F E A R S O M E C R I T T E R S
2 V OLUME
F E A R S O M E C R I T T E R S VOLUME 2
2019 Editor-in-Chief Korbin Jones
Editor of Prose Hannah Soyer
Editor of Poetry Kelley Lewis
Editor of Visual Art Lucia Iglesias
Marisa Lucas, Kim Sternberg, Angel Etima Ette-Umoh
Cover Art & Design Korbin Jones
Copyright 2019 Fearsome Critters All rights reserved
TA B L E OF CONT E NT S Fiction
Bonnie Bailey Lonely as a Cloud 82 Chad Baker Mexican Standoff 112 Savannah Eden Bradley Witch Country 52 T. Ben Bryant The Secret of Dying Water 128 Tyler Dunning Wendigo 117 William Hawkins Arliss 33 Isaac Humphrey My Ex-Boyfriend Shan. 75 Jason Joyce Warm Wash Clean 41 Motown’s Most Lonely 95 Turning Off Someone Else’s Porch Light 104 Savanna Scott Leslie The Alchemist’s Daughter 12 Andriana Minou The Dead & the Fabulous LTD 42 Evan James Sheldon To Dig Deep Enough 7 Justine Talbot After the Movie 96 Kevin Richard White faded brown in the kitchen 2
Robin Gow George O'Keeffe 122 Shilo Niziolek Capsized 70 Jessica Wadleigh Doing Laundry 38
Brendan Alpiner threesome 9 Asya Azkin lady in white 40 Leah Baker Apartment 90 Emily Barker Magic Songs 3 Melissa Bernal Austin Your Mother’s Ruined Linens 79 Potential 95 It Was 1991 But Just Barely Hannah Bishop Silverfish Across the Lens 20 Kevin Chesser Scavenger Hunt 26 Late Shift 71 elle chu the yellow line at tameike-sanno 9 Love Letter to My Hypothetically Dead Boyfriend 27
Clayton Adam Clark Firebreak 46 The Missouri 92 Linda M. Crate even snakes can be beautiful 10 Sarah Deckro Operation Pied Piper 21 Sean William Dever Death of a Corporate Analyst 80 It’s Halloween and I’m Fucked up Walking Down Mass Ave 105 Monica Fallone My Mom Sold Her House to Pay My Tuition 72 Kristina Gaddy Wake 126 Robin Gow Two Glasses of Water 1 Delilah 32 taste buds & artichoke hearts 68 Ben Hall Cheonan before Dawn 15 Cheryl Harrell Willing Hands 50 Kristina Heflin walk of shame? 5 The Handmaid’s Hymn 48 Greg Hotard Loviatar, Foulest of Daughters 51 Emma Johnson-Rivard Remix Theory: The Great American Eclipse (2017) 67 Gregory Kimbrell No one should expect an invitation. 24 Kayla King Divinity, or Lies We Tell Ourselves 103 Aditi Natasha Kini charmed 27 Michelle Kubilis Down There 37 Silva Kuusniemi burrito 40 Mateo Lara Suspected Violence in the Community 69 asphyxiation 81 Elena Lee What’s Best for You 47 Nethan Lipps Call Me Out of the Woods 15 John Leonard The Seven People Who Wouldn’t Let Him Sleep 16 Lawrence Mullen flesh market close 20 in new england towns with histories 51 Sze Ying Lim Loop 8 Maddie Murphy Dogwood 36 Canderel Yellow 94 Upchurn 115 KG Newman American Alcoholism 3 Iris Orpi Marked by the Serpent 10 Breaths of Shadows 36 Impunity is Illusion 94
Brie Radke Fifteen and Three-Quarters 21 Spread Out 37 Felicia Sabartinelli Oblivion 15 Sara Sage MOTHER, WARHEAD 74 E.J. Schoenborn Reflecting Hemlock 79 Benjamin Selesnick In Rehab I Learned 4 Jo Serpico Just Like Fire 119 Daddy Culture 125 Janicanne Shane Untitled Six 15 Sarah Summerson sustenance 9 Alec Suthy Reverie X 31 Tangled 36 Andrew Terrell Night 6 In the Box 71 E.H. Thatcher Millennial 8 Ode to Kylo Ren 71 Nathaniel Wilder Trial De Novo 28 Norman Walter The Baths 34 Dog Year Millennium 37 Homeless when it’s cold 49 Nicole Zelniker Free Lunch 20 The Cobra 31 The Gift 40
Emily Adams It’s a shame but what can you do? 41 Girls’ Night 89 The Pipeline 104 Ry An . . . Snakes . . . 11 Tengu and the Woodcutter 43 Caitlin Angulo Don’t Look Up 116 Joey Aronhalt Red Sheet 18 January Paint 19 Hannah Bishop Slow Shutter 77 Travis Bowden Charlotte 118 Sarah Deckro Vaulted Heavens 119 Gretchen Gales Bird Apocalypse 39 To the Bone 121 Jason Hart No Go 66
Nasos Karabelas Figure 1 54 Figure 2 55 Figure 3 60 Figure 4 61 Figure 5 65 Kristin LaFollette Oligodendroglioma 98 The Feminist with the Incorrect Name 99 Ronny LeCheminant Black Mountain 14 Clausade 112 Falls 130 Johnbel Mahautiere Falling 93 Shelby Prindaville Stool Pigeon 6 Street Smart 30 Pratik Suketu E x t r a S p e c t r a l 44 Negar Tajgardan The Foyer 29 Anthony Westenkirchner Pressure 1 Luke & Mandy Awakening 26 The Escape 35 Shattered Fantasy 48 Incandescence 70
Hannah Bishop Improvement in Embalming Birds 22 Plant Pat. 634 23 Casey Brenton Girlhood, Disability, and Dental Hygiene 124 Reno Evangelista Three Buddhas 78 Nelson Lowhim Iraq Ghosts 100 Vijay R. Nathan Break(down)dancer 113 Meg Reynolds Old Theory 131 Sizing Up 132 Love Letter 133 Recipe 134 Ocean 135 Vampire 136 Squirrel 137 Bad at Bedtime 138 Mushroom 139 Art History 140 Mercury Marvin Sunderland Jaws Was On TV On a Saturday Morning 108
“You can’t have empathy for somebody that’s gone through something you haven’t— because, definitionally, you can’t. But you can feel for them and have sympathy for them. And that’s what this country needs to practice more. It’s about realizing that you do come from a different place.” — David Hogg
Two glasses of water Robin Gow
i mistook a thump in the basement for the washing machine on its last spin cycle. iPhone flashlight out, i crept down the wooden stairs to find St. Gabriel & St. Michael sitting on the cool cement floor. they were so bright, all over, skin made of neon, only, less harsh & more like honey. their hands were full of feathers, move dropping from their wings. michael, with their arms cradling feathers, a dying child, i brought them trash bags to clean the plumage up & glasses of water because i did not know what angels drink. they poured the water on each other, kissed necks, caressed faces. came around me, pressed lips to my forehead. bodies the texture of stone. i invited them upstairs but they declined, scared of walking earth where god could see them. it should be a well-known fact that all angels are queer & god was fed up with it. thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s only so much a man can take. now each day when i wake up & when i go to bed i bring them two glasses of water. they crawl into the washing machine & pray.
Pressure Anthony Westenkirchner
faded brown in the kitchen Kevin Richard White
Begin with this— —It’s a small kitchen with no room for dishes and an oven. It’s a spot on Earth that no one can eat or be comfortable sitting in. But it’s there and we’re in it. We’re here and we have no choice. —Your hair is up in knots and you’re scratching a rash I told you to take care of a while ago. You’re staring at the faded brown on the walls; it’s like gloom had snuck out from the underground and splayed itself out as performance art. You whisper the following sentence to me: “This is our last last chance.” I nod. I’m looking through the barely hinged cabinets for instant coffee. —Of course, it wasn’t always like this. —But here we are, dreamily staring at each other, lost in all sorts of noise. It’s hard to sift through it all. —There is only one chair in this room. It’s near the microwave. I’m on the floor, scraping the tile cracks with a crooked fingernail. It’s like a scythe. I show the pet cat. There is no opinion. I look back at you as you’re touching the bags under your eyes. Heavy canvas, not your ideal skin. I grimace. We used to take better care of this life. We were soft for too long. We have now been bathing in rocks, it seems. —We were in need of music. Our one book of poetry got lost and you didn’t like the few novels I had. Our own words had lost steam. We had to borrow others. —I got the instant coffee going and you opened up the window in an attempt to get air. All we got was smoke and the sound of a dumpster being dropped repeatedly. You whisper the following sentence: “There’s a good reason these tables are numbered, honey, you just haven’t thought of it yet.” —It did wind up like this, though. College students in this economic climate? Duh. —There’s rain. There’s swirling winds and swear words and protesters outside and I swear that it won’t come through these walls, but maybe it has to. There’s the sound of help and friendship, but we tried that before and it didn’t work. —I pour the coffee sludge into our ironic mugs and we toast. It tastes like shit. You tell me so. I shrug. What else can I say? There are few absolutes in the world, but that’s 2
one of them. You whisper the following sentence to me: “I’ve just been through a terrible ordeal—my neighbor’s wife has been kidnapped.” —I’ve looked at this faded brown for a long time. I’ve looked at the busted microwave for hours. The washer in the sink is thinner than my patience and the drips from the faucet are a great backing sound to this stilted existence. I’ve meant to do so much since you moved in to show you how serious I am about this relationship, but I guess I get caught up in all the webs that life leaves, and I’m not sure how to tiptoe and dodge them. I never was. That’s why this hole in the wall is home instead of the proper place I’ve always wanted. I’ve tried to explain this to you—that all the money’s gone and this is it—but you’ve dodged answering that, swimming right past it, a graceful butterfly stroke out of the wave and to the edge where you can sit and rest. And end with this— —I tell you how much I’m going to change, now that I’ve heard it all and seen it all. We’ll get out of this place and actually do something. Once I finish this coffee, I’ll go put my shoes on and for a nice long walk, go up 12th and stop once I hit Market and see who’s got an opportunity for me. I’m expecting for you to go along with this, maybe even cheer me on. But you don’t. —You look behind you and reach, rip a piece of that brown wallpaper off, crumble it up and sprinkle it into your mug of coffee. I lean a little closer to see how it mixes. You just look back up and shrug and whisper, “It needs some flavor.”
American Alcoholism KG Newman
The sun burning off L.A.’s morning haze is not unlike what I go through too, concentrated marijuana removing liquor splinters from my mind. And yet still the city goes on polluting each day anyways—no one carpooling and all the Starbucks which did away with plastic straws boycotted out of business, whatever’s necessary to maintain a lifestyle even if it does lead to a quake along the fault line, at the exact wrong time, our midnight drunk and highs wasted as the luxury apartments tumble into the mouth of the widest fifth we’d want.
Magic Songs Emily Barker
The dead wasp on my windowsill means she’ll be here soon The Vongerishbird ready to collect her trinket She’ll take the metal from my ear If I have nothing else ready She comes in spring But leaves her scent in the cold months She feeds on the dying hope of love When the pollen clogs my nose So I can’t smell The body beneath me Her wings turn from blue and pink to silver She takes the pictures I leave out for her And alters them When she brings them back next year They’ll look the same to me Memory changes so much that photos would look different If not for her
In Rehab I Learned Benjamin Selesnick
to freebase | the lyrics to Ride Wit Me | Commons = nicotine gum, and that it’s best to go cold turkey rather than spend your days waiting for your 1 mg | the Serenity Prayer | it takes 2 hours to get from Newark to Redding | you can light a cigarette with a blow dryer | rubber bands keep you sober | to do my taxes | you won’t get your shoelaces back until you reach Level 2 | to cry | ‘Let Go and Let God,’ ‘Play the Tape Through,’ ‘Keep It Simple,’ etc. | there’s a gas station 2 miles down Magic Mountain, and if you leave by 3 and get back by 5, you can chainsmoke a pack without the CAs catching you | 2% of people who leave treatment never drink again | to say yes when asked if you prayed today cause if you don’t, they won’t move onto the next patient | there’re a lot of grammatical errors in the NA text | Christopher will sculpt a bomb out of Legos and give it to Vish and call him a terrorist but he won’t get in trouble, not really, because he’s past the point where trouble registers | to cheek | leering at APF patients will get you put on probationary status | privacy is a privilege | the average patient gains 12 lbs during a 28-day stint | Federer is no longer invincible | a spork can be God but only for now | people will listen if you cry | how to tell a story | Bruce got arrested for possessing kiddie porn but he doesn’t like to talk about it | to make sunny-side-up eggs | they make you empty your pockets after meals so just slide the knife into your sock | there’s no irony in the term sober alcoholic | I can’t do the 12 steps in 2 weeks | to sleep without sucking my thumb | Dad cares | today isn’t an eternity | to use clippers | silence can be stagnancy | to get on my knees and pray to my bedding | what boat shoes are | other people have imaginary arguments in the shower, too | to blame myself.
walk of shame? Kristina Heflin I
why not walk of glory
male desire is an animal this snake-charmer knows how to play a look a touch a text bring him between my knees
run your hands down the marble altar of my body
coming home with his scent dripping from my clothes my skin my cunt make way for nike goddess of victory prepare your offerings
he sinks into me but i have the power squeezed tight his satisfaction and surrender
bow your head in prayer my beautiful disciple keep murmuring your passions roar out your ecstasies bring me the praises of your lips it makes me stronger drowns out the voices
Andrew Terrell one foot tall white ghost near pile of hats
i wish i could stretch like a cloud
it speaks not with its tongue nor mine but with disgust like a fist around my brain
i wish i could tumble like a rock
one foot tall white ghost will never die no neck to snap no blood to drain one foot tall white ghost tries to kill me i wish i could flatten like a water spill
Stool Pigeon Shelby Prindaville
one way i write a poem one chain i sever one day i am alone
To Dig Deep Enough Evan James Sheldon
The couple had only been digging in the hard desert sand for a few minutes when they heard the body move. The man said it was the wind blowing the yellow-tied, black plastic trash bag the body was wrapped in, but the woman was not so sure. She had not been so sure that they had actually turned the person into a body either. The man had held the person while she looped the electrical cord around the person’s neck. She had not seen the person’s eyes go dim; she had not seen the soul leave. The man had quickly moved on, talking about what they needed to do with body, and she had wondered about it at the time. When, exactly, had the person become a body? Why hadn’t she seen it? She couldn’t get that moment out of her mind, or rather the lack of that moment, even on the six-hour drive from the city, past all the multicolored mesas and arches and landforms, which normally she found so captivating. She loved the rust colored layers and liked to imagine each as an epoch when metal had wrapped the earth until time and weather had corroded that metal, and God had to rewrap the earth in a new foil. A new shiny beginning. The woman told the man that he should check on it. She used the word “it” now, instead of “body,” and the word felt wrong on her tongue. What? Are you afraid the body will come back to life? Tear out of those bags? He laughed and kept digging. You know, a couple hundred years ago, bodies were buried in graves with metal bars over the top to prevent the dead from coming back? He laughed again, like those ancient, and now surely dead, people were so foolish. She stopped digging and stared at him. Eventually, he noticed the set of her jaw and went to check. He pushed it with the tip of his shovel, puncturing the bag. They both waited for a long moment, but nothing moved. She couldn’t see in through the hole from her angle, but she knew it was in there. The body now exposed to sunlight and grit tossed about by the desert wind. She felt sorry for the body, sorry like she hadn’t for the person. It couldn’t defend itself now, couldn’t raise a hand to block the sun or wipe away a grain of sand blown into the soft liquid of an eye. It couldn’t roll a shoulder to shift into a more comfortable position.
The ground spun beneath her feet. She felt faint. Are you going to help me over here or what? She thought about it for a minute. Hadn’t this all began with a very similar question? What if she had said no then? What if she had never met the man? What if she had stayed in the mountains, with fresh water and clean snow and sun that warmed instead of burned? What if? She saw all of her little decisions leading here, inexorably pulling her to this moment, digging a grave in the desert and wondering about the differences between bodies and people. Or if there was any difference. She watched him grunt and strain. Wasn’t he an ugly thing? All veins and ligaments and sweat. She had never noticed how disgusting he looked. The thought of those hands tracing lines on her skin gave her a chill. The thought of his stubbled chin rubbing in tender places made her bile rise. The woman shoved her shovel back into the earth. Instead of hard packed sand, her shovel bit into a cool black liquid. It seeped from the would-be-grave like blood from a wound. It seeped like a soul from a body. It seeped and seeped and soon she was ankle deep, the liquid licking up her calves. She realized she could have run then. Dropped the shovel and made for the car, driven off without a backwards glance. But she couldn’t walk backward down that path she had already trod. Some things, some choices, were irrevocable. She could have raised a hand to block the rusting sun, to hide the layers cut into the rock before her, and to wipe a bit of sand that had found the liquid of her eye. But she didn’t. Instead, she thought about the oily blackness leaking from this soon-to-be grave and the stain it would leave when God rewrapped the earth in metal. She wondered if it, if the body, would move again before they got it in the ground. And she plunged her shovel down through the seeping liquid and continued to dig.
Sze Ying Lim —there’re many folded pieces of paper in my attic—half-written journal pages, unfinished manuscripts, music sheets, faded photos—things to be burned when I’m gone because no one deserves to know me like that—naïve, stupid, a little Asian girl wandering around the walls of a society that loves everything she isn’t—thin, beautiful, smart but knows when to downplay her intelligence, soft and submissive— the only thing I have mastered is a submissive attitude I shouldn’t have— should’ve fought harder, should’ve screamed louder, should’ve pushed that hand away—there’s always something to push away: my uncles’ hands pinching my face, the creepy boy who doesn’t understand no, the possibility that this might be the last time I see my grandparents—I wish for time to say goodbye, for adulthood to leave me alone for a little while longer, for freedom to do what I like as I like— harmless freedom that I can wrap around myself like a blanket when I need to disappear from everything—I’m a traveler I tell them, once again packing my bags to move to a new town where no one knows me—you’re running away they say but they don’t understand what it’s like to feel as if the cage I’m in is getting smaller and smaller by the day, as if the air around me is thinning even though I’m the only one breathing—I write letters to myself sometimes, tracing the word breathe into blank pages with red ink—
E.H. Thatcher I’m getting better at lying still on my mattress, hands tucked under my thighs. At consuming reruns with alarming pace and whispering my curtains closed. At playing taciturn while my fitted sheet winks off the corner. Getting better at being alone, at ignoring texts, turning the light off and wearing down my gums with a toothbrush before I fall asleep. Getting better at taking deep breaths, at scrolling through Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, until my thumbs turn into chuck. Getting better at donning the mask before I post a status, picture, tweet. Scarlet, with a forked tongue, thick hair the color of seaweed. Getting better at glaring into the mirror, that wooden face someone I no longer recognize.
Sarah Summerson my mother’s advice is to eat red meat for iron bananas for potassium to drink draughts of water until my body is too full to hurt I don’t mind cutting the venison with a blunt knife but hate touching tilapia the white flesh is too close to my own and cold for years the creek water had no fish from coal mining pollution runoff the sulfur content was too high when they came creeping from the cold water upstream my sisters and I went snagging hanging off the inflatable boat to press our goggles against that upside down sky I loved to watch and reach those swimming things but would not touch my father hooked a barb to birch twig swam with down deep and throated the river things he shows us to hold the fish from its gills to brush back quills like my mother brushes the hair on my forehead in the rocks of the emptied creek bed we build bonfires and roast the fish with lemon pinched from mother’s iced tea
the yellow line at tameike-sanno elle chu
Tokyo, Japan 2015 there is no personal accident1 today. but look down the rails to see a slow fire, train lights burning up the tunnel to the track of a traditional tune played by whistles hung around children’s necks. 1
Brendan Alpiner in the past three years, I’ve eaten the children of oh so many midnight men. there must be oh so many three-year-olds crying inside me wondering when daddy is coming home. o my children I hate to tell you this but your daddy’s dead. as soon as he came in the moon cried his name louder than I could or ever will.
In Japan, a “personal accident” means someone has jumped in front of an oncoming train.
Marked by the Serpent Iris Orpi
The pleasure of his pain calls out to me from the darkest corners of my soul, the side of me dank and moldy with shamelessness, the side that knows no self-control and lets vice defile her as she sleeps. Those days I ended up doing something stupid just because I was lonely, swept under the rug are now beating like guilty, telltale hearts from beneath the floorboards, reminding me exactly how weak I am and stating the obvious: how lonely I am, screaming lonely, gnashing-myteeth-tearing-out-my-hair lonely, questioning-God lonely, cryingstone-tears lonely, and he offers himself as the miracle cure but he lies, because he knows what the bottom of my coffin looks like, he knows what the pit of my lowest moments feel like as he’s the one who put me there. From my faith’s deathbed he pretends to pray that I find my way but with each hallowed word he desecrates in honor of my perverted need of the beautiful sins he has to offer, he mouths the curses that place me under his will more helplessly than ever.
even snakes can be beautiful Linda M. Crate
in the rabbit hole of my mind the darkness goes down into a deeper void, and the nightmares all grin with pointed teeth; some vampires and others werewolves then there are others such as harpies, banshees, wicked witches; but the worst ones are the humans they like to say they're good people but if they were truly good they wouldn't have to tell me— i have met many shades of nightmares they always feel so fun at first, but vibes never lie; and i realize soon i'm caught deep in a song of sleep that is way too deep i cannot stop falling into these trances— i wish i could tell who was shadow and and who was light who was an angel or who was a demon just by sight you can never judge a book by its cover some of the most beautiful faces house the most poisonous souls even snakes can be beautiful.
...Snakes... Ry An
The Alchemist's Daughter Savanna Scott Leslie
In a lakeside town lived a girl with two pairs of eyes. Her father cried when she was born. He pressed his hands to his mouth and groaned through the lattice of his fingers. The girl cried too, but the mother was silent. She held her baby close against her chest. She stroked the damp forehead with her thumb. Looking into the infant’s eyes, she saw four perfect circles of gold, and she was glad to bring their light into the world. The girl’s mother was an alchemist. She worked in a high tower, changing base metals into silver and gold. The townspeople respected her even as they feared her. They would drive by her house at the edge of the lake and whisper. They brought gifts when the child was born. The girl’s father was a secretary, and he worked in the lakeside town. Every morning he left the house with a briefcase and blazer. Every night he returned with a loose tie and a face worn-out from smiling. In the early days, when the girl was still a baby, the alchemist stayed home with her while the father went to work. She and the baby were closer than the moon and the sky, closer still than the lake and the shore. But the baby grew and grew, and the mother resumed her work far away across the lake. High up in her shining tower, she lost track of the days and nights, dazed by the metals and their secrets. But once a month, when the moon was full, it shone through the tower window, even more beautiful than the alchemist’s metals. Whenever she saw the full moon hanging above the lake, she remembered her family and went home through the black oak forest until the moon began to wax. During her mother’s long absences, the girl came to love the lake. Like her father, it was never far away, and she could count on it whenever she was lonely or sad. Like her mother, it knew the secrets of alchemy. It could transform light from the sky into streaks of silver and gold. With her two pairs of eyes, she could see a thousand colors where sunbeams and moonbeams transformed into slippery molten light. Each time she beheld this magic, a great joy overcame her and she would sing to the lake. Her voice was as soft as dandelion silk, and her words were as sad as mourning. 12
As she grew, the girl began to visit the lake each day while her father was at work. She would only stay home on the day after the full moon, when the alchemist had come. This lakeside roving soothed the girl, but her father grew troubled. It was one thing to have a baby with two pairs of eyes hidden safely in their little house, but it was quite another to have a child with two pairs of eyes traipsing around where anyone might see her. The people in the town began to talk. He could hear them on his lunch breaks when he waited in line at the sandwich shop. He could feel their stares at dusk when he walked through the parking lot. A quivering fear grew in his heart. One night, when the moon had just started to wane in the sky, a warm breeze stirred the little house’s net curtains. The girl had just come in from the garden, and her father sat her down at the kitchen table. He made her a cup of hot chocolate and laid out some cookies on a plate. “My girl,” he said, working up courage. “Yes, father?” The girl looked up at him with her two pairs of eyes. The father flinched. Unable to return his daughter’s gaze, he scraped his chair back from the table. “Do your chores and go to sleep.” He turned and hurried out of the room. The next night, the moon was thinner, and the father had shored himself up. The girl had spent all day on the bluffs that looked down on her favorite bay. She had sung to the lake in a high, clear voice before coming home to her father. Again he sat her down at the table. He gave her a cup of tea. “My girl,” said the father. “Yes, father?” Again she looked up at him with her two pairs of eyes. He took a deep breath, but then he faltered. He couldn’t return her gaze, so he turned to go for the second time. “Remember to brush your teeth,” and he hurried out of the room. On the third night, the father had devised a plan. All day while he fretted, the phones had gone on ringing and drifts of paper had piled up on his desk. He went home early and waited, as the sun set, by the kitchen’s open window. The girl, delighted to see him, embraced him with an affectionate hug. Determined, the father peered over her head as he spoke, avoiding the sight of her two pairs of eyes.
“My girl,” he said again. “Yes, father?” Her voice was muffled against his chest. “I thought we might play a game,” he continued, for the words came easily now. “What do you say?” “Yes!” “Good. For the first part, I need you to close your eyes.” The girl closed her eyes. “For the next part, you need to stand very still and wait—but no peeking, mind you.” The girl stood still and waited. She kept her four eyes closed. “Are you ready?” the father asked. The girl nodded. “Here we go.” The father stepped away from the girl. Squinting as if at the sun itself, he glanced at his daughter’s face. He was certain he could finish his plan if he only avoided her eyes, but he knew he would never try again if he lost his courage now. The two pairs of eyes were closed, and he let out a grateful sigh. First, he crept across the kitchen floor to the drawer beside the refrigerator. Then, he pulled the drawer open with a deft little motion that stopped it from creaking. Next, he took a long, sharp pair of scissors and tiptoed back to his daughter. “Remember the rules,” he said, realizing her eyes could open at any moment and freeze him in his tracks. “I remember,” said the girl. She kept her eyes shut. The father bent down close to the girl, his jaw set in concentration. The scissors hissed and whispered as he worked, but she never opened her eyes. When at last he had finished, he set the scissors on the table. He smiled to himself and he folded his arms across his chest. “Alright now, my girl,” he said. “You can open your eyes. It’s done.” Obedient, the girl opened her eyes to find that half the world’s colour was gone. She patted her upper eyelids and found they’d been covered in a heavy fringe of hair. The bangs came right down to the bridge of her nose so that she could just peer out with her lower pair of eyes. “You look wonderful,” her father said. He patted her head reassuringly and then he swept the wisps of hair from the floor. * * *
Not long after, the alchemist died, and the girl’s father took his young wife’s passing very hard. He withdrew into himself, wistful and silent even at work. The townspeople who had once scorned the girl came to respect her for her diligence in looking after him and the little lakeside house. This change marked the end of her daily excursions, and she stopped singing to the lake; instead, she swept the porch and fetched groceries. She stopped staying up all night when the moon was full; instead, she slept the heavy sleep that comes of hard work. Without the wind to tousle her hair, she let half her eyes stay hidden. Many years passed this way, and the girl became a young woman. She wore her hair long except for the bangs that always veiled her second pair of eyes. Every week she trimmed them with a small pair of silver scissors that she kept in a drawer by her bed. Her unhappy father never remarried, but he went on working as before. The town didn’t take on another alchemist, so the lonely tower stood empty on other side of the lake. And then, one day, while her father was at work, the young woman finished mopping and sat beneath the kitchen window, waiting for the floors to dry. A cool wind blew up from the lake. It stirred the net curtains and stroked the young woman’s cheeks. She gazed out the window at the wide lake. Her heart filled with music, and her body grew light. The wind beckoned her, pulling gently at her hair. She forgot her mop and bucket and followed the breeze out into the garden. It pulled her like a current down to the shore. The lake spread far out into the horizon. Gray stones, worn smooth by centuries, shifted and settled beneath the young woman’s feet. Above, suspended like a king’s jewel in a gray mantle, hung a waxing crescent moon. Its pale outline was just visible in the cloudy sky. The alchemist’s daughter drank it all in, every wave and pebble, every gust and glint. The wind filled her ears with its hot and lilting music. And then, with the force of a tide, the memory of the alchemist struck the young woman’s heart. She felt a woeful longing. With the certainty of a compass’s needle that points to the north, she turned toward the far-off tower. With her heart full of yearning and her head full of songs, she retraced her mother’s footsteps around the ancient lake. Through briar and bracken, forest and field, she walked. The sun set, but she made her way in 13
darkness, guided by the tireless wind and the starlight as soft as sea-glass. When the tower loomed before her, its white walls were veiled in ivy. On one side, the ancient woods had crept right up to the threshold. The other side looked down on the lake from a steep cliff. The young woman passed easily through the brambles and bushes. They seemed to welcome her, to draw her in. She stopped at the wooden door and laid a hand on its rusted metal ring. She could picture the alchemist as she must have been all those years, returning to the tower from the little house by the lake. The young woman remembered her mother’s gauzy robes. She could almost feel the calloused fingers with their burns and scars. But she couldn’t conjure up her mother’s face; there was only a soft light in its place. Dazed by her journey and the heady scents of the woodlands, the girl pulled on the ring. The hinges cried out but the door came slowly open. Inside was a room, round and windowless. It was empty except for a spiral staircase that wound up along the wall. She started to climb up but she had to step carefully. There was no railing to cling to, and the light was faint. Up and up and up she went until she came to a small room at the top of the tower. A single window, without
shutters or glass, looked out onto the lake. Starlight revealed scant furniture—the narrowest bed, a chest, and a small pedestal with a wide, shallow basin at the center of the room. Hungrily, the young woman sifted through the chamber. She longed for traces of her mother’s secret craft. As she ran her fingers along the basin, a distant glimmer wrenched her attention outside the room. Enchanted, she stepped toward the window. Then she stood for a long time watching the lake below. The crescent moon shone down on the water. The lake, black and churning, transmuted its light into silver and gold. The alchemist’s daughter raised a hand to her forehead. Slowly at first, then all at once, she swept the fringe of hair away from her brow. Her four eyelids fluttered as half the world’s color returned. Her four irises constricted at the terrible radiance. Her four eyes looked down from the tower and saw every shade that had ever existed, every spark and shadow that had ever lived and died between the waters and the trees. In wordless wonder, she stepped out from the window. As she fell, she was enveloped in molten light.
