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vo l u m e 1

FEARSOME

CRITTERS

a millennial arts journal


F e a r s o m e c r i t t e r s vo l u m e 1

2018 Editor of Prose Bailey Weese Editor of Poetry Anthony Procopio Ross Editor of Visual Art Korbin Jones

Content Assistants Kohl Moutray, Anna Bagoly, Angel Etima Ette-Umoh, Shandy Guffey Cover Art & Design Korbin Jones

Copyright 2018 Fearsome Critters All rights reserved


ta b l e o f c o n t e n t s Fiction

Pearse Anderson Leaving the Tall Society 84 Abbey Archer Therapy 71 David Travis Bland Bruce and the Toilet Paper Ballad 42 J. Bowers War Story 35 A.J. Cunder Fare L’Autostop 67 Andrew De Silva The Detroit Rewind 108 Jaclyn Hamer Three Minutes 125 Katie Krantz The Marble Girl Has Become a Party Trick 19 Travis Landhuis Taco Night 128 Melissa McCann Miracle Man 24 The Bayou’s Song 28 Christiana McClain No Idols or Gods 115 Jono Naito Pill Bottle 71 Brooke Randel When You Fall Through the Sidewalk Grate 136 Gry Ranfelt The Salamander 75

Nonfiction

McKenzie Caldwell The Missing Link 78 Kendal Dickson Erik 58 John Gillen John Can’t Hang Baby 132 Sarah Johnson Without Context 7 Holly Levett Neon & Vodka 8 Joseph Lezza The Simple Guide to Redefinition in Oslo, Norway 150 Corey Lof Ninety-Eight Years Old 2 Angelica Oluoch LUKUYU 90 Alyssa Oursler Boredom is a Luxury 95 John Pedersen Delivered 146 Garrett Pletcher The Last Year of Being Good 14 Greg Ross Bindings, Power Lines 102 Benjamin Selesnick Along the River of Separation 3 Laura Steiner Grammatical Distance 52


Poetry

Alaz Ada narcissus on a boat 60 Pazarlık 61 act two 62 Amy Bauer Paternal/Maternal 98 Mara Benowitz National Eulogy 138 “Thoughts & prayers” 139 Jeffrey Burghauser The Newborn is Driven Home 4 Violet Callis Felix Culpa 40 Priyam Goswami Choudhury genesis 100 elle chu self-portrait as a mound of roses 5 you’re on fire 5 Marlee Cox {Homebody} 48 {West of the Cul-de-Sac} 50 Caroline Dehart diary of an anorexic girl 125 Ryan Drendel On Our First Date 148 Meg Eden 9/11 poem 137 Elena Ender The mug my mom probably just got from Marshall’s back in the early ‘90s 54 Antony Fangary Inland Empire 133 Natalie Gallaher It’s Coming 66 Mónica Gomery Now we live together 77 Julia Guarch One More “Lived Through,” Not Lived 97 Zoe Hanna pushover 66 Ripley 66 Ashley Imlay our generation has had no great war* 97 Elena Jackendoff Something Rots 88 Sarah T. Jewell Getting Ready for Christ’s Party 82 Anastasia Jill Subversive 17 From: A Lolita 18 Catherine Jones The air in the room 1 Ben Jorisch This Thing of Fire 64 Merkin Karr Goodbyes Taste Like Kalopsia 34 Thoughts on Being a Witch 38 Lauren Klein Letter 32 Kara Knickerbocker Gauging Time 155 Noah Koob The Siting Age 81 What the Dani Leave Their Dead 82


Olivia Kressler t u r b u l e n c e 113 again: cyclical pain and healing 114 b r e a t h e 122 Susan L. Leary On This Date in History 26 John Leonard The Moth Suicides of Kentucky Failed to Make the News that August. 62 Kelley Lewis Donation 4 Brenna Lilly three homes 80 Sze Ying Lim My Seasons 10 Prayer of the Paralyzed 12 Playing Dumb 13 Frederick Livingston If I Were a Spider 87 Moon Sugar 104 Marisa Lucas Past Ruin 121 Robbie Masso At the Time of Writing This 120 Jonathan May The beginning of 38 seven essential household things 39 Sarah May A List of Excuses for Ghosting You 57 Modern Maternal 57 Jessica Mehta Satyavachan 22 The Heart Consumes Itself 22 Pickle Back 22 Ari L. Mokdad If Nothing Changed, There Would Never Be Butterflies 45 After the Israeli Army Burned Our Land, We Remember the Olives 130 Teresa Morse Copperhead 30 Jars 30 Molly Murray Body Snatcher 65 Kendra Nuttall Lo Siento 92 Tanner O’Neal On My Mother’s 54th Birthday 46 Akachi Obijiaku The Art of Sticking It Out 32 Eric Orosco Sunflowers 155 Iris Orpi Sacred Message, Rough Translation 25 Sophie Panzer The Do-Over 89 Costume 96 Prescriptions to Fill Before Moving to Your New Research Position in Antarctica 96


Molly Ellen Pearson narcissa 17 some days 17 Tyler Allen Penny MY THROAT SLIPS OFF THE PILLOW WHEN I SAY WE NEED 6 Bella Pori 1:42am 93 Angela Ramos Roadkill 89 Like Ivory 94 Gabriella Ray The New America 13 Felicia Sabartinelli HUMAN 126 Brandon Schaden Painted Sky 70 One Day 72 Joseph Serpico Kissing with Braces 139 Emily Shesh Other Ways to Endanger Yourself on Long Island 112 Sarah Simon core 106 Kaylie Sorensen Predator 155 Mary Spadoni Mutual Funds 9 Ayşe Tekşen A Prayer 95 Jordan Thornton On a Bicentennial 56 Learned Behavior 56 BoomSpeak 59 Mirko Vukoslavović We Burn Differently 33 The Smell of Almond 34 Whitney Walters Vis Major 74 Amy West Let the Night Hold You 140 Acquire Everything, Gain Nothing 144 Demi Wetzel Millennial Pink 83 Allegations of Abuse 121 Nathaniel Wilder Gravel-Washed 73

Visual Art

Kas Brady 3-2 147 Valentina Echarte 400 Lux 7 Federica Feliciangeli Former Asylum, L’Aquila 29 Via Pietralata, Roma 76 Alley, Friedrichstadt 121 Jonatan Fernandez El Culto 145


Heather Freitas Welcome to America 36 Adderall 65 Zoe Hanna Enlightenment 24 Save the Bees 24 Ileana Heinrich to be named 137 Liam Edward Talty-Johnson noise floor 135 Jury Judge Descent 18 Green on Green 63 Floral Bag 63 Maria Kalyagina My Firsts: a series 55 Robbie Masso He likes space 81 Tattoo Shop 88 Agoraphobia 127 Mau Moreno Respirar, pensar, superar 1 El Chico del Yuya 34 Él no sabía qué sentía 66 Inner 93 Maddie Murphy Artifact Detail 124 Milok Navarro Che Corazón 47 Let go of toxic people 101 10/10 131 Michael Oliveras Serenitatem 49 Incertitudo 56 Concordia 103 Chao 143 Silas Plum Two Masters 53 The Next Calamity 91 Matt Prater November III 72 November V 73 November IV 74 Dylan Scillia The Winds of Poseidon 23 Cara Siera Green Turtle 124 Shriram Sivaramakrishnan The Big Daddy 45 Conor Tierney Close 16 Mike 33 Eros #1 (Dylan Pierson) 94 Drake Truber Burr Oak 114


Mirko Vukoslavović Suburban Boy/Benjamin Bertram 69 Dreamer 111 Andrew Wrase Sour Times 23 Teenage Color 44


“The children now love luxury; they have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise. Children are now tyrants, not the servants of their households. They no longer rise when elders enter the room. They contradict their parents, chatter before company, gobble up dainties at the table, cross their legs, and tyrannize their teachers.� — misattributed to Socrates


The air in the room

Respirar, pensar, superar Mau Moreno

Catherine Jones

The air in the room is hot and still and one of us is dying blue veins meandering under paper white skin, eyelids a bruised purple everything is bright and out of focus, an overexposed photograph my tongue is very thick and too big for my mouth. I don’t want to fight, she whispers, her eyes closed but I do. I want to reach inside her and kill the demon myself I want to tear the world apart with my hands. It feels like you’re giving up, I say. I watch the world as if through a rain covered windowpane people move around me, but they are only holographic images and pass right through me. The air in the room is hot and still and one of us is crying. 1


Ninety-Eight Years Old Corey Lof

Ninety-eight years old. A point of pride amongst the family. “Ninety-eight years old.” But sitting here in this room, this hospital room, the faint light, the smell of fatal sickness thick in the air, the feeble sanitary cover up, mixing in, making worse, the hush of the life machines on two second rhythm—forced breath, clickrefill, forced breath—there is no dignity. No pride. The last of it gurgling through the tube that’s penetrating her nose, her brain, her throat. The event of its installation lingers in the room here with us. The tube. The screams and squirms and moans. Flashes of her writhing and fighting it off. Begging for this not to be. They rise up in full color. The sounds of struggle palpable. On site of the tube. On sound of the gurgling. Black liquid pumping up and out and into the machine. The loose flesh of her chin jiggles as she quietly approaches death. A subtle shake of her head, no. We, the family, the proud—“Ninety-eight years old. Can you believe it?”—in a half moon around her, stand, sit . . . staring. A face-to-face with mortality tends to turn faces to stone. The things that are said seem to be drawn not from the heart or sadness but from examples of things to be said. Cheap condolences. “She’s lived a long life.” Even earlier, when explaining why I was leaving the city to visit home, saying “my grandmother is dying” and all the responses being, sorry, ah sorry, I’m sorry to hear that, all I could think to say was, “It’s ok. She’s ninety-eight. She’s lived a long life.” What to say? I say hello to her at the urging of my aunt. “She’ll recognize you. You just have to lean in close to her face.” “No kisses though,” my uncle chimes in. “Yes. No kisses,” my aunt reaffirms. “She said that. She said, I’m done with kisses in this life.” Up close, in the heart of the sounds—the hush and clicks and beeps of the machines, the whispers of the family, unmasked sniffling of noses, the creak of shifting chairs, hard soles on hard linoleum, and in the hall: the squeak of runners and clipping of clipboards, the rolling of carts and pragmatic chatter of nurses all on the clock— it’s an echo-chamber of endings, a world of pains. I see the blood pulling away from her face. Her lips are white. 2

The edges of her eyelids, transparent. They sleepily lift, her eyelids do, under the weight of a morphine drip. “It’s me, Oma,” I say to slivers of cloudy blue. “She’s still there, you see?” my aunt pointing out her opening eyes. “Hi, Oma.” “Do you see? This is Corey. He came to say hello.” A skip in the pace of woeful shaking. A physical stutter. An attempted recognition. “Hi,” I say again. Her eyelids close and I step away to make room for my brother, my sister, my sister’s new boyfriend. “And this is Curt.”—“And this is Leanne.”—“And this is Leanne’s new boyfriend, Jacob. He’s very happy to meet you.” The poor fucker. In the hall upon our arrival my uncle grabbed him in a sort-of-head-lock. “And who’s this?” he asked and sniffed the top of his head. “You always have to smell the cranium. That’s how you know if it’s a good one.” The poor fucker; he tried his best to laugh. In the room, though, it’s all polite smiles and Hi, Oma—real slow and annunciated like Hell-low-Ohhh-maahh. I sink into the single leather visitor chair. It’s positioned between all the hard-plastic, steel-legged chairs—the temporary chairs. For the odd popular patient. I imagine the chairs being brought out and into the room. Maybe on a cart. In stacks. Then being pulled apart. The sound of steal against steal. Plastic on plastic. And I imagine that soon they’ll be stacked up again and put on a cart and brought out of the room. Stored somewhere. A closet maybe. Until the next time they are needed. Xi sits on the arm of the chair without reaching out to me with her eyes or her hands. Having lived through several of these situations together she knows to leave me my space, a notion my aunt and uncle pick up on only after narrating every introduction. “We’ll go down to the visitors lounge and give you guys a minute.” They pass through the faintly lit room, the mood lighting of the machines—“Okay, Oma? We’ll be back.”—out into the white wash of the florescent lit hallway, the sound of which, that florescent hum, my mind zeros in on, trying to block out the gurgling, the hush and click, the beep, the beep. I tap my fingers on the leather of the chair, but find myself unable to escape the rhythm of the machines. “It’s been like this for four days,” my mom says to me. I


nod. “You spoke to her over the phone last Sunday, right?” I nod again. “She was doing so much better then.” I nod and look back toward the hospital bed. Final scenes of a life I only know fragments of. So many embellished stories and stories untold. There’s that photo of her where she looks like a teenager. Round face, dark hair. Taken about the time she immigrated here. She already had four kids, one more in her belly. My father came ten years after that. My father’s mother. “And how’s Dad?” I manage. “Oh, he can’t handle this. He runs away first chance he gets . . . This’ll be my third night here.” My other uncle comes out of the corner of the room where he’s been standing quietly and introduces himself to Jacob. “Nice to meet you. Hopefully next time will be under better circumstances.” The poor fucker, Jacob. He smiles and agrees. We don’t know what to do with the silence, how to say what we might want to say. Can’t even approach it in this private room so public. My uncle goes into whispered explanation: “. . . a blockage in the intestines . . .” the black fluid, the gurgling “. . . nothing can get down . . . she hasn’t eaten in five days . . . we’re basically waiting for her to starve to death . . . it sounds terrible to say.” The morphine drip, the salt water IV. We break out into a chorus of what ifs. Whispered, but not enough if she really can hear us—if she really knows we’re here. I stare stone-faced at her in the bed. The chin shaking. Gurgle, hum, hush. I tap my fingers on the chair. I am so much my father’s son. I want to run. “We don’t have to stay long,” my mom says. “Not much is going to change here.” She’s talking to me. Looking at me. “Do you want to leave?” Always asking me. Why is up to me? What do you want me to say? What to say? Yeah, let’s hit it. This party’s dead. I ignore her questions. Start running through what I might want to say. Goodbye. Goodbye. I’m sorry. I don’t know how to dig deep. Don’t know what would be there. I guess I love you. I do love you. You’ve always been good to me, to us. Too good probably. All those Coca-Colas and cookies. I remember playing hide-and-seek in your basement. I remember that old house. The radio. The T.V. Always on. Your stacks of books. The story of you getting struck by lightning in the backyard. I remember your

husband and his funeral twenty years ago. You stood beside the gravesite where you’ll lie soon. How soon? How are you really feeling? Are you holding on or are we somehow holding on to you? You were so strong then, standing there. I don’t remember seeing you cry. I cried. You put your arm around me. I was only seven. Feelings came easier then. The only feeling I have now is one of discomfort. This is uncomfortable seeing you here like this, seeing me, seeing you. Can we skip this? Should I have skipped this? Like I skipped most of the last ten or more years? Is this insulting to you? My being here? Is this too little too late? This. This. Because this’ll be with me forever. In full color. Full sound. I get up. Leave my mother with her questions. Walk past Xi. Past my uncle, Curt, Leanne, Jacob. I stand beside the bed. I pass my hand through her hair. Her eyes open. Just barely. Little slivers. Little slivers of blue. So far away. I love you. I want to say good bye. “I want to say goodbye.” And that I love you and thank you. “And if I don’t see you again, then . . . thank you. Thank you for everything.” Thank you. “Thank you, Oma.” Her eyelids flutter. She struggles to keep them open. I feel mine fluttering. Filling. I’m afraid to cry. Why am I afraid to cry here? So public. I leave the room and wait in the hall while everyone says goodbye, one at a time. We catch the elevator together. It’s quiet except for a hum. There’s a nurse with us. She leans against the wall with a clipboard in her hands, flipping through the papers. The sound of paper, flipping. Curt and I wait outside while my mother, Xi, Leanne and Jacob figure out how to pay for parking. It’s raining. We walk through the rain to the car. It’s over there. That’s not it. It’s over there. My mother in the car: “Well, I’m glad you guys came. I didn’t think you would.” “Of course we would,” Curt says. “Well, I didn’t know. It’s far and I know you’re busy.” When we get to my parents’ house we sit around the table in the kitchen. We drink wine and we talk about Leanne and Jacob’s upcoming trip to Costa Rica. Curt and I give her advice on where to go. Xi urges her not to buy roundtrip tickets, saying she’ll regret it, that she should keep going. Nicaragua, all of Central America. We’ve all been down there at some point. Curt and I while we were in our early twenties. A trip I remember. Full color. Full sound. 3


Donation

The Newborn is Driven Home

They cracked you open like an egg, poured out the yolk with a clean strike, left your shell whole.

Macerating through its sleeve, a newborn affirms through retching hips that the spheres of God & Man still heave into something like eclipse. The event of labour must stimulate a man’s doubt—just before it requires he believe.

Kelley Lewis

They took your pieces like glass, picked up the broken edges in their bloody hands and glued you together. Your shards fit, good as new. The contents from your hard exterior spilled into the cold metal tray: a liver, two kidneys, two lungs. I held your hand, felt for the creases in your fingers and the ridges like glacial grooves that made your prints. Your fingers were creased. The ridges were etched in your skin. But I could feel the cracks where the yolk poured out.

4

Jeffrey Burghauser

God curses on our own terms, but He blesses only on His own. After all, the Decalogue affirms that the most a man has shown of a filial regard is mere honor. Though, when jarred by presentiments of shameless worms, we presume His total love. It would make so much more sense to me were we all invited to believe that creation’s currency is (now & forever hence) unambitious tolerance— a bleak & renewable reprieve. Theology’s basic chore is to persuade us that Home is something other than the thing that wore the forgettable & numb burdens of the commonplace. “The calligraphy of Grace,” it affirms, “assigned you something more.”


self-portrait as a mound of roses

you’re on fire

at first, i am growing, growing roots clawing the dirt in firm excitement. the time has come to violently bloom while others ask who’s sipped all the water— it’s me, it’s me—i’m sorry

people who are made of flames wear what they’ve destroyed, let the rubble sit

elle chu

sometimes i have to stay wrapped around the wrists of coy girls reaching out shyly for warm hands, or attend a funeral tucked in the breast pocket of black suits over beating hearts, or stay static in a vase. and i hate this the most because the more i bloom, the more heads i leave rolling

elle chu

on their sleeves. a girl with crumbs of mirror in her palm can’t be seen. only reflects the buried faces around her. she doesn’t know when—or if—they’ll fall, but when she brushes off the glass, the girl holds her hands up to you, heavy with laceration.

5


MY THROAT SLIPS OFF THE PILLOW WHEN I SAY WE NEED Tyler Allen Penny

to stop these so-called performances of empty mannequins. Two-body engines purr, bad blood burning, then lay idle underneath blankets in the after-quiet. We end when the stiffening of morning begins. Voiceless in hushed-eye conversations, questions of tomorrow cloud within my mouth. In a breathy roar, a talk-later roll-over, a slight twitch, you press against my lips. Outside the window, the answers fly south for winter, eyes closed to the sun.

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Without Context Sarah Johnson

And how are you meant to explain this? You’ve already come too far not to, told Emily you had a secret you’d only ever told Annalee, that you knew you would never tell your parents, something different from your sexuality, but intricately connected. You could tell her about your time with Hannah, who whisper-asked if you didn’t want to take your shirt off because of something to do with your gender, or in JC Penny’s with Katy as she stood in a button-down and could pass so easily. You don’t want to look like a dyke—you mean no offense. You don’t say this. Shakily, you tell Emily them is like the comfortable sweater you need to throw out but haven’t yet, and she doesn’t really understand, you know. How could she? She doesn’t ask for an explanation, but you feel one bubbling out of your throat, somewhere deep within a truth cauldron that’s been brewing ever since you first thought sometimes I wish I were a man. You don’t want to be a man. You tell her you cannot fit in a binary. After you broke up with Hannah, she called you gender neutral and it struck you hard, stirred that cauldron until you laid in bed and stared at the ceiling like it’d answer questions you couldn’t even bring yourself to ask, and you texted her thank you, but she also didn’t understand, and you still didn’t want to explain. She’d only meant in the way you dressed, but it’d slipped over your pliable form like a new, slinky dress. This is so much more than just that. Emily doesn’t realize, you don’t think, but that’s okay because after three glasses of wine you’ve found the words, and inside your rolling boil, you pull yourself off the burner. It’s time to rest. 400 Lux Valentina Echarte

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Neon & Vodka Holly Levett

Concept: I put on my best rain boots and take your hand and we go out dancing the town, leaping over puddles and the streetlights gleaming on the pavement and on our hair. We are not afraid anymore. Concept: You stop leaving voice mails on my phone because you are a liar. Concept: I break your windshield and slash your tires, tearing up your ride the way you tore up my heart. Concept: We steal art together because we are also art. Concept: We finally find joy instead of only heartbreak. There are no perfect places, you realize. You are young, impossibly young, standing on the knife’s edge between childhood and adulthood, your hair shining in the light and your hands quivering. You are too young to drink but you do. You have just stepped out of another party full of neon and vodka and outside it is raining and the night is green, filled with the smell of forgotten secrets and lonely hearts and inside your lover is wasted and the people you thought were your friends are laughing, laughing, laughing. But it is not real. None of it is real—the glass is fake and the laughs are fake and the joy is fake and there will never be perfection—none that you can achieve. You throw your glass to the asphalt and it shatters in the night, out of sight. You let the rain run down your hair, soaking you. There is no perfection, not here. But you already knew that, didn’t you, before you ever tried to pretend it wasn’t true. You knew it when you stood by the coffin of your father; you knew it when you sobbed in the hospital room as your grandmother slipped the bonds of Earth; you knew it when your best friend came home shaking after her date; you knew it when you reached for the bottle because you couldn’t cope anymore. This world is all green neon and glow sticks and vodka and Van Gogh paintings but Van Gogh ended up dead from a self-inflicted gunshot, and so as you sit in 8

the rain outside another party; you know you are lying to yourself. Concept: It never stops raining and we softly drown in the deluge and all our darkness is washed away and I do not have to hold you as you throw up in another toilet at another party. You have kissed so many people that you can’t remember all their names, but you know that at the end of the day, you will be left here, on the steps of a party in the rain, because they do not love you. You never will be anything more than an inconvenience—falling to shreds, unable to keep the alcohol down, unable to be enough. If you traipse through museums, you will ruin the paintings; if you dance, you will destroy the mood with your confessions; if you get dinner, you will meltdown in the restaurant and will have to be taken home. You are impossibly young and impossibly old at the exact same time and perhaps love is a lie; perhaps there was never such a thing as love. Perhaps it was a dream created by someone insane in the head; perhaps it was made up by Corporate America to sell more diamonds. The rain pours down on you, washing off even your water-proof mascara. Your heart is supposed to be waterproof as well—water-proof, hundred-proof, shatterproof—but you lied to all your lovers about that, the same way you lied about your age. Your heart is shattered and ruined, falling apart just as you are falling apart. Concept: I go back in time and become someone you could actually love. Of course they don’t remember you—it is only you who remember them. Your memory is as clear as the vodka and you remember everything from all your affairs. You remember the feel of lips on yours and the way they flashed their dark eyes at you from the other side of the taxi; you remember their hand on yours and your pulse flickering like lighting in your chest. The memories roll when you shut your eyes, edited perfectly together, spooling out like film for the Academy. The lovers reach and caress and kiss. Love. What a bunch of bullshit. Concept: We stop breaking people’s hearts. You are never able to leave, never able to walk away


quickly when you see the end coming. You simply stand in the rubble as impending doom rushes towards you like a falling asteroid. Maybe you open your arms to the sky, accepting it. It’s all fake, this glitzy and glittery world you live in. There is no happiness; the people inside don’t love you; maybe the new lover will kiss you when you’re both drunk, but the morning will come and you know with silent inevitability that their first thought upon waking next to you will be what the hell was I thinking? This world is full of liars and heartbreakers and then you—seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, too young to drink but not too young to sob at a party in the rain. Concept: You love me for me, not for who I pretend to be or who I look like or what I do. Your entire life has been sensationalized, scandalized. It is dripping—pouring—with melodrama and lies. No one has ever loved you for who you are. And all you’ve ever wanted was someone like that— someone who took your hand and wanted to spend time with you, not objectify you. Someone who wanted you for you, not for your name or you money or you power. Someone who understood that you were art; someone who didn’t just walk by your painting in the museum, but stood in front of it. But, in your neon-and-vodka world, where the hell are you going to find someone like that, who will come up to you in the rain and hold your hand and tell you that they would ditch a party for you? Beyond your neon-and-vodka world, where the pavement is covered in broken glass and the people inside are dancing with glow sticks in hot darkness with illegal drugs in clear plastic bags tucked inside their purses. Beyond the green darkness, beyond the slanting rain, beyond your own tears. Beyond your own limited perspective. Concept: I realize that there is love beyond this shattered-glass of a world because there is, and it is transcendent. You do not go back into the party. You kick off your heels and walk the streets in the rain, for miles and miles, until you are cold and freezing and shaking. For a long, long way there is nothing but green and neon, but eventually you reach the edge of the city.

And then the rain stops, and the sun is shining down on you, and you are standing on a plain with wildflowers and birds singing overhead, and there is smoke drifting skyward from the chimneys of a tiny hamlet. You make your way toward it, the sun drying your dress, and once you get there, the people offer you bread and a place to stay and you feel it—a love beyond words and beyond stars and beyond definition. Reality: I forget the way you made me feel, burning my memories to ash and escaping into the meadows and the glens, the church bells echoing in the glittering spring air. Reality: I leave it all behind—the city, you hand in mine, your glittering eyes and the vodka burning my throat. Reality: I finally realize that I am art. Reality: I find joy. Reality: I do not look back. —The End—

Mutual Funds Mary Spadoni In the end I realized he was just using me for sex. That’s ok I was just using him for airline miles.

9


My Seasons Sze Ying Lim

To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. —Ecclesiastes 3:1

Reflected beauty is but distorted fragments tentatively cradled in my palms. I often wonder if the way they glimmer—so fragilely—is what keeps me fascinated with them. That, at a twist of my fingers, I can catch a glimpse of the old wisteria tree

old but majestic, still standing tall in the backyard of my childhood home. Or perhaps, at a flick of my wrist,

I can taste the treat (of the poor people) my mother made for me and my brother as children:

tapioca flour and water, microwaved till transparent, brown sugar dissolved in a pot for added sweetness.

Or perhaps, turning a piece at a forty-degree angle, I can hear the last words of my grandmother telling me

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You are all grown up now. A little too chubby weight-wise, teeth a little too crooked. Why don’t you visit an orthodontist?

Or perhaps, if I hold them up to my nose as if they’re petals, I can recall the exact smell of the stale air in the plane

the very moment it touched down at the ATL, my forehead pressed into the seat in front of me as tears fell—ones

of relief, hope, and loneliness. Or perhaps, at a light shuffle, I can feel my oldest cousin’s hand on my back, teaching me how to breathe again as I watch the conveyer belt carry my grandmother’s coffin into the flames. Fragmented beauty is but a blurry reflection of things lost in the unforgiving gust of the seasons—glimmering until all go unto one place; all are of dust, and all turn to dust again.

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Prayer of the Paralyzed Sze Ying Lim

O Lord, before I start please forgive my words—words that are shallow and vain, riddled with a kind of pride and pain that I don’t understand. They say I am made in Your image but they must be mistaken because if it’s true, how could I explain those fingerprints on me? If it is true that I am created with a purpose, why am I left without control over what is mine? Why has it been allowed that those hands remain unharmed while I fight against my mind over and over and over again at night? –wondering over self-worth, and how easy it would be to just end it all. Lord, where have You been for three years? I was a child standing by the gate you forgot to shut. I waited for You until I couldn’t anymore. While You were away someone made a present of fear and left it at my doorstep. I was forced to open the gift. Those hands made me do it. Whistlers on the street freeze me in my steps, their sticky high notes garroting me ‘til I stop breathing. The ropes linger around my neck until they pass, snatching away my mobility and I stumble back through the broken doors, drunk on hysteria. It would be so easy to just end it all if only I can control what is mine. I am sometimes grateful for this immobility, because no matter how much You’ve betrayed me I wouldn’t want to upset You. But how can I go on? When You left I had my trust torn apart and when those hands finally left I only had half of myself to look at. Looking over the edge of the balcony I used to love, I start counting down from a hundred. I wait

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Playing Dumb

The New America

My eyes follow the sudsy water gliding down the ceramic, I see the steam escaping and rising from the faucet, the plate, my hand. I dry my hand and stare at the ugly green towel—green like the sweater of my sister’s husband, like the grass in the garden, like my hand-me-down shoes. Your daughter is so demure the neighbors tell my mother who smiles and says I’m sure yours is better. It’s always the same old comparison between a vase and a wallpaper. My eyes are drawn to the speck of dust on the floor in the middle of the dining room, it’s a shade darker than the parquet floor, I should clean it up I tell myself, I stand, not realizing my brother is talking to me. I don’t know what’s wrong, with me, with them, with everything— these days it’s getting harder and harder to hear and understand words. My head is always bowed not because I’m “demure” or respectful but because it’s easier to not see not hear not think. It’s simply easier to keep my head low than to raise it and pretend I don’t understand why my sister’s husband is always staring, why my mother is always scrubbing the floors, why my hand is always drawn to the drawer my mother keeps her knives.

Our houses are tin cans that separate sardines who try to swim their way toward the American Dream.

Sze Ying Lim

Gabriella Ray

What does it mean to swim upstream when any viewpoint you can take has a label? How can society function as a whole when broken families and broken people are considered to be the new stable? It seems like the Millennial mantra is “do it if you are able,” ‘cause when adulting gets too hard, you can always rely on Mom & Dad to hover like helicopters and save you. To read and to think is now considered lame; apathy and ignorance is what will bring fame. America, have you forgotten your face and your name?

13


The Last Year of Being Good Garrett Pletcher

The summer after I graduated high school I went to my first house party. A childhood friend, Matt, was throwing the party because his parents were out of town for the weekend. That meant we could do whatever we wanted as long as the house was still standing when they came back. The house was large, two-stories, and surrounded by fields. There was a pool in the backyard, with nighttime lights and a diving board. We had plenty of alcohol even though all of us were under 21. Matt had a guy buy the alcohol for him and then didn’t invite him to the party, which was an asshole move in hindsight. At the time, I didn’t think much of it, probably because I was a teenager and teenagers are proven assholes. I brought cigarettes because I was 18 and that was the coolest thing I could contribute to the party, and also because I followed a guy on Twitter who I thought was cute and he smoked. Or he at least took pictures with cigarettes. I brought Marlboro Menthol 100s—the exact kind that he smoked. Menthols are fucking terrible by the way—as I learned that night—but still, I felt that I had achieved something. That I was becoming someone of my own making, my own decisions. Growing up, I spent most of my time doing church things. My dad was a youth pastor at the First Baptist Church in town. He led a bible study every Wednesday; organized community activities for the youth group; traveled to camps, conferences, and concerts—anything that would keep teenagers engaged. My family began moving early on Sunday mornings to get to the church service, after which was Sunday School, then home for lunch, a short nap, and back at church for a small-group bible study and the night service. On Wednesdays, there was dinner and activities for kids, teenagers, and adults. As I got older, I was also involved in Bible Club at school, which met once a week. Then there were church fellowships, and bible study dinners, weddings and funerals of church members, mission days, and various meetings. These were things my dad, as a minister, had to attend, and I, as his kid, subsequently often attended. Being a preacher’s kid came with its own set of challenges. Everyone expected me to be “good” all the 14

time. I felt that if I wasn’t “good,” it would never be forgotten. The problem with being “good,” though, is that everyone has a different idea of what “good” means. But what did “good” mean to me? It meant always questioning what I was doing and who was around to see me do it, and what they would think, and who they would tell. Ultimately, “good” was whatever appeased those around me. I spent so much time working to live up to everyone’s definition of “good” that my own identity was left halfformed, buried within, unexamined. I wrapped myself in a cocoon of goodness and it would take years to unravel. There is comfort in evangelical Christianity because you are presented questions and then given answers. The answers make sense and often have lengthy, complex theological explanations attached to them. Everything is known. The world turns in black and white, in right and wrong, in good and bad. The Bible gives all the answers (as interpreted by sound Baptist theology) and cannot be argued with. If you don’t like what it has to say, you take it up with God. There’s pride and privilege in this “don’t question anything” ideology. If you were to ask me now, I’d tell you that questioning should be central to anyone’s faith, but questioning means doubt and doubt, in the Baptist world, is not very welcome. At church, everyone seemed to think the world’s problems were solved, but I can’t remember ever thinking the same. I had a natural curiosity about the world but it was hard to see outside the isolated environment in which I lived. My life was carefully curated and packaged with a sheen of perfection. If I wanted to watch a movie, we checked Plugged In Online, a website created by Focus on the Family for parents to screen movies, TV shows, and albums for unwholesome content like sex, foul language, drugs, even rude jokes. As I got older, I would look up the most “adult” movies or TV show I could think of to see what dangerous treasures they held. Even if I couldn’t see the movie, there was a thrill in reading about the explicit sex scenes or fifty F-words uttered. My parents worked hard to expose me only to what they deemed appropriate. To my parents’ credit, I think, there were no hard and fast rules. Each piece of media was judged on its own terms so that nothing was off the table without first being given a chance. However, there was one thing that couldn’t be so easily curated: the internet. It could be controlled to an


extent, sure, but increasingly that became impossible— both because I got my own laptop (a hand-me-down from my dad) and because the internet was evolving into the center of everything. With the internet I began to discover life on my own and what I discovered was that life wasn’t as figured out as I had been led to believe. After graduating, I noticed my parents let me stay out later and seemed to ask fewer questions. Even though I would be living at home when I started college come fall, my parents acknowledged that I should be given more freedom. They didn’t ask any questions when I told them I was staying at Matt’s. Pre-graduation me was never so lucky. My parents knew what happened at house parties and besides, what would people think if they saw the preacher’s kid at one? That’s why it was my first party. On the night of the party, the weather was perfect. Days in a Florida summer can be miserable—everything drips with sweat and the humidity returns every May, ratcheting up the intensity until you’re looking for any excuse to stay inside. The moisture in the air drenches everything—sticking clothes to bodies, hair to faces, grass to legs. Bugs run wild, set free by the wetness of the Earth to do as they please. Summer days are a visceral, miserable experience, but if you’re lucky, something magical may happen at night. As the sun moves out of sight and the sky darkens, the air begins to cool, just a bit. Just enough. If summer days are hell, then a summer night may just be heaven, and this summer night was definitely heaven. Outside, Matt’s dogs chased us around the yard, excited by all the new faces. Matt hooked up a phone to the pool house speakers and a heavy bass line began shaking the wooden walls. Someone rummaged through the fridge in the pool house and reappeared with Smirnoff Ices. “Those are my parents’ drinks,” Matt said, but reached for the first one, popping the lid. He shrugged. “Hopefully they won’t notice.” We took the drinks with us to the pool, sipping and splashing around. Eventually, we made our way back inside. I don’t remember how much we drank, but it was enough that I led a sing-along at the piano of Miley Cyrus’s “We Can’t Stop.” I was obsessed with that song. The video for it depicted a somewhat surreal house party. Just as the

chorus hits, fake pink blood squirts out of a hand with the knuckles pulled back, as if the fingers were cut off. In the next shot, mannequin fingers sit on the counter in a pool of pink as a girl smiles at the camera. Hands roast marshmallows over lighters stuck in a candelabra. Miley licks a doll that looks vaguely like her in the swimming pool. She stalks through the hallway with a giant coat and wild glare in her eyes, a taxidermied animal in one hand and another being tugged along behind her. A man eats a sandwich of money. The video seemed like Miley’s declaration of independence. She was telling everyone that she could do whatever the fuck she wanted, which seemed to include everything that was bizarre, sexual, and inappropriate. The video gave me a rush whenever I watched it. Maybe I didn’t want to be Miley, exactly, but I wanted the freedom extolled in the video. I pounded the chords on the piano as everyone shouted the lyrics as loud as possible. We sang and chugged our Smirnoff Ice, happy that for this brief moment in time we didn’t have to exist in a world of pasts and futures, but only the present. Savannah, my best friend, added her own drunken runs and riffs as she swayed beside me on the piano bench. Only months ago, we’d tried to date. I don’t know why— by that time I was well aware that I was gay. Maybe deep down I thought if I gave it one last try, I could be fixed. I’d decide that—hey—I actually do like girls. Savannah and I would marry, find a nice home in Chipley, and settle down with two happy kids. My parents would be happy and my church would be happy. It would be perfect, safe, and most importantly: good. After two months of weird flirting, a couple of dates to the movies, and a prom proposal, I texted to tell her that it wasn’t going to work out. This was the shittiest way imaginable to end things, but as has been well established, teenagers are assholes. I realized that I was really fucking gay and I had to get out as soon as possible. There was a month or so of little interaction between us, circling around each other in choir and lunches with friends so that we didn’t have to speak directly to each other. I think we both knew why I called it off so suddenly, but to talk about it would make it real, and I wasn’t ready for that. We moved on in record time—both deciding, I guess, that our friendship was more important. Plus, it was too late to find new dates for prom. On prom night, we took pictures on a street side in Panama City Beach where a woman let 15


down her car window and congratulated us on getting married. It was only then that I realized Savannah was in a white dress. We gave each other a knowing look and laughed while my mom swooned at the idea of us getting married. Now we sang together at the piano as if all of that had taken place decades before. Matt pulled down a bottle of whiskey from a kitchen cabinet and insisted that we all take a shot. I agreed, far too confident in my shot-taking abilities. The whiskey burned in my throat and exploded back out onto the floor as I rushed towards the sink. Savannah ran over to me with an eggplant, giggling. We sunk to the floor and snapped a selfie, the eggplant held between us like a prize. (Yes, an eggplant. The easy metaphor here doesn’t escape me.) In the picture, our hair is disheveled and half-wet from being in the water, our smiles just a little too big, and our bloodshot eyes are a little too wide. We look like we recently got hooked on meth, Savannah said later. It’s a picture we bring up regularly, because it’s always good for a laugh. The truly wild thing is that I can’t remember why we took the picture. I can’t remember what was said or how we ended up on the floor or where the eggplant even came from. The picture has taken on a life of its own. It’s not just a picture, but a placeholder for the feelings of that night, an easy reference for who we were then and how we lived. Around 2 AM, the party began to wind down. Matt and a friend lounged on the couch, another person passed out on the floor. Savannah and I found ourselves outside on a porch swing, sharing a Black & Mild, in a haze. Everything that wasn’t in our immediate radius seemed to disappear. All that was left were the stars, the sound of nighttime bugs, and us, as if we were the only people on Earth. Savannah pushed slowly with her feet so that the swing moved back and forth, back and forth, like when I was young and my mom would rock me to sleep. We didn’t talk for a while, listening to the creak of the old swing. I began thinking about graduation and the future, the friend beside me and the secrets I’d kept hidden. Suddenly, I felt the need to tell her everything. Was I hypnotized by the gentle sway? Or was it just that I’d spent so long inside a cocoon of my own making that another minute felt unbearable? 16

I opened my mouth to speak but nothing came out. Once a secret is told, everything shifts. You involve another person, who may or may not like the secret, or may or may not keep it. Everything could fall apart. Maybe you want everything to fall apart. Just tell me. I know you want to. Just say it, she slurred, a lilt in her voice. I considered the irony—that the girl I thought I could date a few months before would be the first person to know the truth. Tell me. And I said the words I had never spoken out loud before. My lungs felt empty, as if the oxygen had escaped with the words. My hands shook with both excitement and fear. I looked over at her. For just a second, nothing. And then she smiled and nodded. I know. I know.

