I’m making sure my house is purged of anything that might appear offensive like snapping gum rubber flies gelatin brain mold. Whoopee cushions have been routed out. I left my electric laughing bag outside for heavy trash along with plastic dog mess, imitation vomit buns of fun, gag chicken & keyboard ketchup.
I chose my costume with care, convinced my best foot forward should be shown in a comfortable shoe— Mephisto. My tee-shirt’s brand-new (stenciled with a Jesus Saves, just in case––need to cover all bases) & tucked into jeans, creased & belted, my pure pewter alien buckle guaranteed to shine–– it is, I think, the perfect complement to my alien necklace, alien cap (adjustable). I think I can think I’m one of them & when they see my glowing alien doormat (resists wear fading cracking) I just might be liked, or spared.
Let Nonbinary People Tell Their Own Stories
Chrissplains Nonbinary Advocacy to Cisgender People:
Roomba Race by:
“One, two, three, ROOMBA!” Kadeem and Habeel shouted in unison, before switching on their respective robots. The machines worked meticulously in their designated half of the living room, devouring and consuming the crumbs and dirt that the two of them deliberately laid out. Habeel’s Roomba turned green and let out a soft ring, to inform him it had finished its half of the room. “I win,” Habeel said with a smirk. “I told you, but you never listen, it’s all about the settings you use. Go in and fine-tune it, and you’ll be better off.” “DANGER, DANGER, FIRE, FIRE,” a robotic voice echoed throughout the walls. “We forgot about the stove. Why don’t you get that?” Habeel told Kadeem with the same smirk. “I’ll get us something to watch.” Fucking lucky bastard, wins a few races and he thinks he’s king shit, Kadeem thought to himself as he walked through the mansion toward the kitchen—the Dubiansky family had an impressive home. He reached the kitchen, removing the pan and turning off the stove. He went to open a window and thought, if I could mess with his Roomba without him knowing it, I could finally get a W. The races were a way to pass time, but also a necessity. The Roombas needed their batteries drained, the Tide Pods needed to be used up (six at a time), and the Mr. Clean liquid needed to be put to use or dumped down the drain. The Dubianskys couldn’t know how much they used, or they would’ve cut down years ago, and through a ripple effect, would’ve cost the two of them their jobs.. There were no cameras in the parlor, where the family made their viral videos—they wanted one viewpoint and no evidence. He made his way out of the kitchen and back toward the parlor. “Got us some nachos and pretzels,” Habeel told Kadeem as he seated himself on the leather chair. “Nice, thanks. Are you on incognito mode? The Dubianskys will see that we sit on our asses all day.” Kadeem replied. “Yeah, but we have to watch the ads as usual. At least it’s free and won’t show up. And with two of us locked in we’ll only have to watch half. The new 3D ones are interesting. I’m not sure how I feel about them. My cousin’s friend was in his bedroom. He wanted to watch some porn because his wife was out of town and he went incognito because he didn’t want her to find out. Anyway, there was a 3D commercial for a horror movie
and he was on a hit of mescaline, so he jumped out the window and ended up breaking his arm. Thank God he wasn’t higher up, he could’ve killed himself,” Habeel finished. He signaled to Kadeem, and simultaneously they leaned back in their chairs and opened their eyes wide as Habeel clicked the remote. “Thank you, your retinas have been scanned,” the wall-mounted television told them. “Please limit your blinks to 25 per minute. Failure to do so will result in a restart of the advertisements.” “Ontario Lottery and Gaming presents, the Genetic Lottery!” A greasy man in a pinstriped suit told them. A government ad, two-dimensional and low-budget. “Are you trying to conceive or in your first trimester? Enter now into the weekly Genetic Lottery, and decide your baby’s future! Tall? Handsome? Athletic? Intelligent? The possibilities are endless! What are you waiting for, buy your ticket now in person, online, or through the OLG app!” The last frame had the man in the suit giving two thumbs up and winking. “You. Hey you!” A tall well-dressed Asian man stepped forward from the television in front of them as the next commercial started. “Are you just a reflex machine diddling yourself like a rat in an experiment? Wired into the pleasure nodule of your brain, just hitting the switch over and over? A monkey on your back, an addiction? Sound familiar? Visit theaddictcorp.ca now and get help now. We’ll take you off smoking, alcohol, sex, drugs, or anything