Black Mountain Ronny LeCheminant 14
Cheonan before Dawn Ben Hall
Felicia Sabartinelli Bodies pretzeled in the backseat of a car that didn’t belong to us.
Shoulders buried in the ridges of aged leather interiors.
Empty wine bottles at our feet that dyed our lips the color grape. And
I should recall the low-hanging moon, illuminating its iridescence from the heavy perspiration dripping from our shoulder blades but I only remember your hands along my hips pushing me into oblivion.
Janicanne Shane I loved a gravedigger once. He burned me up and buried me down inside the ground because it’s all he knew how to do.
I kept pawing at my eyes. It was so strange. Alone, across the boulevard, in the cobblestone forest of night-purpled apartments beneath my window, there was a light on. Against it, black and unmoving, a figure seemed to stand, arms spread along a railing, gazing down into the sun-guarded streets. “Someone else?” I thought, “Are they lonely too?”
Call Me Out of the Woods Nathan Lipps
The faded-out grass of what was once a moving field. Oak. A break in the wind. This knife moving opening the deer. Holding the liver, the heart each cooling each silent when I ask about love. Too many crows left after the shot. Now, its eyes closed even the steam of the body drifting away. How else will we know?
The Seven People Who Wouldn’t Let Him Sleep John Leonard
Gordon E. Dumas sat alone in his bedroom with seven people who wouldn’t let him go to sleep. Every time he closed his eyes, the weight of their silence pressed on his chest like a millstone, transforming each breath into a labored gasp. Gordon tried to yell, but his throat burned from many nights spent roaring at them to go away. They always stayed until dawn. They never spoke. i. His mother hung from the ceiling fan, a black extension cord wrapped around her neck. From the east, a storm was rolling in. Steady drafts entered through the open window, forcing her ashen dress to billow out around her. Gordon thought she looked like an unmovable cloud, the opposite of iridescent. He was only three when they found her. ii. iii. iv. Gordon’s brother Frank sat in a rocking chair, too close to the wall. The paint cracked and the room shook with each of his back and forth movements. Two naked figures stood like pillars on either side of Frank. Roses bloomed from their mouths and a nest of spiders rested in each of their outstretched hands. Frank use to bring girls back to the house when their dad was on the road. Past the thin, blistered walls and steady crackle of FM oldies, Gordon could hear his brother’s hands rake across their skin. Gordon remembered two of the voices repeating No. All he did was listen.
v. A gray-haired man stood in the corner drinking coffee. For three years, Gordon worked as a fry cook in New Orleans and every morning, he spit in that same man’s grits. He hated the man for no particular reason, until one day, the old man stopped coming in. When he saw the man’s picture, in the obituaries, Gordon’s body overfilled with sorrow and his innards turned to lead. The gray haired man had left behind a wife, two sons, and five grandchildren. Gordon’s life was empty. But he didn’t want it to be that way any longer. vi. vii. Gordon’s wife stood at the foot of their bed smiling. She opened her mouth to speak but instead, a Fabergé egg fell out and landed on the blanket. He picked the egg up and it cracked in his hands, the shards cutting his palms. She was due in June when she died of pneumonia. Gordon put the broken shell in a box under his bed. He did this every night. In a few more hours, a thin ray of sunlight would stretch through his window and turn them all to dust.
Red Sheet Joey Aronhalt
January Paint Joey Aronhalt
Silverfish Across the Lens
Helen Keller had both eyes removed and replaced with glass. i am waiting for my useless body parts to be glassed. my stiff ant farm veins spidering to my tiny glass heart. unlike Helen, i will maintain my original eyes. enhancement scuttles them. i will pick the loveliest eyes for my unconsciousness, where they will not see cracks in the glass.
It’s what an antelope feels like after a tousle with a lion, lying in the Sahara.
flesh market close Lawrence Mullen
The heater warms my feet, pins and needles prickling from sitting over the toilet bowl for too long. The beast with three long scratches in its side and vultures circling
you won’t get as much for rotting flesh so don’t bother with my tits and uterus my nipples should be salvageable and both of these legs flesh dissolved in sulfuric acid will look hot as hell hanging from a display eager for all those med students
overhead, waiting for a free lunch, waiting for the shriek of sirens at my door and the
you can have my pelvis if you agree to shave it down from thirty eight inches and match it to the seventeen-inch span of my shoulders eliminating the hourglass shape of a woman with birthing hips i suppose my spine is up for grabs but expect it to always recline back
antelope—the head, the neck –and rip it a p a r t? Fluids drip where needles
i’ll throw my skull in for free if you keep my eyes intact that shade of green is expensive and i want all those voyeurists to drink that color in.
by piece, until my eyes roll back in defeat there’s no more meat to fight for,
sporadic lights of fire trucks. Do birds of prey attack before it’s time claiming chunks of
slip into thin blue veins, snaking around bare arms, my wrists, ripping me piece
pouring liquid into me– a band-aid for a bullet hole– as I wait patiently for sleep.
Fifteen and Three-Quarters Brie Radke
A boy with a mouth as wanting as wide sat next to me like an open window This boy, some planet, Moved my hair aside and stared at my face so long it changed, I’m sorry I said, about nothing maybe about the shudder in my deep stomach from the LA Looks and a melting breath mint A primal confection pooling at the thought of his fingers folding into a deeper stomach still He seemed so warm inside I tried to will my face worthy An apology begged
Operation Pied Piper Sarah Deckro
Ghosts live in your voice Live in your hands Smoothing, filing, filling, Open, shut, shuttered Have another piece One More Never-ending Belly Bloated Eat another, Don’t you like itYou pour ghosts into my bowl For me to ladle As others spoon your shadow, Lovers locking tight Memories pull Tear Gnats buzzing Round your thoughts So you never forget
They swallow your lunches Pinch at your skirt, Swelling six-year thighs Devour your beautiful doll, Leave you ugly And alone While sister sleeps at home Safety of country strangers Crumbled like stale icing You may be a child But you smell of Christ’s old creed Have another piece Don’t you like it There is more to eatI hear you through the haze of ghosts I hear you I love you too
at my shirt corner but I took his deep wanting breath and let him fill up the dirty empty with a new empty One lighter, more portable, but not exactly easier to carry 21
Improvement in Embalming Birds Hannah Bishop 22
Plant Pat. 634 Hannah Bishop 23
No one should expect an invitation. Gregory Kimbrell
When Clarise looked in the hand mirror, the pupils that looked back were not the perfect black circles that she had called her own for the past two decades, but the horizontal slits in the eyes of a goat. The mirror fell from her hand, and in the scattered pieces, a hundred goat-eyed Clarises blinked. Surely, she thought, people could not manifest animal attributes. In exceptional cases, they might become deranged, but she was in full possession of her wits. ~ Therefore, either she was dreamingâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;in which case, she would wake up eventuallyâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;or else she was experiencing an illusionâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;and it was true that she had been under a strain lately; if more students did not come to her for piano lessons, then she would be forced to marry. There was also a third possibility: that the eyes that appeared in the mirror were really her own. But if that were true, then an optometrist would have no solutions. There was no use fretting. ~ As she pinned up her hair the same way she had every morning, the Clarises in the broken glass pinned up their hair also. She had no lessons until after three, so she put on a pair of dark glasses and went to the pier. All around her were sweet, human-eyed children. Lovers walked hand in hand, baring human eyes for anyone to see. It was all too ordinary to be a dream or an illusion. Clarise thus came to the conclusion that something truly was wrong with her. ~
It seemed shameless that people flaunted their normality when there were others in the world who suffered from maladies that caused them to mutate into beasts—or at least to imagine such a thing possible. In the arcade, Clarise took off her glasses and looked through the aperture of a kinetoscope. Two gunfighters fought each other for honor. They fired their weapons, and both fell, clutching their breasts. In the lurid electric light, Clarise felt drawn to violence. ~ She saw, as she moved from machine to machine, people in various forms of distress. Sometimes they survived; sometimes not. While she preferred the former, she accepted the latter—for every person who escaped death, someone else had to suffer. Exiting the arcade, she realized that she had forgotten her glasses. But while people passed her, all of them ignored her. All except one man— he looked her in the eyes, yet did not recoil. He too wore dark glasses. ~ You dropped these, he said and gave her back her own pair. I like a woman who covers her eyes. She hides something. Perhaps she’s blind; perhaps disfigured—it makes no difference. She’s set herself off from the herd. Her world is one parallel to theirs. Clarise said, Is that what this is: a parallel world? As she took his arm, she decided that the piano lessons could be left to the other, fully human Clarise. This Clarise, who had been born on the silver inner side of the mirror, had a precious secret to protect.
Scavenger Hunt Kevin Chesser
I remember a few things mostly my tongue standing up straight in the dark of your cathedral I have failed at everything my liver is a happy fish blazing in the narrows I didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t mind handing it over handing it over feels like revelationâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s work the good work of breaking clean from this world to the next where the pints are a penny and the invisible men tending their open barrels of flame mean Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve found you again
Awakening Luke & Mandy
Aditi Natasha Kini i thumbed the soft ridge of his back as we muddled through pink sleep, my eyes never resting: bulbous even. perseverate not, my instincts told me, mirrors are just glass. better to be soft like velvet, the one soothsayer in town tells an unruly child, that boisterous one with the mop of crisp hair, better to be soft than crispy. a cruelty, to mock a child that age, so unknowing of retort: sweet, yet. the thought of it makes my milk teeth fall out. their roots gush. my mouth is full of rotten dairy. how did it happen? i ask, but my tongue lops sideways, and my face is a cavern where once two thieves met and fell in love. people need to meet in a third; i hear, this gives context. it does not do, to simply find a mountain. there must be demolition, brushfire. out of my mouth falls another grotesque figure, but it is my baby: pulpy yolk half-cooked, mostly sticky. saline water can be refreshing if your nose can adjust. bees are no longer dying out, but i have no more honey
Love Letter to My Hypothetically Dead Boyfriend elle chu
iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve been thinking about what you said and it is crazy that there are satellites out in space. that man created something and sent it out into orbit. while their bodies floated sleeplessly in the sky, hidden and tucked under, we laid on the grass and listened to the orchestra play the planets. all of us victims of the eyelid above us drifting shut. that night, this poem cried itself out of me. a flat tear enveloped my face until i couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t breathe anymore. i suddenly understood what it felt like to be condemned: drowning by anchor. all we want is to be where the light hits. but all i can think about is how i canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t look at anything smiling without seeing it explode.
Trial De Novo Nathaniel Wilder
A drive by shooting off Tennessean interstate Near the river where a man stole the bluegill from my minnow cages I had imagined him sliding their yellow fins into his chest pocket Before rolling up a white shirt and washing his hands in the current As if I am supposed to piss on gravel and pray to dirt With a net worth of twenty men at arms tasked with digging aqueducts Through an iron horse membrane Teenagers lined up an iron sight towards the I-81 traffic sign Instead they struck the fenced-in Tennessee Walker Her mane doused with blood when I came to feed her My boss slept in the cattails With a Mossberg 500 for the next week Double-aught buckshot to cross the river To requite a now empty pasture
The Foyer Negar Tajgardan 29
Street Smart Shelby Prindaville
Nicole Zelniker You have never seen a snake shed its skin. This you think with pink pills pressed in the palm of your hand, sweating colorful stains onto slick skin. Last night, you told your lover you felt nothing, so they gripped your shoulders tighter and pressed their hips to yours, gyrating into your pelvis until your stomach did backflips into your mouth. The pills catch going down, and you swallow around two of them. You set the water aside and wait for your vision to blur, for the sink and the shower to become a new body altogether. You wait for pins and needles to stick your feet, to realize you canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t feel them at all and there is a void where your limbs used to be. A memory surfaces on the fuzzy forefront of your mind: You are seven, and you are at the zoo, and you are wandering through the reptile house. The cobra is sleeping, its tongue flickering against a delicate dead mouse. You must have missed it by seconds, because in the corner of the cage is an empty, scaly skin where the snake used to live.
Reverie X Alec Suthy
i. you unhinged your jaw like a snake and I climbed in creeping past your molars to slide into you, and out, past you into night ii. we were sitting in the park, coiled around each other, laughing at frantic mice. though we took no notice, they watched from beneath our tails as you spoke in gilded tones iii. you forgot and fell asleep at my house, sunning yourself like always: until you frightened the family; my motherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s worst nightmare iv. after you molted, you were never quite the same, and your skin felt foreign to my touch
Robin Gow She says let gravity take over, my legs skinned-chicken splayed. she has a mouthful of orchid heads. a sheet of wax paper on my bed.
taking orchids from under her tongue & placing them inside me, gentle, as if i were a corkboard. i inhale, i learn to let these kinds of things happen.
Delilah came to my room several nights ago, mistaking me for Samson. she sleeps during the day beneath the box spring. i feed her bowls of cheerios & she searches my shelves for scissors when she thinks iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m not looking.
laying down next to me she asks what a man is doing with my anatomy & i donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t answer at first. she rests her head on my chest & draws circles on my forearm.
metal dusk: for inspection & curiosity. we trade. she asks me about my insides & i tell her about the cervix. about how doctors reach for it like a door knob, all pink & turning. she gives me beads that taste like sugar cubes, puts them in my mouth with two fingers. she only cuts off small batches of hair at a time, keeps the strands in ziplock baggies. i tell her she can take more but she insists shes not cutting, not again. i pretend to be asleep so she can work. let gravity take over she says just like the doctors say every time. standing at the foot of the bed put your feet together gynecology: the study of legs.
i lie & say that i have been samson & that the stories of my hair are lies, that my power comes from my cervix, unreachable & dark. she promises not to try & steal that. before crawling back under the bed i kiss her forehead & tell her that she can always stay here. i take the scissors & throw them out the window. in the morning she is gone. i take out the orchid heads in the bathroom & lay them on the sink along with each baggie of hair, staring up at me they ask what kind of body i have.
William Hawkins Arliss alone now in the quickening night glances above and sees Polaris riding the horizon and envies it its knowing what it does is true. Arliss has need of knowing what is true. Arliss can count herself as empty as the sky between the stars, as lonely as the sound of dreams in sleeping heads. Arliss is a ballerina of concrete cracks and mother’s backs. What Arliss cannot do is find the right way. What Arliss cannot do is convince herself she is not alone in a black forest, that the tenements and erstwhile foundries refuse the magnificence of her being, the cellular cauldron her soul bubbles as witches might prophesy, witches with headlight eyes, their breath buzzing like telephone wires. These witches might see through the fumes of Arliss walking, might say, “And so a sparrow falls into a night sky.” The city wonders at the passing of her, the greasy shuffle, the twisted murmurs trailing like the train of a bride before the altar of justice, of peace, glory at this magnitude of Arliss, the details of her refusing to surrender to the April night. Consider the grey derby hat and the briar hair and mudded face and the sweated 49er jersey and calamitous sweatpants. She is painted grey and pink and purple and amber and grain. She wears ostrich cowboy boots, black, two sizes too large for the feet inside, the feet sharing their avian leather with wads of sanitary toilet seat covers. This is the city’s Arliss, her skin rubbed raw and slathered in the color of river mud, Arliss her eyes beneath the aborted brim of that derby hat wide and white except for the night sky they keep bundled inside. Arliss who walks to the river and sings a hymnal in her heart where the agoraphobic words stay, curled, coiled, keeping their coherence to themselves, passing to the lips only the notion of music, only the sweeping tale of the eighth note, the heavy impression a treble clef makes on a seat cushion, the noise the sound of a cat’s fur being raked the wrong way. Arliss with her steps now, Arliss passing through the halos of streetlamps and out the other side, once, twice, too many times to bother to be anything other than the city, the city keeping the black forest back, its mass an anchor for men and women and children to hide under,
the city dim and unaware, concrete and oblong and pressed and voiced and razed and crazed and jutting and perpendicular except what crossroads have smoothed away, the city bulging, the center of it flowing, always flowing away, and Arliss true, Arliss with the conception, the perception, the absolute rejection of what the center falls away from, what the center keeps surrounded, the forest, the black forest, spring limbs blocking out the sun and winter limbs asking for moonlight and in the narrow spaces under the running and panting and feral joy of wolves and what runs from them. Arliss with her city between her and this, Arliss with the taste of something, might be mud, might be dirt, might be the glacial footstep of a long-gone iceberg, the alluvial flavor of the river changing its mind. Might be something pressed behind. Arliss could remember but remembering is not the way of the righteous and the hymnal in her heart recalls this and presses on as something in her deceitful memory does. Arliss beside the light now, itself the unnerved breath of living things, the artery winding its way through the city, beating, pulsing, cells of fractured white in lightspeed color she keeps in the corner of her right eye as she walks to the center, the central, the ribbon keeping the world wrapped. Arliss walks above the river as angels might do if ever a river was before them and Arliss, look, Arliss flies, Arliss meets the river and becomes the center for a moment without witness, for a second without a place in the space that includes the breaking line moving through her, on this side the same and on this new side, this growing side, the side becoming the same old there are ruptured ligaments muscles bones cells and Arliss, little pieces of Arliss in the river, going to places where they don’t have to be Arliss no more. Arliss together now. Freed and unremembered and righteous under the flickering redeye Polaris on its way to Denver.
Norman Walter caught projecting between this astral plane and any other an aircraft blinkers in and out of being alerting the universe to something higher moving above and here we are naked and tired, fetish fatigued and cumstained splitting our divinity between what’s good and whats notsplitting ourselves in two, and here’s a piece for me, and here’s a piece for you, and here’s a piece for me, and here’s a piece for you, we carry on like this, cyclically throughout the night and into the early morning before the sun awakens the dust and banishes the stars,
leaving hollowed husks of life gathering energy in dark rooms, crooked hallways, and me in this hot tub, bathing in a pool of inequity at dawn with the brisk bark of winter wind whipping off mountains we’re only just beginning to see, and as if by some clandestine covenant of my negrohood, a fantastic nimbus spawns from the kinks and nappy curls I wear as the everlasting crown and I am nigga, I am a real thing, and now, it’s day, and we return back to ourselves and the wretched monsters we’ve become and the things only seen under the strangling light of day.
The Escape Luke & Mandy
Breaths of Shadows
the rot of hydrangea soaked into my dream: the ruination of white, pastel petal to putrid pearl
I wrap them in a blue veil Those which I carry with me One is peach cream Other dust purple
in the dark, i wondered if i too, was in a state of decay was i softly browning spoiled, ephemerality obscured in waste
I drag my shoulder blades out At 4:13 in the mourning Ceiling dripped rose water Triangle scalloped light forms
you seemed potted in new soil fresh and florid though only i knew the tangle of your roots i let death surround me, perfume petrified and let the night carry on.
Platinum satin june bug Dogwoods never bloomed Again thereAnd I never watched Goosebumps bleed, wrinkle-bred Words that resemble ca-coch-ina The half-recalled I keep oiling the body Fed fetal orchid petals Despite the sun Antiqued with coffee Attempts to at/main-tain Lackluster symphonies Out of car-horns Mother gets static eyes
I love the sound of the small hours wading towards the deepest end the sound of hearts taking off their armors the rhythm of trapped light as it finally surrenders the entire velvet cloak of evening rustling in syncopated silence as if to say, This, this is the voice of living too
Dog Year Millennium
I thought I would get sucked into Hell and seated at Satan’s right hand, down There, if I took a peek.
Bitter and sweet
It is that moment waking up from a midday nap on a Sunday in the evening portion of summer’s season
Then I found myself, perched on the toilet, tiny legs dangling, mirror tilted downward.
like blood Sickly fruit slit ear to ear a hasty grin I ate alone with your quiet A hush so thick
There were no flames, only redness radiating from my cheeks.
I had to get away
I looked away and put down the mirror.
Away to that woman The one from the
no longer dreaming and your eyes begin to adjust to the matte ordinary of daylight and you’re finally able to say: My reality has meaning again. What I was, had been overcome like a mossy madness, saturated on the bark of a dark birch tree. Delusioned by life, sex, and catastrophe I am so unbelievably happy I’m writing this after the storm of some terrible nightmare passed.
who sounded like empty brass and had eyes full of milk that never spilled out onto the table 37
Doing Laundry Jessica Wadleigh
In the real world, I have a new crush. I’m pulling the fitted sheet off my bed. In my head, I see you and me sitting on your balcony, smoking a joint, staying outside even though we’re both getting cold. I ask if you want music and you say that might be nice. I hope the indie rock leaking out of my phone’s tinny speaker isn’t too vulnerable. We’re quiet while the music takes the space that insects, passing cars and tiny snores from your dog once filled. I’m really impressed with myself when I pull the clean fitted sheet from one corner to the next and realize I put it on properly on the first try. I imagine us watching the first stars coming out. Or maybe they’re satellites. I ask you if you make a wish on a satellite if it comes true just the same and you tell me that the only thing that matters is that the wish is true in your heart. I rest my head on your shoulder and tell you that I hope you’re right. Your left arm pulls me closer. I know I should also wash the pillowcases but I already have so much laundry to do. I toss four pillows toward the head of the bed even though I only use two. I leave soon but you invite me back a few days later. You dance in the kitchen as you bring me celery to chop. I put my hand on your lower back when you call me over to taste the sauce. A horizontal line of water soaks into my shirt when I back into the sink during our first kiss. I shake out the brown knit blanket, the one I keep on the bottom because the cat’s nails get snagged in it, and watch cat hair and my own fill the air. That night, we cuddle on your couch. I knew when I first met you that you’d be the big spoon. I rest my head on your collar bone. I give you soft kisses on your neck and your fingers lift my chin to your mouth. You hold me and I fall asleep and you don’t wake me. In the morning, you’ve got my drool on your shirt, but you don’t seem to mind. 38
It’s fall and getting colder at night, so I shake out one, two, three more blankets and layer them all over the checkerboard-patterned fitted sheet. We talk about me having a dick and it’s new to you, but you like me and you’re not against trying. You tell your dog he’s not invited as you pull him out of your bedroom by his red collar. When you get back, I’m in your bed with the covers pulled to my chin. You straddle me and tug at them and I pretend to resist but quickly give in. Your head drops down and you start kissing my bare chest. Even shaken, there’s still a ton of cat hair on the comforter. I start lint rolling from the foot of the bed. We kiss frantically. My hands move over your small breasts, the warm skin of your torso, tug at your pants. You pull them off and climb under the blankets with me. Your body is warm against mine. Your black-and-blue-striped thong is already wet. Of course the cat jumps up and flops into the middle of the bed at precisely the moment I set the lint roller back on the dresser. Of course. Your hand finds my hard cock pushing at the fabric of my underwear, also wet. Uncertain fingers grip gingerly and your nervousness comes through when you whisper that you’re not sure what to do. I tell you don’t worry as I slip a finger inside you and you let go as your back arches. I climb down your body and kiss your inner thigh. I pick the cat up. She always cries when I lift her. I ask her what I’m going to do with her while I scratch her tiny gray head. My fingers are working faster and my tongue is rolling from labia to clit to labia. A foot of my hair is wrapped around your fist because I forgot a hair tie. You pull my hair harder and harder as you get closer. I can barely move my fingers inside you when you cum. I set the cat back down on the bed. She waits until my back is turned toward the laundry to swipe at me.
You keep your hand in my hair and pull me to your mouth. We kiss and my dick grazes against your pussy. I glance down and ask you if we can try and you nod and watch as I position myself. You’re very wet and I slide in easily. I go slowly, feeling you across every inch, in my nipples, in my heart, in an electric current coursing head-to-toe. My eyes meet yours and I can see you aren’t into it.
I tell you I understand, that I appreciate you trying, that you’re great too and you have nothing to apologize for. You haven’t seen my tears in the darkness yet and I don’t want you to. I try to keep my sobbing to a whimper hopefully not audible over the volume of your bathroom fan. We pretend to sleep and both decide the next day that we should probably take a break from each other for a while.
I unsnag one of the cat’s claws from my jeans and put the dirty fitted sheet into my overflowing laundry bag.
On my bed, imagined tears become real.
You tell me after I pull out that it just isn’t for you, that you hoped it would work, that I’m so great and you’re just so sorry.
Bird Apocalypse Gretchen Gales 39
dear burrito i ran all the way around the city for you i snuck to the edge of the tenderloin to fetch you they parceled you in plastic and gave me free nachos incense and myrrh i took a spicy picture and sent it to your father he was a stone fox
He gave me an olive branch for my birthday, an offering of peace to beat all the rest: I hope to see you soon. A text, a smiley.
he wondered where my legs ran into the ocean he often wondered that
He gave me an olive branch for my birthday just to say he gave me one, and aren’t I a great father? She can even eat the fruit.
i searched for you in the morning when i found a phantom grape in my stomach he asked me how i liked it pitted and boiled hard but then soft i bet you are one of those people i will meet and wonder what took us so long
lady in white
He gave me an olive branch for my birthday, reaching out in desperate pleas for attention or else a deceitful ploy for the courtroom.
