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Dear Reader— The fear of judgement is debilitating and real and it can make procrastination your best friend. No one can call your project a failure if you never let them see it, so might it be better to put the whole thing in a drawer where it will never see the light again? I’ve pondered this for myself more times than I care to count. But pushing through that fear and finding the other side of it is breathtaking and humbling and it’s enough to change a person. It may not change your entire life, but it has the power to shift your perception; maybe you see a problem from a different angle or find a new appreciation for small details, or perhaps, if you’re lucky, you can understand yourself in ways previously unavailable to you. Then, in order to let your work roam free in the world, you need to relinquish the last remnants of control you have over it. You must allow it to stand on its own legs and walk where it wishes. It’s an act of bravery and also of kindness, because, in doing so, you are saying here are some pieces of me; I hope they bring some meaning to you. The eight artists featured in this issue have found the brighter side of all this fear. They have turned this fear into creations, and they have given me the privilege of releasing these creations into the wild. They have done this for themselves, but also for you, in the hope that maybe you, too, can consume them, internalize them, and become something new in the process. I hope you take them to heart. Matt Wille Editor

Cover photograph & design by Michael Costain. 2


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Contents Poetry The Dude Who Bought Douche, Adrian Slonaker Blue Nude II, Emily Holland queer temporality, Cassidy Scanlon Homomania, Alex Vigue Atelier, Alex Vigue Two Women Heading to Hell on a Sunday, Alexandra E. LaGrand

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Prose Dancing With Girls, Donnie Martino Taking On Water, Andrew Hahn Ode, Mark Burger

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POETRY

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The Dude Who Bought Douche Adrian Slonaker Bathed in shades of milk and strawberry Pop-Tart filling, the rectangular package had popped into my field of vision in the Awkward Aisle of the Price Chopper. I placed it before the pimply teenager at the till and remembered my spreading redness the time I bought condoms and lube and Fresca at Shoppers Drug Mart on St. George in Moncton from the pale lady with grandmotherly hair the color of dandelion fluff who looked as if she’d rather be selling me Coffee Crisps or plutonium. From deep in his diaphragm, the lad addressed me as “dude” and beep-scanned my Summer’s Eve, uncertain of whether I was running errands for a wife or a girlfriend, on a product research assignment for a team of marketing Millennials in quirky neckties, or preparing to be probed by a bearded butch buddy behind a closed motel room door. I dropped six dollars and tapped my right loafer while the callow cashier counted sixty-four cents in pennies and nickels, and a phalanx of frat boys brimming with Budweiser barreled up behind me. When I collected my sack and sprinted into sunlit anonymity, I promised myself and my deity-of-choice that I’d use Amazon next time. Zigzagging back and forth across the US/Canadian border, Adrian works as a copywriter and copy editor. Adrian’s work has been nominated for Best of the Net and has appeared in Pangolin Review, Aerodrome, WINK: Writers in the Know, and others.

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Blue Nude II Emily Holland She’s splayed out on the bed, twisted and leaning, the way that Matisse print tilted against the mid-century sofa on the floor of a Northampton antique store. I just don’t know what to do with her curves, that dimple in her back I’ve never quite seen before because how could I see my own back in a mirror without almost breaking my neck. Maybe if I play artist and cut out her legs, each now separate from the body, now separate from the arms, now separate from the head, I would know what to do with all these pieces of girl. Still she’s there waiting for me to do something, anything except probably cutting her up and turning her into art, though that’s all I can think about and it’s killing the mood. Emily Holland is a queer poet with a BA in Creative Writing and English from The George Washington University. Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Impossible Archetype, Screen Door Review, FOLIO, and Argot and have been nominated for Best of the Net and two Pushcart Prizes. Lineage, her debut chapbook of poems, is slated for release August 2019 from dancing girl press. She is the managing editor for Poet Lore.

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queer temporality Cassidy Scanlon everyone’s always asking if we’re a “thing,” eager to mold our nine-year friendship into easy categories of girlfriend and girlfriend when really I’m just a femme queen praying to your butchdom. I pay tribute in plane tickets and phone calls shrinking the distance between you and me are back in our teens, flying down tree-lined highways and sighing smoke to Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” only this love is good, this love is grand climbing mountaintops and building houses, the one you always said you’d get married in. we used to dream of men, now we see each other. people always want to know if we’re fucking, which we haven’t. but we don’t avoid it either. possibility has always been our brand. what’s more erotic then almost a decade of being seen? not like voyeur and exhibitionist seen but the kind of sight that comes from loving the pieces that make up being. the peace of knowing another person loves the history of your skin. last summer 8


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spills the past into the palm of my heart. malleable memories becoming soft again. we stay up till the sun aches. stooping on your rooftop spliff lips sifting to say what only silence can describe. the blueprint of our love hardening in the sky. Cassidy Scanlon is a queer writer, Capricorn, and astrologer who received her BFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University. Her work has been featured in L’Éphémère Review, South Broadway Ghost Society, and WITCH. She writes about astrology on her blog Mercurial Musings and is a regular contributor to rose quartz magazine. You can follow her on Twitter @sassidysucklon.

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Homomania after Sharon Olds’s Ode to the Penis Alex Vigue A ball sack is a pair of lips that have fused together in the womb —kiss of protection a basket star, a tongue rolling two pearls round gleam in wet I want to be inside you not from front of back or phallus, from center not my dusty old heart, my heart could care less about men, less about pearls, less about cock & balls less about how unpretty the word penis is until it sees itself capitalized & in print. O’ prostate! Unenchanted ego, forgotten deity, the unnamed hero of Greek tragedy. No statues were erected in your honor, none felled in fear O’ beetle of the body, ignobly hidden save for unashamed probe, dick or finger that dares to greet you. Organism of arousal! Needy aching wretch. Palm open beggar wearing invisibility. Nudity! Disappearance. Bringer of nacreous cum, sheen of joviality layer of sticky sap that stays all day, postcoital postcard. Center of body, column, 10


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tympanum, temple, offertory. Buttress! Oyster of anxiety, heartquake clam, fearful of particulates. Cracked shell, painful tidal resurgence. Daily prayer exacts the ferry. The toll for ecstasy paid in pearls.

Atelier Alex Vigue I would have readied the clothes on your body for washing I would have soaked their fibers in hair conditioner, stretched them to temper the anxiety of growth the trunk of your belly smiles below the hem of your shirt, a miracle the puckering of elastics worn well is wildflower joyous. I would love more of you if you create it.

Alex Vigue is a non-binary writer from a small town in Washington State. He has a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Western Washington University and has been published in Vinyl, Hobart Pulp, and Drunk Monkeys. His debut chapbook The Myth of Man was a finalist for the Floating Bridge Press chapbook competition. He volunteers his time trying to impress the importance of poetry to people of all ages.

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Two Women Heading to Hell on a Sunday Alexandra E. LaGrand My Sundays are for her: delicate waking amidst white sheets, gentle sunrises pouring light over us like a showerhead, and hearing her sleepy voice whisper my name in love. As a child, I always used to love Sundays: my mother with her apron on at the stove, saying with a gentle voice that supper was ready - white buttermilk biscuits, gravy showered overhead. I remember how light would come through church mosaics, lighting poor souls with God’s grace and love, how baptisms poured showerhead forgiveness, and how my mother’s hand held mine, her thumb thrumming mine, my knuckles white from nerves. The preacher’s voice still hangs in my ears, voicing Leviticus - condemning, and lighting me up with machine gun words, white to pure, preaching and screaming that love was for man and woman. And yet, her heart is what I cradle, showerheading a joyous hope through shared showers, our heads and hearts and hands connected, voices mumbling and harmonizing together, her arms around me, her kisses sealing scars. Our light conquers the church, our love is our Word. Our veins used to turn white 12


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from a pulsing white fear, and our tears used to shower, heading us toward innate sin through our love. We may be left with hushed voices, as we have strayed from the Light, but all I care for is her. Our love is white from her whispers, our shared showers. We’re heading to hell on a Sunday, our voices quiet and happy in their sinful light. Alexandra E. LaGrand is a poet, playwright, and dramaturg from North Carolina. A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, she has, to date, written over 3,000 poems and saw her first full-length play produced onstage just last year. Her specialty is Shakespeare studies, and she will be pursuing her master of letters degree in Shakespeare and Performance at Mary Baldwin University starting in fall 2019. She also really likes to collect typewriters and currently owns six of them.