Close Conor Tierney


Subversive

narcissa

My mouth is inflamed with a shade of purple held down with the greed of a troublemaker;

i spend my spare hours bouncing off the reflective surfaces of others. back at your rented flat i told you nothing is inherently degrading, then sucked you off like it was no big deal. it all smelled so concise & lush & relevant — pink light buzzing across the horizon plants on your windowsill tender & unfed. i need to improve myself just enough to be noticed. i pay my face to mirrors like a mortgage, fall back on well-worn joy machines: hot bath, flat white, yellow flowers. you used to give me advice like: voyeurism is in the eye of the beholder, & now when i come i say my name very distinctly, crush it between my lips like a plastic straw. o come back, love & we’ll look at the view & die happy. i want to prefer you to anyone even myself.

Anastasia Jill

I was born and will die this way, in an allegro of dynamite. I am always sitting, my back turned in askance. Everyone can see my skin: a mountain sculpted from bad posture, shoulders scrunched like a used paper towel, The nape of my neck holds broken wire hair, hydrating my brain with electrolytes— Those wires, through, reach the front of my knees, still sore from carpet borne promotions. My backside has no dignity. My lips are inexorably royal. I stay turned down, and remain that way. In this silence, I will learn to succeed.

Molly Ellen Pearson

some days

Molly Ellen Pearson you think of your saliva as a person al possession i like to chew when i’m not hungry sleep wide awake picture everything i’ve had how little they matter some days i know you only through filters a stranger’s lipstick wrapped round the mouth of my glass so unlike days when our outermost edges touched & around us the gingery air felt profound & nostalgic we stared till our eyes dissolved in a chlorine of mixed lives & your clothes grew back each night sweetheart i’ll level with you i am a carrion eater your meat was an incident almost like wings so low & close it repulsed me yeah i’ve been wanting to thank you for staying in touch

17


From: a Lolita Anastasia Jill

I wish I’d known enough to break rusted heart lenses— colorblind light still makes rose gold dust of my life. I come from a long line of women taught to swallow earth’s shadow; my mother was one, so was her mother, probably hers— They don’t hate the weather, but I will always blame the storm that makes cycles turning over yowls from lives broken, so young. I swore he wouldn’t break me too, but I have no say in memory. This is no imagination. The rain? It stops with me.

Descent Jury Judge

18


The Marble Girl Has Become a Party Trick Katie Krantz

I was there when the Marble Girl died. It wasn’t as dramatic as people think, but it’s still a story to tell at parties after a glass or two of champagne. My new roommate has asked for the story a thousand times, and I always tell her the same version. It happened on a Friday. We were sent on location together by our agency, forced yet again to share a tiny room. The motel room in upstate New York was even smaller than our studio apartment and slightly dirtier. After a full day of shooting, Liv wanted to go to a house party some of the guys had heard of from friends two towns over. My feet were swollen from heels too high, and nothing felt sweeter than the embrace of a one star, ambiguously stained motel bed at the time. Every time I laid down, she grabbed my hand and pulled me back onto my toes. I’ll never know why she wanted to go to that house party so badly. “Donn, please come with me. You know I hate going to parties alone,” she begged, pulling my party dress out of the closet. She laid it across my bed, tangling it up in the sheets. I gave in quickly, my resolve sinking like gluedtogether popsicle sticks masquerading as a boat. Pulling the dress on over my pajama pants, I nodded silently. She squealed and buzzed around the room, an excited puppy with new playtime. I saw her dressing by accident. Her skin was bruised, purple roses blooming on her knees. When she saw me looking she tried to tug down the hem of her dress to cover them. “Trying to hide your photographer blowjob knees from the Versace shoot? It’s not working,” I teased. She laughed like it was simply a joke, but tugged her dress down a few inches further when she thought I wasn’t looking. Her feet floated above the floor on sparkling heels. Her twenties-style dress looked as though it should sound like a chandelier when she walked. The only sound it actually made was a swoosh as she dramatically spun while claiming the bathroom for makeup. When I first roomed at the agency’s apartment after they imported me from Florence, she took to calling

me “greenie.” The green satin that stretched over my hips reminded me of her teasing, pulling my hair over cereal. I would have done anything to prove myself to her: drinking bottles of liquor, flashing old men at a red light, working with the most off-putting, sinister photographers. One time I found myself shot as a naked Ophelia, only flowers floated above my body as clothing. It made the cover. Nothing was off limits; from the moment I saw her, I wanted desperately to be already worn, already mean, already wise. As months passed, I’d had enough of bitter sins. “Enough already. Let me in.” I knocked on the cracked bathroom door. It swung open and I let myself in. She had already covered half of her face in heavy colors, the lining on her eyes like melted coal. There was something skeletal about her collarbones against the dress’s straps, something lost about those blue eyes peering through the black makeup. I believe that she stole the bathroom to use my eyeliner because she has always told me how she thinks that black is too stark against her pale skin. We tottered into a cab on our heels. The entire way, she texted the boys to make sure that we were going to the right address. I was in the group chat, too, but I just turned my phone on silent and watched the road go by. The stars were stronger here than the city. More beautiful. I hadn’t been in rural New York before. It made me sad, abandoned barns and houses with gaping fronts and decaying boards like crooked teeth. The shoot had been in one, glossy clothes against rotting wood. I felt drowned in the rows of fences. Going forward was sinking further into nowhere, depth measured by white, plastic slats. The cab pulled into the neighborhood. White fences and abandoned barns gave way to cookie cutter houses even more unsettling. With an open wall, you can see inside a broken barn. Beautiful houses all look the same. You never know what’s inside. It could be a loving family of four. It could be a serial killer. It could be a raging house party, but that we could identify by the rainbow lights and pounding music spilling through the window fixtures. The two boys came out to greet us. Laurens and Maurits. Dutch. I had met them on shoots before. Laurens looked like a lanky corpse in a motorcycle jacket, and Liv and Maurits ran off together to kiss sometimes. I don’t really remember what he looked like. 19


They led us inside. The not-a-couple slithered off into the tentacle mass of swirling limbs. Laurens let me hold onto his arm like a little girl at a dance. He knew I didn’t want to be there. Sometimes, during the shoot, he would let me ride on his back to rest my feet when they didn’t bring chairs to locations with dirty floors. He never expected anything for it. “How are you tonight, Donatella?” he asked, leaning in close to my ear. His breath wasn’t too hot. His accent was thick and heavy, like a warm curry sauce poured over freshly cooked fish. “I’m here,” I said, my accent thick and rolling, like the waves lapping against the buildings of Venice. I tried to grin, but just looked like a dog showing its teeth. Laurens laughed. We stood together on our phones in the corner, refusing drinks and dances. No one ever asked twice. I eventually came to the conclusion that torn jeans and sweaty t-shirts fear satin and black leather. Or are at least slightly ambivalent toward us. They can tell that we are not from here. When Maurits and Liv came back, she no longer had lipstick. Her eye makeup had begun to slide off of the right side of her face and onto his. Laurens and I made empty eye contact. They wanted us to smoke something with them at the Graniteville quarry. Maurits had picked the baggy up from a friend in the crowd and he wouldn’t repeat what it was louder, no matter how many times I asked. I think it was supposed to be marijuana. I don’t really like how that stuff makes me hungrier, but Liv grabbed my hand again and nodded. She tugged on me like she had tugged me around her head and nodded so vigorously I thought her head would pop off like an abused bobble head. Her hair shivered around her shoulders. The four of us called another cab, and we piled in. Laurens in the front, giving the driver directions from his phone, and me, Liv, and Maurits in the back. I pretended not to see his hand slide up the inside of her thigh. The countryside was much more comforting to look at, anyway. The quarry was chained off, the chain-link fence uninviting. Laurens had to tip the driver double to get him to pull up and leave us there. Liv and I tossed our shoes over and had the boys boost us to climb. As she went over, a piece of fringe caught on the fence and tore 20

off the bottom two inches of her dress. I expected her to get upset, but she just laughed. “Shows you the quality of twenty-dollar fabric, doesn’t it?” she giggled. She put the thin strip around Maurits’ neck like a shimmery scarf. “Let’s get crossed!” Liv began to dance. My lovely roommate, twirling again in that dress, asking it, and us, to orbit her. She hummed as she moved, gracefully weaving around rocks to save her bare feet. Maurits was too captivated by her slow, seductive movements to reach into his jacket and pull out whatever high he kept hidden there. Laurens and I stood awkwardly once again. Liv’s circles got wider. She began to hop in little bits. I noticed her edging towards the cliff’s edge of the abandoned quarry. She was still far from it, but moved closer every time she changed the tune of her hum. All three of us watched cautiously, captured by her dance, wanting to call out but unsure of her intentions and unwilling to stop her. She looked so happy. Her face is blurry in my mind, but I think I can remember the flash of her teeth in the moonlight, a smile or a call out to us. If she yelled, it was eaten by a wind that had picked up soon after we hopped the fence. She stood on the edge of the cliff, dress torn above the knees, Versace-blowjob marks out for all to see. Her face was serene, the makeup smeared across her cheeks ran valleys into her skin. Those hollow eyes had seen something like the rise and falls of heroes a thousand times. They filled up with tears as she savored the dusty taste of the wind, filling up her lungs with marble formed on a molten planet. She had been standing there a millennium, waiting for us to call out. Her arms stretched wide, she lifted onto her toes and leaned into the abyss. She was a statue of the unsettled dust that choked us all on that ledge. And in her moment of beauty, the edge of the big reveal was the end of the story. There was a gust of wind. She spun as she fell. Or did she leap? The moon behind her kept us from seeing what happened or the look on her face as she plummeted. The silver tassels of her dress orbited around her, glittering in the low light. When she disappeared, she uncovered the moon. As her chest sunk out of the way, the beams stretched to fill our eyes. It was a headstone carved from moonbeams. The stars sank into the quarry with her, a thousand shattered versions of the moon. I felt a silent


scream claw its way up my throat, pushing tears out of my eyes. Heat filled up my cheeks. I began to run forward, but Laurens’s hand on my arm held me back. “You won’t like what you see.” He pulled me to the ground to sit, steadying me as he came with me. Maurits slammed down beside us minutes later, toppling like a child’s tower pushed over at the end of their play time. We sat in the same positions until dawn. Even though we knew it was coming, we found ourselves shocked by the peach sunrise. We could feel the night’s scum growing on our tongues, but not one of us moved. Standing up would risk looking into the quarry. The sun lit up our eyelashes. It could have been a photoshoot—three ragged models lined up, draped across each other in the golden light. We wouldn’t have sold a single print. I can’t remember who called the police. Maybe it was someone who walked by and saw us trespassing. Maybe it was Laurens. He would do that. Whoever it was, they called the cops on three kids staring vacantly at the mouth of a quarry, unable to move even when flashlights were shined in our eyes. It probably was not Laurens. They followed those frozen eyes into the quarry and looked where we couldn’t. I remember their shouts, emergency-activated voices calling for a long ladder. They sank into the pit too, but slower. Their accents sounded like the crunch of peanut brittle as they snapped back and forth. The media came next, first local, then national. The news called her Marble Girl because by the time they brought cameras to the scene, she had melted into the quarry. Her body was stiff, her skin still so pale. The makeup that ran down her cheeks and the blue veins tracing down her body gave her the appearance of a statue girl. She would be happy to know that she photographed beautifully until they zipped her up and took her home in a helicopter. We took another cab back to the motel. Maurits sat in the front, the silver fabric missing from around his neck and wrapped around my wrist. The agency didn’t make us stay another night, so we packed up and checked out. Laurens sat on my motel bed as I packed up her clothing and mine, hers to be shipped home to Somewhere, Wisconsin. I was given an offer to break my contract, but I didn’t want to go back to Somewhere, Tuscany. I flew back to

New York City next to a man who had gotten off of the standby list. He told me that he had decided to fly to the city to propose to a girl who had moved away after college. I congratulated him and kept his business card in my wallet for a few months before throwing it out. Maurits sometimes kisses the girl who sleeps in Liv’s bed now. That little girl is wild beyond compare, three-lines-of-cocaine-a-runway-show wild. She eats Raisin Bran, and I now understand what it looks like to be green while eating cold cereal. I take her silver eyeliner sometimes, even though I never thought silver was my color. I was gold, but the silver matches the strip of fringed fabric that I hang on my towel hook. Laurens and I sometimes find ourselves on shoots together, but we more often find ourselves on trips to the beach where there are no abandoned barns and wear sandals all day. We tried to stay in the same life, go to the same parties, but we found that our leather and satin had turned to marble, and leather and satin fear marble. Or are at least slightly ambivalent toward us. When we indulge Maurits and go to parties, they always ask us about the Marble Girl. What was she like? Did she jump or was she off balance from the drugs in her system? How long had we known her? I’ll answer a few questions after they bring me my glass of champagne in tribute. They’re always disappointed by how quietly she slipped away, screams swallowed by the wind. They have asked for the story a thousand times, and I always tell them the same version.

21


Satyavachan Jessica Mehta

Say something in Gujarati and I see you as you were years ago, in the bars next to gargantuan women, faded flowers suckling your youth, moving quick as hummingbirds flashing crow’s feet with a deftness that blurred their age. Feed me by hand like you used to, change my water for yours, the one ringing with ice and tell me you love me even throughout all the changes, after all these years.

The Heart Consumes Itself

My father told me, Be careful, you have that wandering way.

(These chambers, remember, are a muscle.)

Just like him, whom I see in your slowness to laugh, the oil slicks of your eyes. I chose you, I choose an incredible life.

Nobody nowhere shoulders the strength to stop it all, the whole fat world from slipping between cracked, wanting lips. We eat

Jessica Mehta

It’s not true the starved don’t eat, we die of broken hips, pelvis churned to dust—slowly, the heart consumes itself. Atrophies and implodes.

and we hate,

Pickle Back Jessica Mehta

When a widower asks to buy you a shot and your stools are pushed tight together against the bar, you say yes as he fingers a wedding ring. You ever had a pickle back? and you nod because grief gives you freedom to demand whatever you like. The bourbon licked fever past the fossa while the brine bit back, but I thought this sacrifice kinder than a fuck on foreign sheets where repentance tongues fire past the fornix as the bitterness gnaws deep. 22

with each bite and gagme spoon. Our weakness displayed like limbs splayed wide, flushed shameful folds of pink. How I wish I could stop. Let the valves shut down cold. Listen, that last organ coda. And you in dutiful ovation.


The Winds of Poseidon Dylan Scillia

Sour Times Andrew Wrase 23


Miracle Man Melissa McCann

When I was five, Grandpa died for the first time. Policeman told us Grandpa wrapped his shiny, new Cadillac around an oak and flew right through the windshield. The CocaCola he’d bought for Grandma shattered into a million pieces on the white leather seats, but his Crown Royal was safe. Grandpa’s bones remained intact, too, as did his fighting spirit. Grandpa only needed thirteen stitches and he was made brand new. Policeman called him “Miracle Man.” Grandpa’s second death came when his heart gave up. Mother found his sweaty ghost lying on our kitchen floor, writhing and moaning. She didn’t cry, and neither did I, as we raced to the hospital. Slim chance, Doctor said, too many years of abuse on his old ticker. Under Doctor’s knife, Grandpa would die, only to be brought back again with a new heart and outlook on life. “Miracle Man,” we all said.

Enlightenment Zoe Hanna 24

I learned that Grandpa had died many times before mother was born. As a child, a deadly virus took hold of him. His mother spent a week of endless nights, praying the rosary and bargaining with God. His breath left him for only a moment, but it was long enough for his mother to claim a miracle upon its return. And then there was the time Grandpa was in prison for armed robbery. His fellow inmates cracked his skull against the pavement and were showered in his blood. Grandma prayed that time, and Miracle Man was released early on good behavior. Grandpa lies in a hospital bed and grabs my hand with the little strength that is still his own. His kidneys have turned on him and Doctor says there is no hope. I try not to notice the way his skin resembles stretched, yellowed leather. I ask if there is anything I can do for him. His dark crater eyes widen. “I want you to do something you don’t want to do,” he tells me. “I want you to pray.” The way he emphasizes the last word confirms what I already know. Grandpa is no longer the Miracle Man.

Save the Bees Zoe Hanna


Sacred Message, Rough Translation Iris Orpi

(Montara Beach, California)

I stood there, on the thin ribbon of chance where the road ended, looking down

core of creation and understanding within that authoritative thesis of chaos

at the sea as it nursed a mood of spectacular fury

This is worship, me weeping and lost

the possibility of falling replacing my heartbeat

reveling in my post-truth, post-apocalyptic irrelevance

being and being acutely aware of my purest form: part search, part leap of faith, part averted suicide a pilgrim knees trembling, trying to stand inside the whirlwind of a miracle that keeps on happening

not sitting in a box of the well-rehearsed and synchronized, black and white lines nitpicking verses from a Book and being afraid of the questions scribbled on the margins

a witness and a living prayer to nature’s awesome power This is God, I heard the words lifting where the horizon is far and the life-and-death-wide divide from the great rocks wave crash and fate, bone-white is larger than the enduring story 25


On This Date in History Susan L. Leary

A body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force—but maybe I like the words Sunoco, Mobil, Texaco, because the vowels provide for a slow rounding out,

as if

to figure: which’s it again? . . . life or death that’s more over-the-counter? Maybe it’s that gasoline takes on a spectral quality. That Saturday mornings a man’s hand-over

hand with a pony-tailed girl at the pump.

Because there’s somethin’ about no. 3! Somethin’ about slapping down a $20!

Maybe it’s that going to prom resembles something of going to the morgue. Bear with me. Bear in mind. Bear fruit. Bear witness to God barreling 85mph down the freeway.

26


See—a slow song gets the heart beating faster. Livens up the pace. I hear somewhere that human nature is equal parts consistency, equal parts convenience . . . though I’ve never taken an Uber. Even still,

maybe in some distant future

I’ll get a 5-star rating, and it’ll happen to be a Thursday: The tattoo parlor will’ve stayed open afterhours and my parents won’t be disappointed in me anymore— (because who’s going to hire you looking like that?) When you ask if I have cash, this time I won’t have to

stretch

the

truth

precisely because I will have missed the main event. I’ll have stopped reading the obituaries. Stopped discovering bodies. With any luck, it won’t be February 24th any longer and everyone’ll be cool when I say: Listen. I’ll get there

when I get there. 27


The Bayou’s Song Melissa McCann

Her cotton dress clings to her skin. There is not a part of her that isn’t sweating out on the bayou this morning. “These here gators love them ‘mallows,” the Cajun says and throws a few into the swamp to prove his point. She watches the water and tries to ignore her husband’s excitement. This tour is his idea and so is the entire trip. She was perfectly content ignoring their failing marriage. “Yup, here they come.” Something moves in the water ahead. The Cajun points. She comments, “I don’t see anything.” “It’s there, you better believe.” The Cajun leans in close to her, reeking of rotten meat. “They always there just lurking beneath the surface.” She can’t help but recoil from him. He doesn’t notice. Both of the men are transfixed by the unseen creature gliding in the murk. Her husband stands. His eager expression reminds her of Sunday mornings past. Back then, however, he wasn’t looking for this kind of violence. The thing emerges, quietly and slowly. Its jaw snaps up the marshmallow and retreats back under. “Rather anticlimactic,” she mumbles. “Unbelievable!” her husband shouts. “That only a small sampling what we got today,” the Cajun laughs. The small boat glides through the swamp, creating gentle ripples in its wake. Her husband hasn’t looked at her once out here. He’s too busy searching for something else out there. The Cajun speaks and begins to spin a tale about granddaddies and trapping gators. It all sounds like gibberish to her. She is having a hard time breathing in the heat. The air was thick last night, too, but in the romance of the French Quarter, it didn’t feel so heavy on them. The quiet magic of being in a new place together took ahold of them both. He stopped filling the silence with historical anecdote and she took ahold of his hand to both of their surprises. Dim streetlamps led them away from the commotion of Bourbon Street. Behind iron and ivy, the world disappeared, and with it all he had done and all she had neglected. For once in a long time, the touch of his warm skin was wanted and needed. They became familiar strangers 28

and the darkness of a forgotten street enchanted them. He held her close against the chipped paint of a Creole townhouse and pressed his lips to hers. His mouth tasted of fresh mint leaves and of something she had lost long ago. In the heat, they found themselves and each other again. She held him close and never wanted to let go. Out on this stinking swamp, last night already seems like the distant past. A fluke in time. The Cajun finishes his story and she knows her husband grows bored. He wants danger. Action. She wonders when he transformed into someone she barely recognizes. The astute Cajun flips the lid of a small cooler open and pulls out a chunk of raw chicken with his bare hand. He attaches it to the rusty hook of a long pole. Her husband bites his lip so hard, she’s afraid he’ll bleed. “Just watch, yeah?” the Cajun says as he holds the pole out over the water. Her husband places his hands on his hips, legs slightly spread, like a frontiersman from an old film. He’s ready to claim an already claimed land. She doesn’t move. “Don’t you want to see this?” “I can see it from here.” He frowns at her, but his reaction is shallow. He resumes his role as captive audience. The Cajun steadies himself on a plank and inches the meat pole out from him. The song of the bayou, a mix of frogs and crickets, stops. She can only hear her own breath. The water parts. Something large and determined heads towards them. Her knuckles turn white, gripped to the metal bench she sits on. The Cajun grins, fearless, at the beast heading right for him. A whoosh of water breaks the silence. The alligator rises, as if in flight. It clamps down hard on the meat and the Cajun nearly loses his balance. She screams, but no one is listening. The Cajun grips the pole harder, steps back onto the boat. The sweat on his cheeks resembles tears. The brief struggle ends. The Cajun is no match. He lets go of the pole. The alligator has won and sinks back below. Her husband slaps his hands together. “Hot damn!” he yelps and collapses back into his seat. The Cajun’s shock breaks, and he smiles. He shakes his head. “Never get old that. She’s feisty that one.” She looks out into the water. At first, she doesn’t notice it, but as her eyes adjust to the dark, muddy sight,


its camouflage is revealed. It lingers, cold eyes still on them. For a moment, she pities the creature, lured here and used for his pleasure. He will return to his world and forget about it. The thrill dissolves, replaced by nothing. Now she recognizes the cliché he has become. She blinks and it’s gone. She can’t forget it.

On Bourbon Street that night, she tries to lose herself with fruity drinks and jazz. When he takes her hand, she feels the sweat of the bayou still clinging to him. His eyes meet hers with the same hunger for danger they revealed earlier. She seeks out the shadows with him again, but wherever they go, the darkness in the depths is revealed and she cannot bear to touch him.

Former Asylum, L’Aquila Federica Feliciangeli

29


Copperhead

Jars

In the wild summer grasses near the lake, where we dropped lines and I memorized the rhythm of the water on the bobber, we found it.

home for wishes and fireflies, makeshift lantern to take you home or away from it, glass

I felt its weight land on my foot, pressing my laces, an old rope that moved.

(all of us brewed by a dying star) drop the sun into a jar

Teresa Morse

I think it’s a snake, I probably said, and my dad leapt. His bucket fell over as he spotted it slithering through the grass, sleepy and slow. It was hot. He grabbed a stick, thick like a truncheon, and hammered the snake into the ground. And I watched dumb as the broken snake, kinked like a hose, flew through blue air and landed in the water. My bobber bounced. A miracle it didn’t bite you, he said. I frowned. It didn’t bite me. For this, it died.

30

Teresa Morse

curving, warm in your palm, sun tea brewed by a dying star

hold it there for the world, beacon to remind us of inevitability and where does the sun go when it dies? empty the jar to carry space, all the stars, even planets, carry infinity alongside honey amber in the jar, honeycomb home of creatures more diligent than we, dreams dripping gold from fingers, from spoons, distant sun sweet and gone home and not home, like a beginning.


Along the River of Separation Benjamin Selesnick Terese When we swing on your mother’s front porch, each of us revealing truths of faded depressions, something tells me that your hometown charm will fade. And yet, I ignore God’s raspy voice and grasp your hand to then guide you back inside. Sierra When we sit on the beach of the Long Island Sound, while the chorus of frat boys sing from a second-story balcony, I rifle through the sand in between my toes in search of a shell or bottle cap that I know isn’t there. The sun dipped below the horizon centuries ago. We wait with each other for its return, wondering how the Earth ever got so still. Kyra When you sew, sitting on your crumb-speckled floor wearing only the Red Sox sweatshirt your absentee father gave you, the empty space on your wall looking back at us like a blank canvas, I try to remember, or rather convince myself, why I decided to stay. Ben When I stand in the driveway lined with rocks and rhododendrons like the entrance to an oasis, I think to myself: inside that house there is not happiness, but here, before I go inside, I know there must be. I approach the front door of my childhood home and grasp the doorknob for as long as my mind will allow, hoping that I can catch this feeling like I used to catch mice in the cupboards.

31


The Art of Sticking It Out

Letter

On rainy days, my mother sent me to the night market.

My Dear A, the letter I was trying to write you trailed off. I found myself holding a spoon instead of a pen and simply retracing your shape in the air. What I love most is how in your presence my muted soul expands to span countries of uncharted feeling and to utter words. Who am I now, telling all this to that half-eaten grapefruit as if she were you? You, who are now dying of heat in some desert motel? How can my words find their way to you, let alone out of me? I can only hope that you will receive this faint shadow of my overcast self. Yours, yours, yours, V.

Akachi Obijiaku

I’d battle the winds, the raindrops, the perverted bleary eyes. I’d conquer the sneaky traders. In unexpected recessions, my father would send me out to find a job, lock me out our metal gates until I got one, and because I had to, I’d find a way—or multiple.

32

Lauren Klein


We burn differently Mirko Vukoslavović

we are the fear we are not the citizens of the World we are nations raids tongues tangled in flags we are burning in era of Iron Lady part II us students, tramps, we are not vulgar sex is our drive in music we lust the renaissance of erotica hungry for power and violence humble like slaves proud like a god Evil. Never daydreams. We the nondreamers are post post modernism Dada our voice is blindness We are gasoline Amoebas of identity politics Us kings and queens of flyes. In metropolis. We are treading the inferior ones Celebrating fictive heroes To feel the life.

Mike Conor Tierney

33


Goodbyes Taste Like Kalopsia Merkin Karr

I haven’t done laundry since you said goodbye. Sometimes it felt like I didn’t deserve the warmth of just dried underwear. Cycled out of the dryer and onto my skin. Ranging from both thankfulness and regretfullness I worship the memory of you. Jesus had plenty of men who followed him around, but he still fell in love with every one of them. It didn’t mean any less. Didn’t mean anymore. In the garden when Judas betrayed him he looked at John, savoring the moment. I can only imagine John feeling so lost. Who could he be without him? Who was he now? I have been resurrected. It always seems perfect until you bare the cross of it all. The whole “loving feels like salvation and sins feel like retribution.” I disagree. It’s not quite forgiveness, But not quite clean underwear.

The Smell of Almond Mirko Vukoslavović

Impulses are locating desire I bring my face to yours My fingers are in search for Symmetry Silently do I look for scheme I define your grace (he smiles) I sniff your skin It’s the smell of almond

34

El chico del Yuyal Mau Moreno


War Story J. Bowers

We drink all day because the country’s at war. You drink whiskey and I have Coke. Things weren’t always this way. I still remember that night. We went downtown to watch an Icelandic band scrape at electric guitars with violin bows. The horsehair strings snapped and frayed as they played, notes ringing out like transmissions from violent, faraway stars. We stood in the balcony, shoulders barely touching. Everyone swayed gently back and forth. Walking home, we held hands and talked about how cold it was for March. You said we were subconsciously willing ourselves to shiver because the band was Icelandic. Like someone saying “don’t think about a polar bear.” The subway smelled like french fries, heated by machinery. We read posters about Coldplay and life insurance. I remember how strange it felt to find your roommates painting doves on Brian’s bedsheets. How odd it was to have the TV off, so we could see it for what it really was—a mysterious black cube that attracted our furniture around it. Instead, the radio was on. This was wrong. We knelt beside a still-damp banner that read “the only Bush to trust’s your own” and listened, wideeyed, as static and gunshots popped on NPR. Erin made margaritas and talked about how our generation has been anaesthetized by technology. She said that right now, thousands of kids were swallowing television versions of the truth, while we heard the news firsthand, unfiltered. She said that come morning, they’d be mainlining Google News, complacently reading about the movement while we created it. We would be among the standard-bearers. The firestarters. The front lines. In bed that night, you tucked your chin against your knees like a child participating in a “severe weather drill.” On Thursday, Erin gathered up the painted bedsheets and led us to the cancer memorial, where other kids milled around with homemade signs that read NO BLOOD FOR OIL. NOT MY PRESIDENT. GIVE PEACE A CHANCE. One guy complimented Brian on his gas mask and asked if he could help carry our banner. I said okay. A girl with pink dreadlocks and a megaphone climbed onto a bucket and waved her arms. We cheered solemnly, like Romans in films. She said our generation had to fight not with bombs but with words. It began to

rain. She explained that while we, today, could shut down a city block, all over America people just like us would be shutting down neighborhoods, boroughs, cities. “This is what democracy looks like!” she shouted. We waved our bedsheet overhead, catching the rain on our arms. The megaphone girl pogoed wildly, yawping, “One, two, three, four! We don’t want an oil war!” as kids with walkie-talkies herded us into the intersection. Stranded cars honked. A woman yelled, “Love it or leave it!” and acted like she might ram us with her Honda Civic, but she had to stop; we had the numbers. We flashed peace signs like Bono and watched to see if drivers would smile or flip us off. We shouted, “1, 2, 3, 4! We don’t want an oil war!” We felt subversive. Soon the crowd stopped in front of a hulking beige building, and the pink girl reappeared, waving her megaphone. The rain was really coming down now. Hair dye drenched her shirt. She shouted something about our generation. I didn’t realize where we were until I saw some kids’ faces pressed up against the windows. Someone said it was the local magnet school for art students. Teenagers wearing Doc Martens and Morrissey t-shirts darted out to join us. We screamed, “1, 2, 3, 4! We don’t want an oil war!” at the school. The crowd surged forward, knocking us down. We clutched our bedsheet and struggled up, past the TV crews and squad cars stationed beside the Barnes & Noble. Soon nobody could shop there because you, me, and about five others were accidentally blocking the doors. It was like a rock show. Everyone wanted a good place to stand. The pink megaphone girl leapt into the flowerbed in the middle of the square and waved her arms around. She said we all deserved a round of applause for exercising our First Amendment rights. She introduced a balding philosophy professor who listed our president’s shortcomings, followed by a passage from the Bhagavad Gita about becoming a destroyer of worlds. Then a crust punk seized the megaphone, lustily chanting, “Food not bombs!” until we were all shouting along. A rumor reached us that the assembled crowd would now march twice around the square, then retrace its route to the cancer memorial. We slipped into the bookstore and huddled among the travelogues, soaked and shaking. You said my lips were blue. Yours were worse. * * * 35


You got fired when they found out you skipped work. But everyone was skipping; the news alleged that our nervous systems needed to recover from the shock and awe. Erin and Brian were in D.C. now, awaiting further protests. They’d met a nice libertarian socialist named Ste who volunteered to pepper-spray Brian right in the eyes so he’d know what it felt like and be ready. We said we’d join them soon. But mostly, we couldn’t bring ourselves to leave the apartment. It seemed suddenly precarious and vulnerable, a treehouse under siege. We fought the midnight horror that planes might crash through the wall at any given moment, killing us immediately. I experienced recurring dreams. The television said these were now common, particularly fantasies involving airplanes or bombs, or things and people impersonating airplanes and bombs. I dreamed the city was a vast plateau studded with derelict shells of refrigerators. We gathered the algae that grew on them for sustenance, and wove through electric monuments, hand-in-hand. You spoke gravely, like a movie Indian, but I never understood what you said. I spent weekends doped-up on Tylenol Cold, stalking the Lower East Side like a pigeon. These walks tended to end at a café on Rivington, where I drank green vitaminfortified water and wondered if the white powder dusted across my table was anthrax, not powdered sugar. On my way home, I took Polaroids of things I thought you’d like. A stray tortoiseshell cat. Plastic lilies in flowerboxes. But you said you preferred cold steel girders, claustrophobic knots of barbed wire. You dreamed of orange prescription bottles nestled like Easter eggs beside I-87, accompanied by the vague sensation of being crushed beneath an overpass. When I asked if I were there, too, you said neither of us were, no one was. I quit work pretty soon after that. At first, we stayed near our television, hoping for instructions. But the Botoxed newscasters only spoke of drowning polar bears and transgenic corn. They pointed at red dots on greenscreen maps and drew black arrows between them. We were told to monitor luggage and microchip dogs. We were encouraged to worry about celebrities. Last Sunday, we strolled beneath the Chernobyl-white sky. The restaurant you’d chosen was self-consciously colorful, a Saturday morning cartoon of a place that 36

served seven kinds of pancakes, each named after a different character in The Godfather. We huddled together under a painting of a smiling artichoke. Over laminated menus, we agreed that nothing could save us. You said the only question left to ask was what would happen after everything familiar collapsed. You ordered whiskey, and I had Coke.

Welcome to America Heather Freitas


9/11 Poem Meg Eden

As a girl, I practiced packing & unpacking my bags for when the house caught on fire or a tornado came through.

that I saw it on TV: the speechless announcers, smoke rising from two towers, a man falling from the top—small & dark in the sky, like one of my cousin’s army figures—

So when the school released us early that day I grabbed the Powerpuff Girls pencil sharpener from my desk & kept it

& everyone in the sub shop was still, watching that small TV, mounted in the corner ceiling of the shop: even the sub makers didn’t make subs, but leaned

in my pocket, just in case I might never come back here. Before we were dismissed, we all stood in a circle as our teacher prayed for NYC—

over the counter to watch. The wood-paneled room was heavy with silence, my father’s face was hard to read. The sub makers looked like they might cry.

a faraway place— & no one explained what had happened, it was only after my father picked me up & we stopped for lunch

I didn’t understand—I still don’t understand everything that happened that day.

37


The beginning of

Thoughts on Being a Witch

Satan waits patiently with me in line at Walgreens for my Xanax—he flicks a bit of hate at a woman looking at laxatives and her face frowns. She runs toward the restroom. He’s going on and on about souls and how little they actually mean, how souls couldn’t buy you a milkshake in Hell. It’s all still money, he says. As the cashier hands me my pills, Satan blows her a kiss—her face explodes pulpily. Poor Tracey, I think. All the potato chips taste like sandwiches, according to their bags. All the lotions do not smell like car-accident flesh, blood, asphalt. In the car, Satan conjures two talk radio pundits into my backseat and disappears my radio. His tail teases into my groin. I’m getting hard. I back up very far into the parking lot and then gun full speed for the side brick wall. For one shining moment, we all explode into a swarm of red butterflies. Then his tail teases my groin. I’m getting hard. I back up far into the parking lot and gun full speed for the side brick wall. My Xanax waits patiently for eternity.