else that corrupts your mind! Log on now!” the screen froze for a second to show a wall of microscopic text of side-effects as the man vanished. “Now presenting the Roomba 9000 series! Built in lasers to divide up your home as you prefer. Now smaller and more powerful than ever! Program it from your smartphone, through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, or manually by hand! Tweak the settings to fit your preference; makes the perfect gift!” The announcer said as it showed the product in different still-frames and cleaning household messes, as well as a celebrity endorsement. That’s it, I know he’s over there smirking Kadeem thought to himself. He is not going to win that race tomorrow. His eyes were still fixed on the screen but his mind was hatching a plan. Next was a two-dimensional ad from iRobot, featuring upgrades for smart homes. Your dishes washed themselves, laundry moved from washer and dryer and into your closet, and a fully synced oven and refrigerator that was capable of prepping meals from an app. Kadeem was still deep in thought when Habeel brought him back. “Hey! Once they upgrade their smart home, it’s over—we both lose our jobs and our homes. Tahmina retired and they didn’t replace her; that’s a pretty clear message. They don’t need us! Hell, they don’t even need most of the stuff in this upgrade.” “Well, they don’t need this mansion, not to get all Zen on you,” Kadeem told him, neither of them taking their eyes off the screen. The commercials ended, and the two of them were able to look away from the television.
“And now back to your regular scheduled programming,” a voice-over told them. “Warning: the following program contains subliminal messages that may not be suitable for all viewers. Viewer discretion is advised,” the voice-over continued as the screen displayed health and safety information. *** They were watching Buster Friendly, their favorite sitcom. Still bitter about his repeated losses, Kadeem couldn’t even enjoy the newest episode where Buster matches on Tinder with his friend’s girlfriend. Kadeem was thinking about Roomba settings and his scheme to immobilize Habeel’s before the race tomorrow. *** “We’re going to do this until we get this right. We need your reaction. No covering your face, spitting, or running away. Understand?” Michal Dubiansky was talking to his sixyear-old daughter in the parlor, with his wife Patricia filming. Kadeem and Habeel sat on the other side of the parlor, looking on. “Daddy, it’s spicy,” his daughter Bianca told him. “I know it’s spicy sweetie. It’s horseradish and hot sauce. It’s funny dear! People are going to laugh, you’re going to be famous, come on, one more try. Third time’s a charm!” her father told her. “It’s disgusting,” Habeel told Kadeem. “Fucking stage parents. Just concerned with their viral videos, with getting followers, likes and shares. And you know if we report it, Children’s Aid won’t do shit—the girls medical records will show her as healthy, they’ll come here, take one look at this place from the outside, make their assumptions and leave. Whole goddamn system’s fucked.” Kadeem said nothing, the gears in his head turning. *** Later, after everyone had fallen asleep, Kadeem crept out of his bed in the servant’s quarters and made his way to the parlor, making sure not to wake anyone. He found Habeel’s Roomba; he had decorated it with stickers. He changed the settings randomly, not entirely sure what he was doing. He then brought out his screwdriver and opened the backside. Some wires, a few chips. He brought out the cutters he had with him and snipped off a few wires and broke off a few of the chips, putting the evidence in his pocket before reattaching the back panel. Fucking bitch always talking about settings, Kadeem thought to himself as he put the machine back in the exact same spot. He left the parlor and made his way back to his room in the servant’s quarters. He got into bed, and closed his eyes with a smile. “Did you adjust your settings?” Habeel asked as the two of them prepared for the race