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PROSE

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Dancing With Girls Donnie Martino I’m at an LGBTQ dance and I am terrified. I’m nearly sixteen years old and trying to ride high on the flawless alibi I gave my parents about being at a friend’s house, but this environment is so new that I know I’m not enjoying it at the level I want to. I’m overstimulated by the rainbow decorations laid across the recreation room attached to the church, the Christmas lights lining the stacks of Bibles a room across the way, how girls walk around so confidently with their hands clasped tightly. I’m glad my friend doesn’t mind. At least, she doesn’t look like she does. After all, she is the one that helped organize me being able to come here. She’s the one that fed me the alibi and even arranged to have her mother pick me up from my house, so my parents could see an adult clearly attempting to be responsible for my well being. She’s probably motivated by how I’m her own cover for the night­—she’s apparently told her mom that she’s attending as my ally. I don’t pry. I know better than to question why a kid wants to stay in the closet. We stay close, wordlessly alternating between the two rooms. We’re trying our best to be sociable. The boys are a little standoffish, but the girls are warm and friendly. We talk about what it’s like to be queer in our schools. I stare in awe as they list the cool things they are doing through their schools’ GSAs. I shy away when they ask me why I’m not in my school’s club. We’re all around the same age, but these girls seem older than me. It’s like they’ve lived more of their queer lives than I have. I’m jealous. There’s a hole in me that’s developed, and I know I can’t fill it as long as I’m living with my parents. I go onto the dance floor with these new girls. We laugh a lot as we stumble through mid-2000s pop music. The lights are low: greens, blues, and reds flash across our faces. I don’t think I’m any good at dancing, but no one is saying anything about it. It’s nothing like when I’m dancing with my straight friends. I separate from my friend to start dancing one-on-one with a girl. She’s a bit like my friend—Black, butch, not afraid to support me in spite of my nervous energy. We dance and chat about where we’re from. She’s one of the only people at the dance from her town. I don’t remember if I ask her how she found out about this thing. The space between us closes. When our thighs touch, I smile. She tells me I’m beautiful and I don’t think I believe it, but I accept it without argument. It sounds almost sincere when it comes out of a girl’s mouth. Our bodies move together, hardly in time with the music. She brings her face close to mine and kisses my cheek, trailing her lips down my jawbone, my neck, and 16


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settling there, deeply kissing it. It’s exciting but too much for me. I pull away, smiling nervously. “I’m sorry,” she apologizes firmly, “I can stop if you want me to.” I nod my head, still smiling. I wave my hand and say, “It’s fine! I’m just not ready yet.” She accepts it graciously. We dance a little more and separate. I return to my friend and she smiles but doesn’t pry. I feel electrified knowing what it’s like to be wanted by a girl. I don’t make another advance toward the girl. We see each other the rest of the night, smiling every time. I hate that I don’t know what to say, but I’m too nervous to ask my friend for advice. So when the party ends, I wave at her and leave, piling into my friend’s mom’s car. When I go back to school on Monday, I mention the dance to my straight friends. They ask about how it went and I keep it vague. I don’t expect them to understand how it felt. I keep the dance with the girl to myself, forming my own personal realizations of the ways I could have handled it. I probably could have asked for her number. That would have made the most sense. Maybe someday our paths will cross. Maybe they won’t. I just hope if I experience something like that again I’ll be more ready. My straight friends push the conversation to focus on the honors biology class I’m not in. I keep to myself and wonder when I will be able to dance with a girl again. Donnie is a queer and trans person who works in New York City as the assistant director of an after-school program. His work has been published in an anthology called As Told By Things as well as through RoguesPortal, Bombus Press, and several zines. He’s also the co-host on a podcast called “I Hope I Can Make it Through: A Degrassi Viewing Podcast.”

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Taking On Water Andrew Hahn Jack and I waited as long as we could to say goodbye. He sat next to me in the car as I drove to his brother’s house at 2:00 a.m. to drop him off. We didn’t speak. His voice would be the Band-Aid over a wound. My voice would be an evaporating echo. Nothing I said at this point could keep him here. The last time I drove to Jack’s brother Derek’s house was for a birthday party. The last time I drove this road alone was my freshman year on my way to Lynchburg General for a migraine. The last time Jack and I drove this road together, we rolled the windows down and screamed along to AFI’s latest album Crash Love. “God, this feels so fucking good,” he had said. He stuck his head out the window into the sun like a Labrador. I laughed, imagining his glasses flying off and breaking to pieces beneath the car behind us. Jack sighed beside me. I sighed too, but quietly, through my nose, in an effort to fight back tears. My sophomore year at Liberty University, I enrolled in all online courses and moved off campus with a family from my church. Jack moved into my old dorm room. He wore a plain t-shirt, khaki shorts, and Birkenstocks. I imagine I said something like, “My grandmother has those,” trying not to sound like an asshole. He laughed and ran his hand through his bedhead. Our glasses were the same rectangular shape. “They’re popular where I’m from in Vermont,” he said. In a way, I don’t remember meeting him, because we moved into friendship instantaneously: taking trips to the store, attending Convocation (mandatory church services) together, going out to dinner. I remember in the first moments of our friendship when I played AFI’s song “This Celluloid Dream” in the car on the way home from Walmart. Jack gasped over the punk guitars and Davey’s cutting vocals. “This is my favorite band,” he said. He started singing along. I turned up the volume and yelled along with Davey and Jack. I pulled onto campus. It was Spiritual Emphasis Week, when Liberty hosted Pastor Clayton King to deliver sermons in the arena every night on deepening your spiritual life, or “walking with God.” The first night, Jack and I sat on the floor seating in the low lighting. King took the stage after the worship band played a few songs to “prepare our hearts” to hear the message. He walked back and forth in the spotlight, talking too 18


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loudly, sometimes yelling about how God wanted us to work toward perfection because we weren’t good enough as we were. King made jokes about “girly guys” who cared too much about their hair or what they wore. Jack and I fit both those categories. He began many phrases with “Real men [football] [mud] [girls] [cars] [gym] [sweat].” Jack sat unflinchingly, as if King looked him dead in the eyes, his angry fist trembling inches from Jack’s jaw. But hundreds of students walked to the stage to confess their newfound faith or to get right with God. As the students walked forward, the worship band played a song called “Marvelous Light.” Together, 13,000 students sang, Into marvelous light I’m running, out of darkness out of shame. I tried to keep myself from crying because of the burden I carried that felt less and less like sin. I hated crying for a religion I didn’t know if I supported. I started to hate the men who spoke on behalf of God. After we left the arena, Jack shoved his hands deep into the pockets of his chinos. “Dude’s a fucking arrogant phony,” he said. Clayton King had the power to challenge students to try to do right by his God this week, myself included, but I tried not to care. Screaming along to AFI, along with atheistic Davey, freed me from the self-righteousness so easily attained during Spiritual Emphasis Week. I turned down the radio and told Jack I wanted to tell him something. He raised his eyebrows. I hesitated. I didn’t really how to phrase what I wanted to say, so I said, “I prefer...uh...men.” The last person I’d confided in, Cam the RA, had betrayed my trust. His blond brow furrowed as he cocked his head at me. I was relieved I couldn’t continue looking at him since I was driving. “Dude, I don’t give a fuck about whether or not you’re gay or whatever. That shit’s not important to me.” He said it didn’t make me any less desirable as a friend. I confessed to Jack because I didn’t want to lose a friend I could grow to love. The church advised against associating with people like me who lived in sin simply by existing, as emphasized this week by Clayton King. “And fuck anyone who makes you feel that way.” He pointed his finger in my face. “I mean I’ve had sex before,” he said. “So what?” The way he spoke, the topics we discussed, were so contrary to the conversations Liberty considered appropriate. Already I felt we created our own space within Liberty’s persuasive culture. I asked if he’d at least enjoyed himself. He said no and that he’d had to fake his orgasm. 19