I never tell men, and yes men especially, about being a witch.

Jonathan May

38

Merkin Karr

Certainly not the “good” catholic boys I’ve always dated. The ones who love to preach about their relinquish of faith. They don’t believe in Jesus like they used, but they aren’t quite atheists. The cinnabar communion of their childhood was much easier to swallow than the hoary God of adulthood. I’ve found men, or at least the men I’ve welcomed into my life, have trouble believing in the things they can’t see. To believe in something other than themselves would require bravery. Yet they have none and thus live their lives as cowards. Afraid to love, afraid to let go, afraid to invest. And certainly, cowards are afraid of witches.


seven essential household things Jonathan May

(Chinese, 1127—firewood, rice, salt, oil, soy sauce, vinegar, tea North American, 2017—toilet paper, pot, lighter, pipe, pepper, fruit, tea) philosophically we both include water as a given, but funny how things might be in another eighthundred years both prone to sharing with visitors or using all of the time especially with your beautiful family, beloved of you and your heart-knowing any number of these can become treacherous— oil boiling skin, salt keeping a wound to form or a lighter held against one’s hand, so hot and then much hotter and the smell of pepper, but then again, I don’t think we’re discussing love any more sets and cycles dominate both lists and their owners, hopefully torture not being daily what is done pooping is everyday, cooking too for some, getting high can be its own torture, I suppose because like other objects, it’s made “essential” eating solely rice or solely fruit’d surely addle your stomach environs and inevitably the rest of you as you thin out, but not not by your choice because you have chosen what is essential and tea burns yes both our tongues ‘cross the centuries, wet-fire

39


Felix Culpa Violet Callis Felix Fortunate Felix Culpa Mea Culpa Mary Thayer Sand tattoos by lakes

take

The light conceals. While waking: A man decided on his new sobriety, abstinence, and this felt easy and free. It lasted for two more mornings. When he was a child he was given hot food to eat. He started to hum the Latin songs. Now he was able to sing while he walked. In his delirium the man stepped among a crowd, and was stunned by two firetrucks zooming by. Shocks of light. The notes dove and echoed.

40


He went on until he found a place to sit, where cement pulsed through the leaves’ shadows. A moneyed area, one with bridal gowns and liposuction. Still singing to himself. Where tomorrow? And what for his children? He thought about his parents. Fortuna nasturtiums by the lake. Fault when she brushed his hair to the Bible tv gold wet with the shampoo in it to be blonder o happy fall, great Redeemer

41


Bruce and the Toilet Paper Ballad David Travis Bland

Bruce awoke, rising from his arms’ cradle as the manager showed up behind the bar and stopped in front of him. She waited for the bartender to come up from putting beers in the cooler. “Do you think,” the manager said, “you could go get some toilet paper for the women’s bathroom?” “Steal some from the men’s,” the bartender said. “I’m busy as fuck. It wasn’t like this yesterday.” “A lot can change in a day.” That woke Bruce up. A day? The bartender twisted around, unloading liquor onto the shelves of the barback. “The key thing’s broke. Can’t get to it. Everyone else’s got tables. We’re one of the few places with alcohol still. I would, but I gotta go get my kid, like now, before it all starts.” The manager took out a twenty and tried to hand it over. “You see how many drinks’re coming in?” Smacking the money on the cooler, she walked away. The bartender sucked her teeth, shook her head. An idea lifted Bruce from the depths of happy hour, an idea that could get his girlfriend back. “I can get it.” “You sure? You’ve been asleep since, like, yesterday about this time.” “I have? The fuck?” “We were open all night, so we just let you stay there. Things got crazy since last night’s announcement. So, well, you sure you can go?” “I’m good. What announcement?” “Come on,” she said. “Go if you’re going.” He felt a purpose beyond the days wages and the tug and shrug of porn after his early evening inebriation— his almost daily routine since his ex broke up with him, kicking him out after his final act of asking are you on your period or something? Later, she explained the wrongness of his question and his constant use of the word “tits,” the groping of her ass. But your ass is hot he’d said. That’s what got him to the point of believing that supplying the commode accoutrement for the dignity of females held the prospect of redemption. She slid the money over the bar. 42

Outside, the streets were dead—no people—not like inside where people acted as if getting battle drunk. Cars looked freshly abandoned. Along the crosswalk, a paper tumbled and stopped against his shoe. He picked the sheet up. Emblazoned on it was a single word— MARCH—signed with the circle and cross female symbol. He let it go back to the wind. The Walgreens was around the corner and he found the toilet paper aisle. The shelves were bare, nothing but a lonely ply to hint at what transpired. “Are you out of toilet paper?” he said to the cashier. Hiding away his bowie knife from cleaning his grey nails, the clerk leaned against the counter, putting his glass eye forward. “The wimmens cleaned us out,” he said, stroking the twisted hairs that extended from his chin. “I’m figurin’ they plan on soilin’ it with their blood. Tossing red streaks across the lines.” “Gotcha,” Bruce said, his standard response when he didn’t understand. The clerk leaned further over the counter. “Keep an eye out about ya out there,” pulling the knife up and tapping his glass replacement. His lips broke into a rotten-toothed smile. “And thank ye for comin’ to Walgreens.” Bruce went out the door. The sidewalk trembled like a buffalo herd stampeded in the distance. He looked to his feet, saw the minute vibration of his shoelaces. No time for contemplation, a helpless woman might be crying at the plight of her tissue-bound sex. Vying for the grocery store, he made it to his conversion van, the Great Fish he called it for its silver body and whale like head from its raised roof as well as from the weeks of living in the beast’s belly. Wrenching open the door to a cascade of soda cans and noodle cups, he peeled off. A few blocks away he arrived at the Food Lion. In the parking lot he found more abandonment, the connected pet supply store left to the devices of the animals. They had escaped, guinea pigs zipping out the cleft door, sniffing the air on their hind legs and choosing to scurry back rather than face the world’s strangeness. Lizards sunned on the concrete while frogs hopped into the parking lot in a coda of world domination amongst their ranks. A snake slithered up the storefront window. Bruce made a box around his face and leaned into the glass of


the Food Lion—no lights, no people, a locked door. “Damn,” he said, a swell of desperation rising. He gritted his teeth at what to do. The Piggly Wiggly would be closed too, other drugstores sold out, and Whole Foods was out the question, the toilet paper laden with tree shavings, too expensive, and not industrially sized enough. He couldn’t disappoint. He needed to succeed. He couldn’t think of the last thing he’d consider a win for himself except getting his job by beating out the chick his boss didn’t like. Wasn’t hot enough and didn’t need any more crazy hormones around the place the supervisor said after giving Bruce the job. But what the fuck did a job matter if you couldn’t buy toilet paper? What if his ex was in that stall about to squish her panties up in shame and disgust. He hit the glass with the ball of his fist. “Fuck,” he cried out, squeezing the pain from his hand beneath his armpit. Publix grocery story hit his brain with hope. A higher-class establishment, it was in their name—they served the public and definitely would be open. He tore through the plagued parking lot, squishing a frog on his way out. It was two quick turns then a straight shot to the bourgeois supermarket. Careening through the first curve, he came to a road block, cops and barriers. “Shit on my dick,” he yelled, the law staring back like he was a stray dog. “The shit is this?” He reversed back into the main thoroughfare, slammed the gas toward a detour, twisting through the streets with the pillowy, plied salvation groping at his frustration. A light stopped him. He tried to mind-fuck it into changing. “Come on, son of a bitch, come on.” But his fevered anger was distracted by the rumble of the street again. He swore he heard voices amongst the shaking. He leaned into his windshield, looking in the direction of the ruckus. On a street corner amongst the desolation stood the girl, the girl he’d beaten out of a job, bare-chested with blood red handprints dripping down her breast, face painted like a pixie warrior, holding a sign above her head. Which side are you on? it said. The light changed and he gunned it. A turn later he was blocked again and befuddled by what stopped him—a six-foot-high dam of brassieres and girdles flecked with razor heads, spent antiperspirant tubes, and douches across the entire street. Horror rose

in him, ugly desperation. He screamed aloud, jerking toward every intersection, all of them blocked by orange and white barriers. He felt the anger of failure in his heart, knowing he’d never get his ex back. Then he whipped the Great Fish around with a thought—the building where he worked, the janitor’s closet, his last hope. The front end reared like the Great Fish was about to breach. The building’s security guard was slumped by the door, weeping into his knees. “It’s all over,” he said. “This world’s got us good this time. Ain’t gonna be no more.” “No time, Jerry,” Bruce said, sprinting through the exit. “Got shit going on,” his arms brimming with toilet paper rolls as he ran back to the Great Fish, the tissue streaming around him like the glory of a victory flag. He dropped the mountain of rolls in the passenger seat. All the crossroads were barricaded during his time inside except for one artery straight through the heart of town—Main Street. He raced up the two-lane way, traffic lights flashing heedless caution until he could see the State House dome rising in his sight, breaking up from the horizon and the outlet into which his path intersected. He knew he’d make it; he’d win back his ex. The road barrier floated down from the sky attached to cables and a helicopter, dropping straight into Bruce’s path a block in front of his freedom. An eleven-man riot squad marched from the flanking streets to finish the blockade, facing Bruce with batons across their chests. He came up on them, the unit leader stepping forward with a halt gesture. The streets rumbled like the massive herd was upon him, unseen voices shouting like armies of Gauls, all the roadblocks mocking his inability to deliver the sacred paper. “Gonna need you to wait here, sir, ‘til things are done,” the riot officer said into Bruce’s window. “‘Til what’s done? The fuck’s going on?” cursing the barriers with vengeful articulations of his limbs. “Stand off of the Men’s and Women’s Marches. Set for some heat likes of which we ain’t seen in fifty years. A lot on the line.” He resigned his head to the helm of the Great Fish, the ground tremors swelling. “Just gonna need you to stay here ‘til this mess is over. Park over there if you don’t mind.” 43


Like he’d been drained of blood, Bruce rolled the Great Fish to the designated place around the corner of a highrise. The riot squad faced the plain of the open street, the buildings surrounding it cutting off the view of the east and west turns at Main Street’s head where the State House, its copper dome and Corinthian columns, loomed over the silence that fell in the intersection of the three directions. A traffic light swayed in the breeze, glowing red. The Great Fish emerged from the corner, slinging its rear toward the line of riot police. They leapt for their lives as Bruce smashed through the wooden barriers like he had unleashed the tail of his beast upon a ship, splinters soaring through the air as he jetted in reverse toward the empty intersection. The light turned green as he swerved, skidding sideways into the crossroads. A sea of men filled the street in front of him. In his rearview, women amassed in a gathering of many thousands. Both sides roared, raising their arms as if they wanted to pierce the sky. He sat in the divide, a sea of fury coming against a wall of rancor. The males clothed themselves like soldiers of every war—men in Confederate gray, doughboys, uniforms abounding, while others wore seersucker and snarled with tobacco stained teeth, and yet more were in business suits and horn-rimmed glasses. The women, with equal veracity, had clad themselves in skins like the Amazons of ancient myth, and Rosie the Riveters, Big Mama Thorntons, and flappers, all their faces bearing the warrior-like marks of the girl he saw bare-chested on the street corner. His phone rang—his ex. “Bruce?” “Yeah.” “Is that you.” “Yeah,” he said, turning to the back glass. He saw her waving above the crowd. “You have to come over to our side. It’s for the Supreme Court, this fight. Listen if you come over we can get back together. I . . . I . . . I love . . .” He hung up on her. In the mass of men he saw his father, and at his side was a young boy—a boy Bruce knew well. His father raised his fist, whipped himself across the chest and shouted in anger. The boy was trapped and scared by the rancor of men surrounding him. He grabbed his father’s hand. He 44

stared through the crowd to Bruce. The two armies marching in on each other, Bruce in the middle, he took aim at his child self. He knew then that killing himself was the only way forward, to be rid of everything that was passed down to him. He stroked the gear shift and pressed the first seep of gas into the churning guts of the Great Fish. It roared forward and at that moment arching through the sky, leading his path ahead, streaked a flaming roll of toilet paper.

Teenage Color Andrew Wrase


The Big Daddy Shriram Sivaramakrishnan

If Nothing Changed, There Would Never Be Butterflies Ari L. Mokdad

Feeling dissatisfied with society, modernity, reality, Democracy, patriarchy, the lack of culture-y, everything pointing to “other.” But this; the hitchhiker’s guide to time travel and seeing the world— the way the good always comes with the bad and not even the engineers could help design a way out. Let me first classify this as a poem, but you all want to see it on paper. Second, I can validate its accuracy as more than just words on the page. When we all decide, at the end of this, that we fabricated these tools, this two-car garage, this idea of comfort, the glass gazing ball, the coffee mug too full or not full enough, hammer, nails, the carpet fraying—we can all set it aflame with iron rods staked into the heart of this multitude. Do you believe that the future of this world might be resting in the hands of a brown girl? But don’t worry, we’ve denied their entry—so to hang onto the fragile existence that allows you to feel relevant against the white background. You see, I’m not like you. Here, I am in control of the frequency, this oscillator, or the meter, or the rhythm and rhyme, or the way in which you see me. So let me be this butterfly—let me be the caterpillar—still learning to feast from the Lake Michigan milkweed, crawling gently across the multi-cultural sands. 45


On My Mother’s 54th Birthday Tanner O’Neal

we both go to sleep alone her waiting for a call from my youngest brother the actor the star at his junior college who still thinks that means something and who never learned to drive so Mom drops him off each morning and collects him every night making sure he’s safe back home in her nest tonight he’s disco roller skating or something probably just another elaborate euphemism for the drugs he’s hooked on but just like casually man yet he thinks I’m the loser

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taunting me for my social media warm wishes an attempt he thinks at keeping my presence alive he’s just gonna ask you for cash in two days anyway he tells my mom in the car on the way to his run-down campus kingdom this isn’t true I haven’t called home in months for money or mom’s monotonous tone the one she uses when something’s wrong and she doesn’t want me to ask or delve into her perpetual broken heart the one I’ll come to inherit if I haven’t already

no the difference between my mother and I is our preferred state of motion she stays in one place remained two years with the man who broke her favorite glass and triangular nose remains still in the city that took her first husband took her own mom lungs first left the rest for later she remains but me well I run


Che Corazรณn Milok Navarro 47


{Homebody} Marlee Cox

Monster, girl: sealed a corsage in a shoebox, thinking she’d keep it forever, misunderstanding beauty. Misunderstanding: forever.

She’s like ashes, like plaster, like the dry heat of gulping wine.

You built a god with her name, a portrait of mirrors. Stoic paper doll babydoll used and wandering: the history of a bruise spells your modern prophecy.

Look at my hand. My fingers part moonlight into wedges. I shake from a low place full of old fevers. Time loses its rhythm, fumbling—briefly, the earth stills. Wait. Welcome.

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Wounded divinations slouch to the hem of her gaze. She could be pale against snow. Why did she bury the words? Nonsense, yes—but if ever there was a time for poetry—


Serenitatem Michael Oliveras

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{West of this Cul-de-Sac} Marlee Cox

This word you know, you know in English: hurts. Blinking twice, you’re stoic cryptic— the irisless regard of a Grecian bust, your cheekbone healing to marigold and your jaw a stormready noon sky. Hurts: a catchall narrative, a fastball from an acid tongue. Noun and verb; accusation and contrition. Rumbling mutter through a sneer: Hurts. Scraping parched, parchment skin from your elbows until—hurts—you call blood upward. Up here. Where? It was already there. It was already red. “What hurts? Where is the pain?” But that’s cruel. Crueler than I want to be. You could only tuck chin to chest, aching with shame—you’re tired and that’s the whole of it; you’re tired of sick, mutant vowels. Of new sounds, stupid sounds, of playing sentry at the train station, fucking shrieking neon secrets from your most wounded, wordless depth

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all for a crushed velvet box of apologies. Why do you smile so toothless? Why do you flinch from wine, from my mother’s wedding band? It hurts. Something hurts.

And I wasn’t raised to speak vaguely.

Please. Look at my hands, hold my hands—even if yours cannot rest from their tremble, cannot manage a glass of wine. I have also known silence loved silence. I am sorry you have Pompeii for a heart, and I know (I remember) ducking punches when no one really swung. I

also

could stand to sleep. Pain is a complete sentence. Those trains cannot bring you there. Let me take you home.

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Grammatical Distance Laura Steiner

I scroll You scroll. We scroll. Nosotros escrolliamos. Green mountain appears on my screen at 11:43 PM my time, 7 hours earlier his time. The mountain is dark green and lighter green and a shade of that specific green. The rainy season is not over but El Roble Morado has begun blooming against all odds. Dark green and lighter green and that other shade of green are all covered in purple flowers. The photo is uncanny—the Andes as the backdrop, Fleetwood Mac playing as soundtrack—my dad is on his way to a trip outside of Bogotá. Beautiful, I think, and send him a photo of a leafless tree. “The light is fantastic!” he responds. “That was this morning,” I write. The last message doesn’t go through and I assume he’s on the open road, reaching El Alto where there is no signal. The mountain is queen in that place and she dictates phone service and weather. Bogotá lies in the distance at 2,600 meters and the farther south you travel over her the closer you get to the beloved tierra caliente. At 1,400 meters the view is still green and darker green and all shades of green. The air is sticky and the phone line is up and running again. I eat breakfast. You eat breakfast. We eat breakfast. Nosotros desayunamos. Omit the word eat as a verb in el desayuno. Eating always happens, but what’s important is to sit together around the table. The act of breakfasting together. My dad eats fruit and cereal. I eat fruit and yogurt and sit down across the table from him to watch him fill out the crossword puzzle. “This one you’ll be able to know—it’s a Hollywood celebrity.” My breakfast in Finland is cold and salty. Smoked salmon on top of a slice of rye bread and black bitter 52

coffee. Arabica. Ethiopian grains. It’s strong coffee. One and a half cups later and I am buzzing. The crossword puzzle back home rarely gets completed and if we stick with it for long enough it’s merely to extend our coffee time. Colombian coffee is mild. Two cups in the morning and a little tinto in the afternoon. Coffee grows at an altitude of 1,400 meters. I write. You write. We write. Nosotros escribimos. I wake up today with that knot in my stomach that creeps in from time to time. A loss. A longing. The homesickness that I so often refuse to write about. “The game last night was horrible,” a message at 1:33 PM my time, 7 hours earlier his time. He’s referring to how terrible Millos played last night. I think Millos usually plays terribly, but I keep it to myself because I know better than to offend my dad’s favorite fútbol team. I know very little about fútbol, but being a second tier fan means tagging along to the stadium to watch my brother eat a massive lechona—a roasted stuffed pig—which he claims is the best one in town, and to witness two supporting fractions of the same team chanting against each other as opposed to the rival team, in which may very likely be a comedy. Or a tragedy. Depending on who’s writing the story. The knot in my stomach is made up of the fútbol that I don’t know much about, the stuffed pig that I don’t eat, and the chants that I can’t sing. I don’t write anything back today. I walk You walk We walk Nosotros caminamos. I am obsessively counting the minutes of sunlight in Finland. Today the sun rose at 7:22 AM and started hiding at 4:07 PM. That’s a total of 461 very inexact minutes of daylight.


I walk 23 of those minutes toward the forest that is a bit bare and a bit green and a bit purple. There’s still some evidence of snow from last night. Slushy patches of it. A flock of birds fly in unison. There’s no one around. I stand looking at the lake in what almost feels like an unnatural stillness. My dad walks from his house to work every morning. He walks on sidewalks that barely exist, under scaffolding of new office buildings where construction workers don’t hiss at him but call every other woman angel. He walks past fruit stands selling salpicón—a mix of mango,

papaya, and coconut—and past cigarette stands where someone sells loose cigarettes, tintos with more sugar in them that coffee and plantain chips. Past Francisca who sells the daily newspaper in a makeshift newsstand made out of old beer racks. Past fumes of colectivos and traffic lights that don’t work. Past cars that honk and taxis that honk and motorbikes that crisscross between honking cars and honking taxis. He refuses to take his car. Refuses to take a taxi. Refuses to wait in traffic. Refuses to stay still.

Two Masters Silas Plum 53


The mug my mom probably just got from Marshall’s back in the early ‘90s Elena Ender

It’s a fact that coffee tastes better in that simple blue mug with the perfect-sized handle that you stole from your mom when you went off to college. It finally fits your hand like it fit your mom’s every morning when she would brew a fresh pot to wake you up with your favorite scent. It was glued to her palm when she sat at the kitchen table, towel wrapped around her damp hair, planning her day, her week, her month in advance. It is the ocean to the sand of her sparkly taupe manicure, the color that perfectly complements her dark Hawaiian skin. It is the same shade of dusty blue that she painted the walls of her kitchen, a blue that matches her portrait of the original Ruby’s Diner at the edge of Balboa pier, something to adapt her seaside childhood to her current inland address. Your mom’s mug loves Thursday rain during Christmas break and summer fire pits with patiently browned marshmallows and late-night Seinfeld reruns and Sunday morning crosswords in pen. The mug feels best in your hands when you’re honest about the amount of cream you like in your coffee, because your mom unashamedly pours her half-and-half until her coffee is blond. The mug knew when you pretended to like your coffee black; it didn’t judge you, it just wanted you to be happy.

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My Firsts: a series Maria Kalyagina

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Learned Behavior Jordan Thornton

strange that you refuse to pay more than two dollars for a taco because the human being that crafted it only speaks 1.5 different languages and you learned from momma that inferiority comes not from character or creed but from an innate sense of That Person Don’t Look Much Like Me passing over the fact that the only color labor sees is blue like the collar and blue like the sky

On a Bicentennial Jordan Thornton

I am the creeping green wave, washing out the edges of your highway. I am the black buzzing sound, fattened off the red river of life. I am the white-yellow smell, sweeter than any wine ever pressed. I am the beating sun, overflowing the dam of your brow. I am two hundred years of sordid affairs and hate and death. And If I don’t soon learn how to breathe fresh life, I am likely to become rotted death. 56

Incertitudo Michael Oliveras


A List of Excuses for Ghosting You Sarah May

Too-ripe plums turned to mush in my purse I took five swigs of Jack and I’m lusting after someone else Acrylic nails makes texting a bother It’s easier if I just disappear On our third date, you said something sexist I thrash in my sleep, I didn’t want to wake you I can’t tell my brother’s hands apart from mine There was a pile of Penguin Classics to be sorted I was pulling on Spanks for the last day and a half An ex asked me for coffee and I went I don’t love you yet My car broke down on Northwest Highway My phone is glitching, I need to get it fixed I’m a coward I’m covered in stretch marks I was afraid you’d snap me in half

Modern Maternal Sarah May

Let’s walk along the ravine, full of Coke bottles and condoms. I hold your bulldog like a sick babe in my arms picking him up to set him down. My cousin, handing me her newborn, asks if I feel maternal yet. It’s like a fever, I suspect. I’ll catch it when I do. I see in the baby’s whirlpool eyes how one can get sick loving a child. My mother did. Nearly bled out both times. I hold this milk-mouthed child, nape of his neck where the laurel wreath is inked on my arm. Repeating to him that it’s ok, not knowing why. Loving you, I feel some warmth. I bring you food. I don’t make you come home with me. Let me kiss your ear. Let’s walk out the back door, refill my birth control at Tom Thumb and hit the Modern.

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Erik

Kendal Dickson We stood in the cold night outside my red pickup truck. I was on my tippy-toes and he was leaning over, hands cupping my ass as we kissed. There were a few people out around us, but we didn’t care. It wasn’t our first kiss, but it was probably our last. I was looking for something, but I honestly didn’t expect to find it, especially not in a twenty-year-old guy who lived six hours south of me. Hell, my Tinder radius was set to forty miles and even that was pushing it for my preferences. It was almost eleven o’clock at night when I arrived at Dakota’s graduation party. It was more like the aftermath of the party, really. There were five of us in total: Dillon, Sarah, Dakota, me, and him. They had been drinking since five. My own graduation party had been alcoholfree, so I was more than ready for a drink when we all took a shot of raspberry flavored vodka, which tasted more like rubbing alcohol than anything else. I choked down half of a second shot while he drank another one without hesitation. I couldn’t help but fixate on him. He was six feet and four inches tall with a handsome baby face, his brown hair swept across his forehead and his smile mischievous and cute. Dillon sat on the gray loveseat and the rest of us crammed ourselves onto the Navajo print couch, with him sitting next to me. My fingers played with the denim patterning on his jeans. We were talking and laughing. Sarah shushed us. She wanted to watch Star Wars. Dakota told us to be quiet. He wanted to watch Frozen. Dillon didn’t care; he was happy drinking his concoction of sweet tea and vodka. I just wanted to talk to him. I wanted to be in his presence. I just wanted to be the only person in the room he saw. He started kissing me. His twentieth birthday was the Friday after graduation. Three days before, I had bought him a Bastille CD. I had wrapped it in bright yellow birthday-paper and stuck a small white bow to it. He had told me he liked indie rock, and I thought he might come to like my favorite band as much as I do. 58

He wanted to go to Fort Worth for lunch. I asked Dakota if I could tag along; he said of course. It was in the mid-thirties with a slow, steady drizzle. I wore a dress, sacrificing warmth and comfort for looks. My knees, exposed between the hem-line of my dress and my boot socks, were red from the cold. I locked arms with him while we walked. Partially because the soles of my boots were leather and slipping in rain, partially because I wanted to be as close to him as I could be. His heels clicked with each step in the tan cowboy boots he had borrowed from Dakota. He hesitated at each puddle, making sure I was able to cross them without getting any wetter. None of us had brought an umbrella and there were few overhead railings to shield us as we walked. We were all sopping wet by the time we made it back to the parking garage. “I’m going to sit in the back and cuddle with her for warmth,” he said. He pulled a sleeping bag from the trunk, unzipped it, and draped it over us. He took my thin fleece blanket and draped it over my head like a hijab. We clasped our hands, shivering together while the highway’s hum and Dakota’s music bounced off the car’s interior. We were kissing on Dakota’s couch. It was folded out into a full-sized bed. The apartment was dark; the only light was the moonbeams slipping in through the cracked blinds. I was on top of him, wearing only my panties. My bra was somewhere, hastily torn off in the heat of the moment. He was wearing only his underwear. He pushed me over and climbed on top of me. “Do you want to take a shower?” he asked. “Sure.” I hesitated before adding, “But, I’ve never done this before.” He smiled. “Neither have I.” I’ve always been shy and self-conscious about my body. I can’t say I wasn’t worried about what he thought. All I can say was that I felt comfortable in his presence. My naked body was pressed against his while we kissed. The warm water peppered my back. “Do you want to try something else?” he asked. His eyes fell, and mine followed. “Sure,” I said.


His hand tightly grasped a handful of my hair as my mouth traveled down. Knees bent with my hands resting on his outer thighs, I stopped. I wanted to test him. The kind of test where you find out if someone is truly interested in you. I mean sure, he had told me he liked me in person, but a person can like onion rings and not want to date them. The best way to figure it out was to see if he would text me before I texted him. The hours ticked by. Every time my phone vibrated I anxiously snatched it. Every time, I was disappointed. Seven o’clock came and Dakota’s truck rattled down my gravel driveway. He and Dakota met me outside the barn and Dakota gave me a bear-hug. He hugged me, and I pulled away without saying a word. “She’s mad at you because you didn’t text her all day,” Dakota said. I turned around, my mouth hanging open, I-can’tbelieve-you-just-told-him-that style. “I’m sorry! Dakota, you know I’m not a very good texter,” he said. “But, I mean, I did make a Snapchat just for you,” I said. “I’m sorry. I promise I’ll try to communicate better,” he said. “You better,” I said. Dakota smirked. “He will.” A short, shrill siren woke me up from my sleep. It was the smoke detector crying because the battery needed to be replaced. I didn’t have my phone on me, but judging by the light, it was early morning. I rolled over on my side. He was lying next to me, and if the siren was bothering him, he didn’t show it. I went to the bathroom. When I came back, he was swaddled like a burrito in the tan-colored comforter. The heater was off and the apartment was cold. I put on my ragged sweatpants and cat-print socks, which had been lying on the ground beside the bed. I was cold and wanted to be under the comforter, but he had most of it and I didn’t want to disturb him. I snuck enough from him to cover my body and nothing more. I suddenly felt warmth as he wrapped his arms around me. I snuggled my back into him and interlaced my fingers with his. My lips couldn’t help but curve into a smile. It

didn’t matter that the alarm was screeching every few minutes; I didn’t want to be anywhere else. It was perfect. I held myself together until I got inside my truck. My hands were shaky, but I somehow managed to put on “I Know You” by Craig David featuring Bastille. Then the tears came. It wasn’t a flood, but more like a steady stream. I drove into the apartment complex’s parking lot so I could turn around. I figured he would already be up the stairs and back into Dakota’s apartment, where it was considerably more comfortably warm. He wasn’t. He was walking back toward the stairs, but he stopped when he saw me. He raised his hand to me and smiled. I waved at him, forcing myself to smile in return. I didn’t want him to see that I was upset or that I was crying. I wanted to get out, run up to him, and hug him one last time. I wanted to feel his arms wrapped around me, his lips on my lips, the heat radiating off his body. But I didn’t get out. I couldn’t. I knew if I did I would have fallen apart in front of him. So I kept driving.

BoomerSpeak Jordan Thornton

every situation has a proper response a string of syllables that impart some amount of feeling or knowledge strung together with elegance of the Prima, the eloquence of my favorite baritone professor. but to be honest my response of late tends to be very simple “That’s wild”

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narcissus on a boat Alaz Ada

YOU created the East in your own image. an imperfect reflection, created on sight, on demand, at the tip of your index finger. YOUR FINGER touched the waters, created an infinite ripple. like Narcissus, facing himself, GOD is your hands. NARCISSUS is on a boat and he leans into the Mediterranean Nile Tigris-Euphrates Dead Sea Red Sea he does not fall in the water, looking into his eyes,

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he falls in love. COTTON AND WHEAT feeds the endless spin, the endless spin, the long haired girl picks cotton, the tired man works in the field. you know better, you are faster, you draw the lines because you need cotton and wheat. YOU choose the color palette, red like the earth, yellow like the sun, orange like spices, the East cannot afford greyness, she (is a She) is too warm for bluegreen maybe Turquoise in the Jewel of the Necklace of a Sultan, maybe on Tulips on a Tile, but no forests for the East, no oceans, seas, will I not ask you—as you drown how did Narcissus sail here?


PazarlĹk Alaz Ada I live in negotiation, every sentence worth its weight in silver, a price I must pay. How much does breaking the seed of an apricot cost? Ten years and an afternoon in a park. The park, we don’t know, but each other, we do. What do I get? The smell of cyanide and the bitterness I chose to expose. I squandered my lifetime credit for warm greetings in one breath. How much does burying the seed cost? Burying it in my own earth is free, but that is years into the future. I am not nurturing enough yet: my soil is nervous and prone to earthquakes and droughts. I have not expanded and softened from the rigidity of my once-selves. Burying it into your earth cost me the skin on my fingers, digging into your pale frost, your emerald. My eyes ate some strange fear. I kept the years in my sewing box. How much does swallowing an apricot seed cost? My throat. But I keep my skin and my eyes. I forget how to speak and the seed is lodged where nobody can reach. The seed cracks and expands and so do I, with every breath in and out. Peace grows in me, making my chest tender and aching, an even later adolescence. Years pass before I become an apricot tree.

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The Moth Suicides of Kentucky Failed to Make the News that August. John Leonard

We watched them plan their deaths, with purpose and reason. A slow hour passed of silent rotations. Wing-beats cancelled out by the nighttime buzz of blue electricity. And one at a time, the gravity of light awakened them, beckoned them even, told them that it was finally time to go home. And death was something they were sure of. Humans just take poison or jump off bridges. We aren’t lunar. We don’t have powdered wings. And in hindsight, their falling bodies didn’t even brush past our conversation. You were going on about returning to Pennsylvania in the fall, taking a night class at Behrend, figuring things out. I was thinking about that blue glow, how it made your lips look cold, how the shadows of their wings acted like small eclipses, briefly taking pieces of your legs away, and then returning them, until the motion stopped. We didn’t even consider how many hearts stopped beating that night, all around us. But what else does a poet have to think about, years later, at 4pm, drunk on a Monday? There should be a word for how your mouth tastes, when somebody says glacial.

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act two Alaz Ada

The word cuts me from cardboard, there are no innocent bystanders— no bystanders at all (the ticket stub is still in your pocket). I was going to grow into myself, but I grew out of her. I learnt to be every woman who knows the assembly line is ready, is waiting, wears plausible deniability. In every mirror I will say: I could not have been otherwise. It’s easier than mourning. I say myself but write it: my self. I cut it into words. Bleeding is tired, instead, I puke because the audience is here for a reason— as we all know by now: the stage is not the center. It’s the periphery.


Green on Green Jury Judge

Floral Bag Jury Judge 63


This Thing of Fire Ben Jorisch

In the madhouse you sleep on a bed next to a stranger more likely more mad and damned than you more strange or surrendered and you watch as they sleep this thing of flesh and fire extinguished put down in white linens with blue pajamas a slow sun rise on a winter day: And you think this is someone’s child someone’s expectations and the culmination of great hopes and dreams for the future. And here they are dead to the world beyond salvaging unknown even to themselves. Soon it becomes clear if you’re sleeping parallel to them you must not be much of anything but the weather never touches you and the paper pants are free so you think I might as well take advantage put on a little weight do some pushups beside the old bed maybe some pull ups on the door with a towel, maybe you even go to a group art therapy or some other crock like that and the woman running it tells you how bright you are and of course you think “Not bright enough to walk out the locked doors with you when you go home.”

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But you don’t say anything maybe because you’re mandatory or maybe because the pills that the doc gave you have gotten the better of your courage, soon enough though they let you out and the whole festering institution sticks in your head. You think about it sleeping brushing your teeth, drinking your coffee taking a shit in the shower while you fuck while you dream while you sit on the bus but especially when doing nothing mostly you think what was the point of the whole god damned enterprise if it was always going to lead straight back here and the thought occurs to you that the stranger so far gone lost to another world and demented is the fortunate one because there is nothing to take from them so you continue to lose until some young mad man in blue pajamas sleeping parallel to you


wonders whether or not you have a mother and a father or were just gestated miraculously outside the womb but it matters very little because soon they will be in your bed.

Body Snatcher Molly Murray

Last night hovers around me, a brute that I can’t shake loping after me relaxed, relentless, stretching gray grapnel to seize my mind and motivation— who is this in my body? An alien peers through the mirror.

Adderall Heather Freitas

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pushover Zoe Hanna

I’m not quite sure why I’m here dragged, probably. yes, dragged. I’m very trusting. is that a good thing? I suppose, for others. not for me. because now I’m here here.