the next day. They brought dirt from the various plants in the house, as well as various crumbs from the kitchen, arranging it throughout the parlor. “Oh, yeah, sure I adjusted the settings,” Kadeem told him. “All right, set up your lasers,” Habeel told him. Looking over, Kadeem saw that the lasers on Habeel’s Roomba turned on fine as he booted up his Roomba. Disgruntled, Kadeem turned on his own machine. He thought it a good idea to set it on auto—to clean everything in the room, to give the impression that his had malfunctioned as well. Habeel didn’t notice. “All right, get ready, here’s the countdown,” Habeel told him. “One, two, three, Roomba!” They said in unison as the two of them switched on their machines at the same time. Kadeem’s started going to work on his side, although he wasn’t even looking at it; he was paying attention to Habeel’s. It moved erratically. It jolted two feet in one direction, then three in the other, with no pattern or rhythm of any sort. It then let out a steady high-pitched ring. “Something must be wrong,” Habeel shouted over the sound, going over to investigate the machine. He managed to pick it up but it was still moving in his hands, trying to leap away. The buzzing grew louder. Then a bang and an explosion. Habeel’s body hit the floor. Horrified, Kadeem went over to investigate, finding a corpse with half its face missing, along with most of its hands. The exploded Roomba was a motionless black heap. Kadeem’s Roomba rushed over to the other side of the room. It hit Habeel’s body once, twice, then again. Piece by piece, the machine ate the body as a shocked Kadeem looked on. *** That afternoon, Patricia Dubiansky came home after picking her daughter up from school. “Hey Kadeem, I smell something good coming from the kitchen! Where’s Habeel?” She asked him. “Oh, he got a call from his mother who’s really sick. Like terminally ill. He said he had to go see her immediately, he didn’t even take most of his stuff. I’m not sure when he’ll be back. He said he’s going to take care of her. It was sad to hear about, really. A Roomba malfunctioned, and it’s out of warranty; you’ll need a new one. And if you’re making an Instacart order you’re going to need some things—Tide Pods, Mr. Clean. Oh, and horseradish and hot sauce.”
A Final Summer Fling
Summer Wind Was Always Our Song by:
Hungry for the fluttering of butterflies promised by paperback novels, meet-cute movie moments and catchy pop songs, I fell in and out of infatuation with every boy I knew. I crowded my notebook covers with marker-drawn names, stars, and hearts. I inked cliche poems in my diary and doodle-tested my first name with dozens of standoffish last names. Sometimes, when you don’t know what love looks like, you take anything you can get that comes close, and I was greedy for it—whatever it was. Cowardly, I was infatuated only on the sidelines, rarely making a move. Crush after crush left me destroyed but still running after that feeling. There were occasional bits of luck where I kissed a cute boy behind the cafeteria or snuggled with a dark stranger for a few hours by the pond. But “luck” never went further than a little heavy petting. I knew better. I knew that the feeling I was chasing was romance, not sex. I knew that my attraction lacked an NC-17 roll in the sheets. I knew from experience that touches like that led to humiliation and doubt. I was starving for affection, not ridicule or existential crisis. There were boyfriends; their most attractive quality was that they liked me. There was the casual, long-distance guy who was dating three other girls but dumped me when I kissed another guy, and the summer fling who broke up with me to save our friendship and on his wedding day told me that he would never quite be over me. There was the boy next door who let me break his heart and kiss his best friend, and the upper-class theater guy who was trying to prove to himself that he wasn’t gay. There was the clingy freshman that puppy-dogged after me until I agreed to be “his girl,” and the angry loser who accused me of being a tease and hit me when I said the wrong things. There were girl-crushes that “didn’t really count” but still filled me with excitement. There was the dimpled ballroom dance partner whose cascading brown curls sashayed through my mid-homeroom daydreams and there was the tom-boyish and fiercely confident Student Body Vice President who’s strong melodic voice gave me goosebumps every time it echoed through the pep-rally chaos of the gymnasium. Then there was John. John and I met while I was fighting with Bryan, his best friend. Bryan and I had the kind of relationship that only existed in the silent pauses in our arguments, which were never-ending. Naturally, I was head-over-heels for him. As Bryan’s best friend, John was a wealth of knowledge about him and a good ally to have. We began spending time together. As John and I grew closer, the tension with Bryan faded away entirely, as if our