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I laughed. He said he had a scar on his dick from when he was born. It was attached to his stomach. The doctor had to separate it. Now the scar goes down the whole shaft and makes it hard to get off sometimes. “Anyway,” he said. “I was getting tired and her moaning was grating the fuck out of my ears. So I faked it.” I loved the unashamed way he spoke about himself and his sins. He raised his hands. “Sometimes you just have to fake it, you know?” “Trust me,” I said. “I know.” I parked my car in front of the dorm on East Campus in a space that overlooked Highway 460 and a fraction of the expanse of Liberty’s campus: The dome-shaped arena, the columned academic building DeMoss, all the smaller residential halls, and the gray-blue mountains set in the distance. I didn’t know if I wanted to be here anymore, but doubting would be another taboo sin I carried. First step, doubt. Then: unbelief. How many people didn’t care about Spiritual Emphasis Week, or Bible study, or thought Clayton King was a fucking phony? More life existed outside Liberty’s world. I probably didn’t belong here, but I didn’t know what to do about it. What would come of my friendship with Jack should I choose to leave this school? We walked up the four flights of stairs to his dorm room, where his roommate Curtis sat hunched over at his desk working on homework. He picked up his computer and moved into the common area, ducking as he walked through the doorway. I read the spines of the books on his desk—all Oscar Wilde. Two copies of Dorian Gray, a drama collection, a biography, a scholar’s commentary. I ran my fingers along the books’ vertebrae. Jack lay on his bed. “I would love to be an Oscar Wilde scholar,” he said. “I’m just not sure how.” I wanted to know what about Oscar Wilde he loved, if maybe Wilde understood him in ways he wouldn’t share, if maybe Wilde saw him for who he wanted to be. I sat up in Jack’s bottom bunk writing a paper on Robert Browning’s poem “Porphyria’s Lover.” My post-1500s British literature anthology splayed open to the poem about a scandalous love. He sat at his desk facing the window. A copy of The Old Man and the Sea lay open and upside down like a tent beside his computer. I grew tired. My comforter lay folded at the end of his bed. We had been spending all our free time together. Then I started sleeping on a loveseat in his dorm room. After the loveseat became too uncomfortable I moved to the floor beside his bed, the only stretch of floor that could fit me. He turned to me. “I’ve been thinking,” he said. “Why don’t you sleep in my bed 20


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with me?” When my brother Tyler and I were kids, we’d shared a bed for what felt like years. My best friend Josh and I shared a bed many times, to my parents’ discomfort. Jack’s nonchalance made simple what might appear off-putting in other male friendships. He didn’t care about being caught, which might be enough to send us to Liberty’s support group conversion therapy. After half an hour, Jack and I brushed our teeth and went to bed. I crawled in first and slid my legs under the sheets. I covered myself with my comforter so there’d be no blanket-stealing. The soft sheets and mattress pad reminded me of my bed, the one I’d shared with Josh a few times. Jack took off his shirt and lay beside me. He smelled a little like sweat, a little like his Black Walnut cologne. My arm rested on his. His knee touched my leg. I sank into the sand of his skin and slept soundly through the night. Jack and I woke to our 7:00 alarm. My body draped over his, my head on his chest. His chest hair tickled my nose. After Jack turned off the alarm, he took a deep breath. My head rose as his chest expanded. “Good morning,” he said. “Hi.” I rolled on my back. “What was that?” he said. He sat up and looked at me. “You sound so manly.” He tossed back the covers, stood, and stretched. “I’m going to call you Mandrew.” I stretched in bed, remembering every morning in grade school my grandmother would tell me to stop stretching because she didn’t want me to grow, and here I was sharing a bed with a boy at Liberty. “You can call me whatever you want,” I said. I climbed out of bed and ran water for the shower. Jack pulled on jeans over the boxer-briefs he wore to bed and opened The Old Man and the Sea. After I stepped out of the shower, we brushed our teeth. He threw some forming cream into his hair to maintain his bedhead look. I flat-ironed my bangs to straighten a wave, then tousled my hair with molding wax. Mornings like this became our routine, but it was one we had to keep secret. I didn’t mind. I liked something that was only ours. The dust of Spiritual Emphasis Week settled like smoke on furniture. It set up the entire semester by pushing students deeper into Liberty’s culture. Every sermon, every moment between songs in worship sets, we heard how imperfect we were without God, but how we must try to be perfect like him. 21


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Jack and I worked on papers in his room instead of attending prayer groups. He began an essay on Oscar Wilde for his Introduction to Literature course, but while his fingers pressed the keys I saw a tenseness in his eyes and lips. I sat in his bed with my legs under the covers, half in a cocoon. “What are you thinking about?” I asked. “Nothing.” He didn’t stop typing or look away from the screen. A moonbeam lit the cover of the Bible on his desk like a holy light. He glanced at it. I wondered if would open it and pray for his sins to be washed white as snow like the Bible said. Cam, the RA, gave a mini sermon tonight during hall meeting about blamelessness: “God deserves our best,” he said. “And I know for myself, I hardly give Him what He gives to me.” Did Jack find our friendship sinful? Was something resurfacing that he had repressed years ago? The pressures of Liberty sought to unmask everyone’s deepest sins and feelings associated with them. Last year I thought I had to confess my homosexuality to Cam in order to overcome a sin that started to control me. I started to tell him that he could tell me anything, that I wouldn’t betray his trust like Cam had mine. But as soon as a sound came from my throat, Jack said, “Let’s go to bed,” like he knew what I would say; he knew me better than anyone. He shut his computer, took off his shirt and pants, and lay beside me. My body relaxed after he sighed and sank into the mattress. I wanted to hold him in my arms—perhaps my touch could save him—but I inched away, waiting for his leg to graze mine and rest. The night I drove Jack to his brother’s house, we were the only car on the road. Time froze the way it does when the heart begins to ache, when meaningless words shape in the mouth but feel so stupid. I thought this journey appropriate for 2:00 a.m. after the school year ended. Nobody would ask why we disappeared. Nobody would wonder why Jack never returned to his room. We moved under the cover of dark, of time, of the city stripping itself of its evangelical mask as 13,000 Liberty students traveled home for the summer. Jack and I were the naked city. We were as inseparable as AFI’s core members Davey and Jade, like binary stars orbiting around the same center of gravity. People we knew on campus, and people we didn’t (I was sure), perceived us as a package deal. I didn’t have to drive him. I could have chosen to be angry when he decided to transfer schools, but I didn’t know how. The Bible says love is not easily angered. It also says, When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. Anger would have been a 22


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childish response. I already depended on others to love me while my current faith and the world as I learned it washed away. No one but Jack truly knew me and loved me anyway. When I turned down Westerly Drive, where his brother Derek lived, I could have exploded; that’s what happens after the gravity collapses on a star system—neither can carry the weight of their grief any longer. I jerked off in the shower almost every day, trying to make it quick so Jack didn’t notice. I didn’t care anymore that God watched me. It was that sometimes I thought of Jack, and other times Cam, but I knew I couldn’t attain what I desired with my eyes open. God disappeared like semen down the tub drain; I no longer chased after him. Jack and I left Convocation with the mass of students heading to class or lunch. We normally ate in the dining hall with friends, but today he wore the same expression as the night before. He gazed out toward the dorms, but he seemed to be looking out to somewhere else, somewhere through the edge of campus and beyond. “What’s going on?” I asked. “Nothing,” he said. He said he was going to go back to the room to read the Bible and pray. The months I’d known him, he hadn’t done either. “Sext me when you’re on your way back,” he said. “I might be up for something later.” He punched me on the shoulder, what my dad would call a “love tap,” then walked away, ignoring the calls of our friends who saw him nearing the tunnel to East Campus. I sat with our friends at a long table in back of the Rot, next to a girl from the sister dorm I didn’t know all that well. Danielle sat across from me. She brushed her blond curls aside before eating her last chicken finger. “Where’s Jack?” she asked. “Why’s he acting so depressed?” “He’s stressed about a paper,” I said. I looked at the open seat beside me, one that friends kept open because they knew Jack and I always sat together. She sipped from her Dr. Pepper, noting it was the time of the semester everyone was stressed. She left to get seconds. After Danielle disappeared into the dining hall, the girl next to me leaned over to me. “I know we don’t know each other that well,” she said. “But. . . are you and Jack in a relationship?” I loved people getting used to the idea of me romantically involved with a guy, 23