He gave me an olive branch for my birthday and I asked my mother what to do with it. I didn’t tell her it already had maggots. He gave me an olive branch for my birthday, but all the leaves were dried up, brown, not green, shrunken and infested with overzealous flies. He gave me an olive branch for my birthday. I picked the fruit, let it fall into the trash between empty boxes and used-up tissues.
i’m outside Atlanta & i’m rubbin my arms cuz the wind’s kisses feel more like the daggers you call fingers askin myself why i let you why i let you bomb the pillars of myself i called the parthenon yr ottoman hands crumbling my athenian walls why i let you kill off my emerald green leaves sprouting from my innocent eyes with yr rotten words n piercing lies why i let you why i let you i nvr /let/ you 40
Warm Wash Clean Jason Joyce
Dennis had done so well the past months: finishing the steps, moving back in, finding a job. I had found the beginnings of vows for our renewal in his bee sting handwriting, tucked next to his leather-covered change box. It was not that I missed nights coming home from work to find him face down on the sofa, mirroring the plate of spaghetti on the floor, reruns of stock market analysis splashing the white wall. It was the needy soul I missed, imploring me to fix all, clean up, do anything but call it quits. Some nights the furniture had joined the conversation and I wrote to my mother once Dennis was asleep, telling her how I was learning to settle. The shelter director limped to a row of cages to fish out Jasper, the calico cat. His prosthetic leg squeaked
when he bent over. I envisioned kittens climbing the leg, thin claws pricking and clinging to fabric and plasticlike cork. I wondered what he did when he was alone. The night Jasper died, I was working a double at the diner. A retired miner had talked of ghost hunting expeditions. He was convinced the earth was â&#x20AC;&#x153;withholding secrets.â&#x20AC;? In the pile of laundry, I saw my sweet boy, rigidly curled beneath bleach-blanched undergarments. I imagined his head fighting imminent sleep like a child in the backseat of highway-bound car in a Georgia July. Nodding. I thought about pregnant teenagers. I thought about my fatherâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s friend who tied strings from his fingers to all his important things so that no one could take them from him when he slept. I imagined tiny miners beneath my feet, churning through dirt, digging up feathers and finger bones, searching for the dirty secrets that the earth holds.
It's a shame but what can you do? Emily Adams 41
The Dead & the Fabulous LTD Andriana Minou
To find out at last What sweetness is hidden in the deep for you Theocritus, Idyll XI, Cyclops To attain individuality, we need a large share of death Carl Jung, The Red Book
In Rumours Motel, Queen Skyscraper is dreaming of her funeral. Her funeral takes place in the airshaft of a skyscraper. The coffin is lowered with gigantic ropes from the very top, heading slowly towards the open hole. The guests stick their heads out of the windows and as the coffin keeps descending, their tears turn dense like raindrops crashing on the earth, creating little savoury puddles around the grave. Some are holding white handkerchiefs, waving them out of the windows in a farewell gesture. Others are chewing funeral biscuits, swallowing cognac or guzzling hot fish soup noisily. But they’re all disguised as skyscraper queens. Their shoulders draped in shawls of stars and fog, while they’re scraping the edge of the night sky with their pinkie nails, peeking, turning their noses upwards, searching for the smell of creatures never to be seen. Queen Skyscraper is suddenly awakened by a light knock on her room’s door. Room service, an exhausted voice calls out and Queen Skyscraper grants permission to enter. The motel manager, an incredibly elderly man enters the room slowly, pushing a trolley and stops right in front of her bed. On the trailer there are all sorts of foods known to promote longevity. Walnuts, asparagus, berries, dark chocolate, avocado, salmon, coconut oil, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, sauerkraut, kidney beans, green tea, red wine, black coffee, melon, pomegranates, sweet potatoes. Every day, Queen Skyscraper takes one bite and one sip of every single one of those for breakfast. But today, for the very first time, there is a carton of juice on the trailer that she cannot recognise. The manager informs her that it is mango juice. It’s good for the skin, the hair, the eyes, the digestion, the nervous system; it’s even known to be an aphrodisiac, he says. He himself drinks at least one carton of mango juice per day, one mango a day keeps the doctor away, he whispers 42
under his heavy breath. Queen Skyscraper is a little sceptical, she has never tried mango, it never appealed to her, and she always hesitates to try new things. However, the manager insists, so she keeps the carton of mango juice on her bedside table and promises to drink it later. The manager says good morning and leaves the room slowly, followed by a screeching sound that might as well be coming from the trailer or his joints. Queen Skyscraper decides to watch the rest of her funeral dream. This time, however, she has a feeling that the dream is not hers, that it is not her who is dreaming of it, or rather that she is dreaming of the others dreaming of her funeral. There is a logo on the upper left hand corner of the dream, something like a TV channel logo; The Dead & The Fabulous LTD. Also, over the fish soup sipping soundscape, the sobs and cries, there’s a silly music playing now, ramshackle saxophones, nauseating synths and flabby drums, like an 80s soap opera theme tune covering everything in a veil of tawdriness. Queen Skyscraper is lying in the coffin, not wearing her shawl of stars and fog anymore but an outrageous nylon suit with enormous shoulder pads. She’s trying to take it off but there’s not much space in the coffin and she’s pushing the coffin lid with all her might to open it. And now everyone is gazing at her naked body in the open casket. The soap opera music stops abruptly, spoons are dropping in the fish soup, funeral biscuits remain unchewed, larynxes are scorched by perfectly round gulps of cognac. But Queen Skyscraper is squinting. Since a little girl, she’s known that somewhere around her there is a world that escapes her, a world existing as constantly as it escapes her attention; she knows this because every time she squints she manages to steal a peek at tiny snapshots of this world in the vicinity of her peripheral vision. And she’s not Queen Skyscraper there. She is only an egg; a small, white, perfectly shaped egg. All she can feel is her thin shell; a fragile shield containing a secret you may find out only if you break it. Nobody knows what will come out of there. Not even the egg itself. So she doesn’t know who she is anymore either. In the afternoon, when she wakes up at Rumours Motel, she doesn’t remember whether she is a crime novel writer, a movie star, an astronaut, a prima donna, a saint, a beekeeper, an archaeologist, a painter, a witch, an
astronomer, a conductor, a guru, a terrorist, a swimmer, a dictator, a muse, a vampire, a mermaid, a monster, a piano, a statue, a lovebird, a cat, a sheep, a fish, or an aristocrat. She can’t even remember if she exists. She only remembers her funeral, which was dreamt by the others whom she saw dreaming of it. She remembers a voice in the egg whispering softly; don’t hold on to anything too tight; it will break. Everything breaks. Queen Skyscraper is very content. There’s nothing as refreshing as not remembering who you are. There’s nowhere safer than the tiny void right in the middle of things. This is where you feel as whole as possible. All it takes is to squeeze yourself in there and all of a sudden you become so vast that all innuendos fit inside you without crushing you. Of course, she also can’t remember that she doesn’t like mango, so she grabs the juice that’s left on her nightstand, without thinking twice. Soon, the manager will come to change the sheets and will find her still in bed, with the juice carton in her rigid hand, straw
in her half open mouth, eyes turned upwards like the eyes of a stargazer-goldfish, while outside her window, star shaped innuendos will be falling as slow as feathers. As soon as the motel manager rings the alarm bell, the heads of the rest of the tenants of Rumours Motel appear at the windows. They are all disguised as skyscraper queens, clockwork sighs coming out of their lips. The manager puts a tape in the cassette player and presses play. An 80s soap opera theme tune with ramshackle saxophones, nauseating synths and flabby drums echoes through the entire building. He puts on a pair of surgical gloves and feels the corpse of Queen Skyscraper, calmly and thoroughly, he slips his hands under her clothes, looking for something. In a few moments, he’s holding an egg in his hands; a small, white, perfectly shaped egg. He brings it to his lips and softly whispers don’t hold onto anything too tight; it will break; everything breaks. He carefully places the egg in his pocket, slowly steps out of the room and locks the door behind him.
Tengu and the Woodcutter Ry An 43
ExtraSpectral Pratik Suketu 44
Clayton Adam Clark —After Coldwater Creek, St. Louis, Missouri
are poised to be the next master species. In enough time, they could learn how to burn
The rat scuttled ahead of me, trailing the corner where the sidewalk met
our epoch or build with it. Calcareous fossils and carbonate mud lithified
cinderblock wall, until it found ingress to one of the last abandoned buildings
beneath the weight of shallow seas, limestone remains here. My coal chute
in my neighborhood. Delivery trucks coaled each house, offloading fuel in yards,
is bricked up and the furnace burns clear natural gas, but the limestone steps
when my grandfather grew up here, and mothers paid boys movie fare
to my front door still green with lichen. Like my grandfather before me, I’ve scrubbed
to shuttle it down chutes. Dodging rats between brick homes until they emptied
dirt and base plant life from the porous slabs. It was from that rock I saw a night crawler
their shovels, the boys culled slow rats, a twang of shovelhead resounding
wriggling into the street below. I foresaw the desert life before it, have seen the dead
up and out the narrow, shaded space. Today, my city’s lights are coal-fired,
worm on pavement animated by a legion of ants. With a stick I tried to save the annelid,
and the retired north landfill has burned flameless in its bowels for the past
tossing it in my yard for our mutual benefit of its devotion to the soil, only to watch it
three years. I didn’t know oxygen bled so far subsurface. The Army Corps
writhe its way back to the concrete, fleeing clover I’d sprayed with chemicals the day before,
of Engineers may have to bury a firebreak— the burn worms closer to some legacy
the earth burning with fire I couldn’t see.
nuclear waste interred in World War II. Some think rats, when this is over,
What’s Best for You Elena Lee
When the light stood still and I rolled up with spines bristling it felt like the end. You know. That I’d hurt you, quills scarring the roof of your scarlet maw I didn’t care—only to stop the jaws from closing, the walls from caving in. Even though you say being eaten is good for you, just like staring blankly at the pasty antiseptic-infused doctor’s office wallpaper is good for you. Just like wringing waterfalls from your eyes and shriveling when they don’t quench the burning watching and waiting that’s singeing you, threatening to blacken you and make you crumble away is good for you. Just like the saccharine liquid chalk that is medicine and is good for you to drink should make you bare your tender plushy stomach in gratitude. Never mind that you can hardly taste those cool blue days anymore, that blue as crisp as cracking ice cubes across the tongue. Never mind that the singing wind that comforts like a weathered stone is the only drink forbidden. Never mind that. So uncurl, little one, lie still and let your spines sink into the earth. This won’t hurt a bit.
The Handmaidâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Hymn Kristina Heflin
Red dress White veil In pairs Whispering steps Look down Avoid her Eyes his Eyes the Eye of God condemns Exposure of Flesh of Mind Nowhere To turn Only echo The dead Nolite te bastardes carborundorum
Shattered Fantasy Luke & Mandy 48
Homeless when itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s cold Norman Walter
In a big city, with so much space, and so many houses how are men and women still left meandering the streets and crooked alleyways as do the stars in their ever rotating and perpetual voyage through our cosmos. Jigsawed cardboard boxes over broken down shopping carts, turned over and settled in the dust. Patchworked tents under a molded and torn canopy of construction tarp, held up by old shoestring, rusted fishing hooks and rope. Setting sunlight vaulted at dusk just behind the mountains, casting an epic shadow juxtaposed beneath a symphony of colors in the lunging night sky. In a big city with so many moving parts, and so many bodies zipping back and forth from work to home, to the gym and kids soccer practice, to happy hour, to the store. A blurred fusion of head and taillights stirring through the rain breed a fantastic cinema of moving watercolor. The silent city bustles back at night with all of its cars, and bike riders and people out for a walk because the weather is nice. I like to wear clothes that make fashion statements. Some days I fancy myself a heroine, other days I feel butch. I like to wear my clothes to let people know that I am a nonthreatening black man. As if to say, see these khakis couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t possibly hurt anyone. But I thought about the barefoot man I saw walking across Farragut on my way home, or what about that small makeshift homeless community under the bypass when all theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve got for warmth is the blistering of a desert sun under the corrosive light of day. 49
Willing Hands Cheryl Harrell
I stole Jupiter. Plucked it from the sky, Because nothing was ever enough for him He wanted the moon and I gave him a planet He complained that Europa didn't like him and Callisto whispered behind his back My silent siren calls in the crazy ones I'm not complaining. They make life worth living. But insanities drip out of their ears while they're sleeping And crawl in through my mouth. I feel their thick, waxy ooze across the bedsheets With hot coffee hands, I remember the oak arena of squirrels boxing jays over stale milkduds I produced from the lowest pocket of my cargo jeans The same jeans from middle school. Animal disagreements and cat videos only distract from disrupted youth. I dream of the Accomplished Ones and of being the Accomplished. Without working with willing hands, We want the moon, the stars, the planets, so I learned to extract planets from the night sky.
Loviatar, Foulest of Daughters Greg Hotard
Loviatar, foulest of daughters, wicked old witch of sorrowing skin, sunken, sullen, and blind fucked by eastern wind impregnated with nine sons of pestilence nurtured bloodthirsty libidos mothered cravings of flesh and how they desolated land (you threw your daughter in a river) and how they decimated man (you threw your daughter in a river) and how plague misted over threshold (you threw your daughter in a river) pruning the hair off corpses roses, how you revered the miasmic odor emanating off deathâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s frigid shoulder Loviatar, foulest of daughters, wicked old witch of sorrowing skin, sunken, sullen, and blind fucked by eastern wind
in new england towns with histories Lawrence Mullen
there are the ghosts of grandmothers in parlor rooms because they liked looking out the front window not because they had a fondness for the floral lounge piece against the wall and the front porch is never empty the rocking chair continues to sway when a breeze slips by and continues through the silence of night but only the stairs see and only the grandmothers watch the spiral staircase walks at night by itself whispering to the attic to let down its ladder whispering to the unfinished basement to unlock its door listening to the sounds of the daughters upstairs soft shuffle of turning on pillows and peering over their sheets the staircase is asleep by morning the mother wishes the mice would stop racing through her bedroom walls wailing to each other demanding first place but the grandmothers sigh because mice do not live here only mothers and daughters and grandmothers and rocking chairs and staircases and babies shushed by sheetrock.
Savannah Eden Bradley “Witches,” Carrie told me, “they’re still kicking up in Appalachia. Not even kidding. Went up last year.” We had met the night before in the bathroom of the bar. Drinks were half-off if you showed up to the joint in costume; she redid my black lipstick, and I touched up the crimps and folds of her Stevie Nicks hair. There was an unspoken energy in that act—something sisterly; intimate, even. The more we talked about going to see the witches together, cheap beer in hand, the more excited each of us got. The spontaneity—the urgency!—of chasing something with someone unknown was enticing, she had told me. We left at dawn, staving off hangovers with bottles of ginger ale, burgers and fries both bleary with grease, and a map to witch country. “Give me the rundown,” I said in the passenger’s seat, adjusting my makeup in the mirror. “You from Wilmington or are you just passing through?” “Oh, I don’t stay in one place for very long,” she said. “So where are you from, then?” “Oh . . . here and there, I guess. We moved around a lot when I was a kid. Louisiana, then Oregon, Florida, Vermont, San Francisco—” “Ah. Military?” “No.” She quickly changed the subject, and I don’t know why I didn’t think to press her on it. “So, Meredith . . . you from Wilmington, then?” “No, New York, but I moved out here for school and just ended up staying after graduation.” “Why not go back to the city?” “Well, you know, I had gotten married, and he wanted to stay too. Just one of those things that felt right.” “Gotcha,” she said. “I love cities, personally. Although I don’t really think that’s where all the culture is. I like exploring, seeing as much of the world as I can. Venezuela was a real blast, let me tell you that. God, it’s beautiful. It really reminds you that the Earth does not belong to us: we belong to the Earth.” I struggled not to roll my eyes. That was how Carrie talked, all in schmaltzy platitudes. It matched her exterior well; Carrie had the aesthetic of a storefront psychic with her chiffon blouse and an abundance of gold rings, bracelets, flower earrings. She was lithe, delicate, 52
and romantic, even, yet inscrutable, as if the world was naive about what she was really capable of. All air, all joy, like she was buoyed by this sort of subtle optimism. I, however, was cerebral, a little gritty around the edges— more androgynous than I’d like to be; my hair all reddish and tangled, my body rangy and underdeveloped in overalls and mary-janes. I just couldn’t talk the way Carrie talked, cheesy and childlike. It’d seem unnatural. We listened to the radio, with the only station that didn’t fuzz out with static being an 80s throwback channel permeated by lots of synthesizers and rubbery, overdubbed production. “It’s alright, it’s alright / To be standing in a line / Oh, I would cry,” voices echoed. “What are you looking for—with the witches, I mean,” Carrie asked me. “Don’t know, to be honest. I’m just looking for a quick escape, I guess,” I said. “I want to see something new. Didn’t really get to do that much when I was married.” “Oh, damn. How long have you—” “Around a year,” I said, cutting her off. I’d practiced and perfected my “I’m not married anymore” speech to various family members, old friends, and casual hookups for the past year—I thought that I’d might as well utilize it again. “You see, he—” She laughed. “So, you’ve been free for around a year and haven’t had any fun?” I didn’t like the way she used the word “free” to describe it. “What do you mean?” “You know, gone out, seen the world, sown your wild oats?” “Yeah, well—no, no I haven’t. I have trouble making friends. Any friends, really.” “Well,” she said, rolling the windows down. “You’ve got me now.” I laughed. “I do?” She rolled the windows down. “Come on, Mer. We’re gonna get fucking crazy this weekend.” Words can be violence. That’s basically what I told Mark, all those months ago. I said, Mark, you don't understand, you don't get it, not all fights begin when blood is drawn, God, you never get it. He said he didn't know we were fighting, much less arguing, as we waited for the elevator. I told him two weeks prior that he had to bring his share of the drinks to Holden and Sara’s place, but it had “completely
slipped his mind.” He groaned, said I was overreacting; I studied him. I always studied him, especially when he was angry. I remember that he looked taller then than before when we were out on the street, waiting in blue streetlight; or perhaps he only seemed taller in memory, where everything was beautiful and inerrant. Mark and I had met our freshman year of college. My mother convinced me to go to UNCW, as we had family there, even though my financial aid would’ve been a million times better if I had just stayed in Queens. I didn’t think to fight her on it. I was 600 miles from home and wanted to be somebody new; the thing nobody ever talks about, though, is that we all want to be somebody new. I craved two things: money and identity, and so I turned a quick buck by pretending to read tarot cards in the quad. They called me the “High Priestess,” which I guess was supposed to make me feel capital-I Important but instead made me cringe every time it was uttered. It was kind of sad, the way everybody wants to believe magic exists. But money was money. I’d turn cards over—Temperance, The Moon, The Magician—then improvise a fortune. “You’re having financial problems, recently,” I said to one girl, sheepish and spacey—which, in truth, was interchangeable with all the girls across campus. “Maybe you need an additional reading. It’ll cost extra, though.” And then they’d all fork over the necessary cash and I’d have enough money to order some takeout and eat it in my dorm alone. On my floor, listening to Dylan records, I considered drawing cards for myself, just to see what would happen. I drew The Fool, reversed—a man in a floral, smocked tunic, white rose in hand, head to the ground, standing away from the sun. Holding back, fear of the unknown, lonesome demeanor; disregard of others’ feelings. I shoved it back in the deck. My money-making scheme was stopped when Mark approached me in the quad one day. I remember it clearly; he was wearing a red t-shirt underneath a black jacket, his hair a mop of wild curls, his voice boyish and clear. “Bullshit,” he said. “All of this is bullshit.” “Nice outlook you got on the world, there, bud.” “Then give me a reading,” he said, slamming a fiver on the table. “Prove it’s real.” “Fine. Ask me a yes or no question.” “Will I end up okay after college?”
I swayed my hands over the deck as if I was conjuring up an ancient power from the cards. He let out an involuntary giggle at my theatrics, then covered it up with a deeper, more masculine laugh, like he was trying to impress me. “Ten of swords, upright,” I said, showing him the card: a man lying face-down in the dirt with ten rapiers impaled in the spine. “Unexpected failure or disaster, whereby a power beyond your control crushes you without warning or mercy. Sometimes you’ll be able to alter the course of the impending disaster, but most of the time you will simply have to let go and take the hit.” “You sound very cheery for somebody who just resigned me to death.” I rolled my eyes, shuffling the deck. “Well, I never said I believed in this shit.” He laughed and handed the card back to me. “Don’t get me wrong, you’re very cute, but damn, dude,” he said, motioning to the table, “you’ve got to work on your sales pitch.” I froze. “Well—sometimes the types of jewels on the blades mean different things, based on what deck you use. Look them up,” I took a pen out of my bag and circled the swords, and then, before he could fight me on it, wrote my phone number down. “Call me again if you want another reading,” I said. “Maybe I can get it right next time.” I never got it right, as there was no next time. Instead, I showed him my record collection—I thought Highway 61 Revisited was much better than Freewheelin’, he disagreed—and ordered takeout for two, the way we would do every Friday night until after graduation. We moved into an apartment together two weeks later and got married precisely one year after that on the dot, after careful planning and consideration, the same way we did everything. By the time Carrie and I made it outside of Wadesboro, we had run out of things to say. Her hair, golden reeds, filled with air and swelled outward, billowing out of the window. We stopped, smoked some weed she’d stowed in the glove compartment, listened to music for a while, then let the high go down. Then we drove again. She drove the way Mark did: a little reckless on the long stretches 53
Figure 1 Nasos Karabelas 54
Figure 2 Nasos Karabelas 55
and heedful on the turns, in a way that said I want you to think I’m gutsy but I’m secretly very, very scared. Charlotte wasn’t much better in terms of conversation. In silence, we passed the itz-Carlton, the oyal, the movie theat-e, all the glowing R’s burnt out. The city was all sirens, red, lost time. Streets bled together. As we left the city, we passed the skeletons of tulip trees, and then Carrie broke the quiet. “So,” she said. “Do you believe in witchcraft?” “I’m pretty middle-of-the-road,” I told her. “Guess we’ll see when we get up there.” “I’ve always believed. Always.” Her voice grew sharp. “My parents were real hippie types, that’s why we moved around so much. They were trying to find a place to fit in, all around the country. We moved to Oregon when I was in high school, and a few months later, we all became Pagan. First my mom, then my sisters, then me.” “Interesting,” I responded, unsure exactly what else to say. “Moving around a lot, though, that must have been tough.” “I liked it fine, though, I did. But my mama always says that anything alone is a haunting. Two or more things together are a terror. Mind you, I’d rather be a terror,” she laughed. I didn’t quite understand what she meant by that, but I moved on. “You don’t get homesick? If you jump from city to city, do you, y’know, still stay in touch with people? I just—I couldn’t live that way, I don’t think.” “People are people, and people are temporary,” she said. “For better or for worse.” “So you don’t miss anybody?” “No,” she told me, in earnest. “I think of it this way: I try and meet all the people I can, hear their stories, get touched by their lives . . . and sometimes that means the others fall behind. That’s what life’s about. At least that’s what I think. What do you think?” “Think about what?” “What life’s all about.” “I don’t know,” I said, welcoming the silence back into the vehicle. “I don’t.” Carrie was untouched by grief. That’s why I found her mesmerizing; she acted as if nothing had ever hurt her before. When she talked about the past, she never ruminated on things for too long. No longing, nostalgia, regret, as if to say that she had nothing to regret. She 56
was the exact opposite of Mark; how fickle he was, how grounded in reality he just had to be. Marriage had made us coalesce, and I grew the same set of characteristics as he had, over time. Or maybe I was always that way and never realized it. Nevertheless, I was envious of Carrie’s freedom, and I didn’t want her to leave me like she did most people. At the time, I thought being around people who had a stronger backbone than I did made me have a stronger backbone, by proxy. I could give in, sink my teeth in, stop being so insatiable; the way Carrie could do it so intrinsically like disregard was born into her. I wanted to be that way so badly. Perhaps, looking back, that was where the trouble had started. “Mark, Meredith,” Sara told us after she opened the door, her voice high and steely—like silver bells. “Come on in.” Holden and Sara’s apartment was one of the last real gems this side of the Village; they’d moved there after graduation. They were originally Mark’s friends, but I’d gotten to know them well during our time in college. Sara made it a point to tell us the story of the apartment every time we visited them, usually when we flew up from Wilmington for a conference. She began it: it had belonged to a famous performance artist in the 1970s, and, at one time—according to the broker, anyhow— Warhol had come over for a party, and, in a coke-fueled frenzy, he demanded that the polyester carpet be peeled from the floor. Then, once he was finally placated, he put down layers of peacock-colored linoleum. His handiwork remained untouched; as the heels of my mary-janes clicked against it, I made note of how it was now streaked with faint shades of teal and Turkish blue. Maybe it had been weathered by time. Or maybe it was intentional—a product of Andy’s eye. “Mark, honey,” I said, turning to him. “Maybe you should go back out and get the drinks.” Sara nodded. “We don’t have a lot here. If that’s no trouble, I mean . . .” He turned closer to the door. “If you think I should, sure, but maybe we could—” “Mark,” Holden announced, emerging from the kitchen. “Leaving so soon?” “Getting drinks. A few bottles of Morgan and Bacardi coming your way.”