conflict was simply a minor inconvenience that had been solved the moment my head and heels properly aligned themselves. Soon the ally and the crush both became my closest, best friends. John was different than the other guys I knew. He was very religious. Mormon. He had plans to go to the Temple, serve a church mission, and come home to wed and have a family like all good Mormon boys are taught to. I was an agnostic who didn’t want children and had a moral objection to the privilege of marriage that was not extended to all. Despite our differences, we fell in love. For the first time, I was in a relationship without the imminent pressure of sex. It felt exhilarating to explore the intimacy of another without exposed skin and sweaty collision. There was something special about knowing that I wouldn’t have to face the shame or pressure or too many questions about how I felt about having sex. Still, together, we pushed the boundaries of the “no sex” agreement, bending and blurring the line but never taking it too far. Never setting expectations that our would lead to that final, real “act.” When things went further than intended, we had a shared shame. I drowned in guilt, usually from him for not stopping us sooner, while he carried the weight and shame of his religious upbringing. Equally guilty in the activities and equally ashamed, we carried on for four blissful months. Four months of complete happiness. I grew complacent and began to comfortably to consider a future with John. His future. The one he was driven to have with God and babies and happily-ever-after in suburbia. I didn’t care that I was giving up everything I believed. It was worth it, as far as I could see, to find that feeling with my best friend. Valentine’s Day arrived a week after our four-month anniversary. As a hopeless romantic, I had always wanted to have a boyfriend for Valentine’s Day and share in the magic and romance of the Hallmark holiday instead of crying over chick flicks alone by myself. I pulled up to his house for our romantic date, my arms filled with meaningful gifts and sappy poems. He was waiting for me on the porch. I knew something was wrong. “Nothing, everything is fine,” he assured when I asked, kissing me chastely on the mouth. “You’re lying.” He shifted uncomfortably. “Let’s just go have a nice night and we will talk about it later. Let’s not ruin the night.” But the night was ruined. There was no way to just pretend that there wasn’t some potentially horrific elephant sprawled across the shaggy carpet in the corner like a forgotten gift. I pressed the issue further until he cracked. “I’m breaking up with you,” he said firmly. “What?” I had to have misunderstood. Everything was fine. It was Valentine’s
Day. We were in love. We were end game. “I’m sorry. I prayed to God about it. He told me that it’s the right thing to do” “God? God told you to dump me?” He nodded, “He said that you are too much of a temptation. You’re a harlot. You tempt me to do things that I shouldn’t. You should be ashamed of yourself and I should be with someone who is more righteous and lives in God’s light.” I was both confused and angry. “Temptation? I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one of us initiating any of the physical stuff. We also haven’t done anything that bad. I don’t even want to have sex.” He cleared his throat as if he had rehearsed this in his mirror a dozen times, prepared specifically for this argument, “But you are the only one who has a past of a sexual nature. You have corrupted me and turned me to sin. I’m sorry. I can’t love you. You are sinful and God will punish you.” I dropped the gifts I was still holding onto his porch with a thud, pink and red M&Ms spilling across the uneven wooden steps, and ran to my car. Tears flooded down my flushed face as I felt my chest tighten and clench in panic and despair. Ridiculed and humiliated by my best friend and God. Because of sex. Love was a jerk. As I started the car, the music started to play from a familiar favorite CD, one that I had purchased from a friendly merch guy at the band’s tiny basement concert John and I had gone to together. These break-up songs make sense again… the singer crooned. I jabbed my finger on the eject button and tossed the CD out the window, listening for the tinny plink of its impact on the rocky asphalt. I would not let this song be ruined by this misery, but I was afraid it was already too late. I was falling apart at my seams. I couldn’t breathe through hiccuped sobbing. I couldn’t see through tears. I needed someone to hold me together, or someone just to reassure me that I was not forsaken and vile. Five minutes later, I pulled up in front of a familiar house and tearfully trudged, sniffling and hiccuping, to the door. Before I could knock, the door swung open and Bryan gathered me in a tight hug, squishing my trembling body against his bony chest and smoothing my hair with his too-large too-skinny hands. “John said you would be headed here.” he murmured, reminding us both where we this had begun and what me being here, as predicted, would mean in the post-Valentine’s Day aftermath.