Ripley

Zoe Hanna thank you, small friend keeping you alive keeps me alive so— thanks for living

It’s Coming

Natalie Gallaher The wind has found its way inside again it opens doors that shouldn’t be opened I can tell the tiger has been here too with the snowy paw prints and the sense of regret I have done something I shouldn’t have But I won’t know until tomorrow when it comes home Él no sabía qué sentía Mau Moreno

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Fare L’Autostop A.J. Cunder

Sometimes from beyond the skyscrapers, across thousands of high walls, the fearful cry of a too-well-known voice finds you in your insomnia in the middle of the night, and you remember that this desert of iron and cement is an island of un-reality. — Albert Camus, American Journals (1978)

I learned the phrase fare l’autostop in my high school Italian class sitting next to my first real crush. It was part of the travel section, and whenever it came up in the textbook the teacher always said, “It’s something you should never do. It’s very dangerous. Don’t ever fare l’autostop.” Her voice rattled in my head as I walked the dusty shoulder of Interstate 80, kicking torn bungee cords that had snapped off cargo trucks, my arm halfraised, a crooked thumb cocked eastward. She told us it was dangerous. How many stories had I heard about predators and robbers preying on the young and helpless? Probably as many as I had told. But I needed to get to New York for my mother’s funeral and I didn’t have money for a bus. At least that’s what I told the last trucker who dumped me outside a Texas Roadhouse in Elyria. Maybe he didn’t believe me. Maybe he didn’t want someone like me riding along with him, though I’m not sure how he could’ve known. Maybe it was my voice. I used to think I sounded ordinary, like everyone else. But then I stopped raising my hand in class, and I started to mumble at home, afraid to be like those who open their mouths and everyone knows. I wondered how long I could walk, running on the good-will dinner I got from the Roadhouse after I cried to the waitress, gave her a story about my mother. “I haven’t seen her in years,” I had said. “Not since she left my father. He used to beat her. Beat me, too.” I pulled up my sleeve, past the bruise blooming on my arm, the purples darkening like the sky. “I wanted to go with her, but she couldn’t take me. And now she’s in the hospital. Dying. Cancer.” My eyes wandered, watery from the Tabasco sauce. “Dad wouldn’t give me any money to go, so here I am. Making my way, one state at a time. I’ll be honest—I can’t pay for this, but I’ll wash dishes if I have to, clean tables, whatever it takes.” She pursed her lips, real thoughtful for a moment. “This one’s on me, hon.” She squeezed my wrist, her

hand warm, her salon nails sharp. The marks lingered, thin hashes on my underarm, as I walked the highway and prayed for a ride or another truck stop. The ditches looked cold and hard, though I had a spare sweatshirt in my knapsack I could use as a blanket, my half-filled canteen for a pillow. Cars soared past, a rush of wind with each one, headlights blinding me as they flickered on. A flash of brake lights, angry eyes glaring, a red Viper pulled over down the road. I started to jog, to catch up before it pulled away—was it waiting for me, or did the driver just stop for a phone call? A hundred feet, and the brake lights still seared, little suns staring back at me. The passenger window sank before my raised knuckle could tap it. “Heading east?” I asked, bending over. “Yeah. Watch the paint.” “Sorry.” I took my hand off the roof. “Get in.” “Can I touch the handle?” I couldn’t see the guy’s expression as twilight consumed the sky, but I imagined it. “Yeah. You can touch the handle.” I thought of what to say in the hard leather seat, the sports car so small my head nearly brushed the ceiling. I knew a few of my classmates who would have done anything to sit where I sat. My Italian class crush loved sports cars, always talked about them—never to me, but I heard his conversations in the hallways, saw the pictures he posted on Facebook, watched him ogle the yellow Corvette parked in the school lot. I never understood his fascination. But then, maybe I was just too busy ogling something else. The engine thundered as we jerked off the shoulder and cut back onto the highway. I tried to glance over without being conspicuous, to get a look at the guy who picked me up. He sounded middle-aged, and it looked like he had a beard. It could’ve just been shadow, though. I couldn’t decide if he was attractive. The car smelled new. “Where you going?” He reached over and caressed the back of my head rest, his fingers tapping behind my ear. “New York. My dad . . . um.” My mind blanked. What about my dad? What could I say? Something about this guy caught me unprepared, my usual stories so quick to appear slipping away like an important stack of papers on a windy day. 67


“What about your dad?” “He kicked me out.” “Why? You a bad boy or something?” “No. I mean . . . no.” “Your mom had nothing to say about it?” A glob of honey suddenly felt like it was stuck in my throat. “How old are you?” “Seventeen. Almost eighteen. You?” “Thirty-nine. Almost thirty.” The shadow on his face moved. “What’s your name?” “Colin Wilson.” “Like the philosopher? Didn’t he come up with the X Factor or something?” “Faculty X.” “Right.” The engine settled into a smooth purr, and we glided like tubers on a water slide, fast, the tires barely even touching the pavement. “What’s your name?” “Call me Guy. So, tell me, Colin. Why’d your old man kick you out? I feel like I should know about the kid sitting in my car. You’re not a murderer, are you? Got a gun in that bag?” “No.” The honey started to sour in my mouth. “It was just a disagreement.” “Must have been pretty serious.” “Over who I should date.” The words came like vomit. I couldn’t even stop them. “Kicked you out over that? And your lover didn’t come with you?” He dropped his arm to the center console, and his elbow brushed mine. I fought the urge to move. But then I forced down the honey, swallowed the story that wanted to come out and instead said, “She wanted to. She came with me for the first few miles, but then her dad came after her. Dragged her back into his truck.” The story came easier now, spilled out as though greased. “Then he gave me a wallop. Gave me this here bruise on my arm.” I lifted my sleeve and pointed to the mosaic spreading toward my shoulder. Guy laughed. “You think that’s funny?” I yanked my sleeve down, blinked away the persistence of memory that refused to lift its skeletal grip from my shoulder, its bony hand always lingering at the edge of my vision, the red lockers in the locker room, my fingers slipping through the metal 68

grating, the stench of sweaty gym shorts and jock straps, the other kid who walked in, who wasn’t supposed to be there, the flash of light from his camera, his laugh, the honey on my face. “It’s a good story, kid, but I can tell when people lie. My own Faculty X.” I suddenly knew what the sun felt like at sunrise when it sears the sky. Or maybe how the sky felt. “I’m not lying.” “Sure.” He tapped the center console, his slender fingers long and blue in the dashboard’s light. “Why New York?” “Why not? If I can find a job anywhere, it’ll be there.” “So, you’re looking for work?” “I’ll need money to survive, so yeah. I need work.” “I can give you work.” “Oh yeah?” “Right here. Right now.” The hairs on my neck prickled, memory’s fingers tickling. “Doing what?” “Guess.” He reached over and stroked my arm, his fingers cold. He pulled to the shoulder and turned his headlights off. “How much do you need?” “I don’t know.” I was surprised I could even say anything with my throat tightening, the honey choking, dripping, gagging me. I squeezed my eyes shut, but my Italian class crush wouldn’t go away, his cologne intoxicating, overpowering my senses. “You like me, don’t you?” he had said after school when he saw me watching. “I kinda like you too,” he had said with a smile that tore my heart. “Locker room?” Guy put his hand on my knee. “I’m not like that!” I tried to push his arm away, but he put it back, his hand higher this time. “Sure, kid. How much do you need?” Was it a trap? A trick? How much money did he have? Could it get me all the way to New York? Enough for a bus, so I didn’t have to fare l’autostop ever again? Enough for a meal without a side story? His hand slid up, and the blood rushed from my face turning it to ice, rushed somewhere else. I couldn’t stop it, even as I heard the town’s laughter, felt my father’s anger, the fire in his eyes hotter than the sun when he heard, when the picture of me and my crush spread like a virus. When he discovered what I was.


“I think I’ll just walk to the next rest stop.” I tried to peel his fingers off, but my muscles had turned to honey, my blood honey, my body honey. “Don’t be stupid. I’ll take you all the way.” He fumbled with his belt as I groped for my knapsack and slipped my hand through the hole. I grabbed the bone handle of my father’s hunting knife, the one I had stolen before I left, the one with the red stain he had never washed off. “Relax,” Guy said, leaning over to kiss me, and I ripped the knife from its sheath, slicing his arm, a spray of red splattering my face. “You little fuck!” I kicked the door open and ran, west, away from the bloody Viper. I hopped over the guardrail and crashed into a dense thicket, the branches scratching my face and hands. More battle scars I could use, even as my heart forced blood from the slashes, trickles slipping down my cheeks like sweat. Guy’s copper blood mixed with mine, and I ran my tongue over wet lips that tasted like honey. I pushed through the brambles, crouched down, watched the road. Would he come after me? Would he call the police? Minutes passed like hours, and when my hand started to cramp, I realized I still gripped the knife. I wiped it hurriedly on the leaves of my bower and slammed it back into its sheath. But then I pulled it out again, kept it in my hand as I arranged my sweatshirt, nestled into whatever niche I could find in the patch of forest along the highway. Just in case a hungry animal came for me, hunting here, among the trees. The sound of cars dwindled as time slowed, the moon dragging through thick leaves. A branch clawed at my shoulder. Or maybe it was the weight of memory. I left it there and dreamed of New York, its lights and sounds, the city that never sleeps, where I could soar past the present, past the future, beyond the reality of here and now into one of there and then. Where I could step outside myself into a new skin and find the right story, repeat the words until they became true. Until my story became so true, even I believed it.

Suburban Boy/Benjamin Bertram Mirko Vukoslavović

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Painted Sky

Brandon Schaden My world slipped through the openings of my fingers, spilled pools of thin memories

Above my childhood I knew clear skies. I was five when you did that and I know you would do it again if you could.

of my fingers in front of my face. Through thin memories I remember

I knew clear skies, that was one of my favorites, and I know you would do it again if you could— but now it’s time to move on.

in front of my face, above my head, clouds— I remember how you carefully painted each one

That was one of my favorites, one of my best memories, but now it’s time to move on from what was.

above my head. Clouds and blue sky, how you carefully painted each one and glued glow in the dark stars.

My memories spilled pools from what was— my world slipped through the openings.

Blue sky above my childhood and glow in the dark stars. I was five when you did that.

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Therapy

Abbey Archer Sobs permeated through the walls of the old house. Sound machines hummed in every room, even in the bathroom, taking into consideration those with pee anxiety. A disgruntled little boy sat in the far back room, playing with blocks and chanting about his anger issues. His mom sat on the white leather sectional, hands folded in her lap, face contorted into a very concerned sort of angst. The all-knowing woman sat in a chair across from the troubled family, stark blonde hair parted in the center, framing a freaky Barbie face. Botox, laser treatments, microdermabrasion, all things her thin skin had endured over her 36-year lifespan. She had small traces of cystic acne as a teen, picked at it furiously for about 2 months before seeing a dermatologist. She felt the need to have her skin repaired again and again—and again after that. Beauty lies within uncovered layers, or so the man in the scrubs had told her. Now people put the trust in her that she once gave to that man. Becoming a licensed therapist was crucial in her remorse in the decision to get a second rhinoplasty. “And when Tommy took your graham cracker, how did it make you feel?” she inquired, the boy beginning to ram an orange block into the cow hide rug. “It made me feel upset,” he growled, his underbite prominent as the vain therapist analyzed his jack-o’lantern-like teeth. “Did you try telling Tommy how he made you feel?” she asked as the mom clenched her jaw. “No, I took the graham cracker from him and crumbled it.” He began to pick at the rug. “Ryan, baby, I need you to tell her what you did after you crumbled the cracker.” The mother’s voice was shaken yet somehow soothing in a monotonous way. “I punched him . . . and his tooth fell out of his mouth.” Ryan did a punching motion and then dropped a block on the floor, as though it were a tooth. “Do you realize that you didn’t handle the situation correctly?” the psychologist prompted as she shifted her body weight in the white leather chair. “Yes,” Ryan answered calmly. “What should you have done differently?” A montage of regrets flooded the therapist’s mind as she said this.

“I shouldn’t have hit him.” He stacked a green block on top of the orange one. “Very good progress this session, Ryan. I hope to see you back next week.” She closed with a fake porcelain teeth smile.

Pill Bottle Jono Naito

“I don’t think this is too hard,” I said, pressing my thumb into the edge of the Tylenol safety cap. I was twelve, and I had a habit of faulting systems. “Yes,” my mother said, swinging her arms over the table. “But we don’t tell them, do we? Like your little brother. It is a secret. We don’t tell them so if they get the bottle we have enough time to swoop in and save them.” I wandered off with the bottle, and she barely told me not to, didn’t catch me, didn’t save us from ourselves. I went straight to the kitchen floor, where my little brother stood like a condemned building. “Look at this,” I said, showing him the lid. “Try to open it. I know you can.” He took it and fumbled with it, fingers pressing all the wrong edges. “She said it was a secret.” As I said this, he twisted the lid so the lines matched up, and he pushed it open. The pills clicked on the floor in a tessellation. “See?” I said. “You are smarter than we let you think you are.” He reached down, stance less heavy, and began to balance the pills on their ends. “See?” I said, “We keep secrets from you.” He climbed onto the counter and reprogrammed the microwave, filling it with forks and tin foil. He armed himself with a knife. “See?” I said as he called the pentagon and threatened them with the morse code he beat out on pots and pans. “See?” I said. “See?” My little brother declared war on the government. I heard helicopters outside. He started the timer on the microwave, ready to die.

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One Day

Brandon Schaden I howl in the night— in living rooms while husbands, wives, and kittens lie asleep tucked in their beds— I come out even when the moon isn’t full— I dig my nails in the dirt as I retreat to my cave full of striped ties, scraped up leather shoes, dirty coffee cups which have been my crutches aiding each step each day— gnawing on the flesh of cruel words and judgements from the men and women of this world. I am hunted with torches and the demons in me howl as I prowl through the trees— wolf-man always hunted but always hidden behind the fakeness and costumes of our world. One day you will catch me and thrust me into a wooden a cart, parading me down the street chained to other witches and warlocks who have been shunned by society— and I will wave my proud arms like a prince in his carriage unashamed of what I am while you all hang me and torch me with your expectations. November III Matt Prater

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Gravel-Washed Nathaniel Wilder

I could have this This charcoal sketched existence at the edge of the world Two dogs running across the snow over deer bones and carcasses of small rodents A trailer filled with the broken spines of first editions They always smelled of wood fires and hard cider on Thanksgiving The horses are buried across the property and the house is said to be haunted but the children aren’t here to be frightened Instead the blue-tick screams late at night chasing away whatever spirit or coyote has wandered on from the auxiliary road tracing North Carolina or the Tennessee laurels above

November V Matt Prater

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Vis Major

Whitney Walters Hot, sticky air pauses for breath before the atmosphere turns to caramel rolling, growing clouds of agitation striking out with purple sparks of lightning timed to highlight the darkening firmament’s frozen ammo pelting the ground and distract from curious fingers of the wild sky. Naturally, memory of responsibility was lost the instant a dash of motionless air entered your body, engrossed in the tinted landscape. Color-saturated shadows will not ignore scores written on such deep masses of life. Will yellow atmosphere materialize from its hiatus? Can the possibility of purpose close the void? Will you exhale stale air from inside you? Keep your eyes on the center of negative energy. You are not home. November IV Matt Prater

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The Salamander Gry Ranfelt

It hisses and spews and it doesn’t like my friends. When my mother comes in to give me my laundry, its head moves out from the wall, hovers over her and licks the air above her hair. I don’t know why I never told. At some point I should’ve said something to someone. Never did. Now I can’t. How do you explain an eighty-kilogram salamander hanging out of your wall? You don’t. They can’t see it, anyway. When I sleep, it moves so its head is right above me, and so it’s the first thing I see upon waking. Yellow eyes. Slick tongue. Almost touching, but not quite. Sometimes I wish it would just eat me. Just get it over with. Why else is it here? But then, other times, I think there might be something else to it. Some other reason for its being here. I’ve asked it, but it doesn’t answer. Its skin glistens and its eyes shift; the legs move, the tail wiggles, but it never speaks. I tried to move. We took down all my stuff, the salamander watching silently, packed up books and furniture and all the odd, trivial things one gathers through the years. It didn’t feel good, somehow. I stood in the doorway with the last box and looked at the salamander. “Hey,” I said. “Uh. It’s been . . . Well. Hang in there.” All the reply I got was the tongue, whipping in the air. I went to college halfway across the country, got a roommate and we were bumping fists after two days. Things were really picking up. The sky was brighter and I started noticing that clouds can have many different shapes on any given day. They can be streaks painted with a soft brush or pastry-like mountains of density, ready to water the earth. Halfway through the first semester, I woke up from a bad dream. An old telephone, those with a handle you had to press in and these big, chunky parts acting as microphone and earplug, stood in the corner of a room darkened by heavy curtains. The phone kept ringing: ring ring, ring ring. Becoming so persistent it almost rang my name.

But to get to it, I had to pass a streak of light coming through an opening in the curtain. So, I woke up. Above me, a tongue. Slick. Yellow. I should’ve screamed. I didn’t. As if my chest hollowed, caved in under a massive weight, I let go of my breath. For a moment, I thought I’d died, but then my lungs drew air and existence continued. I did not sleep anymore that night. When my roommate got up, I remained staring at the salamander and only when he was out the door—with more than one lingering look in my direction—I got up. The salamander moved back, its head avoiding mine as I straightened. “Oh, really” I stood up in the bed. The salamander hissed. Angrily? Couldn’t tell. My hand shot out, the muscles in my arm straightening the bones out in a painful movement that was impossible to perform in slow motion. The salamander slid out of my range, escaping my touch, retracting all the way to the corner above my roommate’s bed. I gritted my teeth, screeching, screeching. “Don’t like that, do we? Well, too bad.” I marched over to my roommate’s bed, but the salamander moved to another corner. I grabbed the baseball bat resting against my desk and pointed at it. “Don’t think I’m not gonna getcha. I’m gonna getcha!” I ran at it. It shifted position. I followed. Swinging the bat. It moved this way and that, avoiding, always avoiding. I threw a pillow at it. Another one. Then I grabbed some glass ball on my nightstand that my dad gave me, some holiday bullshit, and the glass shattered all over the floor. A piece cut its way into my bare feet and they were wet. Blood or water? I didn’t know. My eyes were on the yellow orbs in its face. I wanted to smash them. Squeeze them out. “You’re too big for this world,” I shouted and threw the bat at it. Miss. A dent in the wall. The salamander looked at the spot, then at me, licked the air. Then it stretched, and I realized it had grown. It was now large enough to fill the entire length of the shortest wall. Five meters. It was five meters long. I fell to my knees with a bump. My hands shook when they grabbed the sheets on my bed to climb into it, but 75


all I managed was to make a messy pile of bedding on my floor. “This is ridiculous,” I whispered. “You’re not here. You’re not here!” The salamander cocked its head to the side. The eyes. The yellow. The grin. Three-fingered legs, climbing over the ceiling to dip its neck down toward me. “Or maybe,” it whispered into my ear, “you’re not here?” A moment of no movement. I spun around, my hand raised. It slapped against wet, slick skin and a tongue came out to tickle my neck, following the line of the vein, a tickle that was promised and had waited for years and years and years.

Via Pietralata, Roma Federica Feliciangeli

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I curled. Shrank into a ball. Hid my face in my arms. If I screamed, what would happen? Squeaking from the bed and thudding onto the floor. A thick limb dragging on the tapestry. The body was surprisingly warm as it covered me, and I held my breath when the slick surface once again touched my hand. My limbs were stiff. If I didn’t move, I didn’t have to feel. The gigantic lizard relaxed on top of me as if I were an egg for it to hatch. It waited. Waited. I waited, as well, anxious for what I would become.


Now we live together Mónica Gomery

My lover is eating a popsicle and kisses me at the cold center of lips teeth purple it is sloppier wetter softer more joyful than you can imagine Writing about happiness is so boring It involves waking first beside them and closing the bedroom door as I tuck myself up against morning’s lavender light in the kitchen and later when they wake up their hand grazes my hip and they sit down to breathe with their eyes closed while I leave for work It involves large pots of soup Jess simmers for me full of cabbage one cabbage can yield a surprising quantity of soup, we knife it apart and delight at its ruffled density the cut open crossfolds look like outlines of bodies with v’s nested between legs

We tell jokes about our ancestors passing one another in the aisles of trains riding between Belarus, Transylvania. The jokes are funny until they’re not funny, since trains in that part of the world aren’t neutral and people like us who have sex with these bodies aren’t supposed to be making a home We ask our ancestors with their secrets and with their train tickets and grocery lists for their blessings and then we go for a walk on the beach wearing jackets and when Jess trips in the sand I’m down there beside them and they say thank you for falling with me Writing about happiness isn’t exactly a love letter to my great grandmother but it isn’t not that either, her husband died when she was younger than I am, she never remarried.

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The Missing Link McKenzie Caldwell

A person can only sit in her car for so long before the frigid November air sneaks in and tries to leach off her body heat. I looked at the small neon sign blaring “Stone Tavern” through the window and back at the front door, which I’d flung open an hour ago only to be ambushed by a sign that read “you must be 21 to go beyond this point,” gone back to my car, and panicked for the next hour. I drove forty minutes too far to not go in, but every time my hand brushed the door handle, I remembered the sign. “Fuck,” I sighed, finally jerking the car door open, hesitating over my purse, leaving it, marching into the bar, past the goddamn sign, and freezing with one foot on the thin, gray carpet. No one moved to card me, but just in case, I pushed on, made my way to the cracked, red vinyl booth directly across from the entryway and plopped down. My Tinder date was onstage, microphone in hand. I sized him up out of the corner of my eye. His floral button up shirt and the handful of people in the room made him feel like less of a threat. Meanwhile, a middle-aged man at the bar squinted at me and smiled, and my throat constricted. I turned my knees toward the stage and realized, as I watched him sing utterly forgettable lyrics, that I’d forgotten my date’s name. In 1967, two guys watched something tall, dark, and hairy walk along a creek bed. One of them, Roger Patterson, was able to film the most iconic encounter with what has become known in Americana folklore as Bigfoot. The side profile of the thing Patterson caught on film is splashed across t-shirts, mugs, posters, and car air fresheners across the country. If we zoom in, the thing—lovingly nicknamed Patty by Bigfoot enthusiasts and unjustly masculinized by casual monster fans and skeptics—has breasts, muscles, and soles on her feet. What Patterson and his friend, Bob Gimlin, saw that October day is still heavily debated over fifty years later. There have been several claims over the years that Patty was just a person in a monkey suit. Some argue that even the best costume designers and special effects artists of the ‘60s couldn’t create something that detailed, that realistic at that time. 78

Others cry, “Aliens!” All I know is that creatures like Patty walk through my dreams. They’re just not as passive. The man from the bar strolled toward me. “Why aren’t you dancing?” he asked. “I’m really horrible at dancing,” I said, fear-smile rising to my lips, baring my teeth at him. I stood up. His bloodshot eyes squinted a little harder. “How old are you?” I inhaled sharply. “I’m twenty-one.” “Twenty-one! Are you sure?” He grinned. “Pretty sure, yes.” God, I thought, he’s going to ask to see my ID. My Tinder date—Matt? Mike?—stopped singing, and the man—old enough to be someone’s pervy uncle— shambled toward the stage. Mike started to reach for the glass on a nearby speaker, but was accosted by the man, who hugged him tightly and patted him roughly on the back before returning to his drink at the bar. I moved closer to the stage, hovering six feet away as Mike and the musicians with him began packing up their instruments. Eventually, I caught his eye, and he jumped the four inches from the stage to the floor and hugged me, taking away my opportunity to confirm his name. He probably said something like, “Did you find the bar okay?” and I probably asked—at some point—if he wanted help packing up his equipment, but he definitely shook his head. The rest of the band had almost finished. “Do you want a drink?” he asked. “Maybe some water.” There’s a fifty-fifty chance that he said, “And a water for the lady,” to the bartender after he ordered his can of PBR. Then he leaned against the bar. He was roughly my height and stared at me with almost-turquoise eyes. One of us may have suggested sitting. I’ve forgotten most of whatever we talked about, sitting at that bar in Kent, Ohio. The only thing I can recall is the fact that he wrote for a publication to survive while he was getting his band started, and his brother, Nick, who came up to the bar for a fresh drink, was his guitarist. When they went outside, it was Nick who I ended up standing with by the dumpster, hands deep in our pockets, shivering in the first snow of the year while he lit a cigarette. Mike, meanwhile, dragged out totes.


“Mind over matter, right?” I said through clenched teeth. Nick’s eyes lit up. “Exactly! I always say that!” “It’s amazing what the mind can do. It’s barely cold out unless you focus on it.” My entire body was tensed up and suppressing a shiver as the breeze cut through my sweater. I didn’t zip my leather jacket. Nick took another drag from his cigarette then dropped it, squashed it with the tip of his shoe. He grabbed one of the totes and lumbered off. “We’re going back to the hotel soon, if you want to come hang out,” Mike said when he came back for a tote. “Sounds fun.” They’re usually nightmares. In the beginning, the dreams were something more like The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972)—the creature lurking around in the shadows, staring from a distance for a while before attacking. Later, they would chase me, and I hid under cars so they wouldn’t “rip me limb from limb,” as they say. Now, my relationship with the dream-bigfoots is just strained. Now, they just walk up to my tent and shake it around a bit. They growl at me, but we both know that neither of us is going to do anything. They’re still freaky as hell, though. As someone who has never seen a bigfoot, my imagination turned them into something like really stretched out mountain gorillas, except with brown fur—hair?—instead of black. The dream-bigfoots and I are not friends by any means, but we’re grudgingly becoming more comfortable with one another. “I was going to say—what’s up with you and Bigfoot?” Mike asked. There was at least a foot of ugly, floral hotel quilt between us, and he was very slowly closing the gap, fidgeting his way closer to me. I leaned back a little, away from him. “I’ve always loved stuff like that,” I said. “I started listening to bigfoot podcasts, and now I basically see bigfoot everywhere. I’m starting my own podcast next semester, but it’s going to focus more on the actual researchers.” He shifted closer, and I leaned further back. “That’s super cool!” he said.

I glanced at Nick on the other bed. The very top of his head poked out from under the stiff quilt. The drummer was already snoring on a cot on the floor. When I turned back to him, Mike was lying down and looking at me. I leaned back on my elbow. “What?” “What?” he asked. His eyes were half closed. He looked at me from under his eyelashes. I leaned toward the phone and microphone. “Can you describe the first time you saw a bigfoot?” Marc DeWerth—organizer of the Ohio Bigfoot Conference, the biggest event in a nation covered with reports of bigfoot encounters—said reverently, “Beautiful.” I suppressed a snort, remembering the terrifying dream-bigfoots. Marc claims he saw a bigfoot the same year I was born. He was looking for a badger nest (as one does) when all of the sudden a bigfoot appeared on the hill above him. This bigfoot was, as Marc says, “Big. Black. Beautiful.” When it heard him, it turned and sprinted back up the slope, into the trees, disappearing from view and leaving broken trees in its wake. Toward the end of October 2017, I came out as asexual on Facebook. The weekend before that, I came out to my parents, first telling my mom, who said, “I love and accept you. I just don’t know the terminology.” So I explained that to be asexual means that I’m not sexually attracted to anyone, that I’m not particularly interested in sex. When I told my dad this, he shrugged and said, “As a father, that sounds great to me,” and was okay with it until I told him that it puts the A in LGBTQIA+. When I met Mike on the ninth of November 2017, I was dealing with a lot of sex repulsion, which acts, in some ways, like nausea to one’s sexual appetite. So while Mike and I stood naked in the cheap hotel bathtub with the lights off, shower running, and the water half an inch thick because of all the hair the drain had swallowed, my throat was closing up. “I’m going to need you to do something for me,” Mike said. “Yeah?” I snorted. “And what’s that?” “You know . . .” He pushed my head downward. 79


My stomach turned. “I’m not really a fan,” I said. “Sorry.” There was a beat where he didn’t say anything, and then he said, “That’s okay.” He pushed me up against the shower wall and kissed my neck. His penis was limp against my thigh. I stared up at the ceiling and squeezed my eyes shut. “Not to give you that line,” I said, grimacing into the darkness, “but it’s getting pretty late.” He froze, then got off of me. The shower turned off. “Let me turn the light on,” he said, and I heard his feet squeak against the bathtub as he climbed out. In the light, I could feel each water drop trembling on my too-pale skin, dripping from my breasts, running over my leg hair. Mike’s eyes followed them. He handed me a towel, and I climbed out of the tub. We began drying off in silence. Not to say that having dreams about imaginary bigfoots and allegedly seeing one in real life is anything like sexuality, but having dreams about imaginary bigfoots and allegedly seeing one in real life is like sexuality: everyone experiences it differently. * * *

I pulled my underwear on, extracted my sweater and jeans from the pile our clothes had formed next to the sink. When we were both dressed, Mike opened the bathroom door and led the way back to the bed, where I plopped down and pulled on my boots and jacket. “Thanks for hanging out,” Mike said. “Of course! It was a fun time,” I said, backing slowly toward the door. I gave him a half-wave and opened the door to the cold. There were a few stars glinting in the blackness of the sky, and a few lazy snowflakes swirled in the slight breeze. I pulled my jacket closer and looked at the thicket of trees behind the hotel parking lot. I laughed. If there were any time that I would see bigfoot, it would be then, walking back to my car, after a fucking catastrophe of a night. I walked a little faster. Once in my car, I locked my doors and leaned my head back against the headrest. I checked my phone. It was 2:04 in the morning. I stuck the key in the ignition and said, “Fuck you, McKenzie,” just wishing that something big and hairy would shatter the windshield and rip me apart. I made it home safely.

three homes Brenna Lilly

my aching branches beg to reach the sky (which blooms at night like an orchid giving pollen). i grow down the length of a maple tree. tapped for sap in the spring, i give of myself. endlessly replenishing, i am hardy and tall, growing ascendant and gaining rings in my core where my sweet heartwood lies. under the kitchen sink next to packets of soap and three-pronged forks, i hide from the growing chaos of legs and ankles and necks on couches in the living room. pennies for beer jingle in my pocket and i ask the nearest person to hold my hair while i vomit. i am wrapped in an unknown jacket, tucked under a vest, and i nestle easily into soft and dim places. warm wood floors groan under my feet, and i find comfort in the breeze creeping through the window. there are a few of us in this small apartment—someone groans in a deep yoga stretch, another person is sitting at the countertop, reading, their head resting between the pages. we make dinner at 2 am for the third time this week and we have company in our darkness, embracing that which dwells within us.

80


The Sitting Age

He likes space Robbie Masso

Noah Koob

A critic fades back into 90s riffs; long hair baroque grunge condensing the fairy-tale, the primeval moon child away from human reach. How it developed into automation catches everyone off guard. Bible monsters cheer behind the traffic cones; so many cheerleaders, workers, worgs all wearing expensive blue and gold headphones. An old man insists the money’s in accounting, never art. Grocery unions pull together an anthem and the shoppers locust around their ankles till like timber they plummet back into assisted wages. Denim jacket wastrel sees the entropy, hurls a brick, and gets rushed into solitary. All actions are discourse, all inaction is the David statue pondering gender, drugs, and whatever happened to the ozone layer. Meat and vegetables have clandestine origins. Secrecy’s on sale. We’re finding new ways to call the old ways a minstrel show. Hail obscure vegan punk garage and damn the comedians putting on an accent. Civil Southern war horse statues crumbling into marble and Elmer’s glue while those swords still poise victoriously to a lost war. Perhaps the old top hat allies were scoundrels, perhaps the silver dollar Valkyrie had a selfish revolution. Columbus was a known serpent. Someone is searching for alternatives. The printed word carries drama further on a screen. The gunners are fascinating, the victims are getting younger, and the dialogue doesn’t change. It’ll get quiet again before we repaint the numbers on a policeman’s badge. We forget about water. A pilot flies her commercial jet longer than what is legally, morally justified. Airline says different. So do you. 81


Getting Ready for Christ’s Party Sarah T. Jewell

“Flirting is fun,” St. Teresa of Avila admits, brushing my hair before the party, “And Jesus has few friends. We usually end up on the chopping block.” She gently wields a wand along my eyelashes, applying mascara. “Even I originally followed the Devil,” St. Christopher says as he thumbs his iPhone, typing something into Twitter. “Even as a child, Jesus was heavy to carry across the river.” “I fall asleep often during prayer,” giggles St. Therese of Lisieux as she takes a swig from a bottle of Bushmills. “But if you want to impress Him, you’ll find you can invoke the holy out of an ordinary, domestic life. Make sure you’re the last to leave, offer to do the dishes, and He’ll be yours forever.”

What the Dani Leave Their Dead Noah Koob

Gnarl and sag, the oaken waves aligning her face remains. A history of solemnities, though the grace remains. Many must burn this night: sweet potato, weapons his handsome frame; but the widow’s pace remains. The cool shades of the night beckon, Ikipalin. Ikipalin. lusting for her fingers. The thumb erased, the mark remains. Youth wails uncontrolled like the squealing pigs, casting nets on apparitions that disgrace the remains. The axe took several: ring for the husband, pinky for nephew, plucked like baby carrots off her hand, displaced but remains a cauterized display. She raised them, fed them, lived them, wrapped a string around her middle and embraced the remains. New calluses form, remake her grip: a fearsome appendage. The grimaces of clay and the ash on her face remains. Blood dries quickly and pain subsides. Hands adopt new ways. What then, Hebrew son, shall I mutilate at that place of remains?

82


Millennial Pink Demi Wetzel

They just wanted us to be happy. That’s what our parents said. Even the animatronic fish Big Mouth Billy Bass wanted us to be happy too. Now we’re frozen here with debt so deep some of us put ourselves to sleep with opioids not found on the street. We create Instagram profiles solely dedicated to cacti because our grandparents have ruined the planet. Our tiny studios and apodments filled with pothos and sedums plus herbs used to make tea that zoinks us out into a smooth, dreamy bliss. We worry about which gluten free dish we’ll bring to the BBQ honoring our local #BlackLivesMatter group so no— we won’t be putting down any type of down payment anytime soon.

We’re too damn busy, too damn broke from bailing out our saints and martyrs because they kicked down another damn-ed, belov-ed supremacist statue.

You say identity politics and safe spaces are ruining the country. We’re just happy to finally have the right words to match the truths we’ve known all along.

Just read our enamel pins. Each with a different message, cause, or clusterfuck of righteous, radical love. We hope you’ll grab a glimpse as we guzzle down yet another can of La Croix.

A generation built on feelings, emotions, and 24-hour access to cable television news. We’re the ultimate iconoclasts fighting for intersectional, socio economic justice. Liberation is just another thing we try to do.

Two times we sang at the top of our lungs with tears in our eyes while driving through the streets of hometowns, far and wide that our president was black and our Lambo was blue.

So this is what you get when you tell kids not to worry and just be happy. Better watch out. You might get happy too.

Jobs jobs jobs came and went. There’s a reason that album was called The Recession. Now we spend mornings rearranging our vocabulary so our friends and lovers may feel some shade of welcome, some sense of safety when they enter our home.

83


Leaving the Tall Society Pearse Anderson

The First Hurt: My cousin and I started wrestling when we knew we wanted to become men, but we didn’t know how. He was nine and I wasn’t much older. His hair was rough and firm like the bristles of a brush. We wrestled in the center of our grandparents’ big bedroom where the skins of two animals we had never seen alive lay. Sometimes in our chaotic motions I accidentally felt their fur, but I always knew it wasn’t his: he was always drier. Maan was his name, though he would later change it. Maan’s sister and my sister sat out the fights. They would join us soon enough since we all slept on the floor like rugrats. We ate up the glory of the bedroom, usually in the dark, usually without talking. The size of it! The size of the house! The size of Long Island, which seemed to stretch forever. We never stayed over at our grandparents’ long enough to understand its systems, but enough to remember the smell of the carpets long after we left, the cousins retreating to Manhattan and us up the Hudson. Here’s how the fights went: our sisters would move the bags, and then we’d all pick up this massive buffalo skull that Maan’s sister always had nightmares of, and move it through hallways until it was far enough away and we could rest peacefully. Maan and I would form starting positions in the center of the bedroom, and someone would clap for us to go. I kept eye contact because it felt more unnerving not to. I pushed Maan around. He gripped into me like I was a ladder. Sometimes we feared our heads would smack against the buffalo skull, and sometimes we would remember that it was gone. Maan always hit too hard, but it was rarely intentional. I bled just the same and looked up at his stubby legs, wondering what animal birthed this cannonball of a son. We tied our arms together. We turned each other red. We did not learn from our mistakes, of course. The First Break: One morning, we lugged our rugburnt bodies to the little space behind our grandparents’ garage. We had only been there once before, the previous day, drawn by boredom and a need to map the unknowns of Long Island. 84

“We should expand this,” Maan said, fingering the border of the hole he had made the previous day. He had punched through the picket fence, which was easy because it was all moldy and brown, but the motion was amazing, too. “Let me look,” I said, and he let me. Peeping through the hole, I saw two fences that ran parallel to each other, close enough to create a tunnel fit for child-sized travel from our backyard to our distant neighbor’s. It was a hidden no-man’s land. “I don’t think we should make a hole,” I said as I really wanted to explore the fence tunnel. “We already made a hole. It’s gonna be a hole. We should just make it bigger so we can crawl through it.” It was good enough for me. “Who lives two doors down?” “I think it’s the Mainards,” he said, looking through the hole. The Mainards had a pool. The Mainards always shaved their children’s heads even if they said no. The risk of baldness was worth it for Maan. He began plucking the pickets apart like pulled pork. We knew the Mainards and that was something. The town had become more and more Hasidic, and Maan grew paranoid of our neighbors. He recognized fewer faces from our walks around the block and my grandparents’ Passover dinners. Eventually, the Mainards were almost the only ones left. Neither of us were ready to be around that many strangers, so that day Maan dug and I sorted the rotted wood into piles. Our hands smelled and turned brown. Not knowing what to do come dinnertime, we tossed the picket-pieces into the coal chute on the side of our grandparents’ house. That night we wrestled, I think, or I dreamed that we did. The hole was still too small for access. When his father collected the family to leave the next morning, he found Maan behind the garage, still picking away. He made Maan promise to stop. Then we all packed our sleepover clothes and drove west and said until next time! to ever applicable person. The Last Religious Experience: By the time I was thirteen, religiosity had grown tasteless and political, but I still prepped for my bar mitzvah in our small conservative temple. My rabbi was a tall Israeli who understood my reasons for the event: I would have two nice dinners and a country club party, and people


would be happy, at the very least. The Hasidim who came to our temple never got that social side of it. “A bar mitzvah is for God and family,” one told me in the lobby. “Both will be watching and both will be together.” “I don’t want my family to get together.” “It will be in celebration of you!” “My family is weird. My uncle only learned how to read when he was twenty, but he thinks some T.V. Emmys he won make up for it. And my cousin talks to me in his sleep and doesn’t read books except for bird guides.” “Seems like they taught you a lot, just about what you don’t want to be.” “Sure.” “Then thank them for that when you thank your family members.” I didn’t really understand what that person was saying, so I didn’t write it into my speech. I instead tried to imagine Maan as older than I had last seen him, as a matured soul. After my haftorah reading, I scanned the crowd. They were all half-strangers, and Maan wasn’t there, or if he was, I didn’t recognize him. When service was over, I found Maan and a family friend in the building, toward the balcony seating. Clumped together, doing their best in suits and yamakas, they looked like one mass—they were on top of each other. I came toward them and they shifted. One was being strangled. His sky-blue tie tightening around his neck until another world formed. Maan’s hands were around this boy’s shoulders. I think they were having fun the way we used to have fun. But it was too dark, even for me, even for that place. I couldn’t tear them away, but I told an adult and they stopped the fight. This was my day, not Maan’s. But all these years later, I don’t remember my haftorah, just that boy’s throat. When I see Maan’s face in photobooks, I see that sky-blue. I keep expecting birds or other winged animals to pass through the sky, but it’s just there, filling and cloudless. What did I expect? It was like fate. The Last Time She Was Healthy: The family stayed weird, and it dropped in number: two distant cousins died. Our grandmother fell ill. My sister and I were tasked with seeing her before things got worse. By that point, their world was alien to us. When

asked where in Long Island they lived, I lacked the words and even sometimes the memory to spark the words. I knew the place had spiked into ultra-Orthodoxy and the Mainards were still holding on, but that was it. I knew every way the Italian ices tasted at Ralph’s, a Long Island place we used to frequent on family get-togethers, a place now a carpet store with an ice-cream-themed carpet in the window, but that was where my knowledge cut short. We took the train out from Peekskill, transferring at Grand Central. “When were we last out here?” I asked, almost accidentally, spacing out as we trailed eastward. “Probably the time that dog died,” my sister said. Oh, yeah. Some patriarch had run it over when they tried to back out of our grandparents’ driveway. Was it our uncle? Our grandfather? Some neighbor? “The dog was sick, though,” I said as some kind of consolation. “I remember being told that it was sick and even though it was sad that it got squished it was better than the alternative.” “It was pretty sad still.” After that dog thing, my grandmother asked the buffalo skull in her room to be put away. As we rolled into her train stop, I couldn’t help but think of finding it again as we went through all the back rooms and cardboard boxes in the eventual estate sale after the eventual funeral. There was an ambulance and some rail security van when we got off the train. I had no idea what to think. Apparently, a young man had been jumping turnstiles and avoiding ticket collectors from 81st Street all the way to Long Island. He was riding between cars, running around, refusing to listen. “Metro authority got his wallet,” a witness was saying as we passed police-types. “He had an unlimited pass. I don’t understand.” “Did you see this too?” someone said. “Yeah. It’s like he doesn’t want to be caught. Even if he’s doing the right thing, he doesn’t want to be caught.” The boy was fined a hundred dollars and his school was informed. We found him later on the curb of our grandparents’ house, waiting for us. Then we went in, all of us together for tea.