“Attaboy. Mer, come in. I want to talk to you about something later.” Mark mumbled goodbye’s under his breath, eyes looking down at his keys as if he was ashamed of his temporary role as the group’s courier. I grabbed his hand—an inflammatory response—and rubbed my thumb against his. “Honey,” I said. “Be safe. Don’t forget your coat. Call me if you need me.” And so he left and I floated towards Holden, the way I always did, his presence more authoritative than Mark’s—like I had something to lose if I didn’t pay him any attention. Holden was tall, blonde, Germanic in the face, with an aura that suggested that perhaps he’d be better suited for the 1950s—white sleeves pushed up to the elbow, loose tie, rough hands—painter’s hands—with his back slumped against the doorway, arms across his chest, as if he was waiting to be looked at. We stood around the kitchen waiting for Mark to get back with the drinks—we were only allowed to drink in the kitchen, Sara said—nursing cups of mango Malibu that Holden had finally found buried in the back in the liquor cabinet, talking about college, talking about what we're doing now. “Consulting is consulting,” I said. “Sara, how’s dealing going?” “It’s going well. I just sold a piece to a gallery on Bleecker Street. It’s a crazy story, actually, we had . . .” Sara’s voice faded into obscurity as I made eye contact with Holden, his hair moussed and slick, gold and pokerstraight against his scalp. How weird it was to be in the same room as him again, I thought. The more we stared, the more we darkened by looking at each other. We were snapped out of our mutual gaze by the sound of ringing, emanating from a buttery yellow rotary phone Sara had clearly picked out not for its functionality but for the retro design of it all. “Sorry, let me take this,” she said. “It’s no problem,” I told her. “Mind if I use the bathroom?” She shielded the phone away from her ear, pointed down the hallway, and mouthed three words to me: “Go right ahead.” I walked down the hall—it was marked with a gaudy, dark green wallpaper printed with black and white swans
taking flight—before I heard the steps of Holden behind me, his fingers wrapping themselves around the soft white skin of my wrist. I stopped in my tracks, turning around to face him for the final time. “Hey,” Carrie announced. “We’re here.” Witch country was about four stretches of clay road tucked between the mountains, lined with small shops, barns, and ramshackle dogtrot houses the color of rust and squash. On the outskirts of town sat a Food Lion, a post office, and what looked to be a dilapidated Dairy Queen, now a neon shell of concrete. Some of the women in the village called themselves witches; others said folk healer or granny woman was more politically correct. Whatever they were called, they were hagglers. Fifteen bucks for a protective charm; ten dollars for a dreamcatcher; fifty smackers if you wanted some tea leaves to read. “There’s a distinct line to be drawn between Southern tradition and these women,” Carrie told me. “It was different than, say, how my mama painted our porch ceiling in Louisiana a thick coat of blue in order to keep the haints away.” I thought about how my elder cousin who'd moved to the city had started seeing naturopaths, letting complete strangers place their warm fingers on the back of her neck or scrape her naked body with polished wooden blades. These witchy women weren’t like that—they were healers, seers, midwives—part mysticism, part fatalism, all death-touched and autumn-raw. Carrie and I walked through the village, passing women behind tables in dowdy dresses, their faces embossed with thin, fine lines, and their gray hair all tied back. They’d offer up their prices, and—as I had perfected in the years I’d lived in the city—I calmly raised a hand and gave an noncommittal grin, brushing them off. Carrie, however, clearly wasn’t raised to keep her head down. One woman—clothed in a flowersprigged sack dress, her hair arranged a bit girlishly in dull, silver ringlets—asked Carrie to pay $70 for a pair of cheap-looking divining rods. She obliged, and it made me wonder how much Carrie had spent in total during her trips to witch country. You’d have to factor in a lot of variables– gas money, food, lodging—and all the little trinkets she obtained during her pilgrimages. Her glove 57
compartment had been full of them: anklets, votive candles, a broken wooden staff, to name a few. “Meredith,” she said. “Are you not getting anything?” “Maybe later. I just want to get my bearings a bit.” “Suit yourself,” Carrie told me, moving onto another table. I moved along with her and came upon a booth adorned with little vials of colored water—rich pinks, soft yellows, little petals floating around a clear liquid. I picked one up. The woman behind the table—no, in fact, a girl, maybe even younger than me, equal parts sylphlike and well-muscled—was adorned with a marker bearing the name Willow, scrawled in choppy handwriting. She raised her eyebrows. “What is all this, exactly?” I asked her. “Kind of like a perfume, kind of like essential oils,” she said. “Some can relax the mind, soul, body, others can energize it, increase your chances for a baby, maybe—” “How much?” “Ten dollars a bottle.” I picked up two vials, the pink and the clear petals. “Which two are these?” “The pink one’s hibiscus, the clear one is jasmine.” I quickly put the jasmine vial back, unable to bear the thought of the last time I had worn it; sure, it had been an actual perfume, but it was too similar to risk. I pulled a ten-dollar bill out of my pocket, placed it in her hands, grabbed the hibiscus, then made my way after Carrie, intent on distracting myself before the past crept back into my brain. His gaze touched me before his hands did. Holden spun me around, then pulled me into an alcove near the stairs, making his way closer to me, into the radius of my jasmine perfume—the only bit of traditional femininity I tried to observe—and then he kissed my neck. “You haven’t called me back in weeks,” he whispered. “I’ve texted, I’ve called, I tried sending letters—” “We can’t,” I told him, pushing him off of me. “Keep doing this. We can’t.” “Who says?” “I say.” I smoothed my smocked blouse down, then readjusted my collar. “It’s wrong. Plain and simple.” He laughed and raked his hands through his hair. “Since when have you been big on propriety?” 58
I first kissed him at a party in the apartment; I last kissed him at a party in the apartment. It wasn’t like I didn’t love Mark—I certainly didn’t love Holden—but I needed to feel something. I wanted something sharp to wake me up. No city allowed us to haunt corners and have affairs like New York did; no other place existed where we could contrive such insane, bending coils around morality. Everything in the city was ubiquitous, a little hazy if you didn’t pay enough attention. Nobody paid enough attention, and so that’s how our relationship worked. And so, there we were, in Holden and Sara’s apartment, on the subway, at the Met, in his bedroom, in my hotel room, having our clandestine rendezvous, him getting off on the surge of power and promiscuity, me doing anything just to feel something again. Holden was the knife I explored myself with; I tolerated him despite the all the pain he caused me, all the arrogance radiating off of his chest, and he loved me despite all the indifference clinging to my lips and the boredom drying at their corners. What a pair we made. Last time we met in the city—a few weeks prior, I had flown up—he told me he loved me. Well, not quite. He looked at me, wearing his dress shirt, bottling up the wine, and said the most pathetic phrase I’d ever heard: “Do you want me to love you?” It was something about it that made me feel so gross and spineless; and, so, I left the city that day intent on ending our relationship. “It’s just wrong,” I reiterated. “I’m done.” “I’m not.” “Then tough luck.” I turned out of the alcove, but he pulled me back in. “Look—God—okay. Sara wants a baby. And I just . . . I think I’m going to leave her. I want you to move up here. There are already a few apartments I’ve been looking at in Bedstuy, they’re not the biggest but they’re—” “Listen, I love Mark. I’m staying with him.” He laughed. “Do you really?” “Yes, I do—” “Does he make you laugh? Does he make you happy?” I grabbed him by the wrist and deepened my register. “He doesn’t make me unhappy.” Shoving him off, I slinked down the hallway, then quietly entered the bathroom. After locking the door, I examined my face in the mirror: red cheeks, tired eyes, and an apoplectic mouth. Then I considered the trade: I
gave Holden my isolation, my numbness, my uncertainty; in return, he gave me the hunger of his heart. Not the most lucrative deal. And then you had to factor in the innocents: Mark and Sara, both tender-hearted and irreproachable, thrust into No Man’s Land to fend for themselves. And, at the time, I thought that maybe that’s what love really was: deception, artillery fire, then silence. “Hey,” Carrie said. “You hungry? There’s only one restaurant but it ain’t half-bad.” Carrie took us to a diner on the edge of town, where a teenager in purple chevron stockings worked as the hostess. She smacked her gum—when she opened her mouth, I counted the teeth missing, around four—then sat us in a booth and took our respective orders. Carrie got the banana-nut pancakes and some coffee; I got a burger and some Cheerwine. After our food was brought out, she leaned into me, across the cream leather of the booth. “Between you and me, this whole town is a big tourist trap. Except for Ronella. Ronella’s the real deal.” “Ronella?” “She’s the best seer here,” she told me, cutting into her pancakes and stuffing them into her mouth, bite by bite. “She’s omniscient to a T.” We swallowed our food down, not talking to one another, intently listening to the sounds of yacht rock ringing out of the jukebox. The diner wasn’t particularly well-kempt; the leather covering the booths was breaking, revealing plumes of dirt-colored foam; the lights flickered in and out; dishes and cups from earlier patrons still lined tables; napkins were scattered on the ground. The only thing you could do in this place, it seemed, was to eat as fast as you could and get out as fast as you could. “Had gotten married, you said,” Carrie started. “Earlier, in the car, I mean. Had. Past-tense. Divorced?” I almost choked on my fries. “No—” “Separated, then? Been there, done that, let me tell you,” she laughed. “No.” I thumbed the rim of my drink, eyes glued to the ice shrinking in the glass, then swallowed. “He passed away. Around twelve-odd months ago.” “Oh.”
“Yeah. I’m okay, though. Well, not really. But I will be, eventually.” “I understand. Getting over it probably takes some time.” “Well, I mean, it’s not like I can ever really get over it. Believe me, I’ve tried. I asked everybody I knew after it happened, you know, how long does it usually take to get over it? And everybody told me that the day I decided I was over it, I was over it. But I don’t want to decide. Deciding erases him, I think. And that’s why—that’s why you never get over it.” She was silent for a few moments, eating her food, then opened her mouth again. “No, I get it. It’s like he’s laced in your bones . . . and you don’t know how to untangle the strings—” “No. No. God, it’s not that fucking melodramatic. That’s not how grief works. I just miss him. In no big spiritual way, okay? In a quite simple desperate futile human way. I want to see him when I get home from work, go to the movies, get dinner together again . . . just see him again . . .” Carrie rested her hand on mine, smiling. “And you can see him. Ronella can help.” I pulled my hand away. “God, you’re really that dense, aren’t you?” “What?” “Look, it’s not my fault if you don’t know how grief works because you’ve never cared about another person.” “Excuse me?” “I’m never going to see him again. Don’t act like I am. That’s just cruel.” “But Ronella—” “But Ronella, whoever she is,” I said to her, “is just trying to turn a quick buck. Believe me, I know. I came up here with you to have a good time, okay? To try and get away from my life. Not to get healed.” “Wow,” she told me, low and breathy, masked by a bit of a laugh. “You must be really damaged if you don’t want to see your husband again.” “Don’t,” I started. “You don’t know what grief is. You don’t know half the pain of it. It’s like, how do you make it through life, man? Just meeting people, constantly, and then dropping them when you get bored? How do you put your body through it? You don’t. Don’t act all empathetic 59
Figure 3 Nasos Karabelas 60
Figure 4 Nasos Karabelas 61
when I’m talking about caring about somebody like you have some sort of muscle memory.” “I’m just trying to help.” “You want to help so bad? Stay out of my shit.” I slammed my fist onto the table, sending silverware winging its way to the ceiling then surfacing back onto the table. The other diner patrons stared in our direction, while Carrie, hurt in a way that couldn’t be described in words, shifted her eyes away from me while she ate her pancakes. Then there was me, grabbing a copy of the town newspaper from a stack next to the door, killing time. They found Mark’s body on the corner of East 14th Street and Avenue A. A taxi had off-roaded onto the sidewalk and sent him flying, legs parallel to the sky, skull to concrete; a paper bag of drinks spilling down the drain pipe. I remember the police officer well, sitting on Sara’s couch—he looked like the buffalo on the tail side of an old nickel: all shaggy and blunt-snouted, with a hunched back jilted up to the sky, maybe out of deformity, maybe out of shame, holding his hat. He had told me it was instantaneous, like that was something that would make me feel better about the situation. It’s not like I wanted Mark to suffer, obviously— but it was a little dehumanizing for his final exit to be all pithy and completely transitory. One minute here, the next gone, like he wasn’t even a person, but rather something fleeting and incorporeal. I started daydreaming as Officer Buffalo talked about all the technicalities—was I suing the cab company, what funeral home should his body be transported to, did I want an autopsy, Miss I just need you to talk to me, Miss I just need you to look at me, Miss, just look at me, please, just look at me, Miss, Miss, Miss. The only way I could stop myself from wailing, fists to the carpet, was to daydream. Root myself in something unreal. Then maybe I could make the real unreal. I dreamt, at that moment, that Holden, all sleek and full of hell, came over and put his hand on my shoulder, overstepping his boundaries. I’d yell, I’d kick, I’d scream, tell him that it was over, everything was over, don’t insert yourself into this, go talk to Sara, Sara, I’m so fucking sorry, you didn’t deserve this, Holden don’t you understand, it’s over, Mark probably knew we were together and threw himself in front of that car on purpose. Then he’d retreat for once in 62
his life. I would get even. I would get some retribution for Mark. I would get the final blow. In reality, though, Officer Buffalo was still hammering on about how sorry he was for me and how he knew of some group therapy sessions through his church. And Holden, in reality, sat on the other side of the room, not looking at me, his body damned with quiet and marked without any color. He didn’t touch me. He didn’t need to. His presence affected me in such a way that I felt breathless, claustrophobic, even as I was only twelve feet away from him. “Meredith,” Sara told me after the police had left, raking her hair behind her neck. “If you don’t want to spend the night at the hotel, feel free to sleep here. It’s no trouble at all.” And so I took her up on it, a little out of guilt, a little out of necessity. I slept in the guest room, in the very bed Holden and I spent countless nights in; green linen sheets with thin toffee stripes. Next to me sat a bedside table lined with a glass of water and two Advil Sara had laid out for me, along with a book we had talked about earlier in the kitchen that I’d been dying to read. “If you wake up and can’t sleep,” Sara had told me, placing it on the table’s wood. The room made me feel dainty, immature, like I was a child again, getting tucked in by my parents. I rolled over, out of routine, and squeezed the pillow next to me, forgetting Mark would not be there. I woke up at the sound of a cough being sent out from the doorway. “Hey,” Holden whispered. “I’m sorry.” “I don’t need you to be sorry.” My rudeness didn’t deter him. “What do you need me to do? I’ll—I’ll do anything.” “Tell me, then,” I said. “How to get through it.” “I don’t know,” he told me. “I don’t think you can get through it. Pain doesn’t really have discrete edges, it moves and bleeds into everything. So maybe try going around it.” “Hey, Holden, I—I think I know something else you can do.” “Anything, anything . . .” I sat up in bed and looked him dead in the eye. “Make yourself useful and go the hell to sleep.” It was the last thing I’d ever say to him. He reminded me so much of Carrie: cheesy truisms all wrapped up in bows, trying to help me, with both of their hearts
splintered into thin shards when it was revealed I was not the type of person looking to be fixed. Instead, I was the type of person who withered into their silent center—all in all, across the years, I would never stop having enough of people trying to make a good thing out of me. “I want to see Ronella,” Carrie said. Ronella lived in the biggest house in the village; it jutted up from the hilltop, crusted with Antebellum detailing and flanked with long, white columns. Kudzu and dirt had both found their way into the cornices and indentations in the pediment. Ronella was the oldest seer in town, according to Carrie. She saw her the last time she came up. When we got up to the door, we didn't even need to knock—Ronella swung the door open and invited us inside, shuffling past her plastic-covered couch. “Carolyn, nice to see you again,” Ronella said, a round, sad-looking woman in an old-fashioned dress, her gray hair edged with two silver clips set with pearls in the pattern of Asiatic lilies. “And you are?” “Meredith,” I told her. “You have a lovely home.” The house was all candles and incense and macramé plant hangers. I sat on the ottoman, a soft claret color, next to Carrie, while Ronella sat in a Victorian-style chair across the way, pouring holly tea. I knew Carrie felt me watching her and so I watched as she shifted her thighs closer to the edge of the seat; then she took her gum out, bound it in its silver wrapper, then stuck it in the ashtray, crossing her arms. I guessed that meant I wasn’t supposed to observe her, so I faced front. “No time for pleasantries,” Carrie said, guiding Ronella’s hand—and the kettle inside of her grasp—away from her teacup. “I know what I want.” “And what would that be?” Ronella asked. “The usual?” “Yes.” She swallowed, then looked at me. “A commune with the dead.” “Okay, well, then . . . but if it’s fine with you, Carrie, why don’t we give our guest a turn first? Let her get her bearings and such.” “Sure, that’s fine with me.” “Meredith,” Ronella said. “Do you have any loved ones you’d like to reach?” I felt Carrie’s eyes on me, then knew what I needed to say. “No,” I told her, blowing air out of my teeth.
Ronella straightened her posture. “Alright, then I guess we’ll be moving on—” “She does,” Carrie interjected in a bruised voice. “She has someone. She’s a widow, she told me all about it.” Ronella turned towards me. “Well . . . it certainly wouldn’t hurt to try, dear. We’ll do yours after Carrie’s. I mean, after all, what would you say to him—I’m sorry, what was your husband’s name?” “Mark.” “Okay,” she said, “what would you say to Mark if you never got the chance to see him again?” I paused for a brief moment, eyes affixed to a plant hanging in the corner, then looked back at her. “What would I have said to him if I’d known I would never see him again? I . . . I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d say what I said before it happened. Be safe. Don’t forget your coat. Call me if you need me.” Ronella and Carrie shared a look that reminded me of the looks I shared with Sara, back before all the chaos surfaced. The looks we gave one another when Mark and Holden were talking about football, video games, music; a look that yoked us together and established them as Other. Suddenly, I knew, in Ronella and Carrie’s eyes that I, now, was the Other. The city folk who didn’t understand how witches worked, the unperson—them versus me. “Meredith,” Ronella restated. “We’re doing yours after Carrie’s. Just watch it and you can see how freeing it is. Now, onto you, Carrie.” Ronella began Carrie’s ceremony with a sagacious, measured presence, like the act of a seance was somewhere between a ceremony and a chore. She drew the curtains, lit lavender votive candles, then took Carrie's pink hands in hers. A moment later, she asked for my hands, too, then told us to take our shoes off. “We need to complete the circle, dear,” she told me. “No spectators allowed.” And so the ceremony began, Ronella and I standing in silence, Carrie quietly humming. “Anne,” Carrie breathed out. “Anne, can you hear me? It’s me, your sister, it’s Carrie. I’m here.” I looked at Carrie, then thought about the diner, her big doe eyes glossed over, about to cry into those pancakes after I accused her of not knowing how grief worked. I felt the same way I did when Holden asked if I wanted him to love me: ashamed, pathetic, a little gauche. Then I 63
thought about the present, with Carrie standing there in that circle, thrashing blindly against the invisible, with nothing left to do but admit to herself that despite all her efforts, she was not in control. “Can you see her?” Ronella asked. “Can you see her, here in the dark?” “I—I can’t.” Carrie broke the circle, then began pouting, then blubbering, like a child. “I hate it fading away. I hate it echoing away. I hate it leaving me. I hate losing it, Ronella. I hate losing it.” “It’s alright. We’ll start again. Bring the energy closer to you, dear.” We reformed the circle and started again, Carrie taking a big deep breath. “Anne,” she sobbed. “Please come to me.” As Carrie’s pleas continued, my heart began racing, anxiety threading itself throughout my body. There were two horrors in my head: what if I see Mark again and what if I don’t? Or, if he was somewhere out there, what if he just chose not to respond to me? Or maybe he wasn’t out there at all, to begin with. Maybe he died the way he thought the universe worked: six feet gouged out of the Earth, body resting, rotting in loam, mind detached from the body, surfacing in blackness, forever. Then any “ceremony” these women would force me to conduct would all be for naught, and there he would be, Mark, eighteen again in his red shirt and black jacket, looking at me and my cards, calling bullshit on the hereafter. Her flared chiffon skirt went askew, and Carrie, now looking like a featherless peacock, turned her pleas into sobs and then her sobs into shrieks—animal screams from the pit of her diaphragm. Anne, where are you? Anne, why can't you come back? Anne, are you here? Anne, please! Please! As Carrie's volume crescendoed, with an undulating, galloping quality, I, without thinking, pulled my hands to my sides, then ran out the kitchen door, unable to take the noise anymore, unable to see myself in the circle, crying out for Mark, my body drenched in heartache. I did the only thing me or Carrie, really, knew how to do when the going got tough—I left. The clay road seared against my bare feet, but I didn't have time to go back for my shoes. By the time I was halfway down the road, I had realized that I had somehow gotten in and taken Carrie's car, my hands shivering against the metal of the wheel. I could hear 64
her yelling my name down the way, but didn't think to look in the rearview mirror. I just kept going—a village talisman around my wrist—and drove back over the mountainside, my body on autopilot. It was as if, once the car was started up, there was no slowing down, no stopping; just careening down the way. I looked at myself in the rearview mirror; my cheeks glossed with sweat, my eyes something animal, like I had finally figured out how good it felt to just let go. I wondered, at the time, and still wonder now, if Mark had a say in death. He never believed in any type of higher power, but I was ambivalent. Maybe, just maybe, he was flung into outer space, and something kind asked him if he’d like to go back—that it was completely up to him, that his body was salvageable and that the world was waiting for him to return. I knew Mark well enough to know what he would say: “No, thanks, I’ve had enough.” He wasn’t coming back. I knew that. Carrie didn’t. Mark, like grief, still lived in things. His smell: Irish Spring, sweat, leather. He would lurk forever in ordinary things. In coat hangers. Malibu bottles. Thick tar on highways. Blue streetlights. Records. In certain colors. In the changing of the seasons. In the absence of words. And in the emptiness of a dining room, marked by a table setting with no cup left to fill. That, in my eyes, was what Carrie had meant about one thing being a haunting and two things being a terror. It would be one thing if Mark died and that was that. But Mark died and I still beat on, desultory, into the future. That’s two things. That’s the terror. The problem with Carrie was that she was lost in that very real, fixed sense that there was nothing beyond her own experience. To her, whether she admitted it or not, I think she thought that there was only one way things could go in this world, and she was waiting for the hand of God to lead her down the hallway and welcome her into the room, the room where the rest of her life waited, embryonic, ready to burst. It was sad thinking about how most of us never got there. Mark certainly didn’t. Or, maybe, in death, he did, I don’t know. Sometimes, like Carrie, though, you can live a whole life skittering across the surface as the years passed, unblessed, anticipating, heaving and begging like a half-burnt dog, then—before you know it—you’re unchosen, peripheral, dead.
At night, all these years later, I think about Carrie's wounded desperation—her act of feral grief—and how cyclical it was. She'd been to witch country before and there was no doubt in my mind that she'd visit in the future with another stranger—she’d find somebody else to shack up with and make her way to the mountains. Carrie, Sisyphus. Carrie, burning out. She would burn and burn out, then she would get healed and come back again. Dreams were cyclical like that, too. Nowadays, I go
to sleep and try to change what had happened that day; I try and apologize to Carrie in that car, in that diner, in that circle. Every time I dream about it, though, it always ends the same way: I run away, I get in the car, I leave her. I run away, I get in the car, I leave her. I run away, I get in the car, I leave her, and all of the candles go out.
Figure 5 Nasos Karabelas 65
No Go Jason Hart 66
Remix Theory: The Great American Eclipse (2017) Emma Johnson-Rivard
end of august, I heard the sun died. The funeral was short but the wake burned hot
circle of life: every generation goes sour and devours the young
hell was jealous.
circle the wagons, i thought thou shalt not kill trumped your fifteen minutes raging against the sun.
one glorious bang before the buck shifts, buddy i know all your slang broke the dictionary on the code twitter rides tragedy to the polls but the library remembers dead (son), witness the poets and the painters half might die but the rest
it died, sure but only for a minute sister, sister, why is it strange to claim a stranger should live?
oh, you'll remember them.
and my friend, the best possible world wouldn't bite down, then take offense when we cry cannibal.
sing it before the crowd gets wise, and sister? you better sing it loud
piece of advice: frankenstein that shit. we already did, the poets and the singers remix the hurt, turn tables on your scars make armor from the bones.
i don't care much for souls but i do count lives; i number each in the rooms of my heart
witness: your phone comes pre-equipped headlines say we've killed another one millennials, we've got a body count in the culture war shooting down industries like napkins crumple, crumble, burn like the sun have you ever shot a gun, little girl? i was never allowed but, brother? watch me go primeval with this rock.
the truth will not, in fact save your soul
cut the past, kill it sharp hold a funeral and like the sun stitch it back together born fresh for the resurrection in glory. rage. glory. (glory)
Note: On August 19th, forbes.com released an article claiming that the upcoming solar eclipse would cost American businesses approximately $700 million in lost productivity while workers left their stations to observe a once in a lifetime celestial wonder.
taste buds & artichoke hearts Robin Gow
i love most, the items you can’t describe the taste of. a short list: quinces, red velvet, & artichoke hearts; i try to imagine how the artichokes might grow & i think that they are fire-birds tucked into themselves, dormant, waiting to be awakened by olive oil & a quartering knife. the hearts feathered apart in my pasta last night. i was 7 again & re-learning how to enjoy food, wiping oil on my thighs. there you were, older, too old for me, holding out a fork & begging me to put the whole artichoke in my mouth. you ought to choke me. & you came inside my mouth too, fork pointed forward, finding a plot of loose soil, the buds blooming all over my tongue; a romp of wildflowers. you picked them, making a bouquet, & i wanted to ask you to be gentle with my body but my mouth was full of your feet.
you didn’t taste like anything i can name, only artichoke hearts & olive oil. your plate had a dead deer on it & i reached out to scratch behind its ear while you were busy taking all the flowers you could. the deer opened its mouth & all of a sudden there we were on the side of the freeway, the creature splayed & limp as if it wasn’t ever real. when you finally crawled out & stepped over my teeth we were very very lost. we found a light bulb to walk to but it just ended up being an unprepared artichoke, still hard & heavy & green & tasting like the moment before fire. quartering the plant, we shared & you took out your fork again & i took out mine & we threaded the prongs together.
Suspected Violence in the Community Mateo Lara
admit it—if you try, the sting wouldn’t be as purple or dazzling. they would respect you way more & topple down racist monuments this tired argument: excess of a wish-bone stuck in your throat a haphazard dick flopping in the wind must go un-seen into the night, with French fries smothered in savory white sauce and something plastic & radiant like your heart. this is not psychosis or mental illness stripping us of human value waiting at the kitchen table, their dreams are some family healing wounds they created themselves what could I tally up in my mouth but unwarranted pushes toward a darkness, a void of opium & white smoke each colored trans boy and girl and queer comes smearing themselves on the cement we must put the glitter on our tongues, show them what we’re made of those knives are rapturous beasts, chain-link fences jangling in the wind, this is a dirty room at a party heteros all around, no world is our own this tsunami of white boys looking for a body to misuse & if you could be involved, what then is the use, and for how long? it is rumored most murders go un-reported these lives have become new haunts who would have thought you could last longer than all those beasts getting off in this heaven you sweep into & damn, look at all that fire you created on your own. —According to the Williams Institute, 40% of the homeless youth served by agencies identify as LGBT —30% of street outreach clients identified as LGBT —30% of clients utilizing housing programs identified as LGBT
Shilo Niziolek The fog swept in low this morning, or maybe it came in the middle of the night, either way, it was there when I woke up creeping down the streets, weaving between tree branches, clinging to the earth, seeping through skin and bones. I awoke before the light did, and as I pulled the curtains open and saw thick globs of light spreading from the street lamps I felt that magical Christmas morning feeling. Did the fog really come for me? I felt in wonder at the world and all of our existence. The brown and green wool blanket hung loosely over my shoulders as I pressed my face to the cold hard glass, looking out while seeing in. There is something about the fog that makes me want to write a book. No, strike that, a thousand books. It fills the hollow crevices inside my chest, the smoky air that is not smoke, like I just took a hit off the world and now my eyes can see for the first time. I think about girls who haven’t yet become women, and women who are dying to once again feel the wilderness of seventeen. I think about a lady made of moss that lives on the edge of the sea, about a thousand pigeons on the ground and in the sky and filling up my lungs. I think about oily crow wings on a slender female form, and mountains that will swallow a soul on a lonesome foggy night. I imagine capsized boats and stairs that reach so far into the sky that they don’t even know where they will lead. I imagine eyes made of mercury and a ghost haunted by another ghost. I look at the window and the fog is still there. Hello, I call to no one. The slow buzz and hum of silence answers back. In the fog I can get away with anything. I can exhale the smoke, and no one can tell the difference. Is that just a pocket of fog? Is that icy breath steaming out like the dragon that I am? If I think about making love deep in the woods while the fog snakes up, over, and around damp white skin, will I remember my name? Will I recall a girl who would strip naked in the woods, who would lay down her smooth tight skin on a bed of needles, moss, and ferns, an offering to a man who mistook himself for a demon or a god? The fog says, remember. Dearest Fog, How could I forget. 70
Fog feels like fingers flying on a keyboard. Fog feels like frogs croaking in the dead of night. Fog feels like fingers grazing skin, front to back, face to foot. Fog feels foamy, like trying to grasp the tips of a cloud, and frantic like bodies fucking underneath an alabaster moon. Like rain falling on the tin roof of a white 800 dollar ford ranger parked on a logging road, where it shouldn’t be, cold hard bodies wrapped loosely in sleeping bags, feline moaning echoing off the walls of the earth. It feels like standing on the edge of a steep cliff, arms flung out in ecstasy, wave mist and wind caressing flesh, a precipice of life and of falling to death. I wonder if there is a god out there who summons the fog down to earth by way of musical instrument, by letting fingers wander across a piano, a harp, a woman’s skin.
Incandescence Luke & Mandy
In the Box
Andrew Terrell Long fingers. One hand— draped over the lip. One hand—spread back, holding the lid. Two eyes running, squinting, thin-pupiled.
Ode to Kylo Ren E.H. Thatcher
“I’ll destroy her. And you. And all of it.” — Kylo Ren, Star Wars: The Last Jedi
The lid shuts. The hands return to their possessions. A rusted puzzle, a paper doll, a family of stones. A parent’s whisper presses on the skull.
Kevin Chesser three wolves on the river bank watching the pizza delivery boy take ecstasy in his car
I can relate. Hair dark and wavy, dressed in black. You spat those words to audience laughter: What a whiny boy. Not me. Transfixed at a midnight showing, popcorn bag empty, I nodded. Who hasn’t yearned to destroy the world and remake it in their image? There’s nothing to level here, Kylo. You’re not alone anymore. I am just like you. Face me as a mirror image, striplings forced to settle. Come, sit next to me, run your strong hands through my prematurely graying hair. Part me down the middle. Kiss me.
he is all business and the night is wild as thirty seven cents scattered to the all-weather floor mat
My Mom Sold Her House to Pay My Tuition Monica Fallone
My daddy was a hypochondriac but my momma taught me to love The Cure Now, I don’t have to be alone with someone to feel like I am home again I’m cozy on a hearth of longing reaching knowing I have both key and lock to give I’m already whole— But need to see those pieces fit Why else would I be given the gift of unrelenting infatuation limitless ability for bending reality towards hard-won happy endings My daddy thought salt was sufficient seasoning but my momma taught me to love Red Hot Chili Peppers
I don’t ever want to feel like I did the day he ripped my door from its hinges I don’t want his hereditary lust for control A family silent under fists I want blood sex sugar magic kind of passion choked up with a sweet baseline and a kiss that bites like a bitch I want x-ray vision type of love tell me what you see holding us back and I’ll give it away—now My daddy never bought his daughters pretty things but my momma taught me to love Pearl Jam Turns out my real father was both dying and a fool No one but us could see through sheep’s drool
So how is my face more plain to read than a stop sign in headlight fire I grew up watching a pathological liar cry with no tears—laugh without closing his eyes I’m still trying to chase away ruminations screaming for warped emotion to manipulate good relationships At least today— I’m devoted to no one and nothing but authenticity
No respect for Tracy Chapman or Fleetwood Mac and now I’m stuck chasing artboys with voices even a little like a melody Will they sing to me? Be my Kurt Cobain or Lollapalooza Mania? I think we’re just avoiding silence— only broken by teeth grinding as a coward’s jaw juts out to command me to make his quiet sound good
My daddy hates when women cry So then why did my momma give her babies music?