Inked Swan by:
Emily Rose Schanowski
Four Days by:
Donald Gasperson CW: Suicide I survived suicide two ways serendipity serendipity found unexpectedly four days zip-a-dee-doo-dah and on the fifth day I checked out by choice and determination and against physicianâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s orders we expected to die but because of events beyond our control we survived and rarely attempt again we live with good health and defensive driving considering suicide please donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t
Fake Pollack by:
James Croal Jackson Acrylic in my head paints on canvas a monstrosity the glut of guitars plucked and discordant my ganglia a jumbled mess of math wrong equating crystals and string circus a battle with the world its perspective a plane upsidedown on the runway screaming into sky oh I love who I love and thatâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s the mallet rolling down the xylophone until the rot an explosion at the end with upright bass scaling up intensity while the sine waves crash against the shore to counter the tide tolling against the whistling sand
Conscious, Carolina by:
There it was. It was that faint tune. The tune of a song playing on a jukebox from the back room in a dingy bar within the ghost town of a dream. The mysterious sound meandered through Edmund’s head while he lay wide awake during the early hours of the morning—the hours of the morning that probably shouldn’t be called the morning. Football season was over now and Edmund was alone for a while. He hadn’t even left the house in possibly a week, and his phone might as well have been cast into oblivion. He’d come to the conclusion that he liked it that way and hated it at the same time. And that protruding facial scruff—he was definitely aware of it. But it wasn’t a fashion statement. He rolled out of bed, and clumsily trudged down the stairs. His weight against the creaking wood was bearish. He slipped his undersized slippers onto his feet, and stepped out onto the backyard patio. The air was stagnant and the ground was slightly damp from a prior polkadotted drizzle of rain. Edmund gazed out at the world. The cityscape and the sky seemed to have traded places. One was filled with a sprawling concentration of stars, and the other was black and empty. Edmund lowered his eyelids and slowly inhaled and exhaled. He placed his fingers on his temples and felt the beats of his pulses align. There were pains that he couldn’t remember if he’d ever experienced before or not. Maybe that’s just how things were supposed to feel. As the sound in his head grew louder and clearer, Edmund opened his eyes and looked over at his neighbor’s silhouette and wondered if he, too, was hearing the same tune.
Mist - Clovelly, Cornwall, UK by:
open / heart surgery / is immensely invasive by:
Mark Young A prominent entertainer â&#x20AC;&#x201D; whose name has since been suppressed by court order â&#x20AC;&#x201D; says attending a fragrance launch party is similar to being placed in a guillotine choke, especially when the peptide is fastened by two nanobody side chains.
Wings of Desire by:
Last night’s Wim Wenders film Wings of Desire, not starring Adam Sandler, great in the great tradition of Metropolis, Fellini, Children of Paradise, Ikiru, Open City. This is not comedy though it can be funny overhearing people thinking, the randomness of thought, data dots, circles with dots, sadness and silliness, silly sadness, confusion, rarely a clear thought, not one logical lucid progression. Deep art. I’d like to do better than my best so far, write something with hydroxyapatite that won’t gather dust then become dust a neuron of sweetness, an early morning bicyclist, a lost ghost or fallen angel any form from which death might abstain or forego appetite. Appearing to meander from subject to subject is my practice. Looking for solutions to the equations. Learning the changes then forgetting them. The expressions emanating from mortal minds are broken stamens, sticky stigmas. Striving for immortality, some Spanish philosopher (who looks like Don Quixote) says he understands and it’s alright. I will read what he wrote and probably agree but is he immortal? Not his body, but his thoughts. True, I say, but this also: Not his mind, but his thoughts. Unchanging and finite. Put them in a hatbox and pass them on as heirlooms. To overhear the secret thoughts of others. Sharing and unsharing electrons, disrobing and bathing. That is the purpose of poetry. Gargoyle twice. Did Wim give each thought its own voice or use the same voice for all thoughts, every whim.