85


The Last View of the Atlantic: Both the school and the fine required Maan to show up in court for a day. Just some preliminary bullshit to cover everyone’s bases. No. Instead, Maan took his unlimited pass and went east again. He took it all out to Montauk where the fly fishermen were and surfboard kitsch and all the Dutch graveyards. After talking to a homeless man he found deep in alleyway, Maan decided to get food and maybe bring some back for the guy. He stopped in the best pie shop in New York State and bought two slices, both apple, and couldn’t stop telling the waitress about his life. “They’re saying the fine will double if I’m not there”— he checked his watch—“in twenty minutes. Isn’t that funny?” “And what will the school do?” she asked, squeezing the tip of the whipped cream can until he said stop. It was rocketing out. “You’re a good thinker. I do not know. I just feel like it’s so easy to feel out of control these days.” “Yeah, I understand.” “How do you feel, this close to the beach? With all the driftwood and people you don’t know?” “It’s nice. I collect wood actually, but only pieces that look like my family.” Maan thought that was amazing. He could never do that with his family. The closest he could do was find driftwood the hard shape of his father’s Emmys or the knot of his newly converted cousin’s payots. After his two slices, Maan explained to her how she was the last person that week he’d talk to. Really talk to. He was headed west, only a bit, only to an old house. Only to pull apart a few more pickets and toss them in a pool. He just wanted to widen it all until he had a chance at crawling through it. And so with wood on his mind he went to that old fence. Maan wasn’t still that small boy, but God he tried. He wanted in no matter the confines of that tunnel. Afterward, Maan went back to Manhattan and got suspended, which was okay for everyone involved except for Maan’s mother, but she also had lupus so that could’ve been it. No one in my family was ever great at identifying crying, but they made decisions around tears just the same. The disappearance thing happened a few more times. Maan drifting through unreasonable streets at 86

unreasonable hours. Hiding away no matter what outs he was given. After a while, Maan’s father just sent him off. The thought process, as I best understood, was: Maan likes breaking the rules and running away, so if the rules encourage him to leave, wouldn’t Maan want to break them and come home? His parents were vague about it, pushing him to get his energy out across some large field. Travel around a bit, learn about real consequences. Soon, before the birds came back in the spring, he’d return to normal. Wouldn’t he? Wouldn’t he rejoin this tall society of hidden diseases and three-piece suits? The Last Hour in the Apartment: So he packed it up. His muscles were still clawing and shaped from sport and play-fighting and gym. Our grandmother was in hospice and he left. My uncle bended the rules and Maan stepped across them like a new bridge. Maan took his knife collection and his three paperback copies of Cujo and put them in the bottom of his gym bag. He took a balaclava, but he wrapped it in socks to douse suspicion. He took shelled pistachios and three pairs of basketball shoes and half his mother’s lupus medication. It made sense that they expected Maan to return like he had done before. If they knew what would happen, I think they would’ve made more of a significant goodbye than a gruff see you later and a wave. His father had two Emmys prominently displayed in the main hallway and Maan thought of taking one or both. He carried the oldest one out of the apartment, but it was so heavy, Maan gave it to the doorman as a tip, and later heard from his sister it was never recovered. He went west this time. I wish I knew if Maan ever used that tunnel he opened up and, if he did, by the time he finished it if he was too large for its enclosures. I remember that Maan was promised a grandfathergrandchild trip after his bar mitzvah, as we all were, but that he was the last, since he was the youngest, and never got his. I want to know where he would have gone so that one day I could send him a postcard. Or maybe he already went. He probably doesn’t have an address. When I think about lupus, the disease stirs images of Maan’s mother turning into a werewolf. I think of her swallowing the doorman who took the Emmy, and


then her daughter who dropped out of college, and then sniffing Maan’s old gym socks to get his scent, to track him down across America. She is massive. Nothing can contain her force. Does Maan have that same fantasy? When he stole her medication, did he think he was hurrying this transformation process? Was he happy that he was building himself a worthy antagonist? Months after he left, I discovered I somehow had one of his bird guides in my possession: he had written in the margins of it constantly, scrawling notes about Montauk and dreams and a female named Red he used to meet under a nearby bridge and talk to. I had no idea if Red was a creature or a human. I put it away after a while and forgot about it. The book didn’t solve any questions I had. It’s not like there were rules to this, or real ways of locating answers. The Last View of Maan: Right before I started visiting colleges, my mother tripped on a snake and broke her ankle. She couldn’t operate vehicles or heavy machinery, so she gave me some hundreds and said I should bus myself around the Tri-State Area looking for places to apply to. I was dumbfounded by how far a few hundreds could take me in Pennsylvania. I stopped in Scranton. Its bus station was a little meth lab of a place that only sold Hostess products out of a vending machine, so I walked to a coffee shop before my next bus. On the walk from the Starbucks back to the bus station, my luggage handle broke and before I could desperately snatch it up, it slid down the sidewalk and into a grassy bank. Shrubs ate the dark-gray case and I crawled down and had to weedwack through the riverside looking for where it might have gone. The handle was always weak. I should have expected the break. I came to an opening in the slope where a giant pipe had been installed to funnel the river underneath the sidewalk and road. There, where the lip of the pipe met the mud, I found my now-handleless case. I grabbed it, unsure how I would carry such a thing, but that thought swung out of me when I saw out of the corner of my eye a figure inside the wet pipe. There was twisted wood and loud frogs in there, but a few feet from the lip there was Maan or whatever his name now was. He was in all khakis with lightningblue hair. His body was ragged, his breath stable. He had

a piece of luggage beside him too, but after all was said and done, I looked for him around the station and when I was boarding my bus and I couldn’t catch sight. Looking back, I have trouble believing he was going anywhere. If he wanted to leave, he would have been gone already.

If I Were a Spider Frederick Livingston I would hold you so tight I could keep you from falling a part of me believes I have enough arms to catch you as dew catches rainbows on webs I mean the kind of prism that sets us free

87


Something Rots Elena Jackendoff

Tattoo Shop Robbie Masso

88

the afternoon light curves around

right to the veins and when I stand

the blade through slits in heavy drapes

he asks why I drag clothes onto

I run my thumb along his spine

my torso pelvis even though

along each knot each vertebra

we are alone and maybe if

to cut him right in half to give

he doesn’t know he never will

him wings each arm and leg are soft

and I leave him limbs splayed along

skin of a butterfly I clip

his back to rot or be consumed


Road Kill

The Do-Over

there’s a dead deer on the flank of the highway, mossy guts exposed like a feast on a rib cage platter, forgotten or rejected by the gods to whom the sacrifice was made. the sparrows in the sky in loose formation make room for escape, a well-timed straight shot into atmosphere, velocity measured according to the force of time required to cross the space between translations. the forest glen we left behind appears at the bottom of a bottle, or six, rises from beneath the smoking dust, loosely covered by a shifting blanket of dead leaves, dried herbs, psilocybin. the soil is sticky with new blood and honey, the knife in my boot having caressed too closely my heel, my sunburned scars, my fur-covered hide.

If I could do that night over again I would have taken a banana from the glass fruit bowl when you said never

Angela Ramos

Sophie Panzer

have I ever enjoyed oral sex and eaten it slowly like a promise or a challenge accepted and if you asked me what I was doing I would have shrugged and said I’m hungry and while you just stared at me I would have dropped the peel in the garbage and wiped my mouth and told my friends go to that bar on the corner I’ll meet you there and then in my bedroom I would have pushed you down and bitten your neck blue.

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LUKUYU

Angelica Oluoch Today is warm. It is morning. The sun is out, but my hands are cold. Mama says if you have cold hands then your heart is warm. She is wrong. My heart feels cold, too. I swing my feet below the bench I sit on. I watch the children play in front of me. The playground is filled with sand. They are happy. I know this because I see their faces and hear them laugh. I hear them speak, too. I cannot understand what they say, so I cannot play with them. I remain on the bench. Watching them. Today is cold. This side of the country, it rains a lot. I like the tea farms I saw on my way here. Kericho is the name of the place where the green farms lay. Now, we are in Gem. I am in the kitchen, helping. Or trying to. I keep alert, looking around to see what the women need. Someone calls my name and asks me to do something. I frown because I do not understand what she says. Agitation is clear on her face when I do not act. Finally, one of the women laughs and stares at my face as she speaks. “This one knows nothing. She cannot speak her father’s language. She is not from here; she only stole the name.” The women around her stop working for a moment and let out peals of laughter at my disability. I understand a word of two of Dholuo, you see. Enough to know what her statement meant. My head is heavy. From the rings upon rings filled with bright beads, which hang above my ears. I have to bend to pass through the door entrance. I remember this door being too large for me as a child. I find the other women outside, chanting a song they all know. I cannot understand the words, but I see their faces. They are smiling because they are happy. I join the moving circle and try to dance like they do. Once in a while, I find my mother staring at me, at my motionless lips. She is disappointed and feels bad for me. I avoid my grandmother because she will expect me to greet and speak to her in fluent Gikuyu. I fail each time.

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Mom, in fluent Gikuyu, explains that I refused to learn her language because I favor my father’s more. I can only stare at the exchange. I walk away, leaving the women to gossip about this alien Dholuo girl who thinks she can fit in with the Gikuyu. “She is not ours,” is the unanimous whisper that spills forth from their lips. * * * I am staring at the ground, hoping that I will die any minute now. The lady at the desk is getting impatient. She smacks the pen away from my grip. She gives me instructions: I cannot be both, I have to choose one. And she will not tolerate my persistent stubbornness. I nod and bend to stare at the form on the desk. It reads: Ethnicity: _____. I look back at her face. I wish so badly that I could ask her: Am I allowed to write ‘None,’ or better yet ‘Confused,’ and the best option ‘I Belong Nowhere’? Somehow, I know she will not be amused, so I choose to remain silent. Hoping I will die any minute now. It is 2017, and my country has begun to question the color of her blood. She wonders how it is that her people do not seem to understand how finite their nature is as humans, how fast the lessons have been forgotten. “And how are you all at home? Has the millet grown and has the drought subsided? Are the young children happy in school?” The e-mails come in droves from our cousins in America and Canada and Australia. “Are you safe? Is it like ten years before once more?” is what they all seem to whisper through the colorful words and warm greetings. I am aware that these are the real answers that they wait for. Of course, they know the children will grow; the millet will ripen. The rain will fall when the ground is ready for it—who knows when that shall be. So that evening, I sit down and I write back: “The political conversations in our house are . . . tense and conflicting and confusing because my siblings and I have to keep choosing whose side to take on tribal lines, unconscious as it may be, and unwilling as we are to recognize that the divide exists within us, and without, too. My reigning statement to make both sides ‘happy’ is


that ‘none of them deserve the presidency.’ My people are being attacked because they are protesting Raila’s loss. I am sad for and with them because I am a part of them. I am them. But also, my people are euphoric because Uhuru won. I am happy because they are me—they speak a language I understand. Do you see the dilemma? I am both and none at once. I cannot abandon either tribe; it’s a horrible, gray place to be in.”

Postscript: “Our minds are not safe. It is like fifty years before once more.”

The Next Calamity Silas Plum

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Lo Siento

Kendra Nuttall ¿Cómo estás? I’m not a Dreamer, but I don’t look so different. I’m lucky. ¿Hablas español? It’s my own fault I don’t. ¿Qué tiempo hace? It’s still winter here. Most of the people blend in with the snow. ¿Cuántos años tienes? When I was three, I spoke Spanish. At school, the kids spoke English; I didn’t want to embarrass myself. ¿Cuántos años tienes? Too old for excuses. ¿De dónde eres? I’m from Idaho, my mom is Venezuelan. ¿Quién eres tú? Mom wanted to name me Alejandra. Dad said no one could spell it. I’m Kendra. ¿De dónde es tu familia? Venezuela is far away. I visited once when I was little; I don’t remember it. I don’t remember my family. ¿De dónde es tu familia? My cousin, Cesandry, is beautiful. Her family is fleeing to Peru. ¿De dónde eres? I pass as white. Mom can’t hide her accent. ¿Dónde vives? White people say racist things to Mom on the phone. This is where we live. ¿Quién eres tú? People think I’m Mexican, but they aren’t mean to me. My skin is lighter than the others. ¿Cuál es tu lugar favorito? Mom used to say she wanted to go back to Venezuela. Now it’s impossible. My favorite place is bed. ¿Cuál es tu color favorito? Abuelita’s favorite perfume is Japanese cherry blossom. Pink reminds me of her. ¿A dónde vas? I haven’t seen my abuelita in five years. She made the best pastelitos. We’ve never had a conversation. ¿Hablas español? I’m sorry I didn’t try in eighth grade Spanish class. ¿Tienes remordimientos? I’m afraid I’ll never see my abuelita again. I’m afraid I’ll lose her before I ever learn to speak. ¿Estás bien? I’m Venezuelan. Venezuela is dying. I’m sorry I don’t speak Spanish. ¿Quién eres tú? I’m Venezuelan. I dream.

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1:42am

Bella Pori Don’t you realize that anything can be a poem? It’s not just about where to break the lines, it’s about who you are and what you convey when you write it. And late at night what I write to you is a poem in the truest sense I’m waiting for you to tell me that I am not alone I’m waiting for you To finish The poem Right. But what I asked was “Did you have that tough conversation with your girlfriend?” Oh No I’m postponing it. Again? Again.

Inner Mau Moreno 93


Like Ivory

Angela Ramos The tighter twats of our teens and twenties dilated by dildos and Kevin’s dong and German’s fingers. On the couch, in the barn, the attic, the entertainment center, beyond light and sound, far beyond light, spinning with electricity nonetheless. Look at me. See the sinister in my smile, teeth poached like ivory. 977 blue butterflies flew from my mouth, wings trembling like paper on my breath. Here comes the storm now.

Eros #1 (Dylan Pierson) Conor Tierney 94


Boredom is a Luxury Alyssa Oursler

I’m in Tahoe, in a room of wallpaper, wondering how people can feel so certain about patterns. Later, I’m pretending to be in Paris and in love. In between, I’m lying next to him, making plans. “Let’s move to Noe Valley!” I say. “I wish we could take downtown Berkeley and put it by the beach,” I say. “Let’s move to Berkeley Beach!” He laughs. Pats my head. Tells me I’m cute. Agrees to the one that doesn’t exist. I try to explain to him how things get stuck in my head, the way the word stuck is lodged there now. “It’s like when I finished The Martian and asked if you liked the ending,” I say. He looks at me, blankly, again. I say: “You were talking about the plot. I was talking about that one paragraph.” I don’t say: “Fundamentally human” are the words I remember most. I remember the first time I told him I was writing a book. It was Wing Wednesday, long before the weekend with the wallpaper. “They’re personal essays,” I explained. “Just about my life.” “So the book would be like: I’m having wings with this guy Don,” he offered. I laughed. Shook my head. Told him I already had the essays for the book outlined. Told him the book was full. “What if something new happens?” he asked. I told him that story sometime after the weekend with the wallpaper. It almost feels like I made it up. He seems surprised by the things I’ve memorized. Tells me I’m cute. Pats my head. Forgets them all over again. Like, one time early on we were going to see a movie and I suggested he was just hanging out with me because he was bored. His face was serious; I remember because we as a couple were not. He shook his head. “That’s not true.” An essay by Gay Talese advises me to not worry about the precise things people say, but to focus on understanding how it is they think. “Let’s move to Noe Valley!” I say. I don’t say: “I just wish something life-changing would happen,” because I said that to my mom once and she replied: “Be careful what you wish for. You might wake up one day without an arm.” I don’t say, “I’m bored,” because I say it to my mom all the time and she says: “Boredom is a luxury.” Once, my mom said we could do something in a few minutes. I was four. I impatiently asked how many a few was; she said “three to fifteen.” It stuck. She tells the story still, just as I still use that time frame for a few. “You never know what people are going to remember,” she says. I

remember. I remember phrases and paragraphs: Lena Dunham writing about girls whose passions do not stir her, Roxane Gay writing about the man she left behind, Chloe Caldwell remembering the word unmoored, the Wolf of Wall Street saying he had to keep moving or he would die. I remember book titles that read like song lyrics: What’s yours is not yours. All stories are love stories. I remember “that’s not true” and “what if something new happens?” I remember. I remember that weekend in Tahoe; I was with Don in the room with the wallpaper and I felt stuck. All I could think about was how all his friends seem to want the same thing season after season after season and how those things don’t stir me. I’m in Tahoe, in a room of wallpaper, wondering how people can feel so certain about patterns. I wrote it down, I remember. I tried to get it out of me. But it was already on repeat.

A Prayer

Ayşe Tekşen God, please unmake this man, for unmaking him will mean unmaking me too. It will be the end of galloping wild horses and of sinking verses toward an unseen end. You should unmake him first, and then everything will be alright. I will not be me. Then this useless crowd won’t be around. If you like, you can even turn us into dinosaurs facing the danger of extinction once more. We will comply.

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Costume

Sophie Panzer This Halloween I pulled some last-minute Project Runway nonsense on a garbage bag— cut holes for a neckline and sleeves cinched the waist with a piece of twine, stapled the contents of my wastebasket to the makeshift skirt, because I was feeling extra— and while I sifted through clipped fingernail crescents and broken hair ties, I found that damn gold wrapper, glittering under a tissue stiff with dead cells.

Prescriptions to Fill Before Moving to Your New Research Position in Antarctica

And suddenly I thought of how you bunched my wrist bones in your hands like you wanted to hold on to something, like you told the truth when you breathed my beautiful into my ear, like I could believe you when you promised a next time.

You’ve had your wisdom teeth wrested from your jaw, your appendix carved

But I was no longer afraid of your carelessness, since you were only ever a costume and all that is left of you is garbage.

take this pill when your lungs are flattened by nostalgia for whisper-grass and cornfield silk,

Sophie Panzer

from your belly—can’t waste doctors on that kind of thing down there, and here,

apply this salve to buff yourself bruiseless when you slip and shatter against gray-tinted ice and yes, we’d better insert this implant to prevent old loves from battering your ribs, and if you want we can sew the curve of your dog’s skull into your fingertips for when you are lonely. Tell the penguins we say Hello.

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our generation has had no great war* Ashley Imlay

trent untwists the baggie fish slip out into a new home cardinal tetra twirls eyes wide, unblinking still alive, though he spins to wonderland must’ve gotten crushed in the baggie must’ve messed up his head, put him in a separate bowl i dream about him dying, wake up crying he squeezes my hand, at petsense smiles, says “right now i almost feel happy” i look in the mirror someone else’s the fish spins to the bottom on the teacup ride at disneyland and we’re almost happy

*title taken from a quote by Chuck Palahniuk from Fight Club

One More “Lived Through,” Not Lived Julia Guarch

1 You screamed at the top of your lungs, “Fuck my poetry,” and you meant it. Your failure flashing red and blue on the news. 2 We are not made to survive this world. A sole heartbeat begins its hymn. A singular rhythm multiplies until a bang. 3 I stare at the empty space between lines, wondering why I get less snaps, less sighs. Perhaps I must scream with you as my voice falls flat on the sidewalks holding the memory of the dead. 4 Unbeknownst to many, the Oppression Olympics have been canceled. I know you mean not to make light of the plight of the poor but we’re busy contemplating how can we institutionalize love. 5 The boys around the table laugh at our expense. One slaps another’s back, and I question old friends. And in the last moments, I, too, say “Fuck my poetry.” 97


Paternal/Maternal Amy Bauer

I saw Death run her slender finger down father’s spine, sucking the breath from his lungs like reverse CPR and the life tip-toed from his eyes. Death did not lie father’s head down gently. Three themed calendars changed with the seasons as the abnormal cells sinfully placed in his throat, untreated and ignored, silently grew and grew. Perhaps a punishment for being unfaithful. Hospitals avoided because the only doctor he needed was God and this was His dying diagnosis plan for Saint Joseph—reassured by premonitions and contradictory faith as medication. Eager to enter the Garden of Paradise. A family forgotten. Every morning I woke to him choking on his own thick saliva, never knowing when his last breath would be. Fighting for air through a closing hole—an unforgettable sonorous screeching that bears no resemblance other than Death screaming. As I’ve long forgot the sound of father’s voice. One winter morning was different—the comfort of not knowing which repetitive, mundane day would change life’s course was lost. The asphyxiating alarm that so often faded my dreams to waking nightmares was louder, deeper, slower—the breaths few and far between. Dawn barely illuminated the basement that once sheltered me from tornado warnings, and warmed my bones by the iron fireplace. The same checkered crème ceiling tiles now held my grown gaze. I sat up in the bed my father bought for me, on the wooden frame he built two months earlier when I moved back into my childhood home.

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And I knew, saying out loud, “This is it.” ‘It’ being the day I would no longer have a father. The day my dad finally meets his Father. Though our love was tangible, visible, and present with a paper signed that would not allow saving, stating “I’m ready.” I stood at the bottom of the basement stairs, listening to the fading pain stain the walls as his footsteps slowly paced on the creaking wood above in attempt to escape to an empty space like the old dying dog crawling under the deck. He never wanted me to come home. But what about mother all alone? If it weren’t a sin, father would have ended it himself, secluded. Sparing us, but he suffered for his faith and only that. The house went silent, then I heard him collapse. Mother called my name and my body reacted before my brain. I ran up the two flights of stairs that seemed to never end— time disappeared and life moved fast and slow at the same time, but still only in one direction. Down the yellow hallway, into my parent’s bedroom with separate beds. Stopping in the doorway where I saw him looking through me with glazed eyes not yet deserted. Kneeling on the hardwood with his head tilted, one ear to the floor as if listening to the tracks for an oncoming train. A slight smile on his face. I knew he wasn’t seeing me, but I never loved him more than in that moment. How I imagine a mother loves her newborn—infinitely.

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genesis

Priyam Goswami Choudhury “Your heart is burst, you have lost half your soul; Even now, now, very now, an old black ram Is topping your white ewe. Arise, arise; Awake the snorting citizens with the bell, Or else the devil will make a grandsire of you” — William Shakespeare, Othello

[Shillong, 1980, my uncle: a communist, a Brahman is kicking the soft belly of his sister. The wooden floor of old pinewood Shillong, that silence of my mother’s 1980 Shillong, falling apart with the thrusts of his shoes on her soft skin. This is the silence of the shadows of my grandparents watching over the proceedings.] This is how we began. [Shillong, 1980, my mother: a Brahman, a lover, is falling. My father, a tribal, a devil, a Rajbongshi, is fallen from the tree no Brahman wants to taste. This is the silence of my country; that virgin country with no footsteps going back—] —this is where we learned make home.

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[Our mouths were hungry for words we never said, our throats yearning for inflections of words others knew— Over the years, their silence became ours and we learned to speak our name as their shame. This is where we learned to speak. Wearing our words; such deliberate disguises. Our Caliban tongues speaking like crow skin, always speaking, incessantly against all the Shillong silence.] There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. [Even in the dark, they see us mouthing as they kick our mother’s soft belly—] this is how we began, this is who we became; in this moment, this Shillong silence begins our home


Let go of toxic people Milok Navarro 101


Bindings, Power Lines Greg Ross

Ever since a friend bought On the Road in a dark corner of a secondhand bookstore in Naples, Italy, I’ve been on the hunt for used books. Not to read them, necessarily, but rather to stack them on a shelf and rub their grainy pages every now and then. So, on my second day in Paraguay, I knocked on a door that read “Oficina de Libros.” I halfexpected it to say “Allan Pinkerton,” the way the door’s opaque window illuminated the empty foyer with yellow light. It’s clear that the golden days of the Office of Books are long gone; the tramway that once serviced the street stopped running 20 years ago. Now the shelves accumulate dust and exude that old book smell. Titles are organized by years of browsing, unbuying hands. Magazines and mugs clutter a heavy desk, which abuts an ancient grandfather clock that tells of time. On a worn chair in the corner sit two eyes. After casting off the yoke of Spanish empire in 1811, this land of sluggish rivers and red dirt roads turned inward, silent and shy to the curious world. Paraguay closed its doors to merchants, mappers, and misfits alike, all eager to tap into the mysterious new republic. Part of Paraguay’s mystique stemmed from its heavy-handed dictator, José Gaspar Rodríguez de Francia. El Supremo ruled Paraguay until 1840, fortifying feeble borders and disposing of anyone who challenged his grand vision for the landlocked nation. All marriages required Francia’s stamp of approval, and when he took his daily stroll through Asunción, residents took their siesta not due to tired eyes or the afternoon heat, but to avoid his piercing gaze. There, in the corner of the Office of Books, sat a veritable Francia, eying my timid entrance into his musty domain. He, the Supreme; I, an alien body, a mere vassal in his court of chapters, characters, and saturated prose. American, college student, poor Spanish. A submissive introduction from my unarmed arsenal. He responded by scratching his chin. It occurred to me that he’d rather listen to the unerring ticks of the grandfather clock. I started to say something else, but he had heard enough. He threw up both of his hands in exasperation. A husky voice: “What do you want?” Francia. I want to read about Francia. Chin in hand, 102

again. I looked down at my feet, up at the ceiling, across the room. Anywhere but his eyes. “Hold on,” he said. Exhaling with effort, he thrust himself out of the sunken armchair. His labored limp to the other side of the room gave me a minute to browse. On the shelf, a pink spine: En mi planeta no se usan joyas. A brown spine: El ferrocarril en el Paraguay. A green spine: Hijo de hombre. I pulled out the book and paged through — a novel by Roa Bastos. Red pen marked every other line. “My grandfather’s,” shot the husky voice from across the room, as if I were stepping on his grave. I quickly put it back. “Here,” he said. “Here’s all I got.” Into my outstretched arms he dumped book upon book, a tilting, towering stack piled sixteen volumes high. Under the weight of an entire shelf, I staggered over to a chair to sort through. Most were titled Francia, or Francia, una biografía, or something along those lines. One was in English: Four Years in Paraguay: Comprising an Account of That Republic. I paged through. A travelogue by the Robertson brothers, two early 19th century Scots who were among the few foreigners able to penetrate Francia’s impervious borders. They penned a passage about their entrance into Paraguay: My first impression I shall never forget; nor can I believe but that the same glowing imagery arises always to our view, upon our first visit, in youthful days, to a new country. What romantic portraitures have we not had even of the Esquimaux! Novelty and contrast have charms which are quite irresistible, till they come to fade before the chilling influence of experience. She throws a phlegmatic coldness over our estimate of men and things; and while she enlarges the sphere of our philosophy, she narrows the circle of our warmer affections, and more glowing associations. I shut the book and set it aside. Late that evening I tread city sidewalks. I seek out eyes; I seek untold stories content to curl up in the dark. On the lip of a soft streetlight’s reach, shadows shift and pull me deeper into the night. Warm air finds my unbuttoned collar and tempers my hardened stride. I make my way from Plaza Italia to Plaza Uruguaya, cutting across streets of potholes and beat-up Bel Airs. Here resides Kerouac’s ghost, sprawled in the back of a pickup truck, gripped by words straining to express the bigness of it all.


I settle into the blue massage of night, slipping past corner brawls and ragtag dogs on their eternal search for scraps. My legs carry me further into the belly of the city. I’m wrapped in red haze; I’m back in the bookshop. Space delineated by straight shelves, governed by the shopkeeper’s panoptic gaze. Faith in the grandfather clock; faith in the ordered rhythm of time. His characters are confined by two covers and a solid spine; characters birthed by the cleanliness of the printed word. Do I envy them?

On a bench in the cracked concrete plaza I sit. Twotoed pigeons stumble around my sandals, approaching my ankles with increasing pluck. Beyond the plaza’s wrought-iron fence, nighthawks amble about, searching in the dark for a place, a person. This ramshackle city, unbound by bookbinds. This ramshackle city, no longer plied by vigilant eyes. Where Francia once strolled sit blocks of government buildings dusted over by old age. Dead tramway tracks and disposed dictators. But something still holds it all together. On the bench, in my notebook, I write, tangled power lines, I think.

Concordia Michael Oliveras 103


Moon Sugar

Frederick Livingston Sudden and thunderous here, darkness falls down a flight of stairs, spilling invisibility, reminding us how slowly light is coming. Too long ago tar-filthy entrepreneur and his tar-filthy apprentice planted a water wheel in the river, were seen dragging wires through the village like endless tails. Postholes were dug like prayers, fulfilled by unwary ankles and mosquito brood. Now moon has found her first competitor glowing at the end of a eucalyptus pole dim as rumors of phones we will charge, light termites will mistake for moons as we slap them into bowls to fry when air is electric with rain-smell and wings, or a TV, if we dare to dream. Rain is heard before it is seen. Thirsty earth applause roars loud as pop music from dry-season weddings. Before these flatulent subwoofers echoed over hills, some remember radios. My neighbor remembers pounding feet and goat-skin drums.

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Weeding beets, which my students proclaim “too red” to eat, one turns to me, “teacher, you are the color of teeth! Teeth that bite everything!” What could I say? She was right. I owe my teeth to the night sky. Brushing while counting stars, impatience melts to whims of moonlight: her inky absence, her grin widening nightly until moon beams make the world sweet and new again as a bar of forgotten chocolate, found miraculously uneaten by rats. I dream of them baking cakes from all the avocados, baking soda, chilies, soap, underwear they’ve stolen while I sleep, over stubborn coals left burning on cold winter nights. Streetlights grow on streets. Dirtlights illuminate nothing like overfull moon dusting silver sugar everywhere, whispering “I’ve-made-too-much-cake-won’t-you-all-help-me-eat-some?” A forest of streetlights has enough electricity to fry the moon like an egg, but some teeth ache for more sweetness in this new world without night.

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core

Sarah Simon it really is the fear that you will not be able to stop, that which snarls you into thinking of salads and eating and planning around calories, exercise, not plans, not people not events not even yourself— it really is the fear that you will not be able to stop, that that voice, it is not even a voice, that CACOPHONY whistling through the soul and hollowing it, disemboweling and filling the esophagus the stomach the large intestine with wind, nothing but wind! a cold and newly-bought vacuum bag body, brittle and sinking bones to have condoned by side gazes and magazine pages, and the messages that you have now swallowed inside-out, vomited into the rigidity of your day and into the rigidity of yourself— yourself— it really is the fear that you will not be able to stop yourself from eating and swelling like a Missouri mother in Wal-Mart;

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it really is the fear that you will not be able to accept your tummy for the Missouri mother it wants to be, the amount it wants to eat; it really is the fear that you will not like yourself, know yourself enough to calm down, chill out, say, “I’ve had enough, thank you, only one piece or serving or helping or glass of wine...” it really is the fear that you cannot be “normal,” that is pace yourself, like your mother, who always leaves a few crumbs on her plate; it really is the realization that there are only two ways for you to feel fulfilled, fill yourself: • eat everything, • eat nothing; it is the fear that you will not be able to handle anything in-between, the balance that life requires itself, yourself— so you die, you die you die after everyone has already attended your open casket, met your skeleton

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The Detroit Rewind Andrew De Silva

Sam had only a vague sense of the way his body was arranged in space and time. Not in his bed and in no bath of morning light. Not on the skunky corduroy of the security guard’s couch where he usually crashed following an after-hours drinking session at the museum, and not in any place his mother would approve. All the ensuing madness might have turned out differently if he had woken up tucked somewhere familiar, but fate—or physics, or chaos—bounced Detroiters around in funny ways these days. Dust particles flirted with his lips each time he inhaled. Probably explained his excessive eye crust, too, so dense his lids couldn’t break free. It felt like he was inside of something—a closet, the cab of an ancient truck, a forgotten nook in Henry Ford’s grand museum complex. He groaned, throat thick with hangover, wincing and stretching and somehow activating, in a wonky synesthetic burst, more memories from the night. Canned beers opening, the merry crack of their tabs. A slow drag on a fat joint. The machines of industry settling into their bones. And a fire alarm, that’s right, the smoke from the joint triggering the alarm for the first time ever. Fire was a problem. After a glorious start, fire had not been kind to Sam Montgomery lately. The air was stale here in the nook. Musty. A narrow hard shelf beneath him paired with an ungracious slip of mattress. A cot. Sam heard the sound of another set of lungs. There was someone inside of this thing with him, inside a thing that had palpably close walls. A cell. A cellmate. How a person does any one thing is indicative of how they do all things, Sam. Jesus Christ it hadn’t occurred to him but he finally opened his lazy goddamn eyes and hoped so bad it wasn’t jail and he hadn’t DUI’d or burned another building down. The person on the ground below was curled in the fetal position and facing away from him, but Sam knew it was a girl, too fine-haired and thin-boned to be Nik or Tombo from last night, or any other male the Dearborn cops had picked up blundering his way through an August Wednesday’s final gasp, shooting meth or robbing liquor 108

stores because it was 2009 and that’s just what folks did. But did jails have co-ed cells? No, that would be a disaster. His eyes adjusted to the hazy light and the thin bones shifted. Pimlico Schwartz on the floor, his own body on a worn leather bench, both inside some kind of chamber. She’d stayed. Best news of his year she’d stayed, and while that reflected poorly on his year he wanted to pump his fist even so. “Hey,” Sam said. “We weren’t arrested?” “Far as I know,” she said. “Were you down there . . . the whole night?” “Far as I know.” “Because of our friendship,” he said. “Wouldn’t want to risk it.” “Friendship maintained, friend,” grumbled Pimlico. She was adorable even in this state. The nose stud. The bright eyes. The freckles that he always wanted to count but never had. One of his great regrets, never getting a total back when they were only a pillow away. Now here she was all these years later, tumbling back into his life, his workplace, like a big neon reminder of what had been and now was lost. “And because we’re working together, HR might have a problem with this,” he said, pointing back and forth between them with a weary finger. “Funny,” she said. “But I’m only here because you invited me in, Sam. Best hiding spot in seventeen years.” “I said that?” “Yup.” “What does it mean?” “Can’t begin to tell you, numbskull.” He laughed and offered a hand, helping her off the chamber’s dusty floor. She settled next to him on the bench and the knobs of their hips were only four inches apart. “Was it fun last night?” he said. “I think it was fun. I think I remember thinking that everyone was thinking it, too.” He liked hearing stories about himself during moments when the self was switched off, at least the annoying twenty-seven-year-old parts stocked with little prodding consciences and the probation officer’s whispers and her horrible coffee breath. “Started fun. Got dark. Fire alarm and the blind dash to hide.”


Ah, the stupid joint. The stupid match. The boring little wands of arson, inescapable. “I didn’t—” he said. “Well I wasn’t—” “It’s okay, Sam,” Pim said, soft for a moment. “You had another beer. You wouldn’t even touch it.” He hoped the look she gave him was affection, or even nostalgia—anything but pity. He should not be surprised that she knew. It made the papers last year and everyone knew, the boy who burned down his own bar. His any one thing, his worst thing, indicating all future things. “Of course, good, of course,” he said. “When the alarm rang I think I yelled ‘Scatter! Scatter!’” “With glee,” she said. He laughed again, reclaiming the buoyant energy Pim once knew him for. He’d organized a handful of docents to stay late—kids in their twenties and inclined toward boozing in interesting places. Tombo Kassab, museum security guard and first-class enabler, had arranged a blind spot in the security cameras the way he always did. Sam claimed Abe Lincoln’s theater rocker, the nojoke most tragic piece of furniture in American history. Co-docent Pim took Kennedy’s limousine, the no-joke most tragic car, and within this grim constellation, in the shadows of the world’s greatest automobile exhibit, they’d held big important conversations about Henry Ford’s collection, the ghosts haunting or not haunting their city, the exodus of young people to every other place. Back when he was a kid he’d taken special pride in Michigan’s visibility from space; no state had its borders etched on a satellite image so clear. Back when he was a beautiful, brimming, kid, in that map-junky phase boys enter from about eight to twelve. The Nile is the longest river but the Amazon churns more water. Phnom Penh is the capital of Cambodia. Put me on Carmen Sandiego and I will find her in Brazil, for I am Sam Montgomery, from the great mitten peninsula that juts into the great inland seas, and I intend to explore it all. But time had changed the state, and probably the boy. Now that he was trapped here—fifteen more probationary months, barred from crossing state lines—the whole thing seemed a cruel joke. Prison was a melodramatic word but kind of true. A prison you could see from space. “So, where are we?” she said. “What is this . . . capsule?” A capsule, yes, that was the word for this place. Thick rivets and intricate mechanisms, switches and

valves and gears and belts. Cool for sure, this best hiding spot in random stumbledrunk years, but now getting claustrophobic and doing no favors to the headache. Breakfast would help. He’d take Pim for French toast; she had always liked French toast. “It’s like some kind of old-timey submarine,” he said, opening the doorhatch and stepping into the half-light of the Henry Ford Museum storeroom. A big copper sphere with a thick-glassed porthole window. “Nik would love this. Utopia in a Piston . . . ” “Nik does love this.” A disembodied voice traveled through the odds and ends of the mechanical age on the wings of sublime acoustics. A solitary Indian-American man probably creaming himself over the echo chamber because it was formed by the accumulation of pieces that may not have been compelling enough to make the main floor but told the story of American industry nonetheless. So the old nerd had drunk his fill, too. On this strange dusty morning the impossible hope of keeping his friends here suddenly felt possible again. Maybe they wouldn’t leave after all, his Pim and his Nikhil. Maybe a person could craft a night so breathless and enchanting they’d never leave Detroit, never leave him behind. Maybe, just maybe, last night had been the one. Nik turned the corner, beaming. “Would have crashed there, too, if you hadn’t hogged the whole thing.” Best news of Sam’s year, that smile, because it was Nik who had suddenly turned gloomy last night, pinpricking their exuberance with his riff about ghosts. Because it was Nik with the fellowship and the plane ticket out. “He lives!” Sam said, more pieces of the night filtering back. “Barely. But yes. Need a whole pot of coffee. But yes.” Also best: any escapade that found Nik waking up in his jeans. Lately he hadn’t been seeing his drinking through, ducking out of their plans with lines about his 8am section and doing right by his stipend or some such bullshit. Poor loveable Nikhil Bhupati, most often found in the graduate library beginning (surely) the world’s greatest dissertation:

Utopia in a Piston: Emergent Nineteenth-Century Propulsion Technologies: Mechanizing Manifest Destiny in the American Midwest

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Two colons! A hierarchy of subtitles! And no girls! Nik, who’d only been laid one time in his life but couldn’t remember it because he was drunk off Hurricanes at Mardi Gras during a college spring break. Nik, who in that encounter’s aftermath was so scared of sexually transmitted disease he invented a condom with full testicle coverage in his Material Sciences class, a latex scrotum cup that left no skin exposed. Sam threw an arm around Nik’s shoulder. “Then coffee you shall have. Casino buffet downtown. I can smell the bacon, Nikky. I can smell it.” “Sorry, man,” Nik said. “Things to do.” “Hey, hey, buddy!” said Pim, stepping from the vessel’s hatch to join them. “I slept on a wagon wheel. You’re chipper. I’m sore,” Nik said, rubbing his neck but drawn toward the capsule. Ever since his reinvention as a scholar this was his happiness, the giant toothed gears of an earlier age. Sam sighed. Twenty-seven years old, same as him, but already drifting from their generation toward some dimmer thing. To Nik the fellowship year in Scotland might sound exotic, but studying Watt engines in dank Glasgow libraries would only make it worse, the kind of old you could not return from. “What is it?” Sam said, snapping a picture with his phone. “No clue,” said Nik, running his hand over the rivets. “But it’s beautiful.” Suddenly, a noise from somewhere else in the storeroom—probably just a mouse, probably just the shift of the odds and ends, but this had not been a season to tempt the fates. Side-by-side they crawled through the collection, ducking behind Model Ts, creeping past Airstream trailers, dodging a gauntlet of cotton gins, until Sam, reactivated by the dregs of his beer, whispered to Nik: “So, why’d you get so hung up about ghosts?” Nik gave a one-shouldered shrug, kept moving. “Last night,” Sam said, “when everyone else was happy.” He wanted to straight-talk. Be direct with Nik for a change. The hangover oddly helped, detached him somehow, like the worst thing in the world was already inside of him, so why be delicate? 110

“What’d I say?” Nik said. “Sometimes they’re all I see . . .” “I dunno. Not literal ones, like spooks floating through walls. You know what I mean.” Another clank from the vastness, and a sharp look from Pim—whether to shut up in general or shut up about this topic, he couldn’t tell. Did he know what Nik meant? They maneuvered past the wing-struts of a Wright Flyer and around a Bessemer Furnace. Yeah, of course, on some level it was all ghosts to the kid. Five years ago, Nik had lost a father. One year ago, a career. Ten months ago, Detroit’s great beggar’s errand— the parade of executives in Washington to ask for bailout money—and only eighty-two hot despairing days since General Motors filed for bankruptcy protection to keep the toothed gears churning for another quarter. Everyone here had lost something and everyone was leaving to go find it again when it was here the whole time, Sam had to believe, still here but buried just an inch beneath the ash. “It didn’t seem like the right time for pessimism, that’s all,” Sam said, navigating nineteenth century gaslamps and Ingersoll Milling Machines. “Why not?” Nik said quietly. “When is it ever, with you?” Nope, still couldn’t do it. Couldn’t straight-talk with Nik. Somewhere between high school and everything after they’d lost that part of the friendship. Instead, the tactful maintenance of whatever remained for the three months it had remaining. “Never mind. I’m an idiot the morning after,” Sam said. “Expect only idiot wisdom.” Pim smiled and peeled a hard ninety degrees around a bin of historic UAW lapel pins. “In a while, crocodiles,” she said, disappearing along some unknown exit path and far, far away from breakfast. God, that girl. She was too elusive to be pinned down by ghosts and macroeconomics, but too elusive by half. Her Peace Corps application sat pending and one day soon a bureaucrat would process it and ruin his world. How a person does any one thing is indicative of how they do all things. This was the gift she’d given him on the night she left four years ago, on the night she took back her toothbrush from his bathroom and her vinyl from his stack. It was a bullshit mantra but one that had crept deep into his brain. Another night drinking at the museum was a poor man’s attempt to keep his friends in Detroit.


A stuck man thinking one more beer would unstick him. So Nik and Pim would still leave, dumb hopeful Sam. Leave for more vital places just like everyone else. He and Nik continued on and eventually found a stairway to the main floor, passing through its great locomotives and John Deere threshers and gothic steam engines, Lincoln’s rocker and the limo from Dallas. They separated in the parking lot with one of those vertical male handclasps where each pulls in and with his free hand pats the back of the other, elbow crooked high, warmly stoic. Sam removed his docent nametag, fighting waves of schoolchildren arriving for the morning’s first tours. He thought they might look at him accusingly, might smell the beer steaming from his unbrushed tongue,

might know that he had sullied their favorite President’s memory, but they paid him no mind—and why should they? They were kids. Look at the way they walked. Bounding. Brimming. Intending to explore it all. They would all grow up and leave him, too. He blinked a proto-tear away before it had a chance to fall. Must be the hangover probing for weakness, encouraging the victory of remorse. It would pass with time—the body hitting reset, cruel history erased and buoyancy renewed—but lately each recovery was a little bit harder than the last.

Dreamer Mirko Vukoslavović 111


Other Ways to Endanger Yourself on Long Island Emily Shesh

I am glowing. UVA orbits. Frying. Eyes closed. Like I just survived Y2K. Shout out to the class of 2005. Can you believe I’m still doing this? It’s for my health. Psoriasis.

To escape fatality we may embrace smaller infractions. If we learn self-love we may release them before we’re eclipsed by their runoff. But some stimuli, I have learned, are worth risking your life for.

I cover my face to cover my tracks. Inhaling lotioned air like my first cigarette. A clove. 7th grade. Outside Mulberry St. Pizza. At home tonight I’ll research two hundred dollar facial serums.

Like stepping into a time machine destined for malignancy all to remember being fifteen when all I wanted was skin shining brightly enough to be noticed.

I suspect the bronzed goddesses here live in my private browser. Like the girls from home who would do anything after a hit from the bong. Like losing my virginity. Like driving in cars with boys who are now dead from crash crashes or over doses.

Our parents could be blamed I tell myself, still glowing. They were hiding from us, green glowing, on front lawns, in kitchen sinks.

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Or maybe it was like pesticides— they didn’t know any better. Like poppy flower extracts putting us to sleep.


turbulence Olivia Kressler

how often do you experience the feeling of falling? what about falling and landing? down the stairs out of bed, the heavy turbulence of a plane through a storm. the flight attendant rising hits her head on the ceiling. you, dive from the bunk in the middle of the night, roll off, hit the floor. i can’t imagine what it must have felt like a dream? or, not. a stomach of air, sloshing around, up down. up down. like my body, on that plane when weightlessness suspended us, throats in stomachs stomachs in throats skittles from the food cart freckling the air. everything seems much heavier the split second after you’ve felt nothing. it’s been said that the few who survive their suicide jumps off bridges regret their leap on the way down. can you imagine appreciating something so vastly the moment before it’s about to end?

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again: cyclical pain and healing Olivia Kressler

the cuticles on your thumbs bleed and sting as your pointers gnaw and finger at open wounds chunking out fresh flesh with every dig, new pain to hide old pain—

either pick at them or pick through your brain.

the bones in your feet shake and rattle, metatarsals against talus against calcaneus all reverberating back to the mind, the body moves without will: this illness did not give you the choice of stillness. it must be the way you were raised that allows you to fall in love too easily it must be the lack of trauma which makes it such a thing to fear,

is it worse to experience horrible things, or to think them?

your anxiety curdles, floods you quickly like a sink clogged with clumps of wet paper, your face scrunches: lemon to the gums, and then it falls: the death of something,

it must be the way you loved that made loving you so hard.

the muscles within your jaw clench as you play your mistakes again, a crowd begging for an encore, the things you could have said differently, again—again—again— Burr Oak Drake Truber

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only to drive yourself insane.


No Idols or Gods Christiana McClain

Most people never remember the reason that God left them for dead, but I do. I can recall the exact taste of guilt and shame as He wiped his feet against my face. My great grandma Lucinda tried to warn me about men like John and the emotions they could arouse. How they could make you forget about God and common sense all together. But she never once warned me about how they could make you wish you’d never even met God in the first place. Make you rip out the pages of the Bible and let them fold into flames of red and gold. See, I loved him past explanations and without restraint. In the infinite kind of way. You know, with the type of commitment that dances between cosmic universes and chases falling stars with wide open palms. But I have to be honest and tell you that John was not my first crime against Him. I’ve always had a knack for discovering trouble, even when there wasn’t any to be found. Sundays were always the worst. Lucinda would wake me up before the sky was clear of darkness and rush me into the bath tub. She’d take a hardened yellow rag and slam it against my body, up and down until the brown in my skin turned red. We always ate one boiled egg and two pieces of toast. Once we entered the church house, I was dropped off at Sunday school with Mrs. Stuckey, the first lady. She was very light-skinned with rubbery skin. With a wide smile and a nostalgic tone, she told us about how God created the Heavens and the Earth, Adam and Eve, animals and insects. It was all going real fine and I was thinking very highly of God. He seemed like my kind of guy. Except I asked Mrs. Stuckey who created God and gave Him all these powers. She slid into a silent rage and pinched my ears. Whispering between clenched teeth, she told me not to ever question God, because there was to be no one before Him. After the pressure left my ears and the tears dried on my cheeks, my curiosity was cured. By the time I was twenty-two, I had put away childish things and blossomed into the woman Lucinda groomed me to be. I was engaged to Jameson Brown, one of the youngest and more attractive deacons at the church. He was slender and wore big square glasses and black ties with everything. He convinced me into loving him with flowers and handwritten notes strategically placed

in my Bible. Lucinda couldn’t be prouder of me. On the night before she passed away, she motioned me closer to her hospital bed. Her frail brown body was fading by the hour. There were tears crowding in the corner of her eyes and her left hand wrapped around mine. On her face was a look of fear mixed with relief. “Promise me,” she begged with a shaky voice. “Promise me, that you will always put God first. Don’t disobey Him just because I’m gone. Ain’t nobody gone be here to watch you like I have. But you’se grown now and beneath all that chaos in you, I know there’s God.” Those words would be echoing in my ears even after we buried Lucinda. They’d stick with me through my wedding, well into my marriage, and even when we lost the baby. I spent years trying to dig beneath the chaos and discover even a resemblance of God. But all I could uncover was tiny fragments of myself far too broken to be put back together. And Jameson couldn’t help me to make new ones. He was too caught up in our routine to notice me slipping away. Every Monday through Friday we’d wake up, slide off the bed onto bended knees, and pray for mercy, grace, and forgiveness. While he brushed his teeth, I’d pick out his clothes and iron his shirt. Next, he’d be down in the kitchen checking his emails waiting for me to cook. Once breakfast was made and swallowed in silence, he’d grab his jacket and keys and rush out the door. He’d return to me and place a kiss on my forehead with a look of embarrassment and irritation. At 7:32 pm exactly, he’d come back home and eat an already cooked dinner. Between small bites there was polite conversation. At 9:03 pm I would have already cleaned the kitchen and be waiting for him to climb on top of me. He’d drag dry kisses all over my face and after five or six pumps, without any moans or sighs of pleasure, he’d roll over onto his side and fall fast asleep. Saturday and Sunday were just as busy. Between feeding the homeless, reading to children, cleaning the church, or helping run services behind the scenes, all my days were spent in the faces of others. I was the dutiful servant of the Lord, spreading His word and love. I was smothered so tightly by church hugs and holy kisses that the affection squeezed every ounce of life out of me. I’d make up excuses long after everyone left, to sit in one of those red pews for a moment alone with God. I filled the 115


entire room with my thoughts until they seemed to dim the lights in the ceiling. All the things I was too scared to pray for would lay dormant on my tongue: excitement, love that didn’t ignore me, or a life I could actually live. I’d leave the worship room with sweat sliding profusely down the sides of my face and my throat dry. This thirst would send me running to Sabrina’s, our town’s retro themed diner. Jameson hated the place, complaining about black people’s obsession with a decade dedicated to hating them. I’d remind him that every decade in history hated black people and he’d roll his eyes at me. Still, I loved it and enjoyed dining alone. The whole place was painted baby blue and off-white, even the checkered floors. Every booth was made of a soft plastic. After sitting for a while, I’d be peeling my thighs from them. The tables were square and smelled like old dirty dish rags. The bar’s countertop was a light blue color with glittering surfaces and permanent stains from cups. There was always a soft humming of voices and sweet laughter spilling from the mouths of customers. The last Sunday of June, I was sitting down in my favorite seat at the bar, the one farthest away from the door but opposite of the restroom, digging into my peanut butter pie when John walked in. I felt my heart rush down into the bottom of my shoe. I sat there, breathless and watching. Looking at him felt like stealing a glimpse at God. His eyes were the darkest shade of brown and near the color of coal or oil. His lips were pursed together, except for when he smiled. Then it spread across his face, wide and infectious. And when he entered the room, his creamcolored almost white skin was the first thing anyone noticed. It looked as if it tasted like vanilla and honey and lit up the entire room, glowing blindingly. The rest of his body was tightly packed, with all his height and weight cowering beneath six feet. It made the muscles bulging through his white shirt seem that much bigger. He walked with his shoulders high and tense, as if he were carrying the world on his back and it would soon wear him down. He slid onto the stool next to me. From his back pocket, he pulled out a black sketchbook and began drawing. I glanced at his face, flashing a smile, and returned to my pie. Every time I shifted my face, trying to look at his, I turned away because he was already trying to look at me. 116

“Do you have the time?” he finally asked. “I lost my watch and my phone is dead.” “It’s a little past 8.” There was silence. “Are you an artist?” “No.” He chuckled. “I just like to draw beautiful things.” When I tried to peek, he covered the page. I laughed at him. He asked to taste a piece of my pie but quickly spit it out because he was allergic to peanut butter. We laughed at his clumsiness and talked for what seemed like hours. I learned that his favorite color was purple, he broke his right arm three times, and had an affinity for spontaneous things. He enjoyed skinny dipping and sky diving and rollercoasters. He said that life is meant to be lived in the most authentic way, and for him that meant on the edge. He never stayed in one place for too long and intended to keep it that way. After leaving here, he said he’d be on to California, Texas, or someplace warm. I told him that stealing a Michael Jackson magazine from my cousin was the craziest thing I had ever done. He laughed and told me he could change all that, if I wanted. It wasn’t until my phone rang the third time that I realized it was nearly midnight. Jameson noticed I was gone but only because he had to get his usual late-night snack himself. I fumbled through my excuses for my sudden need to leave and payed for my meal. When I stood up, he jumped to his feet asking me to wait. From his pocket slipped an expensive gold watch onto the floor. He hurriedly picked it up and looked nervously at me. I stepped back to the counter and scribbled my home number on the insides of the sketchbook. I couldn’t give him the cell because Jameson and I shared it and it was mostly used for church business anyway. I flew out of the door and rushed home to my husband. That Sunday morning, he called the house. Jameson answered the phone and handed it to me without a second thought. I entered the living room and planted myself onto the couch. I peered outside my window at the pitiful garden Lucinda and I spent years trying to nurture. There were small rows of shabby purple and pink verbenas. At the end of each row was a scripture from the Bible to remind me of growth and faith. “Are you busy?” he asked. “No.”


“Good. The other night you said you used to be a curious person. What are you curious about?” “Everything.” “Be more specific.” “I mean, I don’t know. I guess I just want to know about everything. About how the first person came up with the idea to put chocolate and peanut butter together, how scientists know if dogs are really color blind, or how come there isn’t a real word to rhyme with orange.” “I can tell you been thinking about this a lot.” “I have a lot of time to think.” “Is that what you gonna do all day, just sit around and think?” He paused. “Or do you have other plans?” “Well we have church and then we have to help clean up after service and Jameson wants something different for dinner tonight, so we have to go to the store.” “I didn’t ask about we or any of their plans,” he said. “I asked what you were doing today.” I sat very still, letting my silence travel through the phone. “Oh, don’t get all quiet on me now,” he said. “When I ask you a question, I don’t want to know about anyone else but you because that’s really all I care about. Okay?” I smiled. “Okay.” I stayed home from church that day and talked to John instead. I sank into the couch and listened to the richness beneath his voice. I heard the revivals of saints and old spirituals. I heard thunder booming down echoes from heaven. I heard all the prayers I was too scared to speak aloud, marching themselves back to me. All the pink and purple verbenas in my yard began to bloom, spreading out their petals as if the sound of him had sprung them into life. I told him about my pointless thoughts, like the dream I had the night before or my irrational fear of clowns. I even spoke about the big things that mattered, like losing baby Samuel and knowing that Jameson resented me for surviving when the baby hadn’t. He asked me about God and I talked about forgiveness and trust and second chances or thirds. No topic was off limit and we left nothing unsaid. I found a friend in John and little piece of joy, too. He called me again two days later asking me to meet him at Mills Village. It was a neighborhood only a few minutes from my house. The night was dark with small hues of

purple and gray lingering in the sky. All the inner-city folks who had money always moved here and commuted to work. Each house was the same as the other, differing only in the color. I imagined that each house belonged to a perfect family of four and they hosted weekend barbeques that were invite-only. I stood in front of John with his hands over my eyes. When he removed them, the only thing in front of me was a pool in someone else’s backyard. I tried to turn around and run, but he grabbed me by my shoulders. He had a wild look in his eyes, and it nearly frightened me. Still, I followed behind him with my hand in his. He climbed over the gate. Once he was in, he motioned for me to follow. I shook my head and wrapped my arms around myself. He stopped and stared at me. “What’s wrong with you?” he asked. “This is a bad idea, John. I don’t think we should be doing this.” “Why would somebody have a pool if we weren’t meant to swim in it?” We stared at each other in stubborn silence. “I can’t swim,” I blurted out. “So? Don’t you trust me?” “This is wrong.” “And that’s exactly why we should do it anyway.” He began taking off his clothes. “To Hell with what we should be doing. The only thing we’re supposed to do is whatever we want to.” When I didn’t reply, he laughed to himself and began taking off his clothes. He stood in his underwear. I covered my eyes and turned away from him. This only made him laugh harder. After a moment of silence, I turned back around and started laughing, too. We were both full of chuckles and grins, watching each other. He approached the gate and slowly opened it. I walked through it. Before I realized it, he had snatched me off my feet and was heading right to the pool, full speed. I wrapped my arms tightly around his neck and breathed as though it were my last gulp of air. In the water, my heavy and thick clothes clung to my skin, weighing me down. I forced my eyes open and saw endless blue waters, and I remembered I couldn’t swim. I stared to wail and throw my arms around in panic until John pulled me up. I started to yell at him and swing but was interrupted by flashing lights. Coming through the gates were Mr. 117


Scott and a woman who was not his wife. He was a member of my church and always wore way too much cologne. I watched as Mr. Scott’s face twitched in confusion as he recognized me. John grabbed my hand and yanked me out of the water. He ran around the pool like an athlete, reaching for his clothes and jumping over the gate. Once he was over, he shouted at me to jump. I hesitated at first, but the thought of Mr. Scott calling my name—or worse, speaking to Jameson about this night—pushed me over the bars and into John’s arms. Once outside the gates, we ran. We ran past the identical homes, past the diner, past the church, and right into my driveway. Breathless and high off adrenaline, I raised my hands to my face, watching how incredibly they trembled. John took my hands into his, holding them firmly until the shaking stopped. He kissed them twice, gentle and reserved, as if trying to keep them warm in chilly weather. Amid all the chaos, he brought me comfort. The next morning, I didn’t wake up with Jameson. I told him to pick out his own shirt and make whatever eggs he wanted; I was tired. I didn’t even turn over to see the glare he burned into my back. He marched down the stairs and banged around the kitchen. I heard sizzling from a too-hot pan and wincing from Jameson burning himself. I laughed at him. With angry mumbles and frustration, he left the house without returning for a kiss. Every day after that was spent sinning on Earth and chasing a piece of my Heaven. Just the sight of John would send me into spirals. We’d start out at Sabrina’s and end with our laughter spreading throughout the town and destruction at our fingertips. Once, we stole a parked convertible car, raced against a train, and won. As we neared the train tracks, we heard the dinging bells of the trains and saw the flashes of red lights. John pressed onto the gas. With the roof down, I placed my knees into the seat and raised my hands high into the air. I saw the brown of the train and the bright white lights and stopped breathing. It missed the back of our car by an indescribable small amount. We made homemade bombs and placed them at the trunks of trees or driveways, just to see if we could outrun them. We tried every type of drug that could be found in that town, from laced weed to the inside of my mother-in-law’s medicine cabin. We even tried stealing 118

a couple more things, but I could never go through with it. I didn’t want anything to get back to Jameson directly. These dangerous moments were a private joy shared between John and me—and even after all the sneaking and escaping we did, I could never figure out if we were chasing something or simply running from it. The steps of my church became our designated resting point. It was the perfect point between my house and the motel he lived in. Sitting with my legs across his lap, I’d wait until the excitement pulsating through my veins slowed down. The town was always quiet, with only the sounds of the wind brushing softly against our faces. I never had to worry about anyone discovering us because most of the people there dozed off after eight. As long as we were quiet, we could’ve stayed there forever. It was right on the stairs of my church that I started to pull out pieces of him. He was vague and tight-lipped. But I dug past the stories about selling drugs. I moved beyond all the tales of him using women to turn tricks. I cared nothing about the fights he started or guns he carried. I asked him about his parents and hit the jack pot. He pushed my legs from his lap and sat upright. He clasped both hands together with same gentle strength I had when I used to pray. “I didn’t grow up with either parent,” he started. “I had a very old and weak grandma. She did the best she could, but I could tell she was too tired to raise me like she did everybody else. Some days she would be too weak to do anything, let alone work. She used to sit in this old rocking chair that my grandpa made her and cry until she fell asleep. I went days without a bath, food, or sometimes even a bed. Then the one night when I got sick with the flu, she tucked me into bed and forced me to swallow some shit that was supposed to be medicine. It was thick and didn’t have a color. My eyes got all heavy, and the room started moving. Woke up the next morning and she was gone. It was almost like she was never there at all.” I wanted to press for more, but the color seemed to be draining from his face with each word. I didn’t know his parents or his grandma, but I knew then that I wouldn’t ever leave him. Out of all the times we spent together, the best came as we laid in my bed after Jameson left for work. We were forced to remain in the house since I’d hurt my foot the night


before. John entered my room, opened every window, and placed his head right next to mine. It started with an innocent kiss. Then his tongue slipped between my lips and met mine. The two were intertwined and locked, as if they were embracing each other after years of separation. He used the tips of his fingers to run down the curves of my body and stopped shortly below my zipper. He looked at me with something like thirst, but it was patient. I nodded my head. He rushed down to the foot of the bed and removed his shirt and pants. And then he pulled off mine. Next, he peeled my panties from my hips, past my ankles, and onto to the floor. Leaning onto the bed, he opened my legs. I felt small and delicate kisses climbing from the insides of my ankles to the insides of my thighs. The facial hair from his chin sent tickles all over my body and I giggled, unable to hide my smiles. And then he smiled too. I wish I could tell you about how he felt once he was inside. All about how dirty and hot and wild it really was. Me pushing against the bed because I just couldn’t contain him. Him pulling me closer, without a chance to escape him. Each one of his deep and rough moans seemed to lick my ears and travel down to my toes. I was mad with the world after that night. How come nobody ever told me sex could taste that good? I used my own car to drive across town to the Twin Lakes. It’s infamous for its deadly waters and high cliffs. All the young kids consider it a rite of passage into adulthood. Surviving the jump marked maturity and braveness. I skipped this lesson with a fear of heights as my excuse. But John was here now, and fear no longer belonged in my heart. So, we stood at the edge of the cliff staring down the blue and almost purple waters. I kept my eyes focused on the waves ceaselessly moving against each other. I felt the bitter and cold breeze kissing the back of my neck. My teeth stopped chattering after the first three minutes up there. I dug my nails into his arms. He reached for my hand and stared into my eyes. “On three?” I asked. He nodded in agreement, but when I hesitated on two, he jumped anyway, pulling me into the water with him. As I was descending, I could hear the sharpness of the wind slapping my ears. I felt my mouth open despite myself. We smacked into the water, and it retaliated, violently. It pushed my body around

and pulled us apart. It was so cold. My head could hardly stay above the water, and after growing tired of pushing water out my nostrils, I began to swallow it. But I couldn’t hold the entire body of water, and each gulp seemed to burn the insides of my throat, chest, and heart. And I got tired. I couldn’t find John over the waves, and his voice sounded too far away. So, I stopped fighting it. I closed my eyes and went under water completely. Though I didn’t die that day, I never really survived that jump. Submerged in the water, I felt a coldness against my skin unlike anything else I’d ever known. The water was heavy and large. It rolled over my skin, trying to swallow me whole. Each wave that smashed into me washed over my body, making it unrecognizable to me. It was like a violent cleansing sent to wipe out all notions of invincibility. Those past few weeks with John seemed to rival with my dreams, but it was all just that. I wanted more years with John, not to end up in the bottom of a lake. I had only one life and I had nearly lost it. And although John pulled me from the waters and breathed life back into my lungs, a part of me had already drowned. And she was never coming back. He knocked on my door the next day while I was sitting on the couch and staring at my garden. The patch of pink and purple flowers was dead and staring back at me. Every sign in front of the flowers had been knocked over, their faces in the dirt. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d felt the velvet from the pews against the backs of my thighs. After three knocks, he used the spare key I’d given him to enter. No bags of food or warm smile in sight, just empty eyes and a tightened jaw. Before he could even say the words, I protested. “If you leave, I’m leaving, too.” “Are you crazy? You’re married.” “And the sky is blue, and water is wet. I cannot return to the same life I had before you.” He looked at me in confusion. I rushed to him and ran my fingers through his hair. “We could have a life together.” He pulled away from me and stood on the other side of the room. “Every day could be like this—me, you, and anything else we wanted. There’d be no rules, just me and you.” After several silent minutes, he stared back at me and forced out a smile. “Let’s do it. Let’s run away together.” We commenced to planning. He went to get his last 119


check from his job and fill up the car with gas. I went to the bank and took out half of our savings. I packed a light suitcase with the money, clothes, and toiletries. I cleaned the house from top to bottom and made Jameson enough food for the entire week. By the time he discovered I was gone, all the horny women of the church would be sending him home-cooked meals by the dozen. He was a man; he would always be fed. But I needed far more nourishment than food could provide. By the end of the night, I had ironed every shirt in the closet and washed every load. When Jameson was tucked and snoring, I crept out of the bed and into the passenger seat of my car. John grabbed my hand and kissed it. I opened the suitcase, showing him the money, and he showed a small smile. After asking if I were thirsty, he handed me a bottle and told me to drink up. I refused because I didn’t want us to make several stops. He told me to drink up anyway, that we always have time to stop. I did. We drove only for an hour before my eyes started to close themselves and my head wouldn’t stay upright. Things around me seemed blurred and my words dragged, tripping over themselves. I tried calling his name, but he ignored me. He put his hand on my knee and told me to just sit back and relax. I turned to look at him. He had one hand on the steering wheel and tears rolling from his eyes. He looked at me with the same face Lucinda had when she was in that hospital bed. Sharps pains arose in my chest, signaling parts of myself collapsing in on themselves, and I couldn’t keep my eyes from shutting. He kept patting my knee and speaking softly until my body caved into whatever was in that bottle. I jumped up from that slumber with so much force that I moved the entire car. I searched around the car for a sign of John. The bottle he had handed me was missing, and so was the scent of his cheap cologne and sweat. The oils from his curls no longer left a stain in the place where his head rested when we paused at red lights. There were no fingers tracing invisible notes on my thigh. No voice to tease me about being impatient or quiet or any of the things that fooled me into smiling. There was only that black sketchbook he’d always carried in his back pocket, lounging in the driver’s seat. I opened it. There were small drawings of me on each page. Images of me in the dinner 120

with peanut butter pies, jumping off a cliff, and even lying in my bed. With accurate detail, I saw the kinks in my hair and the roundness of my face. No one had ever seen me as clearly as him. I wanted to cry but I couldn’t even summon the tears. I searched the backseat, finding only my suitcase, and opened it. Every dollar was still inside. I looked outside my window to see I was parked at my church. Although it was a place I had always known, nothing looked the same. The white in the columns seemed ghostly. The gold in the door looked gaudy and far too heavy. The thought of the red pews waiting on the inside made my skin shudder with irritation. I grabbed a lighter from the inside of the car and entered the church. I found the Bibles tucked in the shelves of pews and ripped them from their place. I forced open one of the books and took my lighter to the pages. Once I finished one row, I went on to the next. I watched the words disappear into black and brown ashes and crumble onto the floor. Pretty soon, the entire church was engulfed in flames. Still, my misery remained. I felt thick smoke rising in the air, clogging the insides of my throat and nose and chest. The day that John walked away from me, guilt and shame became the only parts of me beneath chaos.

At the Time of Writing This Robbie Masso

I have been up for a week— partly because of the questions that I will not ask you, for I am scared, terrified, of the truth, partly because I can no longer sleep in my own bed, for it reminds me too much of you.


Allegations of Abuse Demi Wetzel

I would rather wipe a stranger’s bile from their mouth with my own collar, jump off a high story building knowing the fall wouldn’t kill me but severely injure me for life, remove one tooth per day with dull tools and bare hands, scrape out my entire cervix with a butter knife, sit next to the obviously drunken person on the bus, rub my body with stinging nettles before they’re blanched, roll myself into a large area rug soaked in cat urine, remove my brain from the body through the nose like Hatshepsut, walk backwards through a swamp at dusk, stand in the path of a hurricane as it reaches land, get a job at the local Department of Motor Vehicles, continuously miss my flight at Gatwick, paint every wall red before painting it white, or listen to Slipknot on repeat for the rest of my life than hear about one more powerful man who couldn’t keep his hands to himself.

Alley, Friedrichstadt Federica Feliciangeli

Past Ruin

Marisa Lucas Deep in the ruins of tomorrow, I will somehow find you. We will stand face-to-face, humiliated and scorned by yesterday’s mistakes and begin to breathe once more. We will walk side-by-side,

hand-in-hand, past our regrets and agonies, ignoring the greedy flies that feed on the decaying, rotting corpses of dreams, old and new.

pieces of our hearts and souls, and somehow find a path that has bumps and harsh edges, but leads somewhere to happiness.

We will help each other over the wreckage and past the scattered, bruised and bloody

Deep in the ruins of tomorrow, I will somehow find you, you will find me, and then we will both finally be home. 121


breathe

Olivia Kressler your body is a timeworn wall of crimson brick: graffitied and crumbling. fingernails: gnawed to bone atop thickly skinned hands. body: pink, gasping, creamy, slick with sweat and salt, Versace clots under my nose the glass of your eyes are poignant gardens: i reach to snip flowers from

your midnight gaze.

“Austin Tyler”

“Don’t middle name me:” a snarl from hell, your lips kiss heaven.

how do you manage those scars? Rough and enveloping. but graceful:

a centipede fossilized for the viewing pleasure of us all.

grotesque you say lovely I say.

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your sigh: the flat black air of the evening could not compare to the hot breath of your laboring lungs cascading over my cheek your tongue: sharper than lemon tart quit breathing because of you

tangles with mine and i

but you, you just quit breathing.

and me, my heart prickles with dread for the apnea tickling your nerves, and all the tomorrows unforeseen.

he cannot be revived: dank notions from the cracks within me.

i clench your shoulder willing air to steal the dead from your body willing life to ungrave you i whisper respire

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Artifact Detail Maddie Murphy

Green Turtle Cara Siera 124


Three Minutes

diary of an anorexic girl

Three Minutes. She stands in the bathroom, her eyes avoiding the mirror that shares too much. Curling her toes against the icy tile, she turns on the hairdryer and sets it on the counter. She doesn’t want him to wonder. She remembers the first test and making a mess as her sixteen-year-old hands shook. Her mom offering a second, and then a third, while her dad paced outside the door. She remembers the silent, “ just to be sure,” trip to the doctor’s office and the confirmation. “A baby is such a blessing,” the nurse had said. “Let’s go,” her father had said.

excerpt:

Jaclyn Hamer

Two Minutes. She remembers the three-hour drive to the clinic, her parents’ brave faces, and wishing she were anywhere but there. She remembers the freezing gel of the ultrasound machine, the doctor’s finger on the screen, a quick nod, and a heavy signature. “You’re lucky,” a nurse had said. “Under twelve weeks. No need for the procedure.” She’d taken the cup, swallowed the pills, and sat next to a woman who’d said four kids was just too much. She sees the sadness in his eyes, the confusion with each passing month. It isn’t supposed to be this hard. “Trying’s the best part, right?” He laughs, but the joke’s getting old. One Minute. She remembers the cramps, more pills, and needing to change her pad every hour. She remembers the pain, the tears, the relief. Curled in a ball, alone in her childhood bedroom, no one said she was lucky, no one told her she’d been blessed. She’s gripping the sink, her knuckles matching the white of the counter as the tendons strain against her skin. She stares at the plastic strip on the counter, full of yearning for the plus that came too soon.