To pain prematurely arthritic hands on pianos with no keys hum his grandmother’s songs without any vibrations
Sung us to sleep with folk lyrics to the tune of 90s grunge All while under the thumb of one bland-ass motherfucker
My daddy was born without imagination but my momma dreamed I’d be loud
MOTHER, WARHEAD Sara Sage
My mother is a loaded gun cocked til high noon / rapid firing in the warzone of Lifetime Like America pounding the East for oil / Mom always said she agreed with the Dixie Chicks / like the government check she truly believes she’s doing the right thing / and she might just be (there are far too many books on how to raise a child and you can’t read when each shift is ten hours and minimum wage) Mama doesn’t like politics too much. She thinks people should work hard and everyone should get to eat. She checks “democrat” but is somewhere along the lines of the Happy Nature Party. I love this about her how she can love life while it burns how she can rise out of bed every day with twisted back and cracking knees, holy and greet the crisp morning air with a middle finger and a fist;;; Seize it in a cigarette and Big Gulp filled to the brim with diet coke.
My mother is a loaded gun that her ex-husband props in his father’s case, but never removes not for intruder, not for sport, for nothing Mama is the foundation of our two-person family and I see her face every time life feels like it finally got me by the throat she makes the same face in times of distress lips pucker and spread like a thin line, outward, onward she thinks very hard about what to say, how it formats me. So instead she speaks through Donna Summer, Alanis “THIS IS HOW YOU BE A WOMAN” is what she’s saying on hour-and-a-half drives to her teaching job in the city She knew I needed to be made of steel and brick and teeth like razors because being a woman means suffering / it means you always have your trembling finger on the trigger but can’t pull My mother is a loaded gun housing a clip, temporarily
My Ex-Boyfriend Shan. Isaac Humphrey
It wasn’t 1970-whatever, but the kids walking around in vintage ringer tees and pinstriped jumpsuits made a pretty convincing case. Who could blame the waiter for his upstart? His momentary panic at believing he had, somehow, awakened in the worst decade of his life, the decade of his stepfather’s birth. I pitied him, unfortunately. (I didn’t like pitying people, it felt like a form of patronization or condescension.) The woman in the booth behind me, who knew me through an old kindergarten teacher and our own mutually vacant lives which led us to haunt the same grungy diner beneath an overpass, said this was because I saw myself in Jove. Such is the danger of getting to know someone solely through a third-party source; you don’t actually get to know somebody. Were Jove and I both trans? Yes, though I never worked as a waitress, and I didn’t know much else about the kid. But it was the sight of Jove in the infamous little diner dress that drew forth pity, since I no longer had it in me to feel rage. His hair was short enough, his eyes deep-set and scowling, his legs exposed from the knee down and coated in thick swaths of dark hair. Jove, however, had no difficulty feeling rage at this, you could tell by the force with which he’d fling coffee into mugs. But his evil stepfather owned the diner, the only car in the family, and called the shots since he’d gotten away with shooting Jove’s mother years before, so Jove didn’t really have much of a choice. I took solace in this secondhand guilt I felt over Jove by assuring myself he had someone waiting for him, someone who loved him, even if whomever they were didn’t know it yet. Waiting. I was waiting; Shannon was late. Shannon was always late. It was one of the things I loved most about him, he was often so different from myself. Looking away from Jove, wiping coffee splotches from my hand after an aggressive refill, I busied myself by replying to spam emails and texting my sister. I didn’t bother texting Shan, I knew he wouldn’t reply until he was sitting in front of me. It was something he did, usually with a smile that could melt what was [decreasingly] left of the icecaps.
I met him in a diner, actually. Not this one, but, aside from Jove and the coughing of speeding cars overhead, it wasn’t much different. That was years ago, when I had some notion, some semblance of youth. I’d been twentyone then, Shan three years and some odd months my elder. For some reason, this used to mean a lot to me, kissing someone older. Then again, a lot of things used to mean a lot to me. There was another upstart then, centered around a family waddling out the dingy glass doors to the truck with “Jesus Loves You” stuck across the entire back windshield. Maybe I couldn’t see it from that distance, but, in light of coming events, there must have been an asterisk near the end somewhere. Reflexively, I looked over at Jove, that little inferno blazing by the back-corner booth. In his hand, Jove clutched at a receipt he read over and over with a furrowed brow, muttering the words to himself. Miss Christian USA with bacon grease for lipstick had written, in rather tacky script: “We don’t tip dykes and Satan lovers. Praise God.” (And yes, that last part was meant to be a threat.) Crossing the checked floor, leaving a trail of embers in his wake, Jove pushed open the front door and called out after them, over the rain. “Wrong slur, assholes!” (Jove, you see, took great pride in being called a faggot, would have likely framed the receipt had that token of gender-validation been scribbled at the top instead.) The family would call to complain, naturally, but that wouldn’t do much. It’s not like Jove’s stepdad was going to let him out of work. Or that Jove had anything to lose if Burt did choose to terminate him. Jove was hardly an employee as it was, rarely got paid in actual money since he still lived at home, and Burt subtracted rent, utilities, and the such from Jove’s wages. And I pitied the kid further because he was only sixteen. My sister was in one of her moods, didn’t even bother to reply a full word to my birthday texts. She turned twenty-seven that day, Audrey did. And she couldn’t have cared less about it if she cared enough to try to care less. She and I, we got that from our mothers, dreary sisters in the Dickinson vein whom our father couldn’t seem to ever decide on. Even still, despite the general gloom, Shan and I were going to stop by Audrey’s place later. Well, that was the 75
plan. Shan got tied up with work a lot. Most of it was illegal, so I’ll spare you the burden of being an accomplice and say that it involved a very miniscule, nearly pathetic, leg of a mob based mostly down in Atlanta. Shan was little more than a flunky, a driver and occasional drug dealer. I didn’t mind the job; it paid bills, fed our cats, and kept him happy enough. Plus, my job of teaching fractions and timetables to arrogant, snot-nosed third graders was no more glamourous, so who was I to judge? (Who are you?) With nothing else to do, I looked back at Jove, idling at the counter as he took his break and scrolled through his cracked phone, sipping the only benevolent cup of coffee I’d ever seen him pour. Who was I to pity him? If anything, he should pity me. I should pity me. Generally, I know, that’s distasteful, but I think I fucking deserved it. You aren’t getting the full story of my existence here, so you’ll have to take me at my word(s). I should pity myself because I didn’t see any of myself in Jove. One glance between us was more than enough to see that. It wasn’t the thirteen-year age gap. It wasn’t his evil stepdad. It wasn’t even my black hair against his lavender. It was the light Jove still had burning within him, that inferno of emotions; Jove still felt. How glorious that must be, to be young and feeling! Like fucked-up, God-complexed vampires, my parents had drained me of both years before, at so early an age I scarcely recall notions of either. And life, well that just keeps taking what it can, when it can. It left me in the red even. I was, at twenty-nine, so very far deep in emotional debt I would never see the sun again.
“Neal,” Jove said, snatching me from my reverie. Suddenly, though only suddenly to me, the diner and exterior world had darkened. “We’re closed,” Jove continued, collecting my dishes. “Go the fuck home.” It wasn’t my usual practice to give up on Shan—I’d once waited a day and three-fourths for him outside a movie theatre—but my choices were limited to no choice at all. So, I paid my coffee and cigarette tab, gave Jove his tip, and went out into the dreary, misty night. The lampposts and headlights overhead cast halos around garbage cans, grim concrete, and rat corpses obscuring—or at least distracting from—the stars. And it was times like those when I didn’t really mind going to Hell. I drove home slowly, for no real reason, and nearly tripped over the body curled up at the base of our sidedoor steps. A stray cat was perched on Shan’s stiffening shoulder, lapping up water from the pool in the hollow of Shan’s pallid ear. I stared at them both for a moment, the stray cat who eyed me with distrust, my boyfriend who would never eye me with anything again. His killers had left a note pinned to his pocket, words dripping off, swirling tendrils of blue ink into the puddles. I imagined our strip of eroded walkway looked an awful lot like my pathetic little soul and unlocked the door. It was unfortunate, I thought, stepping over Shan’s body, now he and I had so much in common, though I wasn’t quite so dead on the outside.
Slow Shutter Hannah Bishop
Three Buddhas Reno Evangelista
Virtue I am the Buddha. Enlightenment lengthens the tongue. The residents of hell are climbing my dorsum, steadying their feet on papillae which are slick with plaque brushed away from my holy molars. One thousand sinners are drowned in my median sulcus every day. There is a myth told that those who reach Paradise taste bitter; I cannot confirm nor deny. To speak of mercy is condemnation. Silence, the hour of Paradise. The darted tip of my long long tongue laps greedily at lotus blossoms floating on the lake of blood.
Nobility You are the Buddha. Ten monkeys jump from one end of your palm to the other. Half of them are suspended mid-flight, trying to solve Zeno’s paradox, whilst the other half have plummeted into the labyrinth of your papillary ridges. A monkey’s hand grants wishes, a man’s hand does math. It is not so difficult to know godhood when you see it. Ten fingers pray for the Buddha’s intervention. A monkey getting lost in the deep maze of your skin? Or a monkey loose as an arrow, restless for contact? The hand of a god does whatever it wants. Your fingers are pillars, one for each monkey. Your fingers are bars, shadows merge through the gaps. Your fingers, a mountain. The earth is your body and your body is a prison.
Quiddity Buddha, Buddha, Buddha, Buddha, Death. Phenomenology of Buddha. Veto Buddha. Buddha once discovered three Buddhas halfburied with their Buddhas blown open like marble Buddhas. Buddha came home to find some Buddhas waiting at the door. Asking Buddha what Buddha had seen. Telling Buddha what Buddha would do. What could Buddha do? Buddha, the hour of Conscience. To those who survived, life was a never ending Buddha. From Buddha to Buddha, a waking nightmare. A crying Buddha, the things that happen in the still of the night. Buddha lies awake thinking of Buddhas: their round heads, their long tongues. Digression from Buddha. A body marks a place on the road saying kill me and be free.
Your Mother’s Ruined Linens Melissa Bernal Austin
You cannot unbreak a plate. But you can get rid of it before anyone sees, and then it’s just not there. As long as everyone in the house forgets what they heard.
Reflecting Hemlock E.J. Schoenborn
According to floriography, the meaning of hemlock is “You will be my death.”
i have trouble distinguishing their flowers: the boy asking for coffee and the rapist
There. Now everyone feels weird. But we won’t say.
they have the same wispy look, the same roughness
A paperclip can’t be neatly unbent, or a flower unplucked, a thing unborn. Look
queen anne’s lace a single drop of blood in the center her stitching
at what you’ve done. The thread of a new plot, unspooling fast and away from you. Go on and pull it all back in, bundling it into your arms like sheets gathered from the mattress to wash before anyone notices. Go ahead stuff it all in your mouth and keep it shut. Try it.
when she put him together did she know his twin, the one made of needles, Arsenic and Old Lace he asks one last time “Would you like to get coffee?” and i see his blond hair and water eyes and i see his blond hair and water eyes and i know they’re different species but they look exactly the same
Death of a Corporate Analyst Sean William Dever
Bittersweet, isn’t it? Florida’s Natural tastes more natural while lying on the floor of the Green Line, E, malfunctioned between Copley and the Prudential Center. I have to thank my nurse, Joy, as she squats beside me, pouring juice down my throat via funnel. What a great allocation of government funds, personal nurses for us all! And Peter is quite taken with the idea of working less. He’s been asleep for weeks! Although, I’m told my deathbed is still prepped with 400 thread count white linen. Meanwhile, the elderly man taking notes to my right wears a pin for the US Government. He’s been staring at me since I’ve fallen. I’m sure he’ll jerk forward to aid me any moment now, the level of confusion in his eyes, questioning how I can be so sick while looking so healthy. I’ve whispered my answers through clenched teeth as my nurse informs me to keep my jaw shut, my tongue is too valuable to lose, and what a shame it would be to drown on my own blood, the very thing that keeps me up to 4:00AM most nights, staring at myself in the mirror, promising that I will see the Northern Lights one day, a night full of natural lights, how glorious! A night when the light shone in my eyes is neither the shine of my PDM, Peter, as helpful as he is, or the EMTs—Seamus and Sherry, what lovely angels. My partner’s there now and she holds my sweaty, purpling hands, “Sing sweet hymns to me my darling, I love the sound your voice makes as tears caress your throat, but do not worry, the conductor said we’ll begin to move any minute now, and look, the lights! Look at how they blind us all!” I chime, as the nurse places the garland on my head, crowns me “King of the Chronically Ill, Conqueror of Ketones.” I weep as I sign off my body to be displayed at Mass General and pray to be placed posthumously behind the sliding doors, the last guard to stand before the ward.
asphyxiation Mateo Lara
breathing was a lung-diamond, caked with drowning husks former self encrusted like a crustacean looking for its next shelter swarming urchins, coral-glistening, not dead, not white, not yet
so what needle destroyed this wet ghost, I’ve entrusted my closest friends with a spindle, a wheel of all my bad decisions, here the line is long a thread, thin around my neck, I couldn’t exhale even if you paid me.
this world wants me dead, but I cannot die, my brown body resurrects too many times to count, I’m bound by steel wire, wading deeply in cold rivers, frigid touch, this nasty James River is choking out what innocence remains, what white-tipped and pure thought I couldn’t tell you, and what grew in the forest was lazy & acidic or what shiny new toy they put at my feet purred obedient only to itself
listen to the breathing: one two one two choke out alibis, sift through white deities’ nerves their wings are silver-slicked & slicing skin.
I conjure up old sham-filled biblical verses, Spanish chants more-like curses, but here we go, putting another plastic bag over my head burning the witch, queer embodiment, suffocation covering the truth in everything, a universe missed of its historical context I’m lifting up out of the water, as they plunge my head back in so pure, so holy, un-disturbed, waiting for another moment before I can finally catch my breath.
Lonely as a Cloud Bonnie Bailey
The restaurant was empty except for George and the machine. “What can I get for you, sir?” the machine asked. His flat metal face, empty of features, emitted a pale glow like a soft white lightbulb, the kind George had put in his reading lamps in more normal times. “Your allotment stands at 865.” George rested his chin on his hand, regarding the menu embedded under the countertop. “Can I get an egg and toast for that?” “You can, sir.” “Get me that then,” George said. “And can you fry the egg up in real butter? Not that fake, healthy stuff.” “Yes, sir.” The machine, light and lithe, with fingers as deft as any human’s, reached for the refrigerator door. The refrigerator’s rounded corners and chrome trimmings hearkened back to refrigerators of the 1950s, but this one was new, or at least, nearly new. It had been added during a redesign. Commercial nostalgia sold in droves in this part of town. Even when people were hungry. Hell, especially when people were hungry. Hungry people lust for the past more than anyone. The past is the only place most of them can find a full stomach. “Do you have a name?” he asked the machine. “Cook 18743, sir,” the silver man said, his back to George, “or Calvin, if you prefer.” “Are you very old, Calvin?” Calvin’s reflective chest showed George his own smooth face, his own dark hair. He scratched his crooked nose and tried to avoid his own eyes. They were wounded eyes, like the eyes of a deer in the taillight’s glare on the side of a highway, waiting for the mercy blow. He hated seeing them. Looking at your own weakness is never comfortable. “756 days, sir, since my creation.” “756 days,” George repeated. He shook his head. “Practically a newborn.” Calvin didn’t respond. George tugged at his tie. It would have been nice to have a talk. A real, honestto-God talk. He could have gone down the street for one . . . But no. George couldn’t afford it. Honest-to-God talks didn’t come cheap anymore. 82
“You know something I don’t like about you guys?” he told Calvin, watching the robot cut a row of slices from a loaf of thick, browned whole wheat. “You’re so polite. It comes off as phony. I wish, just once, you’d be rude. Be moody. Be-” “We are here to serve, sir,” Calvin interrupted. “Yeah. You’ve said so before. You and all the rest.” George hadn’t tasted alcohol in five years and he hadn’t smoked or taken drugs in at least three. Yet his eyes swam with too much liquid, his head ached, and his heart thumped uncomfortably, protesting the intense pressure it took to rocket his blood around his system. He inhaled deeply, trying to get the air down into that empty place in his lungs. The place he felt he could never fill. The café smells made his mouth water. The little restaurant smelled of ice cream and waffles and coffee. Heavy, homemade whipped cream so thick it wouldn’t fall off the spoon, and peach cobbler bubbling with cinnamon and butter in a cast-iron skillet. It smelled of malted milkshakes topped with cherries and of thick, crispy JoJo taters rolled in spices. In short, it smelled like heaven, and that was the real hell of it. Calvin didn’t serve any of those culinary delights, except the coffee. No one could afford such luxuries. Not in this area. But the smells added to the atmosphere. Like the old-fashioned booths and the white-and-black checkered floor. All the place lacked was a damned jukebox. And to George’s great frustration, it calmed his nerves. Calvin popped the slices into a toaster and set the timer. “What is your name, sir?” Calvin asked, returning George’s niceties as he was programmed to do. Men like George had said that was important. In front of boardrooms and in front of crowds, they had touted the importance of a smooth transition. We don’t want to scare people. Those words had come out of George’s mouth. Now . . . he licked his lips, restoring moisture. What had he done? He didn’t need to tell Calvin his name. Jesus. The fucking robot probably knew more about him than he did. He answered anyway. “George. The name’s George.” George rubbed his shirt sleeve across his face and it came away wet. Seats at the counter were like that, George told himself. Warm. Even on days when you weren’t going
out of your mind. But from the counter stool you saw right into the action, from scratch to plate: the measurements, the timing, the transformation. “You know,” George said, “one time when I was in college I went to the local breakfast spot on a morning like this.” He sucked at the back of his teeth and took a napkin from the dispenser. Twisting it between his fingers, he tore off bits of fluff to scatter on the counter’s dull orange surface. The counter had probably been red once. It looked original. The only thing, besides George, that had been around for more than a few years. “I’d just been dumped by a pretty girl,” he said. “I was driving around trying to clear my head after the breakup . . . must have been a couple hours. I pulled off at a random exit and went in one of those dingy joints meant for truckers. There was only one other customer. From his smell, I doubt he’d had a bath in a week. His beard was all tangled,” here he paused to touch his own shaven chin, “and almost reached his waistband it was so long.” He watched Calvin butter the pan to keep the eggs from sticking. The robot moved precisely, each gesture calculated for efficiency. Another selling point. More efficient than humans! By far! Your business won’t run without Model 1443! “You don’t see people like that man around anymore,” George said finally. “The homeless. The transients.” “That’s a good thing, isn’t it, sir?” Calvin said. George shrugged. “I don’t think it’s because their lot improved.” “You’re mistaken. They’ve been re-assigned.” “Re-assigned,” George gasped out a few short, hoarse coughs of laughter. “Can I get some coffee, Calvin, to go with my eggs?” “Yes, sir.” The stove made a soft whistling noise as it worked. To George, it sounded like the snoring of a beast. A dog, perhaps, when it mixed with the guttural growls of the coffee maker. Calvin pressed his silver hand into the pan, shiny now with melted butter. The robot knew the perfect cooking temperature for eggs. He had only to touch the handle of the pan to get an immediate reading, and he could fry them up not just in the way George liked them, but in ways George had never dreamed of liking them.
Calvin broke the shells of two eggs and emptied their yolks into the pan, which sizzled and spit. While the eggs moved uncomfortably, riding the popping butter, Calvin zipped off to fill a cup from the rectangular coffee machine. It wasn’t a ‘live one’ but a good, old-fashioned, regular coffee machine plastered with images of mugs filled to the brim with steaming black liquid. The dark brew smelled strong and comforting and bitter, but a nice kind of bitter. With a slow whir, Calvin slid to a stop and presented George with the cup. “I apologize, sir,” he said. “This meal fulfills your nutritional requirements already, so there will be no need for sugar or cream. Cream is fattening and . . .” “Sugar rots your teeth and gives you diabetes,” George said. “Yeah, I got it. “ “The coffee is very hot,” Calvin said. “Please be cautious.” Steam unfurled from the drink’s surface. George held the cup to his chin, allowing it to fog his vision as Calvin prepared his plate. It was cleansing, like the heat of a sauna. “The cook that night was quite different from you, Calvin.” “Which cook, sir?” “The cook from the night when I lost the girl.” Calvin wasn’t made to look human. Not even close. But he had the basic trappings. And for some reason when he bent over the stove and sprinkled pepper onto the morphing eggs, his pieces came together in a way that made him seem . . . familiar. Familiar. That was it. Not alive, but familiar. And the likeness to humanity without any of the humanity jarred the senses. George tugged at his shirt collar and released a button, encouraging air flow. “The cook had red cheeks,” George continued, “and acne. His name was Joe or Bob or Charlie, or something else too normal for me to remember now. His hair was longish—moppy—and it curled around his ears.” George paused. “He wore a band T-shirt under a stained apron—I can’t recall what band.” George stopped to chew his lip as though that bothered him. “He sang along with the music that played over the restaurant speakers. Only a line or two, but a line or two for every song. Every one.” “You have a good memory, sir.” Calvin used a 83
plastic spatula to flip the eggs. The edges of the whites had browned in the butter, coming to a nice crisp. “That’s why you are a Businessman Class 4. You’ll make Class 3 soon. I understand that you—” “I don’t think I’m cut out for Class 3, Calvin,” George said. He ventured a sip. The coffee was hot and stoutly made. Overwhelming, almost, in its flavor. The new machines could press the soul out of a coffee bean. “Businessmen Class 3 have a larger calorie allotment,” Calvin replied. “You ordered real butter with your meal, so you weren’t able to have cream and sugar for your coffee. A Class 3 would have been able to have both.” “I understand that, Calvin,” George said, “but I like my coffee black.” “As you say, sir.” Was the robot toying with him? “I was telling you about that night.” George took another sip and it burned all the way down to his chest. “I took a book with me to the restaurant. If I was going to eat alone, I was going to read while I did it. Besides, I was drunk. I always read when I’m drunk. It makes me feel literary. Like Hemingway.” The door opened and cold air washed across George’s back. A middle-aged couple came in. They didn’t acknowledge George or Calvin. They took a seat at the back of the café, facing one another across a booth. “Drinking,” Calvin said, “as you must know, is not legal for your class.” “Yes,” George agreed. “Thank you, Calvin. It wasn’t illegal at that point in time.” Calvin turned away to fetch the toast, which shot out of the toaster a dark brown, just as George wanted it. He hadn’t told Calvin. But Calvin knew. “I took a book of poetry with me. No specific poet,” George continued. “A collection of ‘Best Of’s.’ A buffet of words to accompany my waffles.” Calvin piled the toast on a plate. “Poetry, while entertaining,” the robot said, “has no real merit. If I could make a suggestion, sir, you would be better off reading from the recommended reading list, put in place by those who care about your success. Read current news or study technical skills from one of the many books provided for the education of lower classes. Broadening your skill set is important to reach the next level.” 84
“I wasn’t reading poetry to be successful, Calvin, or to reach any next level. I was reading poetry to be human. I had just been dumped, and there’s something about being dumped that makes you feel more human than usual, if that makes sense.” Calvin lifted the eggs onto the plate, settling them next to the toast. “If you say so, sir.” “I do say so.” Calvin set the plate of food before him. “Please enjoy your meal, sir,” Calvin said. “I must attend to the other guests.” Calvin rolled off and George took a bite of his eggs. He watched the couple order their food. The man ordered oatmeal. No sugar. Not even maple syrup. The woman, a thin brunette with a loose bun and a heavy dress, asked for something in a low voice. One of those murmurs that’s too low to be talking. It was begging. Discreet. So no one overheard. The robot buzzed in response. It was a quick, sharp sound, and the woman gasped and touched her wrist. George squeezed his coffee cup, his nails pressed against the ceramic. He had heard of the buzzers, but he had never seen them used. He didn’t have one himself. At least, not that he knew of. The woman muttered something low and tearful. Calvin zoomed by. Stopping at the coffee machine, he prepared two small cups. No sugar. No milk either. George hoped they liked it black. The robot made the oatmeal in a matter of minutes and carried the small tray to the couple. The man ate the thick oatmeal in gulps, his mouth almost level with the plate, while the woman’s eyes followed his spoon. Calvin returned to his post. “Now,” George said. “I can go on.” Calvin didn’t pay him any attention but began cleaning. He cleaned with a vigor no human hand could muster, bringing the counters to an instant sparkle with a worn cloth. “I was reading a poem by Wordsworth that night,” George said. “You know Wordsworth?” “Are you addressing me, sir?” Calvin snapped to attention. “How can I assist you?” “You know the poet Wordsworth?”
“I cook and clean and serve, sir. Poetry, while entertaining, has no real merit. If I could make a suggestion,” Calvin paused, “you would be better off reading from the recommended reading list-” George held up his hand. “I know, I know. Anyway, I was reading Wordsworth to the cook—his name was Frank or Ralph or Jake, something like that—and he was sneezing—I think he had a cold or something—but I didn’t mind because I was drunk.” “Drinking-” “I’m gonna stop you right there. It wasn’t illegal back then. And I wouldn’t have cared if it was after what I’d just lost.” George rubbed his lip. How many years had it been, since a woman’s lips had touched his? George was getting old. No one had looked at him like that in a long time. “She had dark hair, and a mouth so friendly. And when she cried . . .” Calvin bent over his counter again, apparently satisfied that he wasn’t needed. “Never mind her.” George pressed on. “I was reading Wordsworth. The poem about the flowers. I won’t ask you if you know it. The cook, young, skinny thing that he was, didn’t know the poem either so I read it to him while he fried up my bacon.” George tipped the dregs of his coffee into his mouth. A few grounds caught on his tongue. “Bacon,” he said, working the coffee grounds down his throat, “There’s something to miss. Almost as addictive as dark-haired women.” Calvin snapped up again, and the white of George’s teeth reflected back at him this time, shining off Calvin’s forearm. “Bacon, sir? I’m afraid your allot—” “I know. I know.” The white-toothed reflection disappeared, and George stared into his empty cup. “I’ve been thinking about that poem a lot, Calvin. Quite a lot.” The robot sprayed something in the pan he had cooked the eggs in and wiped it out, returning it to the eye to be cooked in again. “You want to know the end of that poem?” George didn’t wait for an answer. He leaned back a bit on his stool. “It goes like this: For oft when on my couch I lie, In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye.” He paused. “That inward eye. Which is the bliss of solitude.”