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whether it was Jack or not. “We’re just friends,” I said. “People think you are.” She tossed her brown hair in a big motion, though her hair wasn’t pretty enough to display like she thought, just how she thought gossiping with me might yield a bigger reaction that she received. “People can think what they want,” I said. I sipped my water. I peered into the belly of the Rot to see if I could find Danielle. I needed her to come back and save me from this conversation before this girl prodded too deeply. “You two are cute though,” she said. I wanted to tell her I knew that, but she didn’t need to know more than she already thought. I saw Danielle walking toward us with a quesadilla. “What’re you guys talking about?” she asked. “Nothing,” I said. The girl glanced over at me, but I acted like I didn’t notice. Liberty invited Clayton King back to speak for Convocation. Students filled the basketball arena so tightly that some had to sit on the stairs. Jack and I sat with the guys from the dorm on the right side of the stage. I knew the ritual of Convocation in my bones, when to sit, when to stand, the length of each worship set. Religion lost its meaning the more I was forced to participate. Perhaps that was the reason my Bible collected dust on my nightstand. When King took the stage, he pointed house left at a girls’ dorm. He said the girls had called him to come pray with a dorm-mate. He asked a girl named Anna to stand. “Anna struggles with homosexuality,” he said. The crowd gasped. He said Anna gave him permission to share her story, then he announced, “Anna has been cured of her homosexuality.” The students in the arena clapped and cheered. Jack grabbed my knee. “What the fuck is going on?” he said. He stared into my eyes, perhaps searching for answers he hadn’t found. “They don’t think she’s really cured do they?” “I don’t know,” I said. I wondered if it was true that I could be cured. Could sin be healed, or was my homosexuality something I was born with? I wanted to eradicate my homosexuality so I could feel God again, but sleeping next to Jack provided a sample of what I wanted the rest of my life to look like. He let go of my knee. I wished he wouldn’t. The lights and the heat of bodies flashed on my face. The cheers stabbed my abs. Why was I here? Who could save me 24


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while God was gone? Jack and I drove down Timberlake Road, looping back toward campus on 460. He had burned me a copy of his new favorite album Easy Wonderful by Guster, and we listened to his favorite song “On the Ocean” on repeat. I remember the lyric, I think we’re taking on water, so understated in chorus with the smooth tones and bubbling instrumentation. The anxiety of water filling the boat, a possible capsize, sounded so beautiful. How did one handle the sinking feeling? Who did we call on to save us in moments like that? Jack turned to me at the stoplight in front of the mall, suddenly back into his reserved self. He turned off the radio. “Do you feel like a fucking phony being at Liberty?” he said. I guessed sometimes I did, but I asked what he meant. “Dude, we’re going to church fucking five times a week and for what? People in the Bible were dancing and tearing their clothes and shit, and everything we’re participating in seems to be some watered-down bullshit. Something’s not right about Liberty.” I’d thought about this but distracted myself with friends and school. If I confronted the issue, then the lens through which I viewed life would crack in all directions. My worldview already started to acquire hairline fractures with the admittance of being gay. “I don’t know what to do about it,” I said. Jack lifted his hands from their place on his thigh and balled them into fists. “After Cam spoke in hall meeting about biblical manhood or whatever I have been plagued with guilt.” He was almost yelling now. “I’ve been so horny that I burst a fucking blood vessel on my dick jerking off in the shower.” He signed, calming down in a way that I perceived as resignation. “I’m also not growing into the person my parents want me to be, and I feel like a massive disappointment.” I knew what he meant. I had been avoiding the way I felt like letdown of a son. My dad reminded me how much he hated that I gave up basketball by favoring Josh, my football-playing best friend from home, the one who I would share a bed with, the one who in bed whispered to me about how much I meant to him. But my dad didn’t know any of that. He only saw the gym sweat, the muscle, his ease with a ball. My dad didn’t care about my arts degree. My stepmom only called when she thought I did something wrong or when I needed to pay my phone bill. I felt certain they would disown me if they knew I was gay. “Do you feel like they wouldn’t love you?” I asked. “I don’t know,” he said. “It’s hard to explain.” 25


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I let the next words linger, not because I didn’t believe them, but because I didn’t know if they were true. “I’d rather them not love me than be disappointed in who I am.” Jack nodded, then propped his elbow on the door and rested his head in his hand. “It all fucking sucks.” I thought I heard him choke back the beginning of tears. I played AFI. The giant “LU” monogram stitched into Liberty Mountain guided our way back to campus. We drove with the windows down. The fresh air pulled at my hair. It rushed through my shirtsleeve and down my torso like a cyclone. “I’m going to transfer schools,” he said. The words rang like a sour note in a guitar solo. He told me at the end of the year he was leaving for Castleton in Vermont, closer to home, on his own turf and away from this. “I can’t come back here,” he said. Away from this, I thought. Away from me. “I don’t want you to leave,” I said. We didn’t talk as I turned down University Boulevard, or when I crossed the bridge, or when I parked in front of the dorm. We sat in the car for a moment, knowing our time was now limited. I felt like I could throw up. He opened the door and left without looking back. One night shortly after our drive, Jack and I lay in bed after a night of writing papers. He sat up while I lay on my side facing him. We talked in the dark about his plans to leave, how he hadn’t told his brothers yet. He said he didn’t care what his brothers thought, though I think he did. I think he cared what everyone thought and being at Liberty showed him he wasn’t like everyone else. I had rolled over toward the wall, half-asleep, when Forst used a butter knife to break into our room and turn on the light. “What the fuck do you want?” Jack said. Jack and I hated Forst. He’d thrown a water balloon from his dorm window at a girl carrying cupcakes to her friend’s birthday party. The balloon burst on the side of her head. She fell on the blacktop. Her cupcakes splattered and rolled down the hills. He played metal music late into the night and bragged about shaving his chest. Upon being caught, Forst leaned back and put his hand on his hip, smirking. Such a “bad boy.” He began to explain himself, then stopped and squinted. “Hold up,” he said. “Are you two in bed together?” “Yup.” Jack’s confidence surprised Forst, who took a step back. “Got something to say about it?” Forst faltered. Then said, “I’m going to tell everyone.” “Go for it.” Jack flicked him away. “Go jerk off with your roommates to your 26


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metal music. And turn the light off on your way out, you piece of shit.” Forst, speechless, turned off the light, closed the door, and disappeared. The night returned to the dark calm of before, but we had been seen. More people would probably talk, but I didn’t care. Jack lay down on his back. His knee found the back of mine, and we fell asleep. On what would be Jack’s and my last night together, he slept over at my place, and in the dark morning we drove to Bedford to the foot of Sharp Top Mountain. We stood at the bottom of the trail, a light fog hovering over the black entrance. We hiked, something he missed about Vermont, another reason he wanted to move back. I hurt, both from the intensity of hiking and from knowing that I would have to say goodbye to Jack soon. I stopped and sat on the boulders in clearings to catch my breath and drink water. He laughed. “We’ve only hiked half a mile.” We hiked the mile and a half to the top. We stood on a boulder that provided a 360-degree view of the Blue Ridge. The sun crept over a crest to the east as if God was slowly opening his eyes from a night of sleep. He saw Jack and me together, looking into the sky, and I gained a bit of hope that Liberty wasn’t a dead end. Up here, the wind moved uninhibited. Up here, no one pressured me to believe in a certain God or to think liking boys was wrong. We may not have had the world then, but we had each other, the mountains, and the sunrise. We stood together, our shoulders brushing. “You ready?” he said. I wanted to say no, one more moment with you, but I said, “Yeah, let’s go.” On the way home, we ate at Waffle House. Across the table, Jack patted his stomach. “Baby meat, this is the best morning I can remember. Let’s do this again next time.” “It wouldn’t be the same if it was with anyone else,” I said. A next time—the promise I held on to. At 2:00 a.m. I pulled into Jack’s brother’s driveway. I turned off the car and looked over at Jack, who hung his head, then grabbed his bag and opened the car door. I opened my door. We stood in the dark on the gravel between the car and the house. Jack dropped his bag on the ground and stepped into me. We wrapped ourselves around each other, my breath a wayward stone kicked from the driveway. When he inhaled, he rattled. A small sound escaped from his throat, then a choke. 27


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A tear ran down my cheek. For the first time in a long time, I felt close to God: holding a man I loved, both of us crying in the dark. “Bye, Jack.” “Goodbye, Mandrew. I love you.” We loosened our holds, then took a step away, then let go. Andrew Hahn’s essays have been featured in Crab Creek Review, Crab Fat Magazine, Lunch, and R.kv.r.y Quarterly, among others. His chapbook God’s Boy is forthcoming from Sibling Rivalry Press. “Taking On Water” is an excerpt from his memoir The Liberty Boys.

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Ode Mark Burger I. COULD MY MIND KINDLY SHUT THE FUCK UP FOR ONE MINUTE THANK YOU I had a dream you wrote me a note. I kept it in my pocket all day, folded, faded, a talisman. I had a dream you bought flowers, and arranged them on the kitchen table, on the coffee table, in your room by the window. The fan squeaked all night but we needed the air, the sensation of coldness to separate our bodies from the heat, the proof that it wasn’t a dream after all. And in the morning when I looked over, and you were asleep, and you moaned, and I followed the rise and fall of your chest, and I thought, God, how could this even be happening, and that there was no place I would rather be. And how now that it’s happened, there’s nothing more I could want from this life. To have you collapsed on me, breathing heavy, to know the taste of your mouth and the smell of your neck at seven in the morning, this was always the dream. I have nothing more to give into, nothing left to release, nothing left to prove, to lose. Every step I’ve taken since I left your doorstep in the rain has been one into the dream state, beyond rational thought. I am past the waking world now, an unreality, and I will never go back. *** You said you’ve seen me at work before, but you didn’t say anything when you did. Why, I asked, I would love to see you. Because, you said, I like to watch people at work. I would love to see you, I would love you, I love you. I say nothing. *** I read somewhere that you could improve your mood simply through the act of smiling, and I found this works most of the time. The trick is keeping it up. *** You said you loved the beach, and I went and I got a sunburn across my back, and my skin is still peeling in thin sheets, like parchment. 29


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And you said you loved flowers, so I bought a daffodil plant and I tried to move it into a pot, but I didn’t know what I was doing, and it will probably die anyway. And no one can pull off high-waisted jeans like you. And no one can curl into my shoulder the way you did. And no one can talk like you, and no one can read Frank O’Hara like you. And no one can make it feel as divinely ordained as you did when you pulled my hand around your body and hooked it under your arm, and I moved my legs against yours, and you shuffled your feet, and I closed my eyes and I couldn’t believe it. And no one can make me feel like this, and I can’t decide if it’s because I love myself too much or not enough that I feel this way, this great way, and I won’t give it a rest, and I won’t calm down, and I won’t tell myself to relax, because I do that too much. And I want to let it all flow out of me now, this bursting of water, of fury, that you broke open, or at least inspired me to break open, and anyhow it all goes back to you, because that’s how it’s always been in a way. And I want this worry to go away, and I want to feel it forever. *** But I cannot stop my mind from the endless progressions, the endless loops of Wondering What He Is Doing Right Now, what is he thinking, and is he thinking of me, and does he feel the same kind of heaviness in the center of his chest that I do, the heaviness that comes with thoughts of him and him alone. I am anxious, and paranoid. This itching always comes with things like this, by things I mean romantic things with boys. I don’t know if it’s some fault of my upbringing that I never learned how to love the right way (if there is a right way, which I’m still unconvinced there isn’t), or if it’s been lovers or would-be lovers in my past that have warped my mind, or if it’s my own neuroses flickering wildly inside my head, trying to make sense of nonsense. Or if everyone feels this way sometimes, but since I’m a narcissist this kind of feeling could only ever exist in my own world, and anyway who cares what I think. And what is it with my neuroses, anyway? What’s the big idea here? It can’t be to let me sleep, to let me eat, to let me walk, to let me think about thinking of doing these things, anything, without racing to his face. And I haven’t been able to do any of these things for what feels like forever, what might as well be forever, and it’s really starting to get old, this itching, this lurching, this retching. And it is a retching, really, a sick and sad state, mouth hanging open, leaking and wet, hunched on the floor while I wait for something to crawl out of me. And it’s really something, really something funny (Hysterical! A genuine riot!), because I’ve 30


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been trying to be more tender, and all I get is this weeping. But, of course, it wouldn’t be tenderness without a few hundred jabs to the heart, now would it! Idiot! Let me put it another way: I didn’t know getting something I’ve always dreamed of would feel so real. And it’s so real, so goddamn real, and so true. And what do I have to show for it? A weepy mouth and some poetry, and some read receipts, and some wistfulness. We are wistful, misty-eyed along Eastern Parkway while listening to Songs You Shouldn’t Listen To After The Sun Goes Down, but it’s summer anyhow and daylight saving time doesn’t translate evenly across the spectrum of human emotion. And I will eat when I’m hungry and not a moment before. Then again I forgot to wear my chamsa earring today, so maybe it’s all because of that. I don’t have eyes for anything else anymore, I don’t want to eat, I don’t want to think about anything else but the way his room looked in the morning, or the shape of his chest, or how small his lips felt against mine, much smaller than I imagined they’d feel. And I don’t want to talk about any of this either, so don’t even bother asking, because I won’t tell, it’s fucking killing me inside, and there’s worse things in the world than feeling this one thing, isn’t there, you self-absorbed manic. I don’t want to relax and you can’t tell me to, and that’s all there is to it. ***

Google search: how to revel in feelings of uneasiness. ***

You had a hickey on your neck and when I asked what happened you said it wasn’t from me, that it was from the other night, some other mistake. And you said you hated it, you said you felt like you were in high school again, it’s so obnoxious, it’s like being claimed, and you hate the feeling of being claimed. And I nodded my head and said nothing even though on the inside I could see how someone would want to leave a mark on you, how someone would want to be remembered by you, how I’d let you do much more than that to me. *** 31


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Some prologue is required. Life takes on a new structure, bent and tightened around anticipation. Fantasies involving particular people are the most consuming, each encounter building on the previous one, every minute apart dedicated to a depthless pining, where are they now, what are they doing, are they thinking of me, and when the moment comes, when you’re finally back in the same room, everything becomes a sign, an omen, that it’s meant to be, how could it not be. The entire planet rotates on the crux of your conversation, and time stands still in between sentences. He stood behind the counter and asked me what I wanted, and it took all of me not to look him in the eyes and tell him all I could ever want was right in front of me. In between transactions, we would talk, and I would have to pretend to learn something new about him, when it was always something I already knew, or guessed, or both, because I’d known about him for some time before I ever saw him in the flesh. Before this, he existed solely online, a crush in cyberspace, someone I happened upon one day, someone I thought was cute, someone I followed for the hell of it. And there he stayed for years, living and moving somewhere in the city, a phantom, unseen until I unlocked my phone and peered into that enchanted electric box. And then one day he was there, among the dripping espresso, and I felt the air rush out of me, and I forgot how to walk, and I couldn’t believe it. It made me wonder about fate and coincidence, and how they can’t exist in the same world, not in the same way at least, because either everything is destined: every event, large or small, is a step towards some nameless future that’s unavoidable; or, everything is happenstance. Every handshake, every glance, every cigarette break, everything, everything is by chance, directionless, and we are all hurtling through a great, big, blue world where nothing means nothing and something means everything. My nothing was staring me in the face and had been for months. The location was always convenient, and it’s the of the only places I can really write anything. The atmosphere is productive, sure, and I always leave feeling accomplished, even if just slightly so, and there’s free wifi. And there’s him. The most desperate, shameless part of me was convinced that if I spoke to him enough, or if I was friendly enough, that he’d remember me somehow. Not to say he didn’t recognize me, I mean, I’m pretty recognizable, but I didn’t know to what extent, and I relied on superlatives to get me through the afternoons.

Turn around right now if you’re in love with me. Ask me what size coffee I want if you’re in love with me. 32


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Smile if you’re in love with me.

It was nothing and I knew it was nothing, but it’s inside fantasies like these that I can finally breathe, and I’m not even talking about him anymore. Aimless night after aimless night, I reach the conclusion that I desire unattainable scenarios as well as an unrelenting hunger for them. I’m relentless in my search to be sated. In other words, I want what I can never have, but you can’t stop me from trying. In other words, I’m trapped. But it’s in these moments of desperation, of clawing my way to satisfaction, that is my way out. If I can nail down enough fleeting moments of ecstasy, if I can get enough of that full-body feeling into one moment, one person, I’ll finally feel released. Then again, it’s only in these repeated dissociative episodes (repeated being the operative word) that I feel truly weightless, so who knows for sure. I ran into him once while I was at work. To be more precise, he ran into me, with a broad smile and an arm full of books, and he was smiling, and he laughed, and he was beautiful and I was breathless. I know him, he said, I serve that guy all the time. He was laughing. He told me his name, as if I didn’t already know, as if I could ever forget, and we shook hands. He was talking about something, his hands were moving in the air between us, conducting an orchestra, but I couldn’t hear anything but the blood roaring in my ears. His hand was soft, his handshake was lackluster, too brief, I wanted more, and I was walking on air for the rest of the night. One day I asked him what he smokes, part of an ongoing fascination I have with the selection of poison people choose to fill their lungs with, and in this case, I was especially curious to discover if I could taste what he tastes. That same day, I was writing (exorcising) facing the window, trying to stop my heart from bursting from my chest, and he stepped outside in front of me. He looked stressed, slouching, he lit up and inhaled. Memory informed me he typically smokes on the far side of building, out of view, away from where I was at the time, but he’d switched positions. I gleaned meaningless meaning from this, like water from air, that he was doing it on purpose so he would be in my field of vision, so he knew I can see him, and I did. The hours oriented themselves around the next time I was going to see him. And I don’t remember what kind of cigarettes he smokes. And he could be serving me arsenic, and I’d swallow all of it.