Caroline Dehart

2/27 weight: 124 lbs height: 5’9 (5’8.5. Dudes who want to fuck and run always use the you-could-be-a-model line. But I know. Runway models are 5’9-5’11.) • 73 calories in 6 oz blackberries • 90 calories in 6 oz raspberries • 105 calories in a banana • 240 calories in coke • 200 calories in a large peanut butter cup • 59 calories in a peach total: 767 calories 2/28 • 146 calories in 2 6 oz blackberries • 210 calories in 2 bananas • 380 calories in cookies & creme pop tarts • 59 calories in a peach total: 795 calories 3/1

• 105 calories in a banana • 380 calories in cookies & creme pop tarts • 290 calories in a mighty mango fruit smoothie • 5 calories in a small black coffee • 10 calories in a blueberry infusion drink total: 790 calories

Time. 125


HUMAN

Felicia Sabartinelli “Why don’t you speak Spanish like your grandma?” Once again, I am being bombarded by the cholas in the grade above me. Yesterday, they wanted to know if I painted the beauty mark on my cheek to look like Cindy Crawford. My pageant photo appeared in the local paper & now I’m a moving target for pre-pubescent self-loathing. They’re waiting for an answer. Struggling to separate the adjectives swimming in my mouth like canned whipped cream creating cloud-like animals in the caverns of my teeth. Knees shaking. See-saw effect. Toes stapled to the ground over a mountain of dried up bubble gum, that will probably find its way into my hair by the end of the day. I can’t stop staring at the way their fingers rest on their NBA full-pocket jackets covered in teams they don’t know shit about. Filled with folded notes they’ve been passing between periods, or hiding in the dingy corners of lockers. Talking about the white girls with blonde hair and blue eyes who still don’t know what a blowjob is all about. And

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no matter what I say, no matter the logical or factual way I explain it. If I try and explain how my ancestors created monuments inside these blue veins, inside this olive skin. The dilation in my eyes, dark hair like the midnight sky, and faint scent of water and vines. I infuse the air with my pheromones, a blend of Mediterranean flavor on my tongue. If I explain how we came to this land losing all history of our dialect, they still won’t understand. I am too exotic looking to be “white.” I’m not ethnic enough to gain priority to this all-access club. I don’t understand what people say in between gargled laugher, in a distant tongue that I often hear my grandmother speaking to her sisters. I get it. I finally see. I finally learn what assimilation is. I finally understand how language can separate & divide. And, I’m sorry. I cannot speak the language. My heart is merely one vibration in an apocalypse of beats, wanting nothing more than to be seen as, simply human.


Agoraphobia Robbie Masso 127


Taco Night

Travis Landhuis “Tara’s dad kills people.” That’s the note that started this whole thing, scrawled on a ripped-out sheet of notebook paper and passed from hand to hand until someone’s parent caught wind of it, freaked out, and the next step was lockdown. One state away, Tara’s brother Conner sat bent over a Scantron test in a sweaty classroom when his pocket was suddenly vibrating, so he snuck a peek. Just a quick peek—a whole bunch of words, but only four he could see, a fragment screaming itself into his brain: “. . . Gunman at Coolidge Elementary . . .” Which made him swallow and stand up. He felt the whole room hiccup as he fell out of sync with all those other bent heads. Conner was in motion, backpack in hand, toward the door, breath fluttering out from somewhere behind his creaking ribcage as gravity dragged him down into that dark hallway, through a heavy door, onward, to the parking lot, his car. He fumbled his keys, swiping at phone, frantic for information, clarity, contact. But Kaleigh, who still lived in Maybrook and had just sent the text, wasn’t answering her phone, and what kind of person sends a text like that then, what, shuts their phone off? Okay. Well, Mom will still be at work, and anyway Coolidge is where Tara goes to school, which means this can’t possibly be real. Besides, who would ever bring a gun into an elementary school? No. None of this is real. Then for some weird reason, he thought about Rod. So Conner was in the car, driving west toward a greasy sun, low in the sky, and how was it so fucking dark already? But at least here was direction, forward movement. He would be there in one hour twenty-four minutes. And probably before then he would find out this whole thing was fake, anyway. In the meantime, the tires were humming, and the car was getting hot. Too much breath in there, making him sweat, even as the winter trees smeared past all scratched leafless, dark skeletons against the snow-salted fields. Rod wasn’t totally scary. And panic-brain aside, Conner knew he was better than Mom’s last boyfriend. There was just that one weird time. That time Tara couldn’t sleep, so she’d brought the Monsters, Inc. DVD 128

into Conner’s room, and when he snapped it open, there was a different DVD inside, unlabeled. And, out of the dumbest curiosity, he’d popped it into his laptop, watched the screen crackle into fuzzy green, something like night vision. It was so grainy and silent that it took Conner too long to realize what he was watching, which was people dying in Iraq, some “highlight reel” of kills filmed from a helicopter, white flashes, glimpses of death from so On High that everything was scratchy lines and little moving blobs that were actually humans. Rod had never talked about his service, not around the kids, so Tara didn’t know what she was looking at, and that was lucky. Well, in a way. But in another way, it meant new nightmares for Conner, which got worse when Rod moved in full-time. Because he moved his guns in, too. Now Conner was speeding and trying not to picture reasons why no one was answering their fucking phone. He kept glancing, swiping, dialing Kaleigh. Nothing. Mom. Nothing. This is it. Here it was. The type of unforeseeable bullshit that he was talking about, or had been trying to talk about in his failed argument with Mom—why he’d been so firmly against the whole college thing in the first place. Because it meant miles between him and Tara. Miles and fucking miles. His baby sister in a home with a guy he barely knew. And Mom was working, Mom was always working—the entire point of the college argument, because when he said he wasn’t going, she said: Conner, if you do not go, you are not going to have a better life than me. Which just pissed him off. But that was before Conner learned that Mom wasn’t eating anything on her lunch breaks. Heard it from Kyle who worked overlap at Target with her for, like, two months. She wasn’t buying groceries for herself, just her kids. Soon after that, Rod came in, and money came in, too. To be fair, Rod did have his moments. Like he recorded Tara’s song at the Nutcracker Show when Mom couldn’t make it, and he was twice okay to look the other way on issues of “substance” per se. The thing is: basically all people have their moments. But honestly can you ever know someone, anyway? Well, definitely not in


only four months, which was how long after Rod moved in that Conner found himself straight-up whisked away to college. Conner’s car was fogging up. The last bit of sun limped toward him under the clouds, but it wasn’t reaching. Everything was a queasy yellow-gray. Okay, think. Who to call. Fuck. Fuck! He dropped the phone in that tight slot between the seat and door, reached down for it, his elbow bent all wrong, and then the throaty growl of the rumble strip snapped him back upright, his phone pinched between fingernails. Okay. The school? He didn’t have the number. Also, he wasn’t so sure he wanted to call the school and start asking questions about guns and/or shooters. Okay. Well, duh. Mom’s at work. Call Mom’s work. He glanced down, up, down, up, fingering the phone, and with that, the phone beeped twice and died. It’s okay. It’s fine. Check the radio. If this whole thing is for real, then it could/should be on the radio, somewhere. He clicked the button and a sharp burst of static hissed into him as he twisted the knob viciously, around and around, looking. Nothing. Static. It had always been a shit radio. He grabbed at his phone again—there must be something he could do—and this time when he looked down at the dark dead brick in his hand, the steering wheel rolled over on him, the tires slipped over the dotted yellow line and hit a patch of black ice that sent the car snaking into a long screeching S at the breakneck velocity of flight; there was some distant crunching, a glittering explosion, and Conner had time for two last thoughts: 1) That pylon is on the wrong side of my windshield, and 2) How funny. Here I am, about to die, checking a phone that’s already dead. Then real quick, Conner saw: A white flash, A billion green hummingbirds And? Nothing. Conner opened his eyes. Tara?

She was there. There she was! Her face, fizzing through some glowing fog. The soft electricity of her hair like the sun, through water, from underneath the surface of it all. Tara breathed in. Her brother was awake. All those tubes and wires, the beeping and that plastic smell in the air. It was all scary. But her brother was awake. She walked over to the foot of the bed as Rod shuffled himself from one foot to the other and looked out the window. Conner’s lips wouldn’t quite move. A distant, fuzzy coldness was lifting. Rod saw him. “Hey, buddy. Welcome back.” Conner breathed and kept smiling at his shining sister. “You’re okay,” he said, kinda. These were some good drugs. Rod tried smiling. “Hey, how you feeling?” Bad question. “Uh. I mean. Doc says you’re gonna be okay. You got a little jacked up out there. But, uh, you’re gonna be back in action. No time.” Rod shuffled. “Um, and your mom’s en route. Should be here any minute now.” Conner looked at the back of his hand, those snaky tubes: fiber-optics and fluids. He felt like a juice box. “What happened? The shooter.” Rod squinted. “Shooter? Oh . . . yeah, okay.” Rod had taken care of it. A rumor. Actually a misunderstanding, one that grew leathery wings and clamped onto the spinal-column of the vice-pres of the PTA like some brain-sucking wormbat. It wasn’t like Rod could be that pissed anyway, because: Well. These fucking days, man. But more words helped. He’d met with the important people at school, and they had shortly apologized to him. Thanked him for his service. Actually, pause. Not strictly a misunderstanding because that doesn’t cover the whole damn bullying side of everything. But Rod would deal with that later. Anyway, the funny part of the whole thing was that Tara had never even seen the note. What a relief. Conner’s eyelids kept dragging him down toward darkness, but he fought it. And Rod, not really sure what to do, kept talking. “Just try to relax, bud.” Rod rubbed the back of his neck. “I seen way worse than you got it . . . Did I ever tell you about my buddy Rat?” Conner couldn’t remember anybody named Rat. “You’re shitting me. I never mentioned the Ratpack?” 129


The nurse made a face as she passed through the door, and Rod thought twice, decided this was maybe not the time to talk about Rat. Not the time for gory stories of hot sun, brotherhood, a man stitching himself back together in the dust. Not helpful. C’mon, Rod. Well, he did want to say something. Something good. But you don’t bond with your girlfriend’s son in a hospital room. So dumb. So foolish. Or maybe . . . you did? He sure loved their mom. And it had been a big day. Anyway, Conner was on a ton of morphine. Rod cleared his throat, accidentally sucked some spit into his lungs, and just hacked for a bit. “Well, the good news is you get to come home with us tonight.” And he tried remembering how the doctor had worded it, like, um, “fractural s’plesion” or something, and speaking of, shouldn’t that doctor be getting back in here . . . Then Tara relieved them all by accidentally knocking Rod’s satchel off the little side table. Stuff went everywhere—markers, coloring books, granola bars. Tara said, “Oops!” but Rod smiled, waved her off, bent down and started picking things up while Tara tip-toed around the debris toward her brother’s sleepy smile. “Conner, guess what.” Conner’s eyes were starting to close. It was so nice. “Conner!”

“Hmm, what?” “Xander barfed in math today!” She started giggling. Conner laughed. It was like a little sneeze. “He almost made it to the sink . . . You shoulda seen the splash!” Tara was really hanging on that bed-rail, so Rod scooted a chair over, stacked a bunch of pillows to boost her up. When Tara sat, her gravity kept sinking, heavy feet, heavy shoes, heavy floor, and she lost some of her bubbling momentum, that dark joy of watching her brother’s eyes open up. These were new, thicker emotions for her—ones she hadn’t tried on all that much yet, so she still didn’t understand their shape fully, just their color, which was: mud. Conner saw some shadowy clouds on the other side of Tara’s eyes, and his own started to sting. He tried to say something—“sorry” maybe—but his throat was full, so he grabbed Tara’s hand. She looked down at his skin between the tape-lines, and when she looked back up it seemed to Conner as if some of those clouds had drifted off. Nobody saw them go. “Well, and, Conner, guess what?” Conner’s head wobbled a little bit, a nice smeary whiteness shushing him and all his electric beeps. “Tonight’s taco night!” Conner smiled right back. Finally. Some good fuckin’ news.

After the Israeli Army Burned Our Land, We Remember the Olives Ari L. Mokdad

In the rose scented garments of my Arabic grandmother lies the test of a thousand suns untiring to protect our family. In the night, the Lebanese were murdered in the town center for everyone to see. My father won’t tell me the stories, his face scarred from the sleepless nights praying for a sign that it was safe enough to escape, cloaked in darkness, from his home. My family’s stories of ghallaba, that lingering sweetness of kashta on eid, are the memories we cling to remember. It’s the za’taar and olives that my grandmother carried, dragged through borders of Lebanon to Egypt that we cherish the most. This language, our language, and the olive trees planted on our ancestors’ graves are the only pieces of our land that we can hold. 130


10/10 Milok Navarro 131


John Can’t Hang Baby John Gillen

I was throwing out my jizz rags from Saturday night’s fuckfest and waiting for my morning dose of Johnny Cash pills to kick in when two black sedans pulled up to the front of my house and six Republicans got out. Well-dressed Sunday morning white people. I was bare chested, wearing flip-flops, blue gym shorts, and an aromatic medley of bodily fluids and personal lubricants. I had just brought the trash cans to the curb when these authoritarian populist radicals approached me. Big smiles and handshakes. I was out-numbered and strung out like a ball of yarn. The fanatical bastards could pull anything now. I was on my guard. “Excuse me, sir, is this your residence?” “Yeah.” “I see, and your name, sir?” “Who wants to know?” “Well, sir, we’re from the Republican Party of Virginia, and we’re going around to speak with all registered Republicans in our district to ask if you’ve given any thought to who you’re going to be voting for this November.” “Oh, sure.” “Yes, sir, so may I ask your name just to confirm for our records?” “David.” “Great, and may I ask who you’ll be voting for?” “Oh, Trump, sure.” I’m an evil man. “Right on, brother.” “Good to hear that.” “I’m glad you’re one of the good ones.” “Yeah, sure, of course.” “This is the one that counts, you know.” “Right.” “Well, is there anyone else here we can speak to?” “No.” “What about Albert and Brenda? Do they live here? They’re the homeowners, right?” “They’re at church.” “Oh, I see.” “And your grandfather? Leroy? Is he here?” “They put him in a home.” 132

“Donald?” “Donny.” “Right, yes. Donny. Is he here?” “No, he moved away.” “Do you know where?” “No, I have no idea.” “He’s your brother, right?” “Yeah.” “You don’t know where your brother is?” “No.” “Well, what about John?” “What about him?” “Is he here?” “No.” “I mean does he live here? He’s your brother, too, right?” “Yeah, he’s my brother. He used to live here, but he fucked off to New York last fall.” “Well, does he need an absentee ballot?” “No.” “Oh, so is he registered up there now?” “No, I don’t think so.” “Wait. I don’t understand. Why not?” “I don’t think he’s voting.” “He’s not voting?!” “But this is the one that counts!” “He’s not voting for Hilary, is he? That would be a disaster!” “No. He’s not voting.” “May I ask why not?” “Oh, you know he can’t hang, baby.” “He can’t hang?” “Hilary would be a disaster.” “He has to vote. This is the one that counts!” “What does that mean? ‘He can’t hang.’ What does that mean?” “It means he can’t hang . . . John . . . He can’t hang.” “I don’t understand.” “Man say he can’t hang.” “What does that mean?” “This is the one that counts!” “I don’t understand.” “John can’t hang, baby. That’s it. That’s all he said. He said when he left that if anybody asks why he isn’t around or why he did or didn’t do something to just say, ‘Oh, you know he can’t hang, baby.’ That was it. That was all he said. John can’t hang baby.” They looked at me in silence as the drugs began to take hold.


Inland Empire Antony Fangary

I come from a place where learning to roll a blunt that burns evenly is a rite of passage and breaking down your first pound informs your stature I come from a place where seduction is taking forever to respond to a text message Where we make ‘em simmer and we split the bill at dinner laughing at a chivalric past I come from a place where love is an eight-ball of coke sips from a flask and holding hands till the acid fades I come from a place where there is always ecstasy at prom and smoking is a response I come from a place where we know cops are swine at birth Virginity is a curse and we treat that shit like we stole it I come from a place where learning to roll a blunt is a rite of passage and when you fuck you say you’re smashin’ I come from a generation of dining and dashing Rainbows and stashing a MAC-10 under your bed Calling oral head Money bread And Ma’ma has to eat her pills before she microwaves dinner tonight. I come from a place where you steal your mom’s Xanax to buy lunch I come from a place where you sell your mom’s Xanax to buy lunch You slang weed for dog food and burn roaches ‘til your face turns blue I come from a place where learning to roll a blunt is a rite of passage and poetry is just dew drops and daisies I come from a place where writing is a secret covered in blunt ashes and you hide it like a corpse I come from a place where poetry is just dew drops and daisies Dew drops and fucking daisies Sex is amazing War is just a business and the rest is history I come from a place where you don’t vote Ecstasy comes by the boat and you sell that shit like you stole it

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Because you did steal it I come from a place where you sell drugs to get by Fuck friends to get high And it goes on and on and on . . . I come from a place where we blaze trails and shit on paths Could give a fuck about math because we have calculators Stairs are lazy escalators And Terrence McKenna is God! I come from a place where you sell your mom’s Xanax to buy lunch I come from a place where you steal your mom’s Xanax to buy lunch Stay up late because she is crying over your dad while you watch the Brady Bunch pretending to care about Marsha! Marsha! Marsha! I come from a place where we don’t make eye contact unless you’re trying to fuck Or you’re trying to fight I come from a place where we don’t sleep at night Fly kites Or snort Vicodin No We drink it We drink that shit like sugar and youth I come from a place where we don’t make eye contact and women can’t walk alone at night I come from a place where we send nudes on our phones Order food with the same device And lose breath over phantom vibrations I come from a place where poetry is just dew drops and daisies Dew drops and fucking daises Escaladers are lazy Sex is amazing Ecstasy is a rice Abortion is a blessing and Plan B is always Plan A because we don’t fuck with rubbers I come from a place where I’ll die too young I come from a place where I’ll die too young 134


I come from a place where I’ll die too young Young kids are strung on the street like instruments And war is a business I come from a place where war is a business Elections are a reality T.V. show And sports are a distraction from the wars to the east I come from a place where war will never end I come from a place where war will never end Time bends and friends are something easy as the click of a link I come from a place where the wink is extinct Poetry is nothing but dew drops and daisies And Ma’ma won’t look me in the eyes anymore so I’ll learn to roll a blunt that burns evenly

noise floor Liam Edward Talty-Johnson 135


When You Fall Through the Sidewalk Grate Brooke Randel

I was walking down the street with a man I called Baby. We were going to look at loveseats, I remember that. Had to be a loveseat. The apartment was too small for a real couch. Anyway, we were talking about colors and fabrics and stuff when he switched topics on me. “Have you thought about what I said?” “About brown leather?” I asked. “I don’t think it looks like cow shit.” “No, what I said yesterday.” He scratched the back of his neck. “About getting married.” “Oh. Yeah.” “Yeah?” “Well,” I said, or tried to say but didn’t say because right then the sidewalk grate gave way. The grate slipped underneath me and I fell twenty feet below the sidewalk. Maybe thirty. It was dark. “Baby!” he shouted. “Baby?” I cried. “I’m going to get help.” The pit was dirty, but sparse. A layer of damp leaves covered the ground like a Persian rug. My legs were throbbing from the fall. My shoulder, too. I must have done a barrel roll. After ten minutes or so, he came back to the edge of the sidewalk.” “Baby,” he said, “I was just thinking. You still haven’t answered my question.” “Did you get help?” I called out. “You’re doing it again,” he said. “I don’t know.” “You don’t?” “Not right now.” “I think that’s all I need to know.” “So, help is on the way?” I bellowed back, but I’m not sure he heard. The acoustics weren’t great. I hugged my knees to my chest and wished I were a turtle. I wanted to make myself as small as I could. I started rocking back and forth. “It’s not so bad.” 136

I looked around. There was a man with a rough beard sitting in the far corner. “You’ll see. It’s really not that bad.” “You’re here?” I said and then clarified, “You’ve been here awhile?” “Fell three or four years ago,” he said. “That grate’s always been loose. I was walking with my partner just like you were walking with yours.” “Oh, he’s not my, uh, anything. Well, not anymore.” “Happens.” I was still taking everything in. You have to understand, a lot had just happened to me. “How?” I stammered. “How are you still here?” “There’s a restaurant above us. Over there. Crumbs fall through and I collect them. Nice patio, that place. Big menu. Like I said, it’s not so bad.” He handed me a jar of crumbs. They tasted salty and crisp. I could almost detect a tinge of parmesan. Not so bad. I took a few bites and then returned to making myself a small dot of a person. I swayed back and forth like an uncertain comma. The swaying must’ve bothered him because after a while he crawled over and put one hand on my right foot. Then he put one hand on my left. I looked at him, but it was dark. He looked at me. We were both perfectly silent, perfectly still. And we sat, just like that, for a long time. The next day, I was back to swaying, knees to chest, a human rocking chair. I swayed while he crawled about, refilling his jar. When it was close to full, he sat by my side again and we ate the crumbs in quiet turns. I wanted to say something, but I didn’t know what. I sorta stopped thinking in words. You know? The sentences you tell yourself? I was feeling things in the dark and words only got in the way. He held my feet when I rocked too much. So it went, day after day, eating crumbs from the other side of the sidewalk grate and sitting close as can be. We rarely spoke and mostly sat, crawling about only when necessary. And somewhere in the hum of this routine, I stopped swaying. I didn’t even realize it right away, but when I did, it felt nice. Not being in pain feels nice, even in a pit under the city. But something else changed, too. The restaurant got roaches. Our crumb supply ground to a halt. First from the competition, then from the health inspectors shutting


the place down. Eventually, nothing fell through the cracks, not a single speck of bruschetta or spot of piccata. We savored what we had, but it wasn’t much. Our hunger was knocking. At some point, it got too loud. He let go of me and stood. I followed suit. “There’s a ladder over here.” He moved with the stride of someone who had walked before. Of course, he had walked before. I just hadn’t seen it. My own legs were stiff as stilts. How long, I wondered, had he known about the ladder? Blindly, we grabbed the rungs. How long had I? “You first,” he said. “When you open the cover, go slow so your eyes adjust.”

I climbed up slow, lifted the manhole slow, and crawled out slow. My eyes adjusted. I crossed to the sidewalk along the east side of the street. He crawled out behind me, put the cover back on, and ran to the west side before a cyclist could hit him. We stared at each other from a distance greater than we ever had before. He looked different in the light and air pollution. I gave him a small smile that I hoped was filled with meaning, although I didn’t know what that meaning would be. Maybe he got it, I don’t know. He turned and we both walked away, in opposite directions. I went home. The apartment smelled the same. My bed was made how I like it, with the cover folded over at the top. The pantry in the kitchen was still mostly peanut butter. Even my stack of books was in the same spot, same order. There just wasn’t a loveseat.

to be named Ileana Heinrich 137


National Eulogy Mara Benowitz

Our country may be dead but was not murdered America has overdosed on white supremacy a drug that welcomed us like kings like prophets an addiction that held us with soft velvet chains clenching tighter and tighter to our ivory throats We spent eight beautiful years in the finest rehab facilities convinced it was prison condemning a family for their grace their leadership their compassion for we couldn’t have beauty radiating from Black bodies that our whiteness had yet to master And when we had to leave we were not ready we stared down at twelve steep steps felt our mentors’ hands on our shoulders and heard them whisper the first step is admitting you have a problem We closed our eyes and jumped. Cradling sprained wrists to our bosom we cursed the stairs for dropping us cursed the Earth for her sturdiness and the sky for letting us fall 138

And someone felt our tantrum through the ground and offered us something for the pain We couldn’t see his face but his golden glow lured us like ambrosia an affirmation that we are gods a cure for compassion a powerful anesthetic for the deep and abiding proof that We are the curse sitting on a bed of sacred corpses trying to feel alive we took another hit another life to fuel our destruction We took another hit another life to sedate the night terrors muffle the crack of a well-worn whip that wakes us with cold sweat to quench our ashen skin We took another hit another life and watched them etch our name into the tombstone letter by letter they wrote America the beautiful may her memory be a myth. 11.8.2016


“Thoughts and prayers”

Kissing with Braces

I pray that the bullet that ends you flies swiftly through your tender body that your soul escapes before it’s too severely scarred

Pimples poke from skin like hard nipples through a t-shirt. Slick palms with skinny fingers try to seek solace in grinding against themselves. As you dance, awkward sixteen year old me stands quiet in the closet.

Mara Benowitz

I pray that your classmates can sleep through the night terrors that numbed memories and misfires spare their molding minds I pray that your tiny ghost haunts the halls of the White House that the sacred second amendment is seared with your smiling face I pray to every god of light, and wisdom, and peace that this prophecy may perish in your place.

Joseph Serpico

My mom tied my bow tie too tight and my dad’s button up was too loose, but I combed my short, greasy hair while you walked across the dance floor. Overtime, the disco ball changed to strobe lights, the punch bowl was just a glass with vodka in it. When I tried to speak, my braces cut the inside of my cheek so my words made me sound drunker than I actually was. Though we were twenty-seven in this scene, when you are queer you are always just sixteen.

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Let the Night Hold You Amy West

The city is more vacant than you are but I’ll keep wishing on stars and hope there’s some truth in the myths that our forefathers told us. As the window glazes over from the creeping fog, curling like tendrils of hair in the bath, I remember you haven’t come home yet and it’s been a while since our last talk. Magazine pages are folded for the stories I wanted to share with you and my arm is scalded from the hot water I ran down my body in slow motion, on repeat like the records we used to play in the living room, dancing around until we gasped with laughter, out of breath and out of talk but the silence was comfortable— hoping the trigger of memory would persuade you to arrive more quickly, when we meet at a point of recognition or agreement, hands at our sides, staring at each other on opposite ends of the chasm as we try to determine who should speak first or what should be said if anything. Because silence or absence of words is better than the feeling of the empty spaces you leave every time you walk out the door to move towards a future I have no knowledge of that doesn’t involve me and is never spoken about as I wait for a milestone that has already passed me by. Walking restless streets at 2am, trash wandering listlessly in the wind with no direction, homeless men bellowing for who-knows-what reason. I stop at the local convenience store, make small-talk with the owner, ask about his wife, tell him I hate my job, buy a pack of cigarettes, even though I don’t smoke, normally. Smile politely at a crowd of men, waiting outside the bar next door for a girl to set their eyes on. But I walk faster and breathe deeper, apprehensive that they’ll see beneath my thin exterior that will surely reveal I am alone and afraid. And atop the high glass tower, I think of you even though I know I shouldn’t.

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Rich people live well, but they never seem happy. You’ve given me plenty, but I have nothing to show for itit burns as soon as you leave, a trail of money on fire while I am left to wait at home and look twenty stories below, trying to find something, anything . . . but what is there? The pressing question leaves burn marks in my once perfect skin, now pock-marked, white and milky, not unlike the sun—it hurts my eyes to look at for too long. Branded, like a seal of ownership. Prod me like cattle. Until I relent. Don’t take ownership of anything worth shit anymore . . . “Where is the line between dying and living ______________?” Pauses linger, waiting for gossip, clinging to walls, white spaces holding their breaths as words torture my lips, rhymes unsaid. Eyes are open but blank, waiting for the scene to end— role-call, can’t follow stage directions in your biting dialect. My skin becomes wrinkled with time that passes but doesn’t travel anywhere worth going or talking about. My breaths get shorter, my memory more clouded, my eyes do not see the same things they used to. My hands grasp . . . at nothing, just what I imagine, but my imagination is no good here anymore. My muscles are tense, on edge, barely moving all day, in suspended animation. I keep calling out your name— even though I have almost forgotten who you are, altogether.

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As the rain hits the panes of glass in driving droves, like sheets of scrap metal, clanging against the walls. I hold my head in my hands and slam my eyes shut but the noise comes in and I can’t hide from the things I brought here to let die, like the plants on the balcony that are in desperate need of water. No matter how high you are or how far you go, your feelings will follow. Who you are will come to meet you in the middle, at the bridge between your past self and future potential at the previously agreed upon meeting spot where you are left to stare your truth in the eyes. You’re gonna have to learn to love her one day ‘cause she won’t let up, and time’s a ticking. Eventually, she’s going to tell you that you never gave her enough and it will be too late when on a dusky evening, she decides to jump twenty stories, letting the ground touch the sky in a sigh of relief as she disappears into the face of the night that will hold her forever.

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Chao Michael Oliveras

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Acquire Everything, Gain Nothing Amy West

I never knew who I was before you. Everyone’s wondering what it’s gonna be like to kiss you. A night out on the town, booze running through our bloodstreams. Tripping over curbs, fallin’ into taxis, smokin’ our cigars, sittin’ patio side, makin’ fun of all the passers-by. CN Tower glows, Rogers’ Centre lights up. My eyes are closed, taking in the rough fixtures of the city. Pot-hole riddled roads, clanging streetcars run their battered course. Crocodile Rock is awash in cougars and rowdy twenty-something men trying to get their rocks off. A few twenty-dollar bills is all it takes to have a night out on the town and enjoy the rest of it in bed with a stranger not worth knowing, although she gives good head, to be sure.

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And the next morning, you ain’t feeding her breakfast, no, no. So she leaves with an empty stomach and a heart full of lead, trekking home in a typical walk of shame, nobody waving goodbye from their windows. Random men sitting on sidewalk stoops call at her but it’s all white noise at this point. She already got what she was after yet she gained nothing in the end. Let’s all just pretend— no, I ain’t lookin’ further. Have I ever told you the secrets hidden at night? Outshone under the glow of dusty streetlights. The ones we discover later in the gentle morning light— so disappointing, no reward, yet I would still like to kiss you. Hold me close until the feeling fades and I dissolve into you.


El Culto Jonatan Fernandez

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Delivered

John Pedersen At the risk of sounding trite, I really did receive the call early on Christmas morning. Five A.M., hazy, the second in short succession with a text in between—Please answer, this is important—and based on the sender, the unusual urgency, time of day, and our long history together, I knew exactly what had happened before I picked up. No other set of circumstances could line up so perfectly. Graeme was dead. He was always aggressive, prone to escalate things when provoked, and it only got worse after his time in Afghanistan, which he used to call “Afgramistan.” Told me they taught him to drive for combat over there, then stationed him far away in one of America’s unhappiest cities when he came back. Our friend informed me that on the way home from a house party, in the early morning hours, Graeme and his wife had decided to stop at a cemetery to play Pokémon Go. But somewhere along the way there had been a road rage incident and an on-duty delivery driver tailed them in, flashing his brights, trying to bump the rear of their car. Spurred on by an unfortunate cocktail of PTSD, the drive to protect his wife, and him just being kind of an asshole in general, Graeme approached the other vehicle with a drawn knife and was shot dead, then and there. The police came. His wife wasn’t hurt. After antagonizing him and then killing him, the shooter was not charged, as it was clear that he was only standing his ground. America. Merry Christmas. Graeme’s brother is also one of my closest friends. I’m sorry to call so early. I could hear the snot sticking in his mustache as he sobbed. We talked about the best way to break the news to his family. He decided to tell his son after they opened presents that morning. My girlfriend and I got frozen pizza and watched Blade Runner. I don’t remember too much else about that day. But I do remember Graeme. The distance between us forced our friendship to evolve. We texted. Every day, almost all day. But only 146

infrequently did I speak with him directly. When I did answer the phone, he was almost always belligerently drunk. Entertaining enough for sure, but after a while he would start repeating himself, the way that drunks do. I had better things to do with my time. He got upset with me once when I didn’t answer a FaceTime call. Even my good buddies don’t want to talk to me. He joked about suicide, except when it wasn’t joking. One night while I was at work, he incessantly tried my phone, tucked away in my jacket pocket. I came back to sixteen missed FaceTime calls. I felt like a teenage girl dodging an older boy who just didn’t get it. I loved Graeme with an intensity I reserve for few things. I still do. Texting was more convenient for me. I could say something, press send, he could respond when conducive. That’s how it works. That’s why it’s better than phone calls. Doesn’t waste anyone’s time. It wasn’t always that way—so removed. Used to be, skateboard to his house, pull him out of whatever party was going on, grab some 40s, then skateboard more until the sun came up. It used to be getting drunk at punk rock shows. It used to be buying PlayStations from Best Buy and returning the boxes stuffed with phone books. It used to be just being together, laughing. Wasting time. But it eventually became texts. Same old thing, new medium. Texts about nerd stuff, texts about progressive politics, texts mocking the religion we both grew up in. Texts about fights with his wife. Texts about how increasingly shut-in he felt. So many texts, texts and texts only, sometimes dozens in a row, that I didn’t always answer those either. Then the not-joke texts would start. Those I would respond to. I had to. I was only kidding. There was one conversation we had, face-to-face for once, still daylight here but after dusk there. Lucid. He confessed the booze was self-medication, that things were hard. Military culture, you just had to tough it out. Masculine. The problems were getting worse. We talked about therapy. Seemed like no other course. Something wrong


physically, you went to the doctor. Something wrong with your brain, you did the same. It only made sense. No shame in finding help when you need it. He assented. It was only a few weeks later that I stopped getting his texts. I was never a fighter. Once we were in Vegas, annihilated drunk, surrounded by angry Marines. I talked our way out of that one. We got lucky. How would that night, that night with the delivery driver, how would that night have played out if we lived in the same city?

How would his whole life still be playing out had we lived closer? Me there to temper the rage that had slowly grown into self-destruction? How would that Christmas Eve have played out if I was there laughing with him instead of here sending him sacrilegious text messages? Oh, come let us abort him. That’s the last thing I ever said to my best friend. My phone still says Delivered. I don’t know if he ever found a convenient time to read it.

3-2 Kas Brady 147


On Our First Date Ryan Drendel

We put our phones in my bag and waded after each other into the water beside Navy Pier. After going under, she noticed a place to dive off the lakefront path into the open water where the triathletes swam So we picked up my bag and our shoes and her towel And after some coeds asked me to take their picture we walked barefoot through the sand and put our things down at the edge of the path and I watched her dive into Lake Michigan whose glacier had melted under slow summer suns streaming everything into the city’s new swimming hole I reread the sign that said no diving, but looking around everyone was digging it. It wasn’t just her, or the tired triathletes or the lifeguards rowing red boats No: the weekend warriors were taking off their watches and jumping in; Pedestrians propped up their pinstripes and jumped in; There were joggers; runners; walkers; strollers; Rollerbladers were rolling in; long boarders were lulling in; Skateboarders kick-flipping in; Scuba divers flipper-kicking in; Cyclists; Unicyclists; Tandem cyclists—they were all jumping in; There were drug addicts and drug dealers jumping in; Sick people and sick pharmacists jumping in;

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There were protesters cooling off between protests; while the policemen watching mumbled mental reminders that they too would want to swim if it wasn’t illegal— or if they weren’t policemen Taxi drivers; Uber drivers; Truck drivers; Lyft drivers; Car owners bringing themselves; Self-driving cars bringing their billionaire owners— all of them—they were all there blasting breaks breaking down eight-lane boredom on Lake Shore Drive abandoning their automobiles to gridlock to scurry Frogger-style into our fresh faux-sea The Windy City politicians were jumping in; Their media-megaphone beat journalists were jumping in; The corruption-conceded constituents were jumping in; As I jumped in, I saw an Asian carp flop over an electric fence; And a fisherman let go of his scalloped anchor— both were just hoping for another chance to swim Anyhow: here we all were diving illegally off the lakefront path to bathe together in a giant pool of cool water beneath an equal and blazing sun “See,” she swam up beside me. “Nobody cares.” And goddammit she was right. Nobody cared. Not a one.

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The Simple Guide to Redefinition in Oslo, Norway Joseph Lezza

There are a thousand and one reasons as to why one might find themselves sitting at the airport, alone, holding a round-trip plane ticket to Oslo in the dead of February. Perhaps the combination of an immediate need for vacation and the untimely lack of a summer body made the thought of a warm island and a sea of spray-tanned six packs less than desirable. Perhaps you have a travel agent with a really sadistic sense of humor. Or, perhaps, you’ve spent the last eighteen months floundering in the wake of a lost love—a loss so complete, its forcible punch splintered your identity into millions of microscopic rivulets that slip endlessly through your fingers. Whatever your reasons may be, dear reader, fear not. This trusty guide will be all the company you need on your solo sojourn through the staggering, salient vistas of your existential crisis in the heart of Scandinavia. Now, before you lose your nerve, pop a Xanax, blowup that blue camo neck pillow that you immediately regret buying, and let’s get started! JFK INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, TERMINAL 1 (lat. 40.741895, long. -73.989308)

When it comes to travel, I happen to be of a singular breed. While the prospect of international adventure is a fail-safe way to spur excitement within, it’s the charmless fellow excursionists who I can normally do without. In fact, the idea of hurtling through the stratosphere in the company of hundreds of vexatious strangers fills me with a zeal so melodic it makes a dial tone sound like “La Bamba.” Now, if you find yourself a member of that same category—and you also happen to be a passenger on Nordic Air—my first suggestion is to pay the additional fee and spring for a seat selection prior to boarding. (Travel Tip: An easy way to secure a little extra personal space is to pay close attention to the large swath of seats that stretches down the middle of the aircraft). Your best chance at a moderately comfortable bubble is to bookend an empty middle seat in a row where the opposite aisle has already been nabbed. Nobody wants to be marooned 150

in the smellscape often found between two strangers of unknown hygienic disposition. Once comfortably nestled and after your third in-flight serving of Grate Britain All-British Cheddar Crackers, you may be tempted to break character and actually talk to someone. Let’s be frank here. You’ve undoubtedly spent the last couple of hours staking out your row companion and have concluded that she’s a pleasantly tolerable girl of about the same age. So, go ahead, reach into your knapsack and offer her a handful of Luden’s to help fight off that persistent cough she insists is caused by the airplane’s “dry air.” Within minutes, you’ll come to learn that her name is Sondra and that she and her friend, Alix (sitting just across from her), are embarking on a whirlwind spring break tour that will take them through Oslo, Barcelona, and Madeira Island. Their initial impression being favorable, go against your proclivity toward introversion and make plans to meet up with them tomorrow, especially since it seems the three of you are booked on the same countryside train tour. While, normally, a polite in-flight plane conversation would not turn into something tangible, you can take comfort in the fact that, should they later reveal themselves to be subpar travel companions, their three-day stay in Norway comes with its own built-in escape hatch! SCANDIC HOLBERG, HOLBERGS PLASS 1 (lat. 59.91960599999999, long. 10.734424499999932)

After making plans to meet up with Sondra and Alix at Central Station tomorrow morning, board a train that will whisk you away from Gardermoen Airport and into the hustle and bustle of the capital city. Your hotel, the Scandic Holberg, sits in a fourway intersection just a stone’s throw from the harbor promenade. Once checked in, you may wish to unwrap the stark white comforter on the bed that housekeeping has folded into something resembling a crêpe and spread yourself across like cloudberry preserves. This is the perfect location for you to lie motionless, staring at the ceiling for 30-45 minutes as you contemplate how you’ve possibly managed to make it here while simultaneously eluding death and/or serious injury. Time spent here should be brief, however, as you’ll soon notice that the weighted heft of your life in the States


seems to have dissipated while a chorus of alien blips from the crossing signals at the corner wafts through your window and beckons you outdoors. And, so, after scrubbing off your surface coating of airport grime in a plastic shower tube straight off the Starship Enterprise, pull a wool-knit beanie around your wet locks and head out into the world. AKERSHUS FORTRESS, 0150 OSLO (lat. 59.90758599999999, long. 10.737084099999947)

If it’s perspective you seek, look no further than Akershus Fortress, located just adjacent to the marina at the very end of the headland. This medieval castle, built in the 1300s, was once a stronghold for protection and has since been modernized into a royal residence open to the public. Lucky for you, guided tours are only offered in the summer, so you’ll find yourself free to roam the setts stone pathways and run your fingers over the red brick façade which time and nature have weathered into a smoothed-out shell. As you wander the narrow, dimly lit corridors past dungeons and servants’ quarters, a familiar sense of suffocation may begin to twirl its fingers around your collar, but press on. Press on through the kitchens, where a delightful blonde woman in a ruffled period folk costume will quickly stub out her cigarette and proceed to mime the scrubbing of pots in a basin with no water. Press on through the ornate bedrooms and the empty expanse of the main dining hall as the walls carry the echo of your footsteps across the Nordic pine. Press on, up the stairs and through the chapel. Press on, past the gargantuan tapestries that dance in the wind. Press on, climbing the winding steps of the watch tower, higher and higher, feeling lighter and lighter, until you push through the wrought iron gate and come face-to-face with the Oslo fjord—thick, sheen, and spreading itself so far you’d swear it must spill over the edge of the earth. It is here that you should find a restful spot and sit. Dangle your legs over the buttress, close your eyes, and crane your neck toward the sky. Take a breath, the deepest breath you’ve ever taken. Let the arctic air fill your lungs until icicles form and then (and only then) release it, and with it, everything that’s come before. Now, open your eyes and look out and watch as a sherbet sun is swallowed away and the slate is wiped clean. And, when you’re ready,

fill your pens with the inky, black Viking water and start writing a new story. OSLO SENTRALSTASJON, JERNBANETORGET 1 (lat. 59.91109599999999, long. 10.752457400000026)

On Day 2, you’re on a journey toward clarity, but pack light because it waits for you just a train, a train, a boat, a bus, and a train ride away. Bleary-eyed and short of sleep, you will wake up somehow invigorated and take the stairs two at a time as you stop at the hotel’s free breakfast buffet—and, after quickly spreading a delicious brown mystery cheese across a thickly sliced cinderblock labeled “Fjellbrød,” you’re out the door and into the midnight blue morning. Follow the signs for Oslo Sentralstasjon as they take you down the main drag, freshly glossed with harbor mist. Upon entering the main terminal, you’ll quickly find yourself lost in a sea of skis, cinched tightly to the backpacks of hundreds of mountain riders up before the dawn. It is as this point that, much like a meerkat peeking over the thick African bush, you must walk and jump until you spot Sondra and Alix waiting for you by the entrance of the Norway tourism office. Minutes later, after safely boarding your first train of the day, watch as the city melts into an indiscernible white wilderness intermittently punctuated by a chalet sitting just at the edge of the tracks. While, for some, the lack of audible and visual stimulation may prove unnerving, for you the effect will be quite the opposite. In fact, the further you ride into the margins of civilization, the further you disconnect yourself from your former sense of self. Each densely packed snow bank is a fresh sheet of loose leaf just waiting to be marked up. But don’t feel pressure to begin when you’re not ready. Don’t force a connection. Instead, step back and listen. Let the story reveal itself to you. Think you know what it’s like to teeter on the edge of existence? Well, in Myrdal, you’ll board the Flamsbana wooden railway and slowly descend as the train hugs the treacherous cliffsides, passing under the cascades of frozen waterfalls and sliding through black holes that have been blown through mountains with persistence and dynamite. Use the short break in Flåm to grab lunch by the waterside before the next leg of the journey begins. (Editor’s Note: The Toget café, built in a defunct railway 151


car, serves a sun-ripened salmon that’ll melt on your tongue like a creamsicle, restoring a sense of taste that you thought was long dead). Next, you’ll board a ferry across the glassy Sognefjord where simple fishing villages of ten to eleven houses sit at the foot of the mountains and beckon you with unspoken promises of a simple, unburdened life. In an effort to share the moment, run into the boat’s main cabin to find Sondra and Alix passed out on adjoining benches, still likely hungover from the night before. And, after a light attempt to jostle them awake elicits a groggy “What, is it, just more houses and shit?”, it’s best to return outside whilst appreciating the fact that one man’s catharsis can be rather unremarkable in the eyes of a stranger. In Voss, a bus will carry you and your cohorts through the green countryside and past stream after innumerable stream, each one flowing with water so crystal and pure a single sip could wash away original sin. But your thirst will be quenched only as you arrive in stately Bergen, your final stop on this cross-country day tour. At the Pingvinen restaurant, you can cap a long day with your two new friends over fish pie and a round of ice-cold Hansa beer—and, before you know it, you’ll be clambering into the top bunk of your private sleeper cabin as an overnight train launches you non-stop back toward Oslo. It’s at this point, as you slide under the covers, that exhaustion will set in, but for the first time in what seems like forever, it’s not the familiar, dense slog of stress, insecurity, and futility. Rather, this is a body burdened only with the tonnage of a day vigorously spent plugging into the undercurrent of life and, for once, not talking over it. WAYNE’S COFFEE, LILLE STRANDEN 4 (lat. 59.9082454, long. 10.723248799999965)

After yesterday’s expedition, you may be looking for a quiet corner to decompress and soak up some local flavor. Well, look no further than Wayne’s Coffee, a delightful regional chain with a beverage selection rivaling that of Starbucks, but with a noticeable lack of condescension. As you bungle your way through an enthusiastic “Hallo!” and fail to convince the barista that you’re a local, they’ll answer with a polite nod and proceed to pour you a tea so hot it should require a good slather of 152

SPF. Fortunately, the gorgeous, chunky blue mug that holds your drink (available to take home for 7kr) could easily transport molten lava without once registering the slightest hint of temperature on its outer core. Be sure to take great care when attempting your first sip, however, as its deceiving heft could easily leave the overzealous drinker with a black eye. Around your third or fourth swig of Ridgeback Blend, you may notice that no one in the café is paying much mind to you . . . or any at all, really. There are no knowing glances, no flashes of side-eye. You will catch no one staring with pity before quickly darting their gaze in a new direction once they realize they’ve been caught. In fact, you could very likely mount the table on all fours and lap at your tea like a Labrador without a single patron even flinching, and it’s here that you realize how, in this glorious place, you are remarkably unwritten. To these fishers and swishers, you are not the sad creature still reeling in the wake of death. You are not the mournful soul in need of a perfunctory shoulder. You, dear reader, are the nameless American tourist of the day—and, while the natives tolerate your presence, they couldn’t possibly care less to know anything more about you. So, bask in their cold, Scandinavian indifference. Flourish in their frigid disinterest. Place your past and present situation into the proper context and resist the urge to kiss each and every one of them on their thin, dispassionate lips. Never once has meaning so little meant so much. NORDMARKA FOREST, SKOGBRYNET (lat. 59.9178235, long. 10.644323799999938)

High atop the mountains, on the outskirts of the city, sits a magical wintry “reset” button known as Nordmarka Forest. A quick 30-minute trip on the number 13 metro will pull you well above sea level before cutting through the clouds and dropping you off in a lush, powdery landscape that could’ve been painted by Bob Ross himself. (Editor’s Note: Maybe you’ve been watching a little too much Beauty is Everywhere.) As you step into the chasm of white and green splotches, a dozen arrowed signs will point the way to all manner of hiking trails varying in length and degree of difficulty. Though the color-coded path markers on the


tree trunks serve as a delightful safety net for the more neurotic hikers, I suggest taking this golden opportunity to explore for exploration’s sake. Don’t worry about getting lost. It’s already happened. You’re on a remote mountain abutting a strange city in a foreign country and even the slightest inkling that you have command of your surroundings is a work of pure comedy. No, today is the day that you can be adrift because you made it so and not because of some uncontrollable cosmic disengagement. So, slip into the wood like the raw nerve you are and walk, untethered—a chewed-up piece of food snaking through the piney bristles. Climb over boulders and fallen logs while following the delicate footprints local wildlife have left in the freshly fallen powder. Follow the earth as it curves upward beneath your feet and leads you further and further into the fraying thicket that blots out the sky until all that hangs above you is a web of spiny green needles. And, in that absence of light, the snow somehow glows. Brighter, youthful, and recently lain, it gives way under your poorly insulated pair of Vans. The soft earth wraps its luscious lips around your ankles and, as soon as it gets a taste, wants the rest. Each step becomes a bit more of a struggle than the one before as you sink into the ground. First it takes your calves and then it goes for your knees. Your gait spreads and strides lengthen to maintain your pace, though it seems like it takes forever for your feet to finally land. You push through, though, as if toward some unseen finish line. But after a short while, you’ll find yourself waist-deep and breathless as sopping wet canvas shoes render your feet numb and useless. There’s something in that numbness that’s intriguing, however. For someone who’s never known an unmagnified feeling, the chance to feel nothing is positively alluring. And so, with that, everything goes. Hat, gloves, shirt, jacket, and pants are in the wind and there you are, a mess of flesh and stretchy boxer briefs splayed on the snow as if it were a bearskin rug. Ball it up in your fists and run it through your hair. Wash your face with it. Let it seep into your pores and run through your veins until a familiar tingle overtakes you and your temperature finally matches your demeanor. The static nothingness is almost pleasant and, for an instant, you might even feel as if you’ve got life all figured out. But sooner or later, something always pierces

through the white noise, and in this case, it’s a searing burn that launches you up off the ground. It’s as if, all at once, you’ve caught fire. Red, blotchy skin and swollen hands throb as you reach for your garments and strain through agony to pull them on. Piece by piece you put yourself back together, begin the thawing process, start to work your way back. Much to your surprise, though, the return trip is not nearly as arduous since the deep prints you made on the way out provide for much firmer footing as you descend. It’s right about here where you’ll begin to realize that, no matter what unpredictably disastrous turn life has taken, you’ve figured out a way to traverse it—and more often than not, there’s been some serious good that followed the bad. It’s an attractive notion, to no longer fall slave to feeling. But there is no partial freedom in it. It can only be accomplished completely. To give up anguish, you must also give up passion. To lose fear, you must also sacrifice confidence. To banish apathy, you must also dismiss sympathy. And, abiding by those terms, life would be nothing more than a fresh hell. So what if you have to slip into the forest, skin-tothe-wind, to figure that out? There’s no shame in the unconventional as long as the ends justify the process. Remember, as the great Bob Ross once said: “Trees cover up a multitude of sins.” HOVEDØYA, GRESSHOLMEN (lat. 59.894189722105466, long. 10.734672546386719)

If you’ve managed to regain all (or at least most) of the feeling in your extremities, I highly recommend beginning the last day of your Norwegian traipse on the island of Hovedøya. Located just off the coast of the mainland, this tiny floating lawn patch is easily accessible by boats that leave Aker Brygge on the half hour. The island features some of the best locations for swimmers, not that you’ll find any on this balmy 30 degree day. What you will find, however, is the chance to catch some sun (and maybe a little enlightenment) on the first bonafide clear day since you’ve been here. Stepping off of you water taxi, you’ll notice most of the locals removing their shoes and, not wanting to seem like the outsider, it would be wise to follow suit. Be sure to build 153


in a little extra time for your walk through the nature preserve as you’ll soon catch yourself stopping every 5 minutes to wiggle the soft blades of grass between your toes. On the north side of the island you can wander through the ruins of a twelfth century Cistercian monastery that has since been turned into a picnic ground. Enjoy the euphonious crackle as city residents and their families gather in huddles and set up their portable griddles so as to get a good sear on their bacon-wrapped frankfurters. Legions of local fowl, some strange hybrid between a crow and a raven that you’ve decided to dub “cravens,” gather in in the trees above and wait fervently for the chance to pounce on any morsel that hits the ground. And, underneath their watchful eyes, you can meander down toward the shoreline and pop by the a la carte café, treating yourself to whatever the hell a Kokosboller is. (Editor’s Note: Literally meaning “coconut bun,” the kokosboller is a rich, marshmallowy snack that is dipped in chocolate and rolled in shredded coconut). Now, as you begin to make quick wreckage of the ball of crunch and fluff in your hands, the combination of your sweet delicacy with the hand-holding couples and families romping wildly may start to feel just a bit too saccharine for you. But, before your typical cynicism begins to seep, take a moment. Take a moment to figure out where this is all coming from. Maybe, just maybe, your annoyance is not with those around you, but with yourself. Maybe, for some time now, you’ve been much like this island, listing at a safe distance just offshore but close enough where you can still keep an eye on things and make judgments. Maybe you’ve been a little too dismissive of those who can’t comprehend something that’s ultimately incomprehensible—and maybe you don’t need them to comprehend it. Maybe just being there is enough. Also, maybe you need one of those baconwrapped hotdogs. RESTAURANT FAUNA, SOLLIGATA 2 (lat. 59.9143494, long. 10.72060650000003)

Well, here you are on your final night in Oslo! If you’ve managed to budget well and avoid purchasing your usual hoard of mementos, save for a couple of wooden Viking figures and one of those Wayne’s Coffee mugs that’ll surely send your luggage over the weight limit, then you 154

should find yourself with a healthy surplus of kroner! While the grown-up option would be to exchange your remainder for US currency at the airport tomorrow and return home somewhat healthily in the black, I certainly don’t see any grown-ups here, do you? Good. Now that we have that settled, abandon your packing and head to the hotel front desk to score a last minute reservation at Oslo’s Michelin-starred Restaurant Fauna. A hop, skip, and a sport coat later, you’ll be greeted and seated, sipping chilled water farmed from the Arctic Circle, skimming the menu insert about Bjørn, Jo & Anne and their mission to “highlight the relationship between raw nature, produce, and our cultural history.” The décor is simple Scandinavian—white brick walls with dark wooden accents and dim, recessed lighting to create a calm, if not slightly stiff, atmosphere. Your server, Ingeborg (she didn’t introduce herself but you’ve decided to call her Ingeborg), stops by now and again to deliver large dishes containing small morsels that she takes great pains to explain. White fish roe with røsti. Caviar with blinis. Paper-thin ribbons of venison over baby potatoes. They all swim elegantly in puddles of vivid hues at the bottom of the bowl, tiny galaxies of food that are gone in three bites, but each bite bursts with a constellation of new ideas and possibilities. In just a handful of days, you’ve managed to see yourself more clearly than you have in years . . . maybe ever. Not just the you now or the you that came before, but the boundless versions of you that wait to exist. Whereas you once found yourself stuck in a never-ending loop on the same broken record, it never once occurred to you what could happen if you just moved the needle. Yes, it might not repair the scratch, but it could very well change your tune. And if that song doesn’t speak to you, move it again, or buy a whole new damn record. Think of all you’ve seen in such a short amount of time. Think of all you thought there was to see and how marvelously wrong you were. Think of what one tiny corner of the world revealed and how many hundreds of thousands of corners with hundreds of thousands of revelations remain unexplored. Think of Whitman when he wrote: “I am large, I contain multitudes.” And, as you sit there devouring the universe, think about how everything waiting for you back home seems so much smaller than it did just a week ago.


Predator

Kaylie Sorensen She wore the kind of lipstick you wanted to smudge Staining the tips of your fingers The crest of her cheeks Blood and cream.

Sunflowers Eric Orosco

She looks at you with doe eyes Full like the moon in an ink sky Shining like stars Innocent and inviting.

Uncle—they grew like beanstalks toward the graying sky. To me, my world had twenty suns all lined in a row along your house.

I must warn you to keep your distance For she is not just the prey But the predator.

When they wilted—yellow curling into a brittle brown—I took their seeds and scattered them over your soil. In five years I would scatter you the same way. Ashes to soil, sun to seed.

Gauging Time

Kara Knickerbocker Some summer day after soccer practice, sitting cross-legged on the floor of your room, I watched in the mirror as you slowly pushed the taper into my ear. The scent of dead skin cells, the tearing of tissue, the Vaseline coating my lobes. I know, it’s gross, you said. But was it weird that I almost liked the smell? We stretched as much as sixteen would allow, from the four walls of our bedrooms & the one stoplight town that birthed us to the downtown streets of Pittsburgh, stretching our paychecks to live off dollar menu paid with coins collected from the floors of the restaurants we worked, stretching nights with liquor we sneaked into the backyard of someone’s house, surrounded by cornfields & the feeling we were on the verge of just going over the edge/of breaking through. Even the black fringe sky knew the moon was splitting it apart. But we never pulled back, kept stretching across phone lines & state lines, sweaty crowds at concerts, legs in the backseats of our first cars, & we bled. The whole time thinking how our parents would kill us, but pushing just the same. We stretched the truth, shrank inside ourselves, hoped like hell we could find some way to heal.

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C O N T R I B U TO R S

Alaz Ada (1998) is from İstanbul. She’s a student of the social sciences. She aspires to be a writer and translator. She spends her time learning languages, waiting tables, cooking and assisting journalists. Pearse Anderson (1998) is a writer and photographer studying fiction in Oberlin College. He dedicates “Leaving the Tall Society” to Emily, Gillian, Joe, Dan Chaon, and the rest of his workshop group. Abbey Archer (2001) likes to work out even though it sucks and makes YouTube videos. One fun fact is that she’s lived in Austin, Texas for almost her entire. Amy Bauer (1989) is a creative writing major at the University of Cincinnati. Her poetry has been published in SOS Art’s collection of poetry and art on peace and justice, For a Better World 2018. Mara Benowitz (1996) is a 21-year-old cancer. She’ll graduate from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in the spring with a degree in French and Journalism. David Travis Bland (1987) is a writer and journalist based in Columbia, South Carolina. He won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for Community Service Journalism. J. Bowers (1980) is a fiction writer from Pennsylvania living and working in St. Louis, Missouri. Her work has appeared in StoryQuarterly, Redivider, The Laurel Review, and other national journals. Kas Brady (2001) is an amateur photographer who mostly focuses on nature. They are deeply involved in photography, music, and film-making. Jeffrey Burghauser (1980) is a teacher in Columbus, Ohio. He studied at SUNY-Buffalo and the University of Leeds. He now studies the five-string banjo with a focus on pre-W WII picking styles. McKenzie Caldwell (1997) is a writer based in Ohio. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys listening to podcasts and trying to create her own. You can view her work at theelreymark.com. Violet Callis (1994) is a writer from Lansing, Michigan and a graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Her poems have previously appeared in Patient Sounds, jubilat, Ghost City Press, and to:from. Priyam Goswami Choudhury (1993) is an Assamese poet living in Berlin. Her work was shortlisted for the Srinivas Rayaprol Prize for Poetry in 2016 and has appeared in several anthologies and journals. elle chu (1995) is a poet whose work seeks to reconcile identities lost through life’s changes. Every change results in a sliver of loneliness and guilt, which she tries to explore. Marlee Cox (1995) is a student in St. Louis, Missouri. At the intersection of the surreal and the mundane, her work unpacks disability, identity, and the trauma of survival. A.J. Cunder (1992) has book-length works including two fantasy novels and a memoir about growing up and living with type 1 diabetes. Andrew De Silva (1982) grew up in suburban Detroit. He attended the University of Michigan and later studied fiction at the University of Southern California, where he is now an associate professor. Kendal Dickson (1993) is a currently living in Sanger, Texas. She graduated from the University of North Texas in 2017 with a BA in English: Creative Writing.


Ryan Drendel (1996) studies English and Spanish at Missouri Southern State University. He runs cross country and edits the university literary magazine, bordertown. Valentina Echarte (1995) was born in Bolivia. A few weeks afterward, she and her parents moved to Paraguay, the country where she was raised. She currently studies at Washburn University. Meg Eden (1991) has five poetry chapbooks, and her novel Post-High School Reality Quest was published with California Coldblood, an imprint of Rare Bird Books. Elena Ender (1996) is a SoCal native and Spring 2018 graduate of Azusa Pacific University. She invests her passion for her community and her craft by editing for both Zu News and West Wind. Antony Fangary (1990) is a Coptic-American living in San Francisco, California. He was the Honorable Mention recipient of the 2015 State-Wide Ina Coolbrith Poetry Prize. Federica Feliciangeli (1991) was born in Rome and is a film photographer and visual artist based in Bologna, as well as a lover of natural light. Jonatan Fernandez (1993) is a visual artist based in Asunción, Paraguay. He likes to depict nudity, sexuality, and all forms of equality. Heather Freitas (1989) lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Known for creating work out of primarily recycled media, she hopes to help people become more aware of the issues we will face in the future. Natalie Gallaher (2000) lives in Maryville, Missouri. The poem “It’s Coming” means a lot about being a millennial because it expresses the mistakes and problems that we face as we grow older. John Gillen (1991) was sent to a Christian summer camp at age ten. Campers were allowed one elective activity. Out of four hundred campers, he was the only one who chose storytelling. Mónica Gomery (1985) was born in Massachusetts and raised both in Boston and Caracas. Her first book of poetry, Here is the Night and the Night on the Road, is available from Cooper Dillon Books. Julia Guarch (1993) hates pronouns. She is a queer poet. They were the co-winner of the MacKnight Black Poetry Award. He was also a finalist for the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award. Jaclyn Hamer (1987) is an advertising copywriter currently living in Chicago, Illinois. She is an active member of her local writing community, performs Live Lit, and is currently working on a novel. Zoe Hanna (1997) likes to write poems and flash fiction pieces focusing on mental health, being queer, and horror. She also loves creating art pieces with femininity, pastel colors, and strange creatures. Ileana Heinrich (2001) is an artist based in Fernando de la Mora, Paraguay. During her roughest times, art acts as a medium to manifest her emotions. Ashley Imlay (1992) recently served as a poetry editor for The Southern Quill. Though she’s written poems most of her life, she’s finally getting the guts to let them out into the universe. Elena Jackendoff (1993) grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She is a 2015 graduate of Oberlin College, where she studied creative writing and politics. She currently lives in Madrid, Spain. Sarah T. Jewell (1981) is a Jersey poet who runs a weekly workshop as a part of Jersey City Writers. Her chapbook How to Break Your Own Heart was recently published by dancing girl press (2017).


Anastasia Jill (1993) is a queer poet and fiction writer living in the southern United States. She is a current editor for The Smaeralit Anthology. Her work has been published in several literary journals. Liam Edward Talty-Johnson (1989) is a photographer and storyteller based in Northwest Ohio. His work has also been featured in Khroma Magazine, Passporte Gallery, and The Toledo City Paper. Sarah Johnson (1995) lives in East Texas and is a graduate student, having been featured in Thrice Fiction, 2River, and Ghost Parachute. Catherine Jones (1987) is a language lover, art enthusiast, tea aficionado, a college professor, and writer of both poetry and nonfiction. Ben Jorisch (1986) is a speck on the face of the void. Born in New York, he believes that every millennial is a junkie, has been affected by junkies, was raised by junkies, or has been robbed by junkies. Jury Judge (1991) is an artist, writer, poet, photographer, and political cartoonist. If you are interested in commissioning her for artwork, email her at jurysjudge@gmail.com. Maria Kalyagina (1979) is a Vietnam-based illustrator from Saint-Petersburg, Russia. She moved to Souteastern Asia about 7 years ago, fell in love with it, and found inspiration there. Merkin Karr (1995) is a senior at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, focusing on poetry and creative nonfiction. She runs the sexual assault and domestic violence survivors support group there. Lauren Klein (1995) is a young writer and artist. Educated at the University of Toronto, she has had poetry and fiction published in journals such as Forage, Brickplight, and The Quill. Kara Knickerbocker (1990) is the author of the chapbook Next to Everything that is Breakable (Finishing Line Press, 2017). She lives in Pittsburgh where she works at Carnegie Mellon University. Noah Koob (1991) was born in Chicago, Illinois and raised in the nearby suburb of Gurnee. His poems have appeared in Towers Magazine. During his off time, he obsesses over The Simpsons. Katie Krantz (1999) is a student and early career writer from Atlanta, Georgia. She is a graduate of the Alpha Young Writer’s Workshop for Genre Fiction and of the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop. Olivia Kressler (1995) is a creative writing and digital media arts student at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota. She is also a resident advisor, a barista at Starbucks, and does track and field. Travis Landhuis (1989) teaches writing at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls. Some of his stories have been published in The Cossack Review, North American Review, and The Columbia Review. Susan L. Leary (1984) is a Lecturer in English Composition at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. Her poetry has been published or is forthcoming in many print and online journals. Holly Levett (1999) is a high school senior in North Carolina who, when she’s not writing, enjoys running, quilting, and playing with her two cats. Kelley Lewis (1996) has worked as the Promotions Director and Co-Editor in Chief for Polaris Literary Magazine. Her work has been published in ReCap, Penumbra, and Polaris. Joseph Lezza (1986) is a branded content marketer in New York, New York who wears sunglasses, even when it’s not appropriate, and drinks an obscenely unhealthy amount of black tea.


Brenna Lilly (1997) is a writer from New Hampshire. She is a graduate of the Kenyon Review Young Writers Program. Her chapbook, everything will all come together, was released in 2016. Sze Ying Lim (1995) is a Taiwanese-Malaysian writer and is currently completing her senior year at Northern Illinois University. She is taking classes in fiction writing, poetry writing, and playwriting. Frederick Livingston (1992) stayed up on his eighth birthday to watch the world descend into Y2K chaos. When nothing happened, he decided to live like the world will never end and went to bed. Corey Lof (1990) lives in Toronto and works as a carpenter. He writes in the early mornings and on the occasional weekend. He has published some poetry and humor articles online. Marisa Lucas (1996) is from Canton, Ohio. She has worked as the Co-Editor-in-Chief for Polaris Literary Magazine as well as the Vice President of Sigma Tau Delta at her university. Robbie Masso (1996) is a published poet, photographer, and abstract artist who specializes in abstraction, minimalism, and psychological art. Jonathan May (1985) grew up in Zimbabwe. He lives and teaches in Memphis, Tennessee, where he served as the inaugural Artist in Residence at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Sarah May (1992) is an American poet living in Dallas, Texas. Her work has appeared in BLUEPEPPER and The Mondegreen. Currently, she is a Poetry Editor at Marathon Literature Review. Melissa McCann (1987) is a writer, procrastinator, and cat-lover based in Detroit, Michigan. Her short fiction and screenplays have placed in a number of writing contests. Christiana McClain (1996) is a graduating senior at Spelman College. She dedicates “No Idols or Gods” to her great-grandmother, Lucinda, and John, her muse. Jessica Mehta (1981) is a Cherokee poet, novelist, and storyteller. She’s the author of ten books, including the forthcoming Savagery, Drag Me Through the Mess, and You Look Something. Ari L. Mokdad (1991) is an award-winning poet and performance artist. Her work has appeared at Wayne State University’s Open Field Poetry Series and The Jazz Café at The Music Hall in Detroit. Mau Moreno (1995) lives in Paraguay and explores the experimental uses of photography. He also does fashion photography while wokring with the national designers. Teresa Morse (1993) holds a BA in English from Baker University. A Kansas native, she currently lives in the forest-city of Atlanta with her husband and pug. Her work has appeared in The Cape Rock. Maddie Murphy (1995) is a fashion designer, textile artist, journalist, and creative writer based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is a staff writer at Informality Blog, an arts and culture publication. Molly Murray (1987) is the author of Today, She Is and the editor of The Atelier Project. Her pieces have appeared in several anthologies and journals including Ruminate and The Windhover. Jono Naito (1990) is a writer and game designer in Syracuse, New York. Her writing can be found through jononaito.com, and her games through museumofintrigue.com. Milok Navarro (1994) was born in Asunción, Paraguay. He wants to become a movie director and inspire new generations. Milok Navarro’s life motto: Fuck Negative Energy!


Kendra Nuttall (1997) is a senior at Utah Valley University. Her work has appeared in Chiron Review, Maudlin House, and Z Publishing’s Best Emerging Poets of Utah anthology, among others. Tanner O’Neal (1994) was born and raised in East Texas. He mostly writes about the effects Generation X adults have on their children. Akachi Obijiaku (1997) is a new Nigerian poet who started writing poetry in 2017. Her works have appeared or are forthcoming in more than ten literary journals. Michael Oliveras (1980) is a man living in Brooklyn and working in Manhattan. His photography is a way for him to connect with the world, and he hopes at least one other person can appreciate it. Angelica Oluoch (1997) is a writer from Kiambu, Kenya. She seeks to share with the world through her work, which are stories from the New Afrika she grew up in and lives in. Eric Orosco (1992) received University of the Pacific’s Seamus Heaney Fellowship for his poetry. When he’s not writing or reading, he’s taking care of succulents and practicing homemade salad recipes. Iris Orpi (1983) is a Filipina writer currently living in Chicago, Illinois. She is the author of the illustrated novel The Espresso Effect and the forthcoming Rampant and Golden. Alyssa Oursler (1991) is a journalist and essayist. Her work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Hobart, SF Weekly, The East Bay Review, and others. Sophie Panzer (1997) was a finalist for the 2017 Quebec Writers’ Federation Literary Prize for Young Writers, Her first chapbook, Survive July, is forthcoming from Red Bird Chapbooks. Molly Ellen Pearson (1987) is a poet from St. Albans, Hertfordshire. She was the 2016 recipient of the Ink, Sweat & Tears Scholarship at the University of East Anglia. John Pedersen (1982) is a bartender and writer from northern Arizona. Though his nights are often consumed by cocktails, his days are spent dreaming up fantastic visions of the future. Tyler Allen Penny (1991) is a poet and educator raised in a one stoplight town in the pine belt of Mississippi. This fall, he will be an artist-in-residence at Taleamor Park. Garrett Pletcher (1995) is studies creative writing at Florida State University. His interests include queer identity, religion, pop culture, and horror. He currently lives in Tallahassee, Florida. Silas Plum (1984) believes strongly in the old maxim that the true value of an object is more than the sum of its parts. He uses defunct currency, discarded photographs, and long-forgotten illustrations. Bella Pori (1993) is a government employee who writes poetry on her lunch breaks. Her poems can be found in forthcoming issues of The Stillwater Review, Barking Sycamores, and others. Matt Prater (1988) is a writer and visual artist from Saltville, Virginia. His work has appeared in Appalachian Heritage, The American Journal of Poetry, and The Moth, among other publications. Angela Ramos (1981) is the proud matriarch of a supremely modern family based in Madison, Wisconsin. Her work has appeared in The Main Street Rag and is forthcoming in Paper Darts. Brooke Randel (1988) is a writer and copywriter from Chicago, Illinois. Her fiction has been published in Ropes, Two Cities Review, 50-Word Stories, Punchnel’s, and Beecher’s Magazine.


Gry Ranfelt (1994) lives in the second largest city in Denmark and is studying to become a biotechnologist. She writes books and shorter pieces from the comfort of a cozy apartment. Gabriella Ray (1987) is a 29-year-old woman from southern California. Her favorite hobby is a simple and old-fashioned one: reading a book. Greg Ross (1995) is an undergraduate at the University of Chicago studying history and Spanish language and literature. He is currently writing his thesis on early 19th century Paraguayan history. Felicia Sabartinelli (1984) is a Colorado actress, artist, photographer, poet, and writer. Her writing has been featured in Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, and Seventeen, among others. Brandon Schaden (1992) is a recent graduate from Northern Illinois University. He currently lives in the suburbs of Chicago where he passes the time reading and writing. Dylan Scillia (1997) is a junior at Susquehanna University. While photography has nothing to do with his major, it is one of his passions and he tries to indulge in it as often as possible. Benjamin Selesnick (1994) is pursuing a BA in English at Northeastern University. He’s also an intern at A Public Space. His fiction has appeared in The Bitter Oleander, Literary Orphans, and others. Joseph Serpico (1997) is an unapologetic queer from New Jersey. He is currently studying at Eckerd College in Saint Petersburg, Florida. His work has been published in Sonder Midwestern. Emily Shesh (1987) is a poet and filmmaker. Born and raised in New York, she currently resides in Los Angeles. She holds degrees from Temple University and Columbia University. Cara Siera (1990) is a writer, editor, and photographer. Her latest project, 100 Films Every Millennial Should See, is forthcoming late 2018. Her photos and poetry have also appeared in The Red Mud Review. Sarah Simon (1995) is a 22-year-old New Yorker still deep in her art, even while she is currently teaching English writing in Quito, Ecuador. Shriram Sivaramakrishnan (1985) is a poet and digital artist from India. His poems have appeared in Lemon Hound, Bird’s Thumb, Softblow, Noble/Gas Quarterly, Allegro, and The Mondegreen, among others. Kaylie Sorensen (1993) is a Northwest Missouri State University graduate working in North Kansas City. Her debut collection, This Isn’t About You, will be released May 2018. Mary Spadoni (1984) is a theater-maker, event coordinator, and new writer living in Astoria, New York with her husband and dog. She was recently published in The Walloon Writers Review. Laura Steiner (1988) is a writer and performer originaly from Colombia and currently based in London. She writes mostly in English but always thinks in Spanglish. Ayşe Tekşen (1988) lives in Ankara, Turkey where she works as a research assistant at the Department of Foreign Language Education, Middle East Technical University. Jordan Thornton (1989) entered the hot and humid world of The South. He was born and raised outside of Jackson, Mississippi. He works IT by day while playing punk rock and writing by night. Conor Tierney (1995) is a young photographer from Lee’s Summit, Missouri. He feels blessed being in a time that has allowed him to be openly gay and express his experiences with that through art.


Drake Truber (unknown) has sketches recognized for their kinetic quality and narrative energy. He has exhibited in various gallery and museum group shows. Mirko Vukoslavović (1995) was born in Podgorica, Montenegro. He writes about his generation, youth, social psychological context, and erotica. He has passion for drawing, fashion illustration. Whitney Walters (1989) is an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth and an Assistant Editor of Split Rock Review. Amy West (1987) lives in Toronto, Ontario and works in telephone banking for a large Canadian bank. In her spare time, she likes to read books, listen to music, go shopping, and work out. Demi Wetzel (1989) wrote a chapbook titled Life of the Party, which was chosen as a 2017 Floating Bridge Press semifinalist. She lives and writes in the U.K.. Nathaniel Wilder (1997) is a student at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina. He is currently the co-editor of the college’s student anthology and moonlights as a sautÊ cook. Andrew Wrase (1996) is an amateur film photographer living in the wrong era at the wrong time. He believes that the future is uncertain, but knows for sure that we are strong enough to take it on.


ac k n ow l e d g e m e n t s Funding The Department of Language, Literature, and Writing The College of Arts and Sciences Northwest Missouri State University Resources GreenTower Press Advisors Richard Sonnenmoser Luke Rolfes


fearsome critter: any creature from early lumberjack folklore said to inhabit the wildernesses of North America.

Profile for fearsomecrittersmag

Fearsome Critters: A Millennial Arts Journal — VOLUME ONE  

In this inaugural issue of the millennial arts journal, readers will discover art of progress and stagnation, love and isolation, home and d...

Fearsome Critters: A Millennial Arts Journal — VOLUME ONE  

In this inaugural issue of the millennial arts journal, readers will discover art of progress and stagnation, love and isolation, home and d...

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