He paused. “Have you ever been alone, Calvin? Really alone?” “If I were to be alone, I would be shut off, sir, unless there was work to be done. To be in ‘On’ mode when not working would be a waste of energy.” “Then you can’t understand. When you’re alone and it’s quiet, people think about things. Good things. Bad things.” George went quiet. “I don’t know if you can do this, but you can see—I mean, people can see—as the poem says, in our mind’s eye, beautiful scenes and terrible scenes and we can visit places we’ve been before. We can reflect.” “That doesn’t sound productive, sir.” But Calvin straightened and faced him again, as though he were taking an order. “It’s as productive as anything else, my robot friend.” George pushed his plate toward Calvin. “You didn’t finish your breakfast, sir.” Calvin slid the remaining toast in the trash. “Was it not to your liking?” “It was just fine, Calvin,” George said. “I didn’t really come for the food.” “Oh, is there something else I can assist you with?” “The man who I told you about, the vagrant. His eyes were big and almond-colored and desperate. Eyes like that,” he glanced toward the hungry woman in the booth behind him, “they eat you up inside. They hurt you. And when I read the poem to the cook, the man cried. Not the cook. The homeless man. The cook hadn’t seen enough of life yet to cry at a poem like that. Not the right kind of life, anyway.” George shifted in his chair, mimicking his feelings from twenty years before. “I apologized to the unfortunate guy, and he smiled at me and said he was crying happy tears, because while I read about the daffodils, he remembered a day like the one Wordsworth was talking about.” The robot went back to scrubbing, this time on the stainless steel of the stove. “The truth is,” George said, “I don’t know what he saw. He didn’t tell me. But his words . . . they hurt me. More than that, they scared me. I bought the guy a meal and I paid for a meal for the young cook. With no other customers in the store, he sat down to join us. The three of us talked for about an hour. I’ve never seen them again, those men, but I dream about them sometimes.” 85
The robot ignored George. “Does anyone cry over poems anymore, Calvin? Is there enough human in us to even have that response?” “Emotions hinder performance,” Calvin replied, not pausing in his perfect strokes, now on the counter. “I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of . . . emotions.” George jerked his thumb toward the couple. “Like them. Like that jolt you gave her. I bet people cry when you do that, don’t they?” At their table, the empty oatmeal bowl had been pushed aside, though the woman’s eyes still darted to it occasionally. They sipped at their coffee in long, slow drafts, letting the taste linger on their tongues. “If that man could’ve shared his food, he would have,” George said. “If I could’ve shared my food, I would have. But what would’ve happened, Calvin, if I had shared my food with that woman?” “Sharing of food and drink items is prohibited. Any man, woman, or child observed sharing allotments will be taken to the workhouse for an unspecified amount of time. The receiver of the allotment will also be taken to the workhouse to pay their debts to society.” “And that causes a lot of . . . emotions,” George said, his eyes burning. “And I would give her my food in exchange for the workhouse gladly, but then I’d get her in trouble. And let’s be honest, eh, Calvin? A lot of people don’t come back from the workhouse. Most people. Especially women.” Calvin dropped the rag he had been using in a bucket of bleach near the back of the kitchen. “Anyone not returned has been reassigned.” “Yeah, yeah. I know. Reassigned.” George nodded. “What would you say, Calvin, if I said I wanted to be reassigned myself? What would you say if I wanted to join those people?” Calvin froze. “Reassignments are for those not fit for their current class. It’s for those who need assistance to be successful.” “Assistance?” George laughed. The man and woman slid out of the booth. Still, their eyes did not meet. But the woman looked at George as she walked toward the door. George nodded to her and she nodded back, tersely, but not in an unfriendly way. Then she went out, trailing behind the shambling man who 86
couldn’t share his oatmeal, and the door hushed shut behind her. George rubbed his throat. Despite his loosened collar, he still couldn’t breathe. He needed another cup of coffee, but he couldn’t afford it. He should have skipped the eggs and toast and just gotten coffee. Lots of it. Now, he’d have to wait for his next allotment. “Sir, do you wish me to call for a medical? You seem distressed.” “I’ll be okay, Calvin. You know what?” George coughed, realizing he was near tears. “I’ll be okay.” He stood up. “We hope to see you again, sir,” Calvin said. The door hushed shut behind him as well. Outside, the air burned his face. It slipped up the cuffs of his pants and slid in at the wrists of his shirt sleeves, raising the hairs on his arms and legs. It smelled sick and poisonous, like rubber and plastic and hair all burning in a vat. He stood outside the restaurant, unsure where to go. A man passing by wore a face mask and carried a bag in his left hand. He paid George little attention, but George waited for him to disappear around a nearby corner before moving off. He walked out from the city center, toward the edges, where he liked to roam, clutching at the book in his jacket pocket, the book that had caused such fervor in him. The book of poems. He had found it in a box of old things. He had read it through the night. He had read and read and read, and he had mouthed poems aloud and spouted them to the air, and he had cried, just as he was about to do again. He hadn’t gone to work afterward. He had instead gone to the café that he sometimes liked, one that comforted weak men with memories, and he had talked with a machine. George’s breath whistled in his throat. The demotion, that had set him off. Class demotion was never a good sign. But he couldn’t sell the machines anymore. He couldn’t bring himself to do it. Then, while packing for the move to his new, smaller apartment (appropriate for his new class), he had come across the book. “There’s only one answer, isn’t there?” George said to himself. “The fence. You have to get out, Georgie. You have to leave. Then you’ll be able to breathe again.” He ripped the tie clean off his neck and dropped it on the sidewalk.
He unbuttoned his collar to a point where dark chest hair burst through. “It’s been a long time coming, eh, Georgie?” George clenched his teeth. “Admit that to yourself, at least.” George had been to the fence many times. Sometimes after work he took a detour to walk beside it as a caged tiger walks beside its iron bars. He had walked past the main gate so often he had been warned. And all because of one glimpse. One glimpse on a day when the soldiers came in for a drill. One glimpse between the black boots of soldiers. Flimsy, swaying green grass, bending almost sideways in the breeze. And flowers. Red ones. George didn’t know what they were called. He had never known the names of flowers, but their petals had been shaped like teardrops, and the red of the petals had faded at the center to a pale yellow, and when he saw them, they nodded their heads sweetly like they knew him. George walked faster. The fence was seven blocks east. “They’ll be coming,” he said to himself, and as he said it he knew it was true. Calvin would report him, or they would see him on a camera, or they would measure him from afar, his rapid breathing and heart rate and pulse. He sucked in a breath and it hurt. It stung all the way down, but it reached that hungry part of him. He began to run. The air wasn’t good for exertion, though, and George didn’t get regular exercise so the breaths stabbed into his chest, cold and sharp. He was skinny, thin in bone and weight, but not in good shape, and half a block in, a stitch developed in his side. He clutched at it with his left hand, his feet drumming on the asphalt. Passing a yellow building, he glanced in the lone unshaded window and saw a woman in a crimson blouse look out at him as she bent to turn on a lamp. She cocked her head, curious, and the corners of her mouth turned up slightly. Wonderingly, George thought. How silly he must look, running with his suit on and without a mask or any sort of protection. Suits equal money, and moneyed people don’t go out into the world and breathe the foul air. George’s boss had pointed that out after George showed up two days in a row without his mask. Maybe you need a break, his boss had said. A less strenuous position. “This has been a long time coming,” George assured the woman in tortured, airless gasps.
He lengthened his strides, his muscles burning from his calves up to his thighs, and inversely, down his throat and into that newfound well in his lungs, which needed to be filled. He hopped across a landing, which began a passage of narrow stairs, and thundered on. He dodged a mailbox. He ducked under a low-hanging sign. Then the fence loomed before him. Prison gray concrete, twelve feet or taller, and as smooth as a river-worn pebble. Breathing like a racehorse at the end of the course, George stumbled to it and stood with one hand clutching his abdomen. Pain burst through him with every intake and every release. He wiped spittle from his lips and lay his hand flat against the barrier, leaning his weight forward. The concrete was cool and solid and secure. Unmovable, just as it was built to be. And yet, there was something in him that felt it should fall, tumble right over on its side at his touch. Because he was here now, and he was here to leave. And it was right for him to go. But it would not yield, and he could not climb it, and part of him knew that too. While he leaned, intent on escape, he heard them. Marching boots. Voices like loudspeakers. They were coming because they always came, because they always knew. Because no matter where you went, you couldn’t leave them behind. But maybe on the other side . . . He reached as high as he could and only touched halfway up the wall. “No!” he said. Darting to the right, his shin smarting against a low brick divider, he ran again, this time down the wall’s length, looking for anything. Anything. A tree to climb. A light pole. He pounded his fists against the concrete as he went. He couldn’t outrun it though, as the tiger couldn’t outrun the bars. “Let me out,” he cried. The gate, the one through which he had glimpsed the grass and the flowers, was a long way off still, and it wouldn’t be open. There would be guns and soldiers there anyway, waiting for him. George stopped, gasping, staring. Thinking. He scratched at his face, scraping tears from his hot cheeks. He stared some more. He kicked the wall, sending throbbing pains all the way into his ankle. Slipping to the ground, he turned and pressed his shoulder blades against the barrier. The kick had made light tan scuffs on the rich brown of his shoes. They were 87
expensive shoes. How many people’s lives had he ruined to buy them? He couldn’t count. He coughed. The air really wasn’t good for the lungs. Pain marred his breathing, and not just from running. They were closer. Metal on metal. Leather on canvas. Tread on pavement. Only around the corner. George closed his eyes. He felt the book in his jacket pocket. As solid as the wall. He remembered when the wall was only an idea, a story in the local news. He remembered when machines like Calvin were only dreams, and when dreams were something people cared about. He remembered the cook and the man and the doughy waffles in the dingy breakfast spot. The daffodils. Red flowers, waving at him. Yes, at him. In the sliver of the gate. Floating on the green of the grass as lily pads float on the green of a pond. “And then my heart with pleasure fills,” George said aloud. The petals of the flowers had been clustered together, lovers intermingling on the stem, varying shadowed shades of yellow and red, and they had nodded at him, shedding their heavy sweetness into the air. The men coming to take him turned the corner. Their rhythms, their uniformed steps, shook him. He opened his eyes. They didn’t look like men. They wore masks and carried large, protective shields. They walked like machines. But he knew them to be human. The enforcers were always humans because humans would never give up the jobs they enjoyed. George put his hands over his face. He squeezed his eyes shut. “And dances with the daffodils,” George said, over the clamor of heavy boots. His voice didn’t tremble. His eyes didn’t open. He attempted no escape, and as they swooped upon him, George laughed, a clear, high laugh.
“What are you laughin’ about?” A boot met George’s teeth. His head smacked against the ground. They hauled him up by the elbows. George laughed again, a heady laugh as his vision swam and wavered, then he looked up at the man holding his left arm and smiled. “What’re you smilin’ at?” It was a fist this time. George’s teeth shattered like ceramic. “You won’t be doing that again, will you?” George shut his eyes as they dragged him, his face down toward his chest. But even with eyes closed he could still see. He could see all the days that had been daffodils. He blinked at the blood and dared to look up again. He saw his own face in the black mask of the man who had hit him. His hair was mussed, child-like, and matted with red. His gray suit was dirtied and disarrayed and beginning to stain down the front as he dripped. But he smiled when he saw himself. “What’re you lookin’ at?” The man shook him like a doll, rattling his bones. “What are you lookin’ at?” another man asked, backing up the first one. George knew that reflection. It was old George. The George with a real face and a soul behind his eyes. The one he had glimpsed in the robot’s forearm, in the whitetoothed grin. Not the sad deer George. George smiled at himself even wider, even more forcefully, and his jagged teeth were red. As red as the temptress flowers. As red as the lips of the girl from long ago, a girl whose name George couldn’t remember. As red as the blouse on the woman in the window, and as red as the café counter must have been before it faded to orange. Before it aged, like him . . . Before the world had changed.
Girls' Night Emily Adams
Apartment Leah Bake
Seven months, I let the amber she had given me melt in the cloth folds of an elephant silk purse, pomegranate blue and stuffed among crystals in a Belgian tin And in the time it took to be shipped from there to here was the red rolling weaving of a tired sunset. At the end of the Indian rails I came back and I lived in a friend's apartment for the one month's lease that remained, empty except for a hard flash of pink dye on the bathroom tile, an air mattress blown up grievingly and set in the corner of the only room, eight plastic bins of all my belongings that I hadn't seen in a year and wouldn't open.
I ate summer squash and sweet corn on the one plate she lent me and fasted the rest of the time. I don't know how we decided that we'd live apart when we returned; it just happened that way. How can I tell anything other than what's true? We let things return to us in pieces of wavering music, insipid textures, bliss, discomfort: the shape of that stone, the taste of that wire. Shivers crossed my forearms when stranger she placed that fragrant resin in my palm, so good I never used it, that only now, returned to me by air and freight and opened two years later does its deepheart sound touch my throat.
Clayton Adam Clark I. He swerves on the bridge and wrecks in the right lane. Once out, his sneakers slip on the ice, just like the semi sliding his way, its horn blaring. II. There’s only time for one foot to the guardrail and over (the flapping of his coat). The Missouri shoves along two hundred feet below. III. The smacking, shallow spill of a flightless bird, hard-rock grip of the water tamping his thighs, the neck of his shirt— plans, fight, the handclap surface and scream have fled, were carried past the state park downstream. IV. Somewhere a diaphragm, arrhythmic between the graying
organs and eyes dilated, treads water, so the fourlane truss bridge bows with the weight of ten stopped cars and the semi (unwrecked and stalled) in witness to the grave lacunae of his pupils. V. Naked I shall return whence I came. Calves clutch buttocks, biceps to chest, neck to shoulder: the wombhome where mind slides past confusion, where cell ions crawlstroke their membranes. VI. Geese crowd a boat launch to rest on the south-trek, and the river makes east then south with Mississippi and much (always) is lost, abducted to replenish this basin, his watershed.
VII. His father and police man johnboats for eighty days, their seminary boy not dead until they find his body. Fish don’t live much in this passageway (apathy turned edema), so it’s a trainman that crashes the bank and scares a flock from the boy. The geese peck then flee the dormant grasses hungry enough to eat the minerals that wash ashore.
Falling Johnbel Mahautiere 93
Impunity is Illusion
(The late fascist dictator, mass murderer, and plunderer Ferdinand Marcos who was deposed from the Philippine presidency in 1986, was buried in the Heroes’ Cemetery with full military honors in November 2016.)
You rest in a hip chain Coffee shop Horchata Which would’ve ticked Beneath your sternum
I am all that you have killed. All the lies you’ve told. I am the screaming rage of all that you have silenced. I am your worst enemy, the one you think you have subdued. I am all the blunt, barbaric instruments you have shoved into bloody crevices. All the cigarette burns on skin. The gouged out eyes. The mangled genitals. The stench of excrement on the walls. The bodies with no names. I am ten thousand years’ worth of prison sentences. I am all the bullets you’ve fired. All the millions you have plundered. All the pages of history you’ve bastardized. I will burn your effigy every day in my front yard and never stop writing your crimes with the ashes.
Your hair never grows Grass-patched As if from dog urine I see you curled up In the curve of an Ornamental chandelier I always forget your eyes— In dreams they are blurred out Saccharin, you whisper I’m startled awake. I don’t know where they put you So I feel the soft, warm Air bubble where atoms fizz I call your name when my roommate is out, Brushing charcoal off my forearm Is it fruit-punch or heritage Which makes me more susceptible?
Motown’s Most Lonely Jason Joyce
My mother took up meditation or yoga or something. She sat, shades drawn, chanting, “ohm mani pedi ohm flower petals.” That was the summer the neighbor girl got her boobs. It was also the summer when I stole two flightless ducks from the gypsies that thought they were chameleons that owned a pretend petting zoo. Kenny and I took the ducks out to the back lot and shot at them with a BB gun. When people think you can’t see them and you take what is theirs, it’s just a lucky catch. It’s a pair of hands practicing in the dark, hoping to unhook a bra, but past that no idea what to do. And I had no one to call about those ducks decorated with pellets because a family member wasn’t dead or injured, and that was the only time I was allowed to use my cell phone. Then my father put an extra lock on the door because someone or something kept letting the dogs out at night. That was the summer my classmates said a mountain panther was on the prowl, the same summer a curfew was imposed. It was also the summer my father was caught feather-handed near the neighbor’s open window with an African grey parrot he plucked from its cage. It was just a lucky catch. The damn bird wouldn’t shut up at night, so my father took matters into his own hands. Then he paid the fine and bought them a new bird that ended up being much more quiet. But it was still for the better he said, that we didn’t tell our grandparents or friends about this. And I had no idea what to think when the moon disappeared for good, other than that I was really looking forward to learning about space in school that coming year. But that would have to be postponed indefinitely. Scientists were at a loss and could only reference some old Motown song when trying to guess what happened. Then my sister ran away with a boy in white hightops on a dirt bike. That was the summer we drove across two states to find her, the summer I saw Indiana’s second biggest rocking chair, the summer when the news anchor reported the moon “had moved on”. My mother cried for some reason and started meditating, and my father
became worried that no one was safe so he bought extra locks again. On the nights when it gets real bad and my parents scream and break things, I like to sit in my closet behind the stacked tubs of my old toys and think about the moon. I pretend the moon bought Indiana’s biggest rocking chair, and is resting on some big country porch in its high-tops knowing exactly how to French kiss and what to do with boobs.
Melissa Bernal Austin At the connecting points and in the smooth bowls of my body, is a great pooling of static electricity. Or, stagnant. What is the word for electricity that doesn’t move? We call it nothing, I think. Or restlessness. Or else potential. I carry it like a child carries a full cup to the dinner table. You can smell it on my breath while I sleep. It warms the sheets and threatens the bathwater. It fever dreams my insomnia. My body doesn’t bleed, it sparks. If I could just move my limbs fast enough, or Rube Goldberg my intentions, I could light up this room. I would warm this whole apartment. I would keep this whole city humming. 95
After the Movie Justine Talbot
When it’s over, Marisol and Annie and I sit on the steps leading from the theater back to the lobby and eat Dots. Annie keeps flickering because people walk through her because she’s not really there, but Marisol doesn’t flicker. Women and even men respect Marisol. Especially men. “This morning I was wondering if I should take the morning-after pill,” Marisol says. “But I didn’t take it and it’s nighttime now.” “I don’t think it’s too late,” I say. “No, there’s no way. Let’s go get it now.” “Okay,” she agrees. “After candy.” Annie flickers even though no one’s walked through her. I can tell she’s getting anxious. “My condom didn’t break, if that’s what you’re wondering,” Marisol continues. “There was no condom.” “Oh?” Annie says. “Why not?” “Shh,” I whisper. “No,” Annie says. “I want to know.” “It’s nothing like what happened to your sister, you know,” Marisol says. “I mean, nothing really happened.” “No, of course not,” I say quickly. “Now pass the Dots.” “There’s a whole lot of bad stuff that’s not as bad as what happened to me,” Annie points out, and I can’t dispute that. “Seriously, am I upsetting you?” Marisol asks. “Or do you want to hear the rest?” She passes me the Dots and I have to fight the urge to offer them to Annie. If she were
really here, she would eat all the ones Marisol and I don’t like. I pick a green one out of the box and pass it back to Marisol. “You’re not upsetting me,” I say. “What’s the rest?” “Well, I got Davey the local wine he likes last night. Two bottles, right? And we were supposed to share it, but I was tired, and by the time I got through my first glass he had just had so much. All of it, basically.” “He was wasted,” Annie says. “He was wasted,” Marisol agrees. Or seems to agree. I know Marisol can’t see Annie any more than the people panting up the stairs and through her chest, sighing between pants, annoyed at our in-theway-ness, but sometimes I wonder if she can hear her. “Anyway, like I said, I was tired, and I just wanted to go to bed. I was also wondering if the chicken I had made was gonna give us salmonella or something because it didn’t come out quite right.” “I can see where this is going,” Annie says, still flickering. When her body disappears, her freckles remain, floating in midair like insects. “Dave didn’t want to go straight to bed, though,” I guess, wildly, clearly wrong. “Exactly,” Marisol nods. “He was pumped. He was ready to go. But he was slurring so much I figured he was about five minutes away from passing out anyway, so I just ignored him.”
“Big mistake,” Annie practically shouts. She yanks the hair tie out of her ponytail and her hair curls up around her in a dark halo. I don’t think she’s taken that hair tie out once in two years. Marisol nods again, a little frantic. She definitely heard Annie this time. Maybe she’s psychic. Maybe she thinks it’s my thoughts she’s hearing. “Anyway, I was in bed, right? I had my ugly pajamas on and everything. I should have said something, made it clear I just needed some sleep, but I didn’t. All I did was turn out the lights. And Davey, he was so confused, he— he just went for it.” “Went for it?” Annie screams. “He just went for it?” The florescent lights above us shut off. Then she lets out a little groan, but high-pitched, more like a shriek actually, and the lights turn back on. “So he took off my shorts,” Marisol continues. “And when I said no and kept saying it I guess he didn’t hear me, I was too quiet, I stopped saying it, I shouldn’t have stopped, but he didn’t stop, not until it was all over and he fell asleep on top of me, and I rolled over and then he was under me and so drunk and pathetic and I thought, he’s not even heavy. Why didn’t I just roll over like that before?” “Like a wrestling move,” I say. Annie elbows me in the throat. That’s a perk of being dead like her: you can be as violent as you want without actually hurting anybody.
Marisol doesn’t say anything, not about wrestling or wine or anything else. She dumps out some Dots and gets two yellow and two green, eats the yellow ones and puts the green ones in my open palm. A man a little older than us comes up from the lobby, not panting. He steps directly on Annie’s ankles. His shiny red vest is too tight over his thin white shirt. He works here, clearly, and he’s about to tell us to take our box of pink and red and orange Dots and get lost. “Excuse me, ladies,” says Vest Man. “But don’t you two have a movie to catch?” “We did that already,” I tell him. “Sir.” He smiles down at me. “Well then,” he says. “What were you thinking of doing next?” Annie kicks Vest Man in the crotch like it’s nothing. First he winces, then he whimpers. How did she make him whimper? It’s all I can do not to cheer my sister’s name. “Is something wrong?” Marisol asks. “No,” Vest Man wheezes, backing up down the gummy purple steps. “Just . . . leave.” “Okay,” I say. “Marisol, we’re taking you to the drugstore.” “Who’s taking me?” “Me and Annie. But don’t worry, I’ll drive.”
Oligodendroglioma Kristin LaFollette 98
The Feminist with the Incorrect Name Kristin LaFollette
Nelson Lowhim Humans, a fellow soldier once said, only worship that which can kill them—and mercilessly at that. It is the nature of the beast within us all. That is, he continued with a mouthful of dip, finger in the air, why cruel monotheism won out over the likes of wind and sun gods and why people love America. People love us? Of course they love us, he, Mark, said, shocked at the question. The ones shooting at us are the crazies, the ones selling us bootlegged DVDs are the future. I nodded. This wasn’t the entirely self-serving, possibly deluded view as it might first seem. We’re talking about the culmination of real human relationships with Iraqis around our firebase. And some amongst us, like our major, worked hard to get local businessmen contracts with the Army, knowing full well that the likes of KBR (and other Halliburton subsidiaries) would not appreciate the loss of said contract. Still, I didn’t want to discuss something as disquieting as hearts and minds. So I steered our conversation back to his philosophical views, mindful that our previous guard shift had him rambling about ghosts as more than psychological apparitions. He obliged and went on about his belief that had one God killing and suppressing “little” gods—on the battlefield up in the heavens and down here on earth—and how that affected our geopolitics today. As an atheist I felt that his worldview had the same validity as any parable—that at least it spoke to human nature—so I egged him on. I then asked about the ghosts: how did they play into this worldview? Hadn’t they been defeated? Mark released a cloud of impatient air, indicating that not only was I a moron, but I was trying his patience and explanatory powers. They haven’t been beat, he said slowly. They were only driven underground and came up here. Now we must defeat them, so that the people will worship us. It felt like he was shifting goal posts from our previous philosophical discussion, but an odd feeling had grown in my chest, so I kept quiet as we watched tracer fire light up beyond the eastern end of our range. Just then our major snuck up on us. He’d heard us talking and waved off our stiffened at-attention bodies 100
When on guard with a fellow soldier for at least eight hours, you learn to ply the depths of his mind.
with a grin. He was happy at having heard the soldier’s belief, as it was his too. I stayed silent, the major’s belief disturbing me. But my military bearing got the best of me, I suppose: I assumed that a major had to have some sense. This made me doubt my own ghost-free view of the world. A few days later I was on a cordon search patrol with my squad, including Mark, when we entered a house suspected of caching bombs. As usual it was free of any illegal weapons. We were told to wait, and did so in one of the rooms, the family held in another room. That’s when Mark pulled me aside and took me to a room with a tree in it. Or rather the tree was growing out of it: the trunk inside the room, a few branches stretched like beams in the ceiling. It was beautiful even if its load-bearing status worried me. Up top, he whispered. I followed his finger up the notches in the trunk, up through the hole in the ceiling into which it disappeared. He nudged me. I hesitated, that dark hole seemed like a perfect place for an IED, but I climbed up after I decided there was little chance of that. My head went through the dark hole and I found myself in another world, little lights floating about in a dark space. I shined my light around, but couldn’t see anything, as if the darkness absorbed my light. Mark pulled himself up next to me and pointed at the lights floating about. The ghosts, he whispered. I looked at the lights not knowing what they were, but not seeing any ghosts. Mark pulled out his knife and tried to stab them. We have to end them to win the war, he said. Mista, mista, no, a boy, the family’s only one, said and tapped Mark while shaking his head. Somehow he had found his way up here. The boy’s eyes were wide, innocent, and though Mark seemed annoyed, he put away his knife. The boy started pointing at the lights and they moved towards him, towards us. I felt a feeling of connection with everyone and a warmth enveloped me. Even Mark had a serene look on his face. We climbed down with the boy, our squad leader yelling for us. When asked what the hell was up there, I said nothing. Mark, still looking serene, was silent too. But when the major walked in, Mark seemed to shake out
Many a fruitless mission we went on. Just when things seemed to calm down, seemed to come to an end, the rebellion of 2004 hit us. How that change of reality matched our view of our occupation and the view from headlines back home, is hard to state. Sometimes a soldier will just stare out at nothing.
of his stupor and started to yell about the ghosts up there. The major nodded and called in support to take down the tree. Against all my martial instincts I spoke up for the tree, for the little joy it brought the boy, for the wails of the family in the background. The major took me aside and I was told that this was necessary, that it would save many lives. For a second I thought I saw doubt in the major’s eyes—after all, what major tries to explain something to a private?—but it hardened within a second. He told me to stay in my lane, STFU, and that besides, this was an order from on high, and, again, this would save lives—American and Iraqi— and it would help to win the war. If I didn’t understand then I was basically the enemy. I was brown enough to know that I needed to shut up, yet I didn’t. Ghosts? I asked, incredulous that a whole section of the Army had actually been dedicated to eliminating ghosts. Yes, the major looked at me angrily, besides, the family will be well compensated. With what? Enough, said the major and walked off. My squad leader gave me a look of death and my self preservation silenced me. We tore down the tree with a chain and Bradley—me still not understanding, the family even less so. The whole house collapsed, of course, and we tried to shoot down the lights that were released, but they all got away, escaped into the night. We spent that entire deployment hunting down leads for these ghosts, but I never saw another again. And now the ghosts have come here to the States, or so some people claim. Here too forces are being deployed to fight them. The likes of Mark and the major have jumped on the bandwagon. The major has lucrative speaking tours and pops up on TV quite often yelling about the ghosts and the people who would help them. Mark has a podcast and sells anti-ghost tonics. He’s doing well enough that whenever my bills pile sky-high I become insanely jealous of him. I’ve tried to speak up but I’ve found it hard to make my voice heard above the mob, above the madness that seems to be spreading in my world. Ghosts are something evil they say. I don’t know. I suppose I only ever had a good experience with them. That makes me bad too. Funny thing is that I think people are evil enough on their own. 102
We ended up looking over a vast swatch of road. At the end of the day there was little to say we did. The moment we left, IEDs would be emplaced on the road. And little did I know that this kind of thinking was soon to come home to roost.
Divinity, or Lies We Tell Ourselves Kayla King I.
I had a name before you took it. Gulped the thing down until you trembled. Salvation taste, you said, like Holy water, somewhat metallic.
We love the ones who kill us, you said, talking about your God. But I thought about the way you used to make me drive stoned, how I’d talk you through the process of driving to keep myself honest.
You taught me to rhyme in the middle of a line before hymnals hedged bets against your church voice. We were meant to bear the untelling in a way no one else would question. The first time I questioned the existence of an omnipotent Father was after mine left. I didn’t understand. Thought they were the same man, and maybe they are now. I haven’t seen either in years. And there were always babies in pews. Melancholic, those babes writhed to withdraw mothers from mercurial meetings with the Divine. I’ve swallowed down the knowing, never acknowledging acid left on the back of tongue. It reminds me of communal wine. Those were our Sundays.