Everybody’s Miffed by:
Jacquelyn “Jacsun” Shaah Inspired by a headline: [insert country of choice] arms deal miffs [insert country of choice] You could make a line of them, the miffed ones run it round & round & up & down the world until the world looked like the inside of a golf ball. Riffing:
skulduggery = miffery but who’s the miffer, miffee today? Or yesterday? Headlines headlines headlines—expect retaliation from some quarter for some infraction. To miff or not to miff: a very important question. We are such stuff as dreams are made from all our little tempests in big important teapots. Miffery’s a game without a ball or with a ball or with a razor rifle trifle knife or bigger ball or bigger bigger bigger ball down the hall around the corner— Shoot Shoot! open up your trenchcoat tagged with symbols of fixation, expose yourself as someone oh so miffed & more, more than miffed, full of indignation, rotting from the inside with this indignation, nations of it nations of it congregations of it tremors & ejaculations of it full of indignation, miffed. Me too.
Space Shark by:
Emily Rose Schanowski
Kate Winslet by:
On one Labor Day afternoon, while driving down a Revolutionary Road, a simple, all-American girl named Kate Winslet was searching for something to do for her summer vacation. After driving for several hours, she saw a billboard with the headline, “TITANIC SAILS ONCE MORE!” She hesitantly resisted the urge to buy tickets for a summer cruise because of her fear of drowning. After stopping by Laguna Beach, she went into a library to check out a copy of her favorite novel, Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. Kate often identified with Marianne Dashwood because of their romantic sensibilities. She also enjoyed Shakespeare, and her favorite fictional character from the Bard was Ophelia from Hamlet. After returning home from the library, she became not just A reader, but The Reader. As she read a book about Steve Jobs, she pondered what life would be like if she were to have Little Children. She also feared Carnage because she wants to live happily ever after rather than suffer a miserable demise (which could have happened if she boarded that Titanic replica). As night began to present itself, she went to bed while letting her mind expand with the Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Curiously, this simple young woman is still nothing like the famous British actress because the Hollywood legend has green eyes while Kate’s Irises were hazel.
Previously published in Barking Sycamores, 2017.
Exercise Yard by:
Tyranny of the Alphabet by:
Mark J. Mitchell What was his name? He sat behind you from second grade straight through the tenth. Round head. Always just a bit taller than you. He could multiply anything by eighteen but his division was poor. Got glasses just before Confirmation and had a nice hook shot. His last name started with M, of course. Heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s dead now. What was his name?
Low Tide by:
Mysterium Tremendum The Terrible Mystery Engulfing The Universe by:
Dr. Mel Waldman & around the whirling universe on Conundrum Way in the very hot summer of the Apocalypse I search for the Mysterium Tremendum the terrible mystery engulfing the universe & I wander across Bizarro Country & drink metaphysical questions & eat Un-Reality & taste the primal scent of the invisible universe a bestial blend of anguish/bliss & in this phantasmagoria I exist
an unreal being rushing slowly through earthly ruins trapped inside an unfathomable space/time container of cosmic breath a.k.a. life contaminated by mortal sins & crackling consciousness in search of meaning gazing vacantly at the sacred membrane of invisibility that encircles/separates us from the celestial realm & now on Conundrum Way I pray to the Source â&#x20AC;&#x153;May I penetrate the sacred membrane today & find the secret path to the Higher Realm. & in the very hot summer of the Apocalypse in this seething obliteration may anguish melt into sparks of divinity & in a beautiful metamorphosis become a gorgeous Monarch butterfly sailing into dazzling light & unbridled revelations & blazing red spheres of the mystical WHYâ&#x20AC;?
Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria is a FART Myth
Chrissplains Nonbinary Advocacy to Cisgender People: