2022 FLCC Isotrope Literary Journal

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An international literary journal founded by the students, faculty, and staff of Finger Lakes Community College in Canandaigua, New York Est. 2022

In the House of the Church and the State Alex Mattingly

The church house isn't a halfway house. That's how they talked me into it. A halfway house is for people from prison, they said, but the church house is for good people who need a little help. I wanted to be good, so I moved in.

The lady who runs the church house lives in an apartment upstairs that has its own special door. We on the bottom don't have the key. On the ground floor it's me and two other women, but it still gets very lonely sometimes. We're all part of the same program, the church and the state working together and keeping us sober. It's a pilot program, they said, and you can tell they're proud of it, but what happens in the house is really just babysitting. We get watched from upstairs, and downstairs we all watch each other.

Every day is the same. Esther French, the woman upstairs, comes down and lets herself in to make up our breakfast. She has the longest gray hair, but it's always rolled up in a bun as tight as a fist. The three of us living downstairs can lock our doors on each other, but not on Esther. She has a key to every room in the house. So down she comes and scrambles the eggs and pours the juice, and we're all supposed to be ready to eat by eight o'clock sharp. After that we get some free time, then Bible study at ten, then lunch. After lunch we do work for the church. We make meals for the elderly and clean up their yards. We organize the church's food pantry and help out with the daycare. It isn't a job, because we don't get paid, but we do get a stipend for small things. A little money to buy our own toothpaste.

After work we pile into Esther's big white van and come back to the house. We take turns making dinner, then study the Bible some more this time real quick, just a couple short verses. Each of us tells something good that happened that day. I never have much to say. Most days are dull, and I don't get along with my roommates, so all I ever have to talk about is what birds I saw, or what flowers or interesting bugs. Esther always compliments my “eye for God's creation,” but the other two don't care for it. They don't care much for me, either.

It started out small. Little things like using up my shampoo or moving my books to where I couldn't find them. Sometimes they hid my mail, and even though I only got junk it still bothered me. Now, though, it's bigger things. If I have leftover food in the fridge, they salt it. If I forget to lock my bedroom door, my stuff gets all fucked up. They cut the power cord off my little TV and burned up the two letters I kept from my mom. I don't have very much, but what I do have they like to ruin. If somebody else told me a story like this, I'd think there must be a reason, a grievance the storyteller chose to omit. That was before I understood how bored you can get when there isn't a drink in your hand.

I did once try to tell Esther. She didn't say much about it, except we were all sisters in Christ, and I should try to remember that. She said it like I'd forgot to be kind, and I guess that's what put things over for me. I got that feeling inside, that scratch. I knew I would do something stupid, and I knew that's what the others would want. But if I even had one tiny drink, I was done. I'd be out of that house, and neither the church nor the state would have anything to do with me again. They only wanted you if you tried to be good.

By now I know I have to do something to let the pressure off. So that day after lunch,

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while everybody's getting ready to go to the church, I pretend to get sick. I mean, I really puke, but it's because I stick a finger down my throat, not because I'm ill. Esther doesn't know that, of course. She just knows you can't be sick around food that's meant for the elderly. So, they leave me behind.

I clean myself up. And, as soon as Esther's van is out of sight, I walk out of that church house and into the first afternoon I've had to myself since the day before I arrived.


I decide to see a movie. I have a little money saved up not much, but enough for a matinee and maybe a pop. The church house isn't far from the theater. This is a small town, built up around the local courthouse. You can get anywhere you need by foot if you have the time. From the church house I can walk to the theater in less than an hour. I don't know what's playing or what time they're playing it. I just know it'll be nice to be somewhere dark and cool, a place I can forget about things for a while.

It's a nice spring day. Some of the trees still have petals on them, and the ones that don't are now an electric shade of green. Mostly it's the trees I smell as I walk but every now and then I get that fake floral scent from someone's house dryer venting. It makes me think of my dad. When he'd catch that smell he'd sniff the air real big and say, The Tide flowers are blooming again. It was never funny, but it sticks with me anyway. Certain things just do.

I should have stuck to the sidewalk. It's when I cut through the alley that I'm tempted. Somebody's trash can is open and there's a bag sat on top. It's untied and overflowing with bottles and cans. I've had bad nights before when a bag like this was all I had handy. You dig through your trash and take out the empties, and you pour whatever last few drops you can rescue into a cup. How fucking arrogant you were, throwing those last drops away, but thank God you did because it's four in the morning and the bars are all closed and anyway you don't have a car.

So, yeah. I know what I can wring from a bag full of empties. I'm a little sick to my stomach because I've become so transfixed, unable to tear myself away from some stranger's garbage. And yet. The bag is just sitting there, open and waiting. It feels like something I am meant to find.

That's when I see a boy clutching a blue leash. He's standing there watching me from his family's back porch, while I'm in the alley ogling his trash can. The blue leash is dangling around thin air. There's no dog anywhere to be seen.

I should leave now and go to the theater, but I haven't talked to anyone outside the church house in a very long time. We don't even get to talk to the elderly. I also feel ashamed for how badly I'm tempted, and that makes me desperate to explain even if no one has asked.

“Excuse me,” I say. “Hey. Excuse me!”

The boy takes a few steps off the porch. The leash drags behind.


“There's no dog on your leash.”

It's a stupid thing to say, but it's all that comes to mind. The boy looks down at his shoes and mumbles something I don't catch.

“What'd you say?”


“I told her to heel.”

“Is your dog imaginary?” I ask. I had imaginary pets as a kid. I'd cut them out of paper and keep them between the pages of my Bible, so they stayed safe when I went between homes. Some of my foster parents had real pets, but I always took care of my paper ones first.

“She's invisible.”

“What's her name?” I ask.

He gets that look kids get when they think you're teasing, so I work very hard not to smile. I'm not laughing at him.

“Joy,” he says finally, and then he brings her to me. I kneel down to get close to the empty loop of the leash. I hold out my wrist so the invisible dog can smell me.

“Think she'll let me pet her?”

“Maybe,” he says. I'm careful not to make sudden moves, and I take my cues from the boy. It's kind of like pantomime. From how he holds the leash I can tell how big the dog is and where her head should be. I move my hand real slow and pat her back, then scratch her behind one invisible ear.

“Does she like that?” I ask.


I stop scratching. “She's real well behaved. You take good care of her?”

“I'm supposed to walk her every day.”

“Hi, Joy,” I say. “I'm Kate.”

“She can't talk.”

“I know, but I thought she'd like to know my name. So, we're not strangers.”

I reach out again for the invisible dog and pay her more of my attention. Finally, the boy says, “My name is Curtis.”

“And I'm Kate,” I repeat. “So, it looks like none of us are strangers.”

“No,” he says. “What were you doing back there?”

“I'm going to the movies,” I say, because I don't want to tell him the truth.

“Can I come?”

His question surprises me. I know I should say no. But I think, what harm can it do? Why can't I see a movie with someone? I pull out my money and count it again. Nine dollars, or two bucks shy of what I need for one adult and one child ticket to the matinee. No pops.

“I have some money,” Curtis says. With his free hand he reaches in his pocket and counts it out a dollar bill, and sixty four cents in change.

“That's not enough.”

He looks so disappointed. I think, maybe this is one good thing I can do. My good deed for the day.

“Come with me anyway,” I say. “We'll get you in. I'm pretty good at talking to people.”

I don't tell the man at the ticket counter we're short right away. Instead, I ask if dogs are allowed in the theater. I act real serious, and grimace when he says that they aren't, and then I ask Curtis to hold his dog right up to the window.

“She's cute,” I say. “You'll love her, I promise.”


“Ma'am, we can't …” He stops short when he sees the empty leash. Then he gives me a look like this is the worst joke he's ever heard in his life. That's when I give him our money.

“Thirty six cents short,” I say, and I smile real big. People say that addicts are charming, but I haven't felt charming since I moved in the church house.