I knew you loved me. And I knew I would be the one to kill us if only I took that right on red despite lack of sign or omen or prophecy persuading against such recklessness. But you would tell me, hold on to your vision, or lose your eyes to the same fate. Now, I think it was a riddle. III. Before you diagnose me with a dose of disillusion. Before you tell people her love is seasonal. Remember this: memories are things you have to keep. Remember you wrote the future in Sharpie to keep it permanent. And fear made your words bigger, though you couldn’t think of the exact word, because it didn’t exist. Not for us.
Turning Off Someone Else’s Porch Light Jason Joyce
My grandmother blamed her farts on tiny frogs that my brother and I could never seem to find, her cigarette ashes speckling the mashed potatoes. Cooking complimented by my grandfather, who sounded as though he had mud in his throat, a brash crocodile in a tweed chair. With him we had afternoon snacks of Pringles and language. We were tiny miners searching for ghosts the dirty earth holds; arrowheads and prehistoric bones, so scared that we’d one day end up like Micauley Culken in Home Alone. Dark dust streaks blanket your face, worn like war paint, supernatural wisps, worker bee static fuzz, feathers, finger bones and soil making your hair a mess. We’ll have you Danny Tanner spic and span soon soon. Like lessons learned one year at summer camp, that have now become: “leave a light on when you go out for the evening.”
The Pipeline Emily Adams 104
October came and passed but we all kept our masks on. Gypsies, ghouls, goblins, assassinated presidents spattered with blood and spittle, but we all left a light on. And, O! what pioneers were we when we avoided being trampled outside the automatic doors of that Toys R Us on Black Friday, smooth like bounce passes from Stockton to Malone, confined in checkout lines like coal mine canaries. On the car ride home, you mentioned that close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. This is why we can’t have nice things. For sale: two barely used bicycles and a bedroom set. The living room has been swallowed by a forest: vines and veins and drapes, a woodpecker punching out the piano’s teeth, the timbre of the trees. And later that night when I turn out our porch light I pretend it belongs to someone else.
It’s Halloween and I’m Fucked up Walking down Mass Ave Sean William Dever
I. Hypoglycemia pulls my mind off the sidewalk as my blood sugar continues to severely drop. Typical of an atypical day I find it hard to control my thoughts as insulin bubbles its way through my pod and into my abdomen. I attempt to shake the fear in my head, almost bump into a group of middle-aged vampires, and trip into the bike lane. My backpack is flung off my shoulders and lands near oncoming traffic. I lunge forward and pull it by the strap, tear it open—insulin vials are broken as NovoLog spills over my notebooks and prescriptions. Peter, my PDM, is also dented from the fall— I pull him out of his case, inspect the area where he checks my blood sugar, unfortunately, his screen is cracked and malfunctioning. He’s dazed, disoriented, much like myself. He tells me it’s time: swab prick squeeze apply Peter tells me to close my eyes, it’s better when I don’t look. 75mg/dL— falling quickly. I’ve been told by my doctors it’s my anxiety that drives me even lower. How can I stay calm
when people have died at work halfway through their quarterly reports their blood sugar falls low, too low, to recover and their last request was for a glass of orange juice something sweet to keep them up. II. Children with masks walk by—the sidewalk erupts with chants of “trick or treat—trick or treat” and Peter asks if I’ve remembered my crimson costume. I know I’m not ready, although the performance is set. “Relax,” he pleads, his screen twitching, “this doesn’t help your heart, you must understand, you have to be fine, you need to be ready for the party.” I grab the devil horns inside my bag, but one snapped off in the collision. Again, he tells me that it’s time: swab prick squeeze apply Peter tells me to close my eyes, “Don’t look. Just take more sugar tablets.” I rush them down, swallow them whole, choking on the powder. Peter tells me to stay calm and to look at all the wonderful costumes. He holds my hand and tells me my palms are pale and scared. A woman wearing a witch’s hat taps me on the shoulder, everyone is waiting on me. Now all around people are wearing masks, my horns are broken, but I put them on anyway. “You look great. We’ll fit right in.” Peter smiles. 106
III. I love themed parties. I feel most comfortable tearing my face off, peeling away the marks of disease, pretending. Taking a box cutter out of my backpack I slice the skin around my jaw, my forehead (make sure to clip the cusp of my widow’s peak) peel, and lay the skin out on the sidewalk. We enter the ballroom of the TAJ, greeted by countless ghosts, werewolves, and all the like. Stunning zombies holding their intestines in while stained hospital gowns dance on their ankles. My face is dripping red and I smear the blood on my forearms and throat. I kiss my palms, my fingers, the holes on the tips – cavernous holes of scars, when blood begins to spurt out. Peter dances in this rain, as orange and black strobe lights reflect off his screen. However, eyes begin to stare, phones are pulled out, set to video as my needle finds a home in my thigh. It is all too real and all too sick at once— my mind racing, I grab my bag Once again, Peter tells me it’s time: swab prick squeeze apply Peter tells me to close my eyes, Too low, too low. Don’t look The numbers make it real.
My knees knock against one another, as blood pools at my feet. Peter it’s time to go, I need to leave. 107
Jaws Was On TV On a Saturday Morning
when my mother was pregnant with me, my grandpa tried to convince my parents to name me allison. because then my name would be allison sunderland. alice. in. sunderland. and it’s not like i would’ve ended up going by that, anyway, but i think about that every day.
have the experiences that teach you. life is very dangerous, even when it’s just a shark on tv. and, yes, i do know it was jaws. jaws is very difficult to confuse with any other movie, even when you’re six. a few years later i got a webkinz shark from my grandmother and i named him jaws, despite the horrifying childhood memory. what else does one name a shark? i also had, like, over six webkinz named fuzzy. fuzzy, fuzzy2, fuzzy3, the list went on. why is it that there is this universal little kid stage of naming your stuffed toys the same name? my brother went through a similar phase. is it the comfort of repetition? as a child, one doesn’t know much. the familiar is a comfort. the name fuzzy was a comfort. i named my walrus webkinz “alice” and i only now realize that was probably a subconscious influence from wonderland. i tried to name my orca webkinz “killer.” i mean, he was a killer whale. but, no, the site told me that name wasn’t allowed. too violent. i mean, it is a kid’s site, after all. kid’s sites are in kid’s sight.
The time has come To talk of many things. I am currently a shark. I have lost my fins. Did you know that when shark fin soup is made, they throw the shark back in the water to leave it to starve to death? the monster feared from jaws movies is defeated but he was never the human terror. when i was, i think, six, i turned on the tv because i wanted to watch the saturday morning cartoons. but, instead, there was a shark. a shark eating somebody. it was jaws. jaws was on the tv on a saturday morning. i don’t know why. that is the only time i ever have seen jaws. i don’t plan on ever watching it again. it’s a really terrifying childhood memory. i don’t feel like facing it again. like, i imagine at the age of eighteen, i probably wouldn’t be as terrified by it, but, considering the fact that there’s a whole lot of change that goes between six and eighteen, i didn’t have the life experiences to brave a tv shark. that’s the problem with childhood. you don’t
killer whales bite at the surface. jaws bites at the surface. we are on a boat and it is currently sinking. you are in the water and a shark bites for your body. you scream and i try to grab your hand and save you. we are on a boat and it is currently sinking. a walrus appears. there isn’t any sign of the walrus having swam ashore to the dying ship. we are about to become a sinking ghost ship. the ruins at the bottom of the sea. this walrus has appeared. it has dissipated out of thin air. the ship is sinking. the ship is sinking. my grip on your hand is losing. you shriek as you lose grip and i try to grab you again but i instead fall on my face. the waves are rocking and the world is madness. i don’t ever find out what happens to you. but i do hear one very cut off shriek. your body sinks to the bottom of the ocean. the shark decides not to eat you and the killer whale leaves you alone. the animals do not touch your body. the walrus has appeared.
Mercury Marvin Sunderland “The time has come,” the Walrus said, “To talk of many things: Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax— Of cabbages—and kings— And why the sea is boiling hot— And whether pigs have wings.”
—“The Walrus and the Carpenter,” Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass
. “The time has come,” the Walrus said, “To talk of many things: Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax— Of cabbages—and kings— And why the sea is boiling hot— And whether pigs have wings.”
you live at the bottom darkness of the world but no animals dare touch your drowning self. you cannot see the world anymore. you are at the bottom of the undiscovered of the world. we know so little about the depths of the ocean. you have entered where your body should implode but doesn’t. you suddenly understand the beliefs in the mermaids and the naiads that lure us away. this walrus has appeared. you don’t die. instead, you are dormant. you are a dormant being paralyzed at the bottom of the sea. you have one single shark bite in your torso. you should be dying of the shark bite, but you are not. you are perfectly fine, other than your inability to move and your shark bite. this walrus has appeared. this walrus has appeared. your name is uttered among the naiads when they walk the ocean floor.
. my shoes are gone. but somehow the ship has survived. it sails on like how it would have before. but the killer whale bites are still there in the ship. they just don’t fill. there are no shoes on the ship. i’ve checked. i need my shoes back. the floor is made out of wood that splinters my feet and tears them apart. i am bleeding all over this ship that pretends nothing happened. a trail betrays me. if pirates come, i am a goner. all they will need is to follow my blood and bring me into oblivion. .
we romanticize pirates a lot. but did you know that pirates were sea rapists? did you know that pirates are still here and they are everywhere? remember that time when you were an innocent fourteen-year-old and you didn’t understand what it meant when the so-called entertainers known as the seattle seafair pirates at your marching band parade told you that you could touch their sword? remember how your fellow band members told you about how they chased down and terrorized a high school band kid before a parade? remember how those pirates definitely knew you were a high schooler? remember how years later you found out from a seattle times article that the seafair pirates had been known to capture seattleites and tie them down and terrorize the general public? remember how the entire non-cis-man population of your summer marching band of high schoolers was terrified of what was supposed to be just another part of the parade? why the fuck does seattle just have this group of pedophiles dressed as pirates for every seafair parade?
i met my childhood sexual abuser in third grade. he was one of my closest childhood friends.
remember that stupid joke we’d repeat in fifth grade? hold your tongue as you say, “i was born on a pirate ship.” (i wath born on ah pile af shit.) i tried to teach my dad that one at that age and he said he already knew that joke because when he was a kid it was, “my dad works at the shipyard.” when my brother was in fifth grade, he discovered how to hold your tongue and say, “apple.” that was how he tricked me into saying the hold-tongue-apple-word in a room full of third graders. i was in seventh grade. to be fair, he was trying to censor the word he heard our mother say in the other room. she was complaining about donald trump.
i have lost the last two cabbages i had. i cannot eat anymore. i am all out of food. i am going to starve.
. he was a pirate. but, hey, you know, let’s humanize him. the same way we do for other pirates today. . i want to send a message for my help. but we are all out of sealing-wax. the letter will die without sealing-wax. i have learned all too well that corks don’t work. i don’t have any of them, anyway. i have a bottle, but it is fragile and breaks easily. i have paper and pen but the words don’t come easily. and without sealing-wax, i cannot seal the bottle shut. i am lost at sea. my bearings are gone and i need sealing-wax.
us sailors, we don't eat like kings. we don't find treasure by the islandside. we aren't rich and we seldom have proper vengeance on our pirates, if any. you came before the pirates came. and i never saw you again. . because, eventually, when you sank to the sea, the pirates did find me.
that's the truth. i don't actually know who “you,” per se, are, really. "you're" a lot of people. and in many ways, not really a person. "you're" a lot of things. and a lot of people. a world all at once. . “The time has come,” the Walrus said, “To talk of many things: Of shoes—and ships—and sealing-wax— Of cabbages—and kings— And why the sea is boiling hot— And whether pigs have wings.” . my world is kings and cabbages. kings are just a more primitive form of presidency and cabbages are just a more ancient form of capitalist pain. it is a system that beheads the survivor rather than the aggressor. the public hanging of the sexual violence survivor is everyday. it is the scorching sealing-wax pressed against my burning skin and it is the broken glass bottle that fills my mouth. i spit out blood and i have escaped but i do not know how. it has been a lifetime of pirates.
when i was a child, i had an alice in wonderland phase and a wizard of oz phase. i think that was some of the trippiest shit i'd loved as a child. a lot of children's stuff is trippy. i've always been someone who loves trippy. trippy expresses me well. when i was a child, i had an alice in wonderland phase and a wizard of oz phase. i had a webkinz phase and a repetitive names phase. i love repetition. repetition goes well with trippy.
the sea is boiling hot. i am boiled by the sea. i burn by the sea salt and i burn by the tears that fill the ocean. i burn myself with blades and i burn my dignity.
when i was born, my grandpa tried to convince my parents to name me allison. because then my name would be allison sunderland. alice. in. sunderland. and it's not like i would've ended up going by that, anyway, but i think about that every day.
. pigs don't have wings. but i wish you did. you weren't murdered. but you might as well have been. at least then i would have closure. i don't know who you are.
Mexican Standoff Chad Baker
Late at night, when the silt of the day has settled, Dad folds into his recliner and bathes in the light of the TV. He has draped himself with a Mexican blanket: blue and white stripes, festive tassels. This Ohioanâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s affinity for these blankets and his serapes is puzzling, until he tells you the story of his high school trip to Mexico, which may have been the happiest two weeks of his life. The silver bristle of his mustache and the gray-blue of his eyes glow metallic in the backwash of action movies from the 80s, westerns from the 60s, rebroadcast golf. With the footrest out and the recliner leaned back, he is swallowed by the maw of the chair. One arm hangs to the side, remote control held limp but ready, like a sixshooter.
I catch him like this as I pass from the study to the staircase, on my way to bed. Heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ll be in the chair for hours still, before he lumbers up to his bedroom, the smallest one in the house (Mom has the master). I pause at the foot of the stairs, and our eyes meet. His pale face travels through green-white-blue as the scenes change. Something begs to be said, but neither one of us can find it. From the TV, Clint Eastwood growls. He is rounding up his posse, they are headed down to Mexico.
Clausade Ronny LeCheminant 112
Break(down)dancer Vijay R. Nathan
Act 1. There is no single sound stage for schizophrenia. Many amateur dance troupes such as The Heartbreak Dishonors, and Teenagers Disgraced Form from an interplay of psychiatrists, fairy dust, and other imaginative failures. This may be cash for those diagnosed: Celebrity judges always understand the choreography necessary to produce Delusions, so all the high functioning ballerinas compulsively scapegoat their overly critical social worker therapists. Graduate fine arts students may compose their thesis on breakdancing deviations which leads their psycho So You Think You Can Dance.
therapists to audition for
Act 2. I’m at the annual Vassar Homo Hop, walking alone, Shirtless. Up ahead is a student named ‘Hope’ who whispers for me to look: the girl I love has someone else’s hand up her skirt. I turn to see E only wearing a towel. She points at me to say: You don’t know me. 113
Instantaneously A 100K strong flashmob begins to twerk in the space between us passing by Sunset Lake, leaving me to contemplate its cold waters. Send. Send. Send.
Act 3. King Claudius ushers me to my seat for a performance of Whores, Bitches, and Crackheads. He whispers wordlessly this is a reimagining of Don Giovanni The stage manager reads the following: None of the interpretative dances are inspired by your personal history. Most of the dances do not mock your drunken mistakes. Please view the show sanely. At the finale a daisy chain of naked women kick up their heels to sing: Such a perfect day. Weâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re glad you spent it with us. You just keep us hanging on.
Act 4. It has long been understood that manics run in fancy panties. Back up dancers who have a clever retort to anxiety-driven thoughts are more likely to develop the Disquiet than are perfectionists who fail to start relay races w. Personal Relic Hunters. That choreographer who had sexual relations 20 yrs ago w. an unstable groupie that hoarded 10% of a disco ball in her basement has finally found himself . . . . . . in deep shit.
Act 5. An ambulance screams Applesauce! Applesauce! As I feverishly clap my hands. The hospital’s floor lights up as the music pumps. I start to moonwalk. The guard face-punches me in an attempt to bring me back to my senses. The residents and the attending are conducting a guerrilla Tai Chi battle. Their mudras are diverse and easily flowing. A voice commands: Finish him! And the credits abruptly roll.
Maddie Murphy I’m always feeling guilty about something Caught on the worst part of a chorus When the light looks pink But not through the camera Maybe my whole family is going crazy But my mom Thinks my grandma comes to see her as a bird My grandpa claims an elbow tickle But I think she sends me rainbow lights My sister was trampled by 8th graders I still dream I save her from drowning Stopping the sad blue fish mouth She blubbers like a toddler Being human is My life being narrated by someone I hate Wanting to text everyone I’ve ever loved To say thank you for breathing Because tomorrow nothing will solve it But today I can save it. 115
Don't Look Up Caitlin Angulo
Tyler Dunning Dad drug the thing home by its hair, through all that empty space between the highway and our house, and even over the hill where Hunter and I would roll old car tires each summer. I mostly worried that Dad had stumbled in our foxhole forts, the dirt pits a perfect size and depth for our boyish bodies—no adults allowed—but I really worried that he’d tripped over the tire we’d been using for a pissing spot. But Mom didn’t say anything about that. Only that Dad had finally caught the damn thing and drug it home by its hair. Dad’d tracked this thing for, I don’t know, a whole schoolyear. At least since the last Fall Festival. Tracked, though, feels like the wrong word for whatever Dad was doing at the start. That was more of a taming. Like, taking his time to understand its patterns. But Dad had lost two fingers after backing the thing into a corner and offering up his palm—same way you’d do with a dog or horse. That’s when I think it became tracking with a capital T. Kept saying to himself, “If you wanna eat, I’ll make you fucking eat.” His words, not mine. He’d been a good father. Took me camping. Took me to Yellowstone and, I’ll never forget, held his hand out the window, toward a sleeping bison, and shaped it like a gun. Said we were on safari. God, we laughed. But that was all back then— I can’t recall when the actual feeding started. I didn’t help at first, but once I did start, I basically had to stop playing with Hunter. There was just so much work to do. It wasn’t long after that I started catching Hunter in the field—on our hill—with other kids, other boys from our school bus. I could’ve killed him. Could’ve drowned him in our tire toilet. Instead, I started placing nails and thumbtacks all over that hillside, hoping they’d find someone’s barefoot. The first thing I brought down to the cellar was a bag of trash—I mean like, our actual trash: shampoo bottles, cans of soda, junk mail, empty detergent and bleach, shopping bags, wire and cables from the new TV, foam cups and paper plates from Mom’s potluck, egg cartons, peels and scraps. Like, everything. And this thing, whatever Dad had locked down there, it ate it all. Mom
found it repulsive—her words—but only when Dad forced her to watch videos from the feedings. (I was never shown despite my begging.) I fed it all summer, the thing only stirring when hungry. I wasn’t entering the cellar quite yet, just tossing trash down to the dark. I was scared, though I’d brag to Hunter about my new job—he didn’t care—and I soon became disinterested too, just another chore. Dad said the thing was shackled anyway, not going anywhere. I think Dad had become bored just the same, like all trackers and tamers with their unsung trophies. A year went by. Two. Hunter only caught me pointing my hand at him once, shape of a gun, but I remember wondering what he might taste like. And I wished he’d been shackled down there too; that maybe I could drag him around by his hair. I was lonely. More and more and more trash, we just couldn’t keep up. If Dad had any regrets, it was only shown when he sat rubbing his nubs, right where the fingers—and these are his words—had snapped off like teeth on a baby carrot. That’s right about when Mom and Dad started fighting more. Right about when I learned Hunter was moving to a different state. So I took all our old tires and rolled them to the cellar, even the one with piss. The thing ate them all. Hunter left not long after, my only friend, but not before I got to see the hurt on his face by not inviting him to my birthday. It felt mean. And justified. Circumstances only got worse at home. I started going down in the cellar, sitting on the final step and waiting for the yelling to stop. I wasn’t entirely convinced anything lived down there anyway, like Hunter’d always said, but wasn’t willing to test my doubt. I stuck to that step and whispered my secrets into the dark— I knew this wasn’t just puberty like Mom had said. I was changing. Yearning for something. Wasn’t even masturbating yet. I’d only bitten Hunter once, out of rage, while wrestling, long before Dad had started tracking, and still daydreamed of the flavor. And texture. I can trace that single moment back to the start of all my troubles. I knew I was the problem. Mom had different concerns, like the way she’d been driving to town to throw our garbage in the grocery store dumpster. Stuff she didn’t want it to have. Said what we were doing wasn’t natural. That it wasn’t okay. Heard her 117
mutter more than once that poison always works its way back to the source. The final fight came when Dad caught her in the act— hauling trash into town. Out of anger, or embarrassment, he grabbed a blade and stormed to the cellar. At first I thought he might kill Mom, which now, looking back, might have ended better. I tried to restrain him, latching my weight against his legs—a child tugging at his father’s intentions. But Dad was set on killing the one thing that fed his self-worth— That night he served us the only meal he’d ever prepared, grisly loins and strips of charred slag, all drug up from the cellar. He made us eat every bite, our poison as poignant as ever and returning back to its source. Mom left the next day. Dad was arrested not long after. That was a hard schoolyear. A harder loneliness. I kept telling my secrets into the dark, but now without an audience. I don’t know how Hunter eventually found me, maybe a decade later, long after I’d left town, after I’d done my own taming and tracking, but the letter was addressed to me, no mistake. He must have suspected what I’d suspected all along, that what we’d contracted back then was more than adolescence, because he said he’d caught some thing and had it locked in his basement. He was hoping I remembered how to feed it.
Charlotte Travis Bowden
Just Like Fire Jo Serpico
A mother’s love never burned quite as much as when she threw his dresses into the fire. They stood in dead grass, sky in soot. Linen withering, he looked down like God watching war. Within the flames, a person dances. draped in the finest gown, the contours of their body roll with the rising flame. Twirling with their arms up to the sky, a dreidel on a table top during Hanukkah. Their chin was high, their smile stuck with him like the word of God His mother threw water onto them, the remains of the dresses stained with charcoal. The sun split the soot, angels hum a melody— “Your father will be home soon.” He draped himself in his mother’s finest gown, Red cloth clutches his hairy stomach, broad shoulders Make the dress tight at the bust. The skirt blows In the wind, like Marilyn Monroe above a subway grate. He baptized himself in kerosene. Standing atop his charcoal dresses, burnt linen poked his feet like pine needles, he lit a match and began to twirl. Arms up to the sky. A smile, soft as moonlight. If it means he gets to feel beautiful— He is okay with being unlovable.
Vaulted Heavens Sarah Deckro
It Was 1991 But Just Barely Melissa Bernal Austin
The song said that men died for us. And everyone in class, these strange kids with their mosquito-bitten arms and slow vowels, sang it like they felt it.
I cried for those dead strangers. Because my dad might die. Because I didn’t want to have to die, not for any of us to die.
Men died for us, but no one could tell me why. Just that God blessed it, and I should stop crying about it.
America was asking us to prove our love. I don’t want to love that way, but now it’s too late. America is coming to collect.
But I picture now, a classroom of 7 and 8 year old children. Small bodies in small desks. Not babies, but just barely, in a chorus of agreement that we would stand together and die together. But the men were dead already, and we were promising our small bodies, in unison. What a way to build patriots. What prophecy. Brown bodies, young bodies, poor bodies, all told to sing along. To sing it like a promise we wouldn’t forget. I still haven’t.
I think they lied, when they said America was a woman. And I think the song lied when it said it loved this land. I sang along because I was told to. Because I thought I owed those dead men, but I was wrong. They never died for me. America took, and now America owes. And you can tell my 2nd grade teacher I said so.
To the Bone Gretchen Gales
George O’Keeffe Robin Gow
"I hate flowers—I paint them because they're cheaper than models and they don't move!" —Georgia O’Keeffe
“You’ve transgendered Georgia O’Keeffe,” my professor said at the end of our non-fiction workshop. I had unfortunately written “George” O’Keeffe instead of “Georgia” in my draft. I always find it . . . interesting when “transgender” suddenly becomes a verb and I would not recommend using it like that. I transgender, you transgender, he/she transgenders. If we’re following this grammar, I transgendered myself about three years ago. I had been writing a scene about my first art class in high school where three large prints of Georgia O’Keeffe flowers watched over the space like colorful hooded angels. Playing with oil paints, I emulated Georgia; large, sweeping colorful strokes. I buried my head in flowers and found her there, an old woman at a canvas, her grey hair pulled back into a bun. To create one's world in any of the arts takes courage. After my professor’s comment, I jotted “George O’Keeffe?” in my little leather notebook and thought about him all that night. I loved George too much, the notion of a transgender man, like me, with a vagina, painting bold beautiful flowers and landscapes. Maybe he had long grey hair like Georgia. Maybe he fell into the mouths of lilies. Maybe he would fall into me. I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty. There are not a lot of places for a man to even admit having a vagina, let alone to announce that he wants to keep his vagina, that he loves his vagina. Most trans men don’t even call their parts a “vagina” and many have surgery to create a phallus. Even for men who haven’t had a genderconfirming surgery, if they see their genitals as a penis or a dick, they are entering into a whole pre-determined script for men with dicks. There’s no script for me, I do call my genitalia a “vagina.” I thought that maybe George could tell me what that could mean. I’ve looked in other places: there’s one transgender man, Buck Angel. He’s the first trans man to ever be in 122
porn. He works now as a sex educator and porn star and above all a champion for men with “pussies.” I’ve watched his Instagram live streams for about a year out of a sort of hunger for kinship. “It was at this moment I said to myself, “Wow I cannot believe there are no transsexual men in porn”—when I say that, I always have this vision of a lightbulb on the top of my head and inside it says: “the man with a pussy.” That vision is so powerful for me because I was scared of it at first and then I realized I was on to something.” —Buck Angel, 2016 Interview with Huffington Post Queer Voices I don’t feel like that though. Buck is empowering to me, but I don’t see my vagina in the same way that he does. I wouldn’t call what I have a “pussy” and I can’t find the same kind of pornographic power that he has. I wonder if he fucked me if I’d feel differently. What I want is a Georgia/George O’Keeffe vagina. I want a close-up. I want broad and bold strokes. I want to be buried in petals. So, I started looking into Georgia’s life. I thought maybe I could start to imagine what it would be like if she were a transgender man. I imagined him maybe keeping his needles of testosterone on the window sill by his paints. His lover photographing him in black and white, his chest bond with ace bandages (what they used before there were safer chest binders). I googled “Georgia O’Keeffe vagina flowers,” as a start. I was excited to read about her life and her influences, to fall deep into a fantasy. What I found first was an interview with the curator of her most recent exhibit and O’Keeffe biographer, Tonya Barson speaking on the “vagina image.” “I think it is time to rethink those ideas about her work. They didn’t come from her, they came from him and we have to question the validity of those interpretations since she consistently denied them over six decades.” -Tonya Barson, 2015 Interview with the Guardian It turns out that O’Keeffe, many times, denied the “vagina” meaning of her images that her lover and follow artist, Alfred Stieglitz, promoted. So, yes, a man with a penis, is part of the reason why we have no doubt that Georgia’s flowers are vaginas.