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*** And now, for your consideration, a list of things you should know about me: 1. I drink coffee almost every day and it’s gotten to the point where if I don’t have any I will develop a slight headache, which my mom says is really bad, but I like it too much to stop. I would also add that you make the best coffee I’ve ever tasted but this list isn’t about you so I won’t say anything. 2. I have a really great singing voice, but don’t try to ask me to perform for you on the spot, because I’ll just end up feeling a burning like I’m underneath a microscope, and it wouldn’t be very entertaining. You’ll have to wait, and catch me when I don’t even realize I’m doing it until it’s too late, like when I’m washing dishes or folding my laundry. 3. Speaking of laundry, I wash my sheets every two weeks (almost to the day) and I don’t like subway clothes on my bed and it will make me anxious if you sit on it in your jeans. By subway clothes, I mean anything you might have worn on the subway, anything that’s been outside, anything potentially stained or smelly or contaminated. And no, I’m not some kind of germaphobe, and yeah, I’ve accidentally sat on my bed in something I wore outside once or twice, but my sheets are white, and I’d like to keep them white, and since I’m spending (at least) and handful of hours rolling around on top of them, I’d like them to be somewhat clean. 3.1. So yes, you have to shower if you want to get into my bed with me. 3.2. So yes, I would make an exception for you. 4. Even though I talk a lot about you and wanting to be with you, my hand tucked under your armpit, the smell of your neck at seven in the morning, this list isn’t about you, and anyway the point is I also like being alone. I like walking alone, and going to movies and museums alone, and eating alone, because when I’m alone I get to do whatever I want to do, and I can listen to music and weep on the inside and no one has to know. 4.1. I would love more than anything to be alone with you, though, like that song by the singer that I adore, by the singer that you hate, but this list isn’t about you. 5. I like tote bags, and I have several, and they’re all for different kinds of days. 5.1. As of late, my regular work tote bag has swollen almost beyond proper use, and I’m worried it will start to rip, but it’s only because I have to carry so many things with me, like my lunch, and a book, and an umbrella in case it rains (it’s been raining a lot recently), and my water bottle, and my journal (a recent addition, to rid my mind of thoughts of you, or at least try to), and I haven’t even 34


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mentioned my pouch, with all my essentials, like a travel-sized deodorant and gum and condoms and aspirin and hand sanitizer and other things one could always potentially need. 5.2. It might seem excessive to carry all these things with me on a daily basis, not to mention heavy, and cumbersome, but I like being prepared for anything, not because I think anything could happen (though it could), but because it’s always nice to know I’m ready on the off-chance that something does happen. It’s another part of my wicked neuroses, I suppose, being perpetually anxious about something unexpected happening and preparing indefinitely for said unexpect ed something, even though I schedule everything and write everything down or else I’ll forget, which is another problem I have. But the point is I’m always ready even when I don’t have to be, and spontaneity is, for me, only fun when I have a full water bottle. 6. I like writing. It is my favorite form of exorcise, in that, through the ritual of sitting at a cafe alone, I am able to remove demons and spirits and (occasionally) angels from my body, to lock them inside the confines of language, where I can see them for what they truly are, so I can dissect them, so they cannot rip me apart from the inside out. It is quite a show, and I’m sure you’ve seen glimpses of this process – it involves quite a bit of staring out of the nearest window, confused and panicked facial expressions, ecstatic arm movements, deep sighing, the works. And it works almost every time. 6.1. You should know that I have, am, and will continue to write about you, so long as I can remember the first fourteen and a half hours we spent together, or the dozens (hundreds?) of times you asked me what size coffee I want (small, for here, please), or as long as every face I see on the street corner is yours. It will always be in the most generous and cathartic of fashions, and polite, and thoughtful, since I think an awful lot about you, and even if you were to spit in my face and call me a dirty faggot and gouge out my eyes and tear out my terrible tongue for speaking every truth of your beauty I would still wonder what you meant by it, I would still write about you, even still. 6.2. Sometimes (and this is true), I think I would die if I couldn’t write. I would gouge out my own eyes and cut out my own terrible tongue and lay my hands across the railroad tracks or plunge them into an open fire or gnaw them off with my teeth (bloodied, sans terrible tongue) if I couldn’t write. And yes, this is dramatic, and yes, I can be dramatic sometimes, but sometimes (often times) I want to say what I feel, what I really feel, instead of letting it all fester inside me, which it usually does. And that’s the point anyway, that the words just fes35


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ter and writhe inside me like worms, like weeping bile, and I have to retch them up. And if I don’t let them out I’ll forget their shapes and then the shit’s really hit the fan, you see, then it’s really a big deal, once they’re vapor. 7. I will get up usually seconds after I’ve put myself to bed to write out the vapors, to give them shapes, so they don’t fester and ruin my white sheets. Don’t be alarmed if I do this, trust me, it’s so much harder for me, and every time I think hmm, I should write that down or I’ll forget it, there is an opposing voice that says Hey, idiot, it’s almost midnight and you have to be awake in five hours, do not turn on the light, do not write out the vapors, you will never get to sleep now, if they’re truly worthy they will still be there in the morning, but they’re never there in the morning, and anyway it takes all of thirty seconds to write it out, to put it to rest, so relax, okay? 8. There’s a place I want to take you, but this list isn’t about you. 8.1. It’s bucolic in the most luxurious sense, so green you’ll vomit, you’ll literally vomit right there on the drive. And the drive is all gravel, did I mention that? And there’s no electricity, except for appliances and lights, and there’s no cell service anyway, and all you have to do is sit in the sun on the front porch and read books and watch the deer come up to the salt lick across the field, and watch the sunlight dapple the flowerbeds (truly dapple! You’ll shit yourself witnessing the sun dapple those goddamn flowerbeds!), and breathe the thick, musty air, and wipe the sweat away, and breathe deep, and breathe again, and again, and God. 8.2. And in the winter the fireplace room becomes the center of the house and we all congregate in there to read or to talk or to have hors d’oeuvres like horseradish cheese and Wheat Thins, and red wine. And it’s so cold, that deep kind of cold that fills your lungs with ice, and you can’t feel your ears, and I know you said you hated the winter but you’ve never seen a winter so quiet and so glorious, and the fields are untouched by man, and the trees crack through the sky like blackened veins and finger bones. 8.3. And, I think I told you this already, but it’s one of the places I always picture in my head when I’m reading a novel set somewhere in the country, it doesn’t matter where. I ignore whatever the words say about which doors are where and which room is next to the other, and I just picture this one house. I don’t know why it happens, and even when I try to think up new places, I can never get it quite right, and it just ends up a version of the original, white siding and a big front lawn, and the kitchen towards the back. 9. I have so much love to give, and I know I do. I am spilling, and overflowing. 10. When it’s darkest at night, and I feel the Truth creeping up my spine, and I taste it 36


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in the back of my throat, the conviction that this solitude will last forever, I want you to know that it isn’t about you. I never claimed to be fully exorcised, exonerated, free from demons and absolutions, and it’s hard for me to admit that I feel things sometimes, often times, most of the time, because I try so hard to be brave for the world, to show it I’m not afraid or weak or that I need help, but sometimes, often times, I am afraid, and I do need help, and it makes me feel washed out on the inside and I feel all my organs twist and shudder with mortality, and all I need someone (you) to do is show me, don’t tell me, that they’re (you’re) there, that it’s okay, that there’s nothing they (you) want more than to lay down next to me, to put their (your) arm around me, to tie our fingers together, to breathe in unison, to sleep together in the most beautiful and blinding and heartbreaking way imaginable, and to hold me close while the Truth wraps us up together, because being together is better when it’s darkest at night, while we wait for the sun to stampede across the sky.

*** I want you to know, before this goes too far, before I get too ahead of myself, that I do know my sense of worth, that I am capable of walking myself home, and that though yours is the most enrapturing I can still loosen myself from your touch. But only if I have to. But only if you give me no choice. And even then. *** When you poured the coffee into the mugs I purposely chose the yellow one, the one with the small chip on the rim, instead of the blue one, because I remembered you said you liked blue, and I don’t think you noticed, or cared, but maybe that was just for me, to see you sipping from the blue mug, and it’s not all about you all the time. Sometimes it is about running my hand over your head when you’re resting it on my chest because I like the way it feels. ***

Walking with you I don’t have much to say. What else is there to say, in such 37


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moments, with your bike clicking beside me and the sun all over our skin. Sometimes I fear you think me too pensive or uninterested in the things you say, but I could listen to you speak all day, and no, you’re not rambling, but you are, and it is the best kind. I could listen to you speak all day, about nothing, about everything, because I want to know all your thoughts as they come to you, and that’s the truth. And I will try to do the same, so you can see some of my thoughts too, and we can look through them together. We scoped out the hill from across the field and climbed to the top. We were both pulling at the grass, and I ran the stems over my face, and I let the sunlight dance into my eyes. And your eyes, shining spectacular, golden brown and verdant and immutable, how did I not notice before, the radiance, God. We drank from paper cups and we talked about the things I don’t talk about that often, but I felt like you would listen, and you did, and I listened to you also. And I felt my head fill with air from the prosecco and the afternoon sun and the bucolia, and when I said it was one of the better evenings I’d had in a long while I was telling the truth. And I feel myself getting to know you, and getting to like you, a completely new world, and I want you to know me, to catch my tempos, me and all my faces. And I will memorize all your voices, your array of expression, so dizzying to watch. And I want you to know we don’t have to kiss, we can just lie next to each other and in the morning I will put my arm around you. And truly the lying next to each other is the greatest, the most sublime, because I don’t need anything more than to know you’re next to me, to just be, to Just Be with you. And now I feel a fullness of light where there was once a heavy-chestedness, or maybe it’s both now, but either way it’s a feeling that makes me smile, and it’s all because of you. And I don’t need the stars to tell me our ways of loving are compatible though it’s always nice to hear. *** And I went to the park and I sat in the sun and I read the words that reminded me of you, the words that made me feel less alone without you next to me, and I sat in the sun until it faded away. ***

A list of things I know or suppose to know about you: 38


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1. Your name. 1.1. It’s my favorite name, and it was my favorite name before I even knew you existed, so it’s not all about you, but this list is about you, so I guess it is about you anyway. 1.2. I tried to call myself by this name once, when I was younger and searching for a sense of self. I was reaching out in the dark, groping for something, clawing at the black, throwing rotten fruit at a brick wall to see what stuck and what didn’t. There was a time when I was ashamed of that blindness, that desperate search for meaning, the idea that if I could change my name I could change myself, that the letters would lead the way and I would follow behind, that there was no work to be done other than the selection of pop culture references, of vowels, of tongue placement. It wasn’t true, if that’s what you’re wondering, but it was a valiant attempt, or something, I guess. 1.3. You see, I’ve never truly loved my own name. I inherited it, it was handed down to me, preordained for me, before I ever existed. Which isn’t a bad thing, I’m not complaining, it’s fine, I’m used to it at this point, but it can still feel like walking inside someone else’s shadow, especially when I see it printed on government forms, or electricity bills, like hey, this Mark Burger guy (whoever he is) better get ahead of these bills, he better be on top of things, I hope he has his shit together. And it always sounded strange when this one person I used to know would say it, would sigh into it, and I’d respond because what else could I do, but it felt like me and not me, like in a way he was sighing into someone else’s ears, not mine, and maybe the point is I never wanted a name anyway, I never wanted to be defined by vowels and tongue placements and sounds, because it’s all just a bunch of crummy sounds anyway. 1.4. But yours is the sweetest sound. 2. Some of your stories. But they belong to you, and I would listen to them a thousand times just to hear you speak, and for me to try to share them with anyone else would be impossible, let alone treacherous, and selfish, and you deserve so much more than any of that, and you don’t deserve to carry some of the heavier stories with you even though you do, and this world doesn’t deserve you, I think. 2.1. And a great wave rises inside of me when I think of that heaviness, and I want so badly to hold your head on my chest and listen to you breathe and protect you from everything evil and dark and sad, because you are none of those things. 2.2. And sometimes I think I don’t deserve you. 2.3. And sometimes I think I do, in the morning, when it’s dark out still, and I look down at you from across the room and it’s raining and I climb back into bed 39


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3. 4.

5. 6.

7.

with you. You’re nearsighted, and you never wear your glasses even though you have two pairs, and they’re both round, and you think you look bad in them but you don’t. I get the sense that your life has been, and is, so much larger, so much wider than my own. You tell me about the people in your past, the weavings of souls in and out of your world, the names, the countless names, the different places you’ve visited and the different kind of people you’ve been, but you’re also so unchanged, so original. 4.1. If we’re being honest here, which I’m trying to be, it makes me feel small. And it’s not your fault, it’s just me comparing things, which I shouldn’t do, it doesn’t help anything, but I do it anyway. It’s not a small in terms of inferiority, but a much more literal small, a parallel state of being. I am looking out into the dark, and you are the entire sky. 4.2. You are the entire ocean. You want so much more from this world, and you deserve it, you do. Your room is large, and square, and wonderful. 6.1. It’s much bigger than my own, and each time I return to it I am reminded of its smallness, and though it’s the largest in the apartment it is still so cramped. And I’ve tried to make it beautiful and bright, but now I fear everything is the opposite. 6.2. On the windowsills you used to have stacks of books, but now there are just the thin, white curtains flowing in the wind and they dance above us and they wrap around your face and I touch your veiled eyes. 6.3. It’s green and brown and you have flowers on your desk, and so many mirrors though they never feel intrusive. And I could stand in it all day, on the creaking floorboards, and hold my breath and feel the stillness of it all around me, and I would bathe in the silence and the splendor and let it seep into my pores and burn holes in my corneas so I will never forget, so I’ll carry the afterimages around with me forever, thin sheets of white of my own. You love the myth of Apollo and Daphne, and I remember when you told me the myth. 7.1. No. You love the statue of Apollo and Daphne, the one by Bernini. I don’t remember what you think of the myth. 7.2. Daphne, struck with the lead arrow, is filled (charged, suffused) with repulsion for Apollo. He, on the other hand, struck by the golden arrow, is filled (saturated, stained) with passion for her. 7.3. Repulsion: from Latin repuls, driven back. 40


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7.4. Just as he is about to catch her (embrace, conquer), she cries out to her father, the river god Peneus, to save her. Open the earth to enclose me! she cries. 7.5. Enclose: from Middle english, shut in, imprison; from Old French enclos; from Latin: includere. 7.6. Peneus hears her plea, and suddenly, a heavy numbness seizes her. Her skin unravels into bark, her hair sheds into foliage, her arms bend into branches. She becomes the laurel tree, with leaves that do not decay. She is undone and remade; he worships her image despite her rejection. 7.7. I do not find this myth to be romantic, and indeed most are rather tragic and pathetic in retrospect. It is not something to aspire to, I think, a mythic kind of love. It leaves those involved severed and mutilated. 7.8. And yet, you are Apollo-like, perhaps Apollo-adjacent, a god of music, of poetry. And of light, of course. 7.9. Apollo is also the god of plague, because of course he is, nothing that radiant is without its talons. Still, at least it provides a diagnosis for my current state of mind. 7.10. And I can understand the weeping (Oh! The weeping!) over a love lost forever, I can sympathize with finding solace solely in the driving back, in golden leaves, and metaphors. The imprisonment of it all. 7.11. But I refuse to lasso myself to unrequitedness (that sad old song), or to endless longing, or glorification of symbols and meanings. It’s all shallow, and worn out. Because no matter how much I pine it’s still just me in this room, just me inside this body. 7.12. Instead I will also become light, I will become love. I will spill, and overflow. You’ll see. 8. You are a lion in the sun, a scorpion in the moonlight, a flaming archer with your bow nocked and drawn. 8.1. I weep for your subterranean rivers, deep and unending, and I wish to see them, if not touch them, to let them envelope me inside their black currents (my undoing). 8.2. So on second thought, forget what I said about the sky and the ocean. You can’t have it all for yourself. There are still spaces I want for my own, places to be free of you (for which to fill with my heaving over you, more like, but this list isn’t about me). 9. I have only known you with your hair cut short to the skull. I’ve seen pictures of you with longer hair, but they all seem hazy and distant, like it’s some other person inside the frame. I don’t know what to expect when it grows out. 41


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9.1. If I’m around for that long. 9.2. Or, for that matter, if you’re around for that long. I know where I will be. 10. You love the color blue. 10.1. Despite my best intentions, I’ve started to see blue everywhere, and each time I see it, a part of me is reminded of you. 10.2. And even though I sometimes get the sense that you don’t like it, the constant comparisons to blue, the nicknames and references made by past lovers (horrendous), I can’t help but think of you in a blue light. 10.3. And it’s your own fault really, for imprinting this image on me, because you do look so dashing, and it’s depths are the only ones that can match your own. It’s all your fault. 10.4. But I love it still. 10.5. And I want so desperately to make it all about you, every tone and drop of blue I see, I want to sink into it, to feel it envelope me inside it’s thickness, to choke down it’s sinews, to let them unfurl inside my stomach and let it flow underneath my skin until it’s my everything, until I become another shade of blue for you to bathe under. 10.6. But the truth is I’ve lived long enough to know that turning myself into a color won’t make anyone love me any more than they already could, that to dissolve myself for someone else’s pleasure is just that: annihilation and corrosion and unravelling, and anyhow I love my own colors, the reds and the yellows and the whites. 10.7. The point is I will try to see you as a part of blue, instead of all the blue in world, because that’s not fair to everyone else. But rest assured you will have your own shade, your personal pigment, staining my skin for days to come. 10.8. And even though you said you were afraid of it, I would like to show you how the color red feels, if you’ll let me. *** And I will fucking vanquish everything you hate, and I will live inside of your laugh because it is a spacious ballroom and full of golden light and because I love it so. *** And yet the thoughts fly at me like bats. It has always been my greatest downfall, my own tormented mind (Woe! Weep for me!), unable to take what is freely given. 42


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The paranoia seeps through my skin when I’m left alone with it for too long, and before long, I’m off. I think of all ways I’ve offended, all the potential (imagined) land mines I triggered, how you were just waiting for me to leave, to get the fuck out, so you’d be rid of my sorry face. And I know it’s not true, but there’s no one else in the room screaming, it’s just me, yelling at the walls in the dark. I must breathe, I tell myself, and to relax, and to trust that there was nothing wrong, that I did not offend, that I did not take up precious space. And yet. And yet. And yet I need proof. And yet I need to know you wanted me there, I need to know I’m reading light years into everything, into nothing, and you’re so calm and oblivious but in the best way, not a carelessness but like living and seeing things from the inside of a car, blurry and undefined, unlike me, who gleans the meaning from nothing, who connects the invisible dots, who attempts to define endlessly, who writes my own will and testament while still on my way to see you. I wake with a heaviness, a heaving, the understanding that I am not next to you, and that (darker, now) there is no promise of you in the future. It is a heaviness I walk to the bathroom with, wash my face with, and stand next to in the kitchen while I watch the coffee brew. I take the train with it, and walk to work with it. It is a heaviness with which I listen to the songs that you like to listen to, the ones you like to sing along to while half-asleep on your couch. It is heaviest, I believe, when it’s nighttime and I’m lying in bed, its presence crushing the air out of my lungs as I wish, again and again, for the unconsciousness of sleep. And it’s something I’ve got to work on, and you’re helping, I think, just by existing in this world, and by letting me borrow your book, and by saying you wanted to see me on Friday. It’s my fault, it always is, for assuming, and snowballing, and paralyzing myself. But I am learning, and I want you to know that, I think. And it will take time to get used to it, but I can’t help but feel so forlorn after I leave you, and I want to be with you everywhere, and is that so wrong, is it, because I want to know. And I’m sorry this is the way things are but they’re just the way things are right now, and thank you for listening anyway. I suppose it is a heaviness I have even when I’m with you, though I can never feel it then. And if I must hold it for as long as I know you, then I will (must, somehow) learn to love it, to lean into it, and hold it close to my heart. If I must be crushed to death by memories, I thank God that they are at least the memories of a dream come true, dreams of you. 43


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***

And I take one look at you and it is all I need. And love walked in the room. And I’ll never walk alone again. ***

And how it makes my heart swell that we might live separately, that we might keep our lives for ourselves, each existing in our own right and in our own spaces and in our own times, with our own worries and cares and loves, and yet still know the other is in this world, breathing, and seeing with eyes that shine, and yet still come back to one another to share a glass of water, to share a bed, breathing in unison, your arm wrapped around my body, that impossible way. *** A friend once told me that one way to deal with stress, the stomach-tightening, the chest-heaviness, is to reverse the way you think about the sensation. Where once this feeling was interpreted as negative (read: the looming fear of never being truly loved or known by another person, much less the boy you’ve been dreaming about for literal years at this point), force yourself to see it as a positive instead. And so the draining, the aching, becomes the rush, the adrenaline, the Good Feeling, the feeling of being alive, of being able to feel this way for someone, and isn’t that great. And I found this works sometimes. The trick is saying it out loud: This is great, wow, this is great, yes, this feeling inside me is good, wow, yes. The trick is listening to yourself. The trick is believing yourself. Another friend (though at the time of this writing, more of a stranger) once told me that I deserve someone who is going to treasure what I give them, or something more evangelical-sounding than that, but the idea was I shouldn’t go around fucking boys who don’t care about me, and fat lot fucking boys who don’t care about me got me, am I right? And fat lot fucking boys who do care about me got me, am I right? And I think this is where it all started, the heavy-chestedness I get around boys, because I did fuck a boy who didn’t care about me, and I told him I wanted to talk about it, and he told me to go peacefully. And yeah I was wrecked a little (a lot) about it, but I was also young, and my hair was blue, and anyhow I didn’t love myself back then, not really. 44


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And now that I do love myself, more than I ever have, more than anyone ever could, I can’t help wonder why I feel so torn up (read: heavy-chested) about it this one in particular. Is it because I want this love for myself, that I deserve it? Is it because I want the idea of him, in the most selfish, the most selfless of ways? After all, it’s me he slid the piece of paper to, the one I kept in my pocket all day, folded, faded, a talisman. It was me, with the glitter around my eyes, with the pitching voice, with the sashaying hips, with the shoulder he crawled into, with the hand he wrapped around his body. So it is an Of Course as well as a What Do You Mean. Of course he wants me in some way or he would have deleted my number, or he would never have responded, or he would have spit in my face and told me he never wanted to see me again, and even then I would wonder what he meant by it. And what do you mean he said all those things to me, a stranger, and what do you mean he said we should hang out again sometime soon, and what does soon mean in his world, and what do you mean it’s all in my head when it was all in front of my face. And what did he mean when he said the hickey on his neck was from the other night, some mistake he made, and how many kinds of mistakes does he make and would he like to compare because I think I’ve got him beat, and anyway was I a mistake also, and could he let me know if I was a mistake and I’ll do my best to never see him again until he’s ready, if he’s ever ready, and I’ll move across the country if I have to, and I’ll live through my phone again like I used to, scanning the pictures on his feed like a drug, like the best goddamn kind of rush, and if I wasn’t a mistake could he let me know for sure, for real, I need to know for real, I need to know I’m not wasting my time even though I am, I need to know you see me, I need to know that you felt it too when you wrapped my hand across your body, and the feet shuffling, and my jeans on the floor by your bed, and your lips that were smaller than I imagined, and what did you imagine about my lips, and are they alright, was I alright for you, and would you like to see me again sometime soon, and would you let me know soon, and would you let me inside your apartment again, would you let me sit in your chair and listen to your day, because that’s all I want right now, to listen to How Was Your Day in the fading summer light with the smoke from the joint and with the creaking of the floorboards, and your mouth moving, and your eyes, and your eyes, and your face close to mine, and you, and you, and you, and you. Mark Burger is a writer and filmmaker living in New York City. His work has been published most recently in Hello Mr. Issue 10, and in the 2018 Winter Strand Zag. You can find his debut collection of poetry and other delights at www.mrkbrgr.com and follow him @mrkbrgr. 45


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Thank you for reading Issue Two.

In literary theory, the chronotope is how a moment in time and space collide through language.

to be continued

46

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Chronotope Magazine: Issue Two  

Chronotope Magazine: Issue Two  

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