“You really think you're a comedian,” the man at the ticket counter says. He shakes his head and takes our money. “Next time, bring enough.”

I smile and promise I will. Then I give Curtis his ticket.

There's only one movie that's rated PG. It's about kids playing baseball in an old vacant lot. The lot is empty because it sits over a toxic waste dump. So, the kids play baseball on it until one of them gets sucked down a sink hole. When the other kids pull him out, he's covered in glop, and he feels really funny at first. But then he mutates to throw a 200 mile an hour fastball. That's when he gets recruited by the New York Yankees. The movie makes me laugh, but Curtis cries at the end when the boy's father dies. I don't like that part very much either. We sit through the credits and wait until the lights come on and an usher starts sweeping the aisles.

“I think we better go.”

“I wish we had more money,” Curtis says. He looks at me like I might surprise him.

Instead, I can only say, “So do I.”

We walk down our aisle and Curtis scolds Joy for eating popcorn she finds on the ground. It's still daytime when we step out of the theater, which feels unpleasant and alien. It's like we've landed on Mars.

“I should thank you for a nice time,” I say.

“Can you walk me home?” Curtis asks. He has his hands clenched up tight on the leash like he's fighting to keep the dog under control. As we make our way back, I think about how he doesn't live far from the theater, which means he doesn't live far from the church house. We could visit each other. I could tell Esther he's my nephew. I'm not supposed to bring other people around, because they might encourage bad behavior, but I don't see how that line of thinking could possibly apply in his case.

We go around front this time, through a chain link fence that surrounds a small yard. One corner of grass is all bare and torn up, like where a dog used to spend its time digging. I follow Curtis up to the porch to say goodbye, maybe mention my idea about visits. But before I can, Curtis says, “I think something's wrong with my dad.”

Inside, the house is a mess. It's gray and it's dusty, and full of old furniture half fallen apart. It all feels very familiar, like the houses I knew as a child. I get this deep, dizzy feeling like I'm a stone being dropped down a very long well. There are beer cans and bottles on the dining room table, and only a handful are empty. Down and down, I feel myself fall through the well, without ever touching the sides. I pick up one of the bottles, the consoling weight of glass in my hand, and I watch the vodka shimmer inside like gasoline. Curtis stares at me as I roll the bottle around by the neck. It's a drink. Just a drink. It can be one for the road.

I don't know how long I stand there like that. I just know that I stop because Curtis is crying.

I set the bottle back down and remember. Something is wrong with his dad. Curtis seems smaller indoors, more delicate. Why am I here? I should have said no, but I didn't. Later, Esther will say it was the Holy Ghost that whispered me along, and I won't argue. But the truth


is I think I'm just bad. I still do the things that I shouldn't. That's why I'm here, in this house with this boy, instead of a home of my own.


Curtis's father is dead. I don’t have to touch him to know. It's his lips, and his eyes, and a thing I can feel in my gut. He's naked in bed and looks like he weighs less than I do. There's a needle still stuck in his thigh.

Curtis has stopped crying. He's standing there next to me, staring at the man on the floor, holding Joy's leash.

“Does anyone else live here?” I ask.

He shakes his head.

“I know someone we can call.”

I tell Esther everything on the phone where I am, how I got here, about the man I've seen in the bedroom. I ask her not to call the police. Not yet. Because it was the police that came and took my dad to prison the night, he killed Mom. It was the police that took me to the wrong side of my life. I don't want to be here alone when they come to take Curtis.

Esther arrives in the van. There's nobody else.

“Terrible,” she says, when I show her the body. “His father?”

I nod.

“Just terrible.”

She puts us both in the van and drives us up to the church. It's quiet inside, and the lights are all off, so it feels sort of different than normal. Bigger, but smaller, too.

When Esther leaves to go use the phone, I take Curtis inside of the sanctuary. The windows there are all stained glass, and with the lights off we can see how the sun makes them glow. Each one depicts a scene from the Bible, and I tell Curtis the stories in case no one else has.

Yet it doesn't take long before I'm making things up. Not because I don't know any better; not after two Bible studies a day. It's just that I notice, as I'm telling the stories, that all of them are kind of the same. Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, Jonah and the whale – People want to be good, but they can't. Over and over again, like it's supposed to be news.

But it's not news to me. And it's not news to him.

Esther walks in through the back, switching on the lights as she does. The stained glass in the windows all seems to dim. I pause the story where I'm telling it, just after Jonah mutated inside the radioactive whale. Esther isn't smiling, exactly, but she's got a funny expression, and she doesn't say a word about the police.


When the Unloved Love Laila Shikaki

Susan, from Chapman’s International Office was on the phone with the lady who in a month would be my landlord. I was sitting with my hands on my lap. My right hand was holding a pen, as my left hand was turning the pages of what I had written down on a small white notepad. It was probably a list of things I should do or questions I meant to ask Susan. The most important question, though, was not written down. It was about helping me find a place to live. I was anxious. My last experience with a rental house was my first in the US. It was in an old hotel that had wedding parties every weekend. The bathroom was ancient, the kitchen downstairs near the party area, and the two other Chapman grad students were both Chinese and never spoke unless they were spoken to. “Wow,” Susan said after she hung up the phone. I had tried to listen to the other end of the conversation but couldn’t. “She talks a lot, Laila. I hope you are fine with that. She says she will have a place ready in a few days. Here is her number. Give her a call.” This is how I got to know Peggy from 1010 E. Palm Avenue, Orange, California. Peggy was a talker. When I had finally called her, and although I had practiced what I would tell her, I accidently called her “Piggy” instead of Peggy. I said “Miss Piggy” out of respect because she seemed older than my mother. I was mortified at my innocent mistake. She didn’t notice, but it made my family and friends laugh. I had called the woman who would be my landlady for eight months a Muppet’s name. Peggy was anything but a puppet, though. She was animated, strong willed and a smoker, too. When I finally went to see the house, she hugged me. With her bare foot holding the door, keeping her barking dogs inside, she gave me a big hug that smelled of smoke and old clothes. I was not used to being hugged in the US. It felt weird, but nice. When she showed me her place, she was happy and cheerful, she remained like this even after we fought and she kicked me out for not being social, but I’ll get there.

Peggy was sixty eight years old when I met her. As the first weeks passed by, I thought of her as a talkative tornado; she was sure of herself and her beliefs. Watching Fox news as she smoked and played with her two poodles, Pumpkin and Nowel is the image I see when I think of her. In my mind she is wearing purple baggy pants and her big white t shirts. Always barefoot, always smoking, that was the Peggy I knew. She made sure I knew that she was my new mother; she would take care of me and the two roommates who were living there. Peggy had a pride in her face when she talked about her kids. She would spend hours telling me about all the Arab boys she was a host to. They still called her every week, she said.

Peggy was also very generous. We were expected to eat her pasta when she made it. She made sure to tell “her girls” that everything she buys from Albertsons was for everyone in the house. She would hug us goodnight and she would try to solve issues that would arise from having three international girls, a loud Indian student who used Skype like water, a Japanese student who enjoyed long baths and cooked fish in the early hours of the morning, and myself, a Palestinian who was used to much affection, and who came to the US in the hopes of being independent while finding my voice. I did not use Skype at night, and whatever I cooked, I cleaned immediately. Peggy brought us small gifts on every American holiday. I received chocolates on Valentines, a small cup with candy inside on Halloween, and banana bread on Christmas. I threw

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away most of the candy and didn’t take what was left of the gifts before leaving in April. I didn’t want a memory of Peggy or her house, but she still haunts me six months after.

Eight months after living under the roof of Peggy’s two story house, I needed to leave. I started to feel uncomfortable. Many things triggered my annoyance. Peggy’s untrained dogs who would leave small surprises on the kitchen floor, the carpets and stairs; the fact that I had to put on my headscarf whenever I wanted to grab food from the fridge or use the laundry space when she had male visitors downstairs, but these reasons were not what finally made me take that huge step. I left because Peggy was suffocating me. She was also unable to control her own house, which troubled me the most. I slowly saw how Peggy’s inability to ask the K to stop talking on Skype at the late hours of the night or tell the Y to lock the door after she comes back home, showed me a different side of Peggy. She was not that strong character I thought she was.