Touching the petals of the lily, I peel deeper and deeper. Each white lip another coat of paint. I know, for certain, that somewhere deep inside the plant is a man who has a vagina. He takes care of it. He touches himself alone and with lit lemon-sage candles. He isn’t proud; a better word would be awe. He is fascinated by himself and the flower that grew on his pelvis. He calls it poppy and daisy and orchid. I am horrified for her, for Georiga. I am surprised at myself. I love finding knew meanings for images and texts and yet I had readily accepted that the close-up flowers were, no doubt, a vagina. Not just a vagina, but a woman’s vagina because there weren’t really other vaginas that were recognized back then. I feel there is something unexplored about women that only a woman can explore. “Birth might just be something that only women can ever experience,” my same non-fiction professor had said some weeks earlier. I don’t remember the context but it reminded me that making space for men with vaginas and men who give birth is a strange and narrow place. I could have brought up in that moment that I am a man and that I want to carry a child, but I didn’t. I don’t even tell my friends or my partner that I want that. I’m scared of that. I’ve read about men who give birth, I love them but they also face so much hate. One child-bearing man, Trystan Reese, said that everyday he feared that he would give birth to a monster like they all had said he would. He dreamed that all sorts of creatures crawled out of him; goats and dragons and serpents. This reminds me that trans-ness is permissible so long as it’s not noticeable. A pregnant man is noticeable, a clear, up close poppy, bright orange and red in color. It draws attention. I struggle because the “vagina” isn’t even something women have entirely freed from shame. Non-trans women still hide their pads and tampons and hear gross misinformation about their bodies from schools, doctors, and other health professional. I feel selfish and I sometimes feel un-feminist for wanting to make the possibility for my vagina legible. What does that mean that men have vaginas? That non-binary people have vaginas? Can a vagina be outside of gender? That’s the issue though: I like
my vagina and its gender. And it might not be that I want to make Georgia O’Keeffe’s flowers my vagina but that I want to make my vagina Georgia O’Keeffe’s flowers. Not how people see her flowers but how she saw her flowers. I’ll paint it big, and they will be surprised into taking time to look at it. I will make even busy New Yorkers take time to see what I see of flowers. In reading her own reflections, I see a glorious embrace of depths to be found in the smallness of flowers, a delicious power that she derived from forcing people to grapple with the vastness of the smallness. I see all the men and the women and the people tripping down into the smallness of one lily, all of us caught there with our vaginas. If we were to apply this same approach to our vaginas, to our genitals, we could be freed of the necessity for them to mean one gender or one body. We could be something to fall into. I want to come back to George now, because I have not forgotten about him. There is no George O’Keeffe. This painter was a woman who loved being a woman, but did not want to be a woman artist, but just an artist. An artist like any man artist was allowed to be. She did not want to be a body part—she was a whole body and more. I think she would revel with me. I have found him, now. I’m George O’Keeffe.
Girlhood, Disability, and Dental Hygiene Casey Brenton 124
Daddy Culture Jo Serpico
“When I was your age I was throwing bricks With good ol’ Marsha.” The ripe boy stares in drunken admiration. “So you’re the reason why We can get married?” I peel the boy off of the bar, and lead him to my car. “Yeah, I guess so.” Fingernails dig into pleather seats, the boy presses his forehead against the window crank, his porcelain ass in the air, knees bent like a swastika. My wrinkled hands clutch the boy’s silk shoulders. It shouldn’t feel rough, but it is like rubbing against the grain of a stubbling chin. Ripe boy grits his teeth. My meaty, love-handled groin drills into his boney ass. This is both his charity and his duty. I grip either side of the panting boy’s waist. The tips of my thumbs meet in the middle. I come with a sigh, and release my gray-haired hands From his fragile body. When I drop him off at his parents’ house, We say, both like a general to his soldiers, “Thank you for your service.”
Kristina Gaddy Wake up. Translate memoirs of teenage Nazi resisters in the first person. You are brought to a damp cell. Unbreathable air, the smell of urine, sweat, blood, and sickness surround you. Sixteen or eighteen people are crammed in a space meant for two. Your friends have been brought to this cell. They have been beaten already. You are a young woman, just barely eighteen, abused at the hands of old men. When you get out of prison, you stumble home to your mother. You are almost an adult but you want her embrace. She sees your skin: broken, black, and blue from beatings. She rubs soap gently on your back. Do you remember when your mother rubbed soap on your back? Seven years ago, you were near dead, lying in the hospital with cancer flowing through your blood. You woke up from a coma and couldn’t walk. Your mom had to help you shower. She gently rubbed soap on your back.
Read Gestapo reports and forced confessions. You can’t distinguish between reality and what has been coerced. What did they say to stop the beating? What did they say to protect the people they loved? What is real, what is fake? Make dinner. See a documentary about the Vietnam War. See children burning, soldiers raping women. If it weren’t for Vietnam, you wouldn’t be here. Your grandmother answered the phone once. Your dad said he was leaving. She answered the phone again. Someone on the other line said he was a traitor. She didn’t know when she would see her son again. There was another soldier in your dad’s town. He was a prisoner of war. He marched hundreds of miles in the jungle along the Ho Chi Minh trail. His friends died. His mother didn’t know when she’d see him again.
Go to bed. Wake up. Go to the museum. See the shackles that brought enslaved Africans to the New World. See the tobacco and sugar that white Americans and Europeans craved from the torn hands and broken backs of the enslaved. See the bodies hanging from trees. Blood on the leaves and blood at the root.
In front of you are bodies, hanging from gallows and boys in gray uniforms, the letters OST on their chest. A German boy tells you he saw a pregnant forced laborer kicked in the stomach. He wants to do something about it. He wants to sabotage the machine. Try to find hope in resistance.
You're standing next to the Angola prison tower, a manifestation of the prison industrial complex. Men in striped suits stand in front of you. This prison is larger than Manhattan. That prison has itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s own museum. Your president wants to make America great again. A little boy near you asks his mom, â&#x20AC;&#x153;Does Donald Trump only like white people?â&#x20AC;? Go to sleep. Wake up. Keep researching. See the horrors of the Nazis day after day. One day, the Nazis arrest over 700 young people while thousands are packed into trains, deported to gas chambers and ovens. 127
The Secrets of Dying Water T. Ben Bryant
The water told many stories and Aoife listened. Waves hiccuped tales of far away lands. Past. Present. Future. It never lied. It told. She had learned this. Brackish tides whispered of solitary men who worked the ropes and lines. It shouted stories of great cities that rose and fell along its trembling coasts. It confided its truth, the truth of something both eternal and eternally dying. The stories were confirmed by her parent’s televised history programs and by her teachers. Droning adult voices pouring out fact after fact with no imagination; austere suits, uncomfortable wooden desks marked with generations of graffiti, and the hot sun flowing through dirty windows . . . She could usually focus her attention for a few minutes before her mind would drift. Often she would be dreaming and a few words would catch her attention long enough for her to confirm another story as true and then her eyes would fade into the cozy oblivion of her dreams again. The winds had died, howling and vicious. Sharp western winds crossing the Sea of Japan that stabbed her hair into her face causing her to constantly blink and brush her bangs back from her forehead. She bounced over smoothed rocks and through swirling tide pools. Rubber boots glaring hard artificial yellow in the greys and blues and greens of the seaside. Aoife dashed along the crags, expertly picking her way over driftwood, and pausing for a few moments to gently tongue a loose tooth on her bottom jaw. The tastes of blood and salt spray mingling through stabs of gentle pain made her heart jump. Seabirds competed with the voices of her parents lilting from the kitchen window, propped open with a smooth honey-tinted scrap of wood her father had reclaimed from the black and grey silt. Their voices floated towards the open water and were swallowed by the hushed movements of salt water against gradually smoothing stone. She stopped beside a shallow pool and watched a stick break against a glassy white stone. Overlaid upon the stick, stone, and splinters was an image that played in her mind simultaneously so that the reality of the beachside was warped and entwined, like the blood and salt spray in her mouth, with the image of a huge passenger ship adorned with brass fittings and elegant woodwork that 128
glowed from within striking an iceberg that, under the cover of a moonless sky, had taken on the appearance of a mountainous void rising and falling between the towering caps of the deep sea. Around the ship, thousands of people, fleeting but distinct, were pulled under the reflected and broken blanket of the heavens by hungry whirlpools forced into existence by wreckage falling through the murk to the visionless bottom of the earth. The people looked like her father, tall and pale. He was different than all of the others in their town. He was the only one with green eyes and light hair. Aoife watched the splinter people twirl and sink, sometimes resurfacing, but ultimately falling below the upside-down clouds. Black specks carved invisible lines on the ashy faces of the clouds, small white seabirds cut tight ovals in the sky before gliding lightly to earth and pecking at the shadowy crevasses between stones. Aoife studied them intently for a few moments, their empty yellow eyes scanning for any scraps, before wandering farther along the beach. She could no longer make out her parents' voices among the bird cries and tide sounds but if they looked through the window they would still be able to see her so it was alright. She leapt awkwardly onto a dark rock speckled with lichen the grey-green color of the birds’ droppings and stepped over a deep pool where a tiny pink crab was skittering along the edge. Its small legs made a sound that reminded her of grains of rice falling into a measuring cup. On the far edge of the pool, where short bursts of seaside grasses began to congregate in sparse clumps, the sea had uncovered a loose grouping of colorful stones along one edge of an animal’s footprint. In the hollow of the footprint, three shards of a pecan hull lay with their insides facing the frost grey sky. The water swirled into the footprint bringing a cluster of dandelion seeds. The men stood with shoulders hunched on the small heaving boats. Coarsely woven light brown trousers rolled up to their knees made purplish brown skin and wavy black hair darker. In the nets, great writhing fish thrashed. The beating of the water sent rainbow spray into the sun and the silvery skins of the fish were dotted with splotched light and deep heart blood that disappeared into the nothing of the water. Aoife watched the men drag the fighting beasts aboard their small crafts and still their motion with blows from short wooden clubs stained with the blood and scales of countless generations. The men
smiled while they worked. Aoife stood and the men faded from her memory. She looked at the sky and smiled at the few stars brave enough to make their early entrance. They lazed, far back in the distance, too shy to be intrusive. She paid too much attention to them and lost her balance again. Her face struck the smooth stones with enough force to knock the tooth out and send a tendril of blood into the shallow water. It disappeared into the nothing of the water just like the blood from the fish had. Her eyes sprang open and the water stung and brought tears that were lost. The earth heaved and was still. Far out in the deep ocean, where the water is dull and light doesn’t reflect, monster waves were born from the turmoil below the crust. They towered high into the sky. Dark hands angrily clawing the heavens. The heavens out of reach, they became fists rushing towards the distant shore. Aoife saw through them as if she was them. She felt their surprise and sadness at what they knew was to come. The ocean floor became more shallow and the seaside came into sight, a thin line of man-made structures. She could read the letters on some. Yamada’s dentist office, Kobayashi’s electronic store, a Daihatsu dealership; all familiar but none local. She knew she was seeing Japan but didn’t recognize the town and couldn’t read the kanji in the name. The fist struck. A soft blow, teasing and testing. The water crept into the streets and the people began to panic. They raced inland but their feet were too slow and heavy with the sea. Their cars were caught in packed masses. Stranded and waiting for the inescapable. The second fist struck, hard and decisive. Houses disappeared, exploded or washed away still intact. A train rolled, first inland and then pulled out to sea, under the insistent water. Cars bobbed like apples. Their flashing lights left softly dying tracers in the dark mud. People grabbed for any purchase but could find none and sank beneath the muddy torrents. Aoife cried. The ocean released her and she flopped onto her back gasping and screaming at the bruised heavens. Her father appeared above her face and she reached gratefully for his neck. “I saw you fall,” he said. “Are you OK?” She buried her face in his fuzzy fleece jacket and sobbed into the warmth. She turned her head when the soaked cloth began to cool. He carried her to the house in long ground-eating strides and laid her on the sofa and brought her a cup of warm milk tea. She drank slowly. Each honeyed drop spreading
through her limbs and pulling her fear and sadness into a place where it had a longer path to the surface of her face. “The ocean told me that it will destroy somewhere in Japan.” Her father watched her. His green eyes looked sad and lost. “Don’t you worry about that,” he whispered, “We’re safe here. Nothing bad will happen to you.” “Those people aren’t safe though.” “It was just a daydream,” he told her and tickled her ribs. “Go on upstairs and get undressed. I’ll start your bath.” After her bath, she fell asleep quickly. Dreamless and shallow, the night stretched on forever. She awoke before the sun and lay in bed feeling heavy and hot. She could hear her parents downstairs. Her mother was making their lunchboxes for the day, the smells of grilled salmon and fresh rice tugged at her nose, and her father was talking to her in his language. Aoife didn’t really know his language. They sounded happy and sometimes laughed. Her mother came up the stairs and found her in the bed still wrapped in her blankets. She sat on the bed and felt Aoife’s head. Then she leaned in and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. “You’ve got a little fever,” she whispered. “Maybe you better stay home with us today.” She straightened Aoife’s blankets and told her to sleep a little more and went back downstairs. The lavender smell of her dark hair lingered. Her parent’s conversation resumed, this time with a more worried tone. The sun was dull fire in the early afternoon sky when a low roar awoke Aoife. The bed jerked enough to move her small body and she rolled out of the thick blankets and rushed down the stairs. He father caught her halfway down and carried her in his arms into the living room. “Just an earthquake,” he whispered into her ear. His breath moved weightless strands of her hair. Her mother was standing in front of the television and motioning them over. Her dark eyes, like Aoife’s own, were nervously dancing over the screen. Aoife didn’t understand most of what the people on the TV were saying but she recognized the pictures she was seeing. “It was a 9 on the Richter, off the northeast coast,” he mother said. “Luckily it was only a 6 here.” Her father sighed and turned Aoife’s head away from the screen but not before she could see the tsunami swelling on the distant horizon. 129
Falls Ronny LeCheminant 130
Old Theory Meg Reynolds 131
Sizing Up Meg Reynolds 132
Love Letter Meg Reynolds
Recipe Meg Reynolds 134
Ocean Meg Reynolds
Vampire Meg Reynolds 136
Squirrel Meg Reynolds 137
Bad at Bedtime Meg Reynolds 138
Mushroom Meg Reynolds 139
Art History Meg Reynolds 140
CONT R I B U TOR S Emily Adams (1989) is a multimedia artist working in collage, acrylics, illustration, and textiles out of Ottawa, Ontario. A graduate of Algonquin College’s animation program, she works as an animator. Brendan Alpiner (1994) is an actor and poet. He received his B.F.A in Acting from The University of Michigan. His work has been published in Months to Years, Broken Grey Wires, and other magazines. Ry An (1977) died in the back of an ambulance when he was 23. He is working on a series of dreamlike paintings and sculptures, showcasing vulnerable characters as they travel through a forest. Caitlin Angulo (1994) received a B.F.A. in Visual and Performing Arts from Longwood University. Her artwork is largely inspired by psychology and philosophy surrounding subconscious experiences. Joey Aronhalt (1997) is an Akron-based film photographer. His main goal throughout his photographs is to make the viewer question what is going on even if the photographs do not contain the answers. Melissa Austin (1982) is a queer Latina, writer, and El Paso, Texas native living in West Michigan. She is an educator, herbalist, and maker, and can be found online @softerpath. Azkin Asya (1999) is a freshman at the University of North Georgia. She is poetry editor for the Chestatee Review. In high school, she wrote pieces and designed layouts for a literary magazine. Bonnie Bailey (1987) is a former journalist who now works in education. She has been published by The Saturday Evening Post, Bartleby Snopes, Litro Magazine, and The Citron Review, among others. Chad Baker (1988) has work published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and From the Depths, among others. His plays have been performed at several festivals and theatre companies around the country. Leah Baker (1985) is an English teacher at a public high school, and assists students in working on their own writing. Her work has appeared in Panoplyzine and Soliloquies Anthology, among others. Emily Barker (1999) is a student at Western Washington University. She writes poetry, short stories, and novels. Her work is forthcoming in Jeopardy Magazine. Hannah Bishop (1993) is an M.F.A. poetry candidate at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She worked at a gastroenterology office for a year, though prefers reading poems to colonoscopy reports. Travis Bowden (1986) is a former chef and photographer from Sierra Vista, Arizona. Savannah Bradley (1999) is the 2018 Thomas Wolfe Scholar at UNC-Chapel Hill. She is the Editor-inChief of Haloscope, and you can find her tweeting about Twin Peaks and Tori Amos @savbrads. Casey Brenton (1987) is a disabled queer who lives in the forest. Brenton writes words and pastes stuff together with dollar store gluesticks. T. Ben Bryant (1980) is from rural Tennessee, now living and working in Tokyo. Kevin Chesser (1987) has had work appear in Still, A Void, Dr. Doctor, and elsewhere. He received his M.F.A. from West Virginia Wesleyan College and collaborates with the Travelin’ Appalachians Revue. elle chu (1995) is a Boston-based poet and returning Fearsome Critters contributor whose work about identities, loneliness, and nature has appeared in The Fjords Review, The Kindling Collective, and CAGIBI.
Clayton Adam Clark (1983) lives in St. Louis, Missouri. His first full-length collection of poems, A Finitude of Skin, won the Moon City Poetry Award and was published by Moon City Press in 2018. Linda M. Crate (1986) has five published chapbooks, most recently splintered with terror (Scars Publications, 2018), and one novel, Phoenix Tears (Czykmate Books, June 2018). Sarah Deckro (1988) is a writer, teacher, and photographer. Her work has appeared The Esthetic Apostle, Gordon Square Review, Curating Alexandria, and the anthology An Outbreak of Peace, among others. Sean William Dever (1993) is a Boston-based poet and educator in the last year of his M.F.A. at Emerson College. His poems can be found in The Merrimack Review and Gauge Literary Magazine, among others. Tyler Dunning (1984) grew up in southwestern Montana. Heâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s dabbled in professional wrestling, archaeology, social justice advocacy, and academia. You can find his work at tylerdunning.com. Reno Evangelista (1993) lives in Manila, Philippines. He has work in Guernica Magazine, Outlook Springs, and Cosmonauts Avenue. Monica Fallone (1998) is a B.F.A. candidate at Truman State University. When not writing odes to Muppets from Space, she works at her campus radio station as Music Director and DJ. Kristina Gaddy (1987) is a Baltimore-based writer. Her first book, Flowers in the Gutter (Dutton 2020), tells the story of the Edelweiss Pirates, the teenagers who resisted the Nazis. Gretchen Gales (1995) is a writer, visual artist, and the Executive Editor of Quail Bell Magazine. Her art has or will appear in Lady Blue Publishing, cream city review, and Memoryhouse, among others. Robin Gow (1996) has work appearing in POETRY, Furrow, carte blanche, FIVE:2:ONE, and Corbel Stone Press. He is an out and proud bisexual transgender man who is passionate about LGBT+ issues. Ben Hall (1985) currently teaches English in South Korea. His work has appeared in The Cobalt Review and Contraposition Magazine, Bitterzoet Review, The Bangalore Review, and Buck Off Magazine. Cheryl Harrell (1986) is a non-profit grant writer living in North Texas with her family. She has a master's degree in writing. Her work has appeared most recently in Harbinger Asylum. Jason Hart (1983) is a graphic artist and storyteller based in Dayton, Ohio. Recent works have appeared in Illustoria, Geometry, Ink Brick, New Plains Review, and elsewhere. William Hawkins (1986) has work published or forthcoming in ZYZZYVA, The Molotov Cocktail, Pithead Chapel, and the New Madrid Review, among others. He lives in Los Angeles, California. Kristina Heflin (1992) has served on the editorial board of the literary journal Flumes. She has been published in Flumes, Canyon Voices, and Diverse Minds, as well as the anthology The Beckoning. Greg Hotard (1989) has taught literature for the past five years, and has written for ten. Isaac Humphrey (1997) is a currently a junior English major from South Carolina and uses they/them pronouns. Emma Johnson-Rivard (1992) lives in Minnesota with her dogs and far too many books. Her work has appeared in Mistake House, the Nixes Mate Review, and Moon City Review. Jason Joyce (1986) is a writer, arranger, consultant, and optimist who has made it his life mission to never grow boring. You can learn more by visiting jasonrjoyce.com or @savageconfetti on Instagram.
Nasos Karabelas (1992) is a photographer and film director based in Thessaloniki, Greece. He has produced five short films and a feature film, OSMOSIS, which took part in festivals around the world. Gregory Kimbrell (1982) is the author of The Primitive Observatory (Southern Illinois University Press, 2016) winner of the 2014 Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award. Kayla King (1992) is a graduate of the Mountainview M.F.A. program and the author of These Are the Women We Write About, a micro-collection of poetry published by The Poetry Annals. Michelle Kubilis (1994) has been published in Commonthought Magazine, Boston Poetry Magazine, and SLAB Literary Magazine. She was also selected as a featured poet in JSJ Eventsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; Empowered series. Silva Kuusniemi (1993) is an Illustration B.A. graduate and an M.A. Game Design and Production student. She is based in Stockholm, where she lives with her many books and plants. Kristin LaFollette (1989) is a Ph.D. candidate at Bowling Green State University. She is the author of the chapbook, Body Parts (GFT Press, 2018). You can visit her on her website kristinlafollette.com. Mateo Lara (1994) is from Bakersfield, California. His poems have been featured in Orpheus, EOAGH, Empty Mirror, and The New Engagement. He is an editor for RabidOak and Zoetic Press. Ronny LeCheminant (1992) is an illustrator, painter, and 2D artist from southern California. In his work, he tries to achieve a strong sense of atmosphere, color, and composition. Elena Lee (2001) has work published in Rare Byrd Review and was a winner in the Blue Mountain Arts Poetry Contest. John Leonard (1991) has had works appear in Twyckenham Notes and Poetry Quarterly, among others. He received the 2016 the Wolfson Poetry Award and the 2018 Josephine K. Piercy Memorial Award. Savanna Scott Leslie (1989) has had work appear in Canthius, The Maynard, the Quarterday Review, Inverted Syntax, and Ponder Review. She is a student at the University of Edinburgh. Sze Ying Lim (1995) is a Taiwanese-Malaysian writer who recently moved to New Hampshire to pursue an M.F.A. degree in Fiction. Nathan Lipps (1984) lives in Binghamton, New York where he is currently a Ph.D. candidate. His work has appeared in the Best New Poets of 2017, BOAAT, Colorado Review, Third Coast, Typo, and elsewhere. Nelson Lowhim (1981) was born in Tanzania and is Indian, Seychelles, Euro descent. At the age of 10 he moved to the States and currently live in Seattle. He served in the U.S. Army. Johnbel Mahautiere (1995) is a Boston-based photographer. Andriana Minou (1982) is a writer/musician based in London. Her book The Fabulous Dead was published by Kernpunkt Press. To find out more about her, you may visit www.andrianaminou.com. Lawrence Mullen (1996) is a non-binary, Philadelphia-based poet. They have been published in Maudlin House, Ghost City Review, and Crab Fat. Their Twitter & Instagram: @prince_yikes. Maddie Murphy (1995) is a textile artist, journalist, and creative writer in Saint Louis, Missouri. Murphy is a resident artist at Manchester United Methodist Church, where she creates art for worship. Aditi Natasha Kini (1991) writes essays, fiction, and more from her sunny apartment in Queens, New York.
KG Newman (1990) is a sportswriter for The Denver Post. His first two collections of poetry, While Dreaming of Diamonds in Wintertime and Selfish Never Get Their Own, are available on Amazon. Shilo Nizolek (1989) has work appearing in the Broad River Review, SLAB, Heartwood Literary Magazine, Persephone’s Daughters, Litro Magazine, and Beyond the Margins, among others. Iris Orpi (1983) is a Filipina poet, novelist, and screenwriter currently living in Chicago, Illinois. She is the author of the illustrated novel The Espresso Effect and the collection of poetry Hand Painted. Shelby Prindaville (1986) works at the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth, Kansas. She was selected for a fully-funded, extremely competitive residency at Cerdeira Village in Portugal last year. Brie Radke (1982) lives in the Greater Los Angeles area. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Chaleur Magazine, Exposition Review, Haunted Waters Press, and Swimming with Elephants. Vijay R. Nathan (1978) is the host of “The Truth to Power Show.” Publications include Escape from Samsara (2016) and Celebrity Sadhana, Or How to Meditate with a Hammer (2018). Meg Reynolds (1985) lives in Burlington, Vermont. Her work has appeared The Missing Slate, MidAmerican Review, Fugue, Utterance, and Monster Verse: Poems Human and Inhuman. Felicia Sabartinelli (1984) has had writing featured online and in-print with Good Housekeeping, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, USA Today, Huff Post, and Elephant Journal, among others. Sara Sage (1995) is an East Coast-based writer who aims to capture the experience of young, poor, and mentally-troubled lesbians in a world against those who have similar identities. E.J. Schoenborn (1995) has had several poetry performances showcased on Button Poetry’s YouTube account, collectively garnering more than 46,000 views as of March 2019. Benjamin Selesnick (1994) doesn’t fancy himself a poet. His fiction has appeared in The Bitter Oleander, Literary Orphans, and others. Jo Serpico (1997) is a messy queer from New Jersey. They are currently finishing their last year at Eckerd College. Their work has appeared in Sonder Midwest, Silver Needle Press, and other places. Janicanne Shane (1983) is a non-profit/education professional currently residing in Boston, Massachusetts. Her work explores and exposes haunted people and places. Evan James Sheldon (1983) has had work appear in CHEAP POP, Ghost City Review, Pithead Chapel, Roanoke Review, and Spelk, among others. He is also a Senior Editor for F(r)iction. Pratik Suketu (1990) is fascinated in using the mediums of film and experimental photography in order to convey feelings of hypnagogia, the transitional state between waking-life. Sarah Summerson (1996) is a poet hailing from small-town central Pennsylvania. She is also a winner of the Academy of American Poets Poetry Prize. You can follow her on twitter @SarahSummersun. Mercury Marvin Sunderland (1999) is a gay, autistic, Greek/Roman Wiccan, transgender man. His dream is to become the most banned author in human history. Alec Suthy (1996) is a full-time student and visual artist based out of Boston, Massachusetts. He was the 2017 recipient of the Best Emerging Poet award from Z Publishing House.
Negar Tajgardan (1987) is a visual artist whose work is based on her memories of coming to Canada from Iran and broader concepts of immigration and displacement. Justine Talbot (1993) is from Long Island, New York. Her fiction appears in or is forthcoming from FLAPPERHOUSE, Switchback, Constellations, Foliate Oak, Riggwelter, and The Bookends Review. Andrew Terrell (1991) lives in the Pacific Northwest. After years spent working as an aerospace engineer, Andrew jumped off his one-way flight and took a job as a dishwasher. E.H. Thatcher (1993) received his M.F.A. from Chatham University, where he served as the Margaret Whitford Fellow. His work has appeared in Heron Tree, Weatherbeaten, Soul-Lit, and Up North Lit. Jessica Wadleigh (1985) is a creative non-fiction author from Portland, Oregon. She is the author of two chapbooks, Sunshine and Grape Crush, as well as the co-creator of the mini-comic, Robird Segal. Norman Walter (1992) is from Kentucky and now lives in Colorado, teaching elementary music. Anthony Westenkirchner (1979) wrote the award-winning short story, â&#x20AC;&#x153;Somewhere Left of Purgatory,â&#x20AC;? which was recognized by the Union League Club of Chicago. He lives in Kansas City, Missouri. Kevin Richard White (1988) is the author of the novels The Face Of A Monster and Patch Of Sunlight through No Frills Buffalo. His work appears via Akashic Books, Sundog Lit, and Grub Street, among others. Nathaniel Wilder (1997) is an English student at Lees-McRae College in Banner Elk, North Carolina. He is currently co-editor of the LMC student anthology, Ragweed. Nicole Zelniker (1995) is an editorial researcher at The Conversation U.S. and a recent graduate of the Columbia Journalism School. Check out more of her work at nicolezelniker.wordpress.com. Luke & Mandy (1985, 1993) published their first book, 2.5, which celebrates the first 2.5 years of their creative journey together. It is for sale in select book shops across the U.K.
AC K N OW L E DG E M E NT S Courtney Valentine Danny Jalilpoor Arielle Raymos LandLocked Magazine The University of Kansas
S E L ECT E D WOR K S Top Contributor in Fiction Savannah Eden Bradley for Witch Country
Top Contributor in Nonfiction Jessica Wadleigh for Doing Laundry
Top Contributor in Poetry Robin Gow for taste buds & artichoke hearts
Top Contributor in Visual Art Nasos Karabelas for Figure: a series
Top Contributor in Hybrid Work Meg Reynolds for Squirrel
Winner of the Courtney Valentine Prize for Outstanding Work by a Millennial Artist [selected by sam herschel wein] Robin Gow for taste buds & artichoke hearts
fearsome critter: any creature from early lumberjack folklore said to inhabit the wildernesses of North America.