Peggy was once an alcoholic. K told me stories of Peggy losing control after drinking. She told me how Peggy had a car accident while drunk driving. K had to call 911 and explain that the driver, her landlady, was drunk. “Peggy was very angry with me,” she said. I was curious about the relationship K had with Peggy. They had no boundaries with each other, although K had been there only a year before me. Unlike me, she was carefree around Peggy. I was my social self but did not want to be Peggy’s friend or her adopted daughter. I had my own mother, a woman whom I missed so much, a woman that was not replaceable in my emotional mind. Peggy’s insistence that she was like my mother, insulted me, and added pressure on me. Peggy couldn’t have children; she told us how the Chapman students she hosted since she began hosting in the late 1990 were her children, a gift sent to her.

All that I heard about her late husband was that he was an Italian who passed away years ago. “We hated him,” K told me in front of Peggy. “Why?” I asked half interested. “He used to be mean to her,” she replied. You could easily picture Peggy accepting negativity from people she loved. K, who seemed to like Peggy the most disrespected her (unconsciously or without realizing) in front of me several time, raising her voice and speaking harshly to a curious Peggy. Whenever the girls and I would talk about Peggy and how annoying she sometimes is, K would tell us stories about her. One time we were discussing how interested Peggy is in our personal lives: “We once decided to tell Peggy that we were going to Disneyland every time she would ask us where we were going, even if it was at night.” She stated. I couldn’t be that cruel or playful with Peggy, so I would always say “outside” when she asked where I was going. Y would say “school,” although she rarely spent time there. Peggy had in love glasses on her head when she spoke to us. She called us “honey” and “sweetheart”, but she did not know that we had no eyeglasses covering our vision of her. I saw her as an old woman who wanted more that I was willing to share.

For her old age, Peggy smoked like a chimney. She coughed like a sixty eight year old coughs after many many years of heavy smoking. “My doctor tells me that I would die soon if I don’t stop,” she told me with a look that was both sad, but also content. She smelt of cigarettes and guacamole, her favorite dip. She refused to take pictures without her teeth intact. Her real teeth were almost all gone. Her hair was ginger blonde in color. She went to the hair salon twice a month to get it curled and took her dogs to the grooming salon once in every three months. “I love my dogs more than I love anything else in the world. I love how they wait for me. They love unconditionally.” I was not used to this kind of love, but Peggy taught me that when you lack human love, animals become your refuge.


“I never felt loved in my life,” she told me. It was night, and I was about to go to my room. I can’t remember what we were talking about, but she continued: “I always wished to have that kind of love,” she said, and as she continued to explain her feelings, I only heard the sound of my own heart breaking. I was sad. This woman, with all of her annoying habits and her intruding remarks, was a woman who was never loved. It was too much to handle. I knew I had to escape. I lied to her that night. I told her I loved her. I told her that we all loved her. I told her that it doesn’t matter if a man loved her the way a man is supposed to love a woman, because she had us. I lied to her, and she believed me. Maybe at that moment I did love her. I loved the old woman who smelled like cigarettes and acted like my mother. I loved the woman whose dogs would wake me up every morning whenever a car passed by our house. I loved the woman who cried at my shoulder after her coworkers called her old. I loved the woman who made me reflect back on my life and feel happy to have been once or twice loved by a man. Moments of raw emotion do go away eventually, and the next day I was reminded again of the reasons I was uncomfortable in Peggy’s house.

After weeks of miserable conditions, I shut down. I stopped talking to anyone in the house. My days were completely spent at the university, and my nights in my room. After many attempts to start a conversation with me, I told Peggy: “I know you think of us as your family, but I don’t want to be part of it. This is not my family. This is not my house.” I am sure she was hurt, but I was not done. When she eventually asked me about moving out, I told her that I would as soon as I found a place. She said that she is not kicking me out, but “You have been unhappy here and you don’t consider us family. You have become antisocial. You don’t like anything here.” That was it, the moment I told Peggy everything.

“Yes, I don’t like it here. Who would?” I told her. “There is no space in the fridge, no space in the cupboards for my stuff. I can’t sleep at night, and you called me an a$$hole the other day. I know you were joking, but I don’t like that.” She was listening, but it was over; she saw it in my eyes. “I don’t want you to go, sweetheart, but you have been unhappy, and it’s affecting…” I stopped her halfway and told her to stop talking about it. “You are kicking me out,” I said harshly. “And I will leave as soon as I find a place. There is no point talking about it.” There was no point in telling Peggy that she was emotionally draining me, that I felt like I was cheating on her when I stayed too late at school, that I felt she demanded my presence and love, and I couldn’t give it. But we both needed a closure, and I was ready to give it. After I found a place, I realized that I was not hurt by Peggy. It was everything around Peggy that hurt me, not her character. It was her smoking, her dogs, her house and its thin walls, her housemates, her interference, and her way of thinking, so I talked to her. I told her how I felt about the girls and the house arrangements, nothing else. She was a sixty eight year old woman, who had no life left to live, and so lived through her student residents. I could not change her, and I couldn’t change the way she dealt with things. Many things she still does not understand, but I am fine with that. Having my own apartment and sleeping without listening to loud music has brought me a peace of mind. It has brought me the conviction that Peggy is one of a kind; she is old, strong, but also sad and lonely. Peggy is Peggy and she will always be that Peggy that I once called “Miss Piggy” on the phone.


TheRightPath Kelly Sullivan


Honey suckle Zoiey Mull

Breast fed baby on a stone like a fairy, I’m home in the honeysuckle climbing up the terrace.

Sweet warm wind, tiny sulfuric apples, closing my eyes to take in the gospel.

The tree grew taller. We’re short as Mary. Cut is her pine and the truck neighbor’s maple.

The rock looks eroded, no flowers or fungi gifts they used to bring. I’d see them in the sky.

I walked myself home and was locked out on the porch, marker on my body, standing at the door.

To my right, that terrace, the one I formerly climbed, smelled empty, was barren, no flowers, no vines.

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Whatever You Call a Mixtape Now JC Reilly

I’m making you a Spotify with the tunes you and I listened to “on vinyl” as teens. The Cars might sound cheesy now, all synthpop and guitars, but think back: how they blasted from our stereo, like mortars. I’m talking so loud, Mom denounced you foolish

as her musician brother, warned you’d explode our eardrums or hers—if you didn’t lower the GD volume. Maybe so, but you needed to feel the music everywhere. It’s what proved you were living—rebelling, you said. Untrue—

rebellious girls rocked out to Whitesnake or Bon Jovi (you hated the hairbands). They smoked, kissed the boys, might even have gone all the way. You, rebel? Think

again. You gagged at cigarette smoke. You blushed at the mere mention of mouths kissing. You might have dreamed of marrying Simon Le Bon, but think of nakedness, and you’d start to heave your lunch. I’m not kidding: everyone thought your crazy

fear of sex was just your Good Catholic Girl shtick. All your friends gossiped about boyfriends and giving it up, but I knew one night’s whisper, how that uncle’s slithery want

rent you in two for years. Loud records blotted all the static in your head, slotted you back into your body. I add another hit to the playlist “You Might Think” want you to remember how we sang the 80s hoarse. This is not healing time, music, nostalgia but it’s what I have for you.

a Golden Shovel after The Cars’ “You Might Think” (Heartbeat City, 1983)

12 Poetry CW: CSA (not graphically discussed)

The Land Meant For No One

Our ancestors sacrificed seasons when they tasted their first tangerine, traded pants for swim trunks when they felt the Atlantic breeze, didn’t think twice about no A.C. in January, not remembering July, and donated their driving skills for a chance to live on sand.

I’m sure they lived the good life for a while.

They left us with citrus groves that die in droves with shiny peels that don’t betray the rotten flesh within. We couldn’t afford their condos, so had to move inwards, build houses out of concrete in a place too hot for sanity. That A.C. they never installed? It’s just as well, we can’t afford to cool our apartments, anyways, so we hope that 1997 Toyota Camry in the “gently loved” lot on 441 has A.C. that still runs.

And our parents teach us young how to text and drive, and gawk at every crash not accident on I4, which is crowded even at midnight by people who think 90 is the new 65.

We don’t expect to live long enough to worry about skin cancer, so we soak up the one thing

you didn’t touch.

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Yasmina Martin

spring in Cape Town bubbles outwards sweet doughnuts and coke dance on my tongue, late afternoon brings swimming pool races, melanin tan lines and that small apartment in Belleville, lemon trees in front snail slime trails in the back. the plunge of rollercoasters before heights made me scream. the sunny day lessons in Zulu and English, ochre sunset at the Cederberg’s and standing atop the playground like i could rule the wind, conducting gusts and foraging bloomed cigarette butts. some memories a slow leak, the houseless person, slices of cut orange my mother brought and how one day the place where he slept was found choked by cement, loss etched into buildings. everyday held its opposite. my memory could hold only this: the crunch of salt and vinegar, nose filled with chlorine, plastic medals against my chest and sunshine on mountaintops. the rest was hazy. the walls watched me for years, waited to spill open.

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World War Three William Bateman

He tapped his heels to the floor to negotiate some room. The crisp leather dug into his ankles. His toes crushed into involuntary fists. Not a doubt in his mind Charles and Charlie had somehow switched his shoes to an identical smaller pair. He couldn’t accuse them of such an obvious prank now, of course, it was far beyond tight shoes.

Friendly competitiveness isn’t uncommon in siblings, though can be intensified between identical twins by their supposed biological equal footing. Identical triplets, at least in this case, can suffer the potential addition of breakaway allegiances. For the youngest of the boys (by an entire 2.6 minutes) any genetic parity he could have hoped for was overthrown by his parent’s naming him Chiles. Maybe he’d have had a chance with “Chuck”. Or maybe “Chad”. “Chilango” could have even promoted him up in the ranks. This third son though, by little more than a name, was born the reluctant enemy of his brothers.

Inheriting the family's buck teeth and weak chin but not the killer instinct, Chiles did his best to return fire; cling film across the toilet, buckets of water balanced on doors. Kid stuff inevitably bested by his opponent’s impenetrable strength in numbers and dedication to that brutal step further. Live snakes slipped under the duvet. Sugar replaced with high grade cocaine.

Seeking safety in the bunker, the library, Chiles became well versed in, among other things, military history and strategy. He knew a diminutive army would inevitably fall in defeat unless it could achieve a tactical advantage. But a retreating army fighting a force too stupid to understand the reasonable limits of attack could never gain that crucial upper hand. There was no Geneva Convention here, they were pirates in uncharted waters.

This time though, the boys had gone too far. An ambush. An invasion that ridiculed his surrender to the war so many years ago. They tormented him from the crowd. His own face laughing back at him. Obstructing their devilish smiles behind the barricades of their indistinguishable hands. Discreetly bumping fists. Their mother next to them, inconsolable, held on her feet by their father's arm. Chiles had, of course, denied it all, and enthusiastically submitted his own speculations, but his brother’s alibis were never doubted. His accusations only sent his mother into hysterics and further cemented him as the black sheep living in a long standing self imposed exile induced by an irrational and wildly paranoid fear of his own family.

In the absence of evidence, the identity of a perpetrator can’t be determined by CCTV alone if they are an identical twin or indeed, a triplet. If evidence is carefully planted, however, and all but one of the suspects were somehow conveniently placed elsewhere, it becomes an entirely different allegation. The proposal of such a theory to his attorney had only led to a diversion of Chiles’ defence to that of an insanity plea.

“Oh, come on, this is ridiculous! They’re laughing for goodness’ sake! Look at them!” A couple of heads followed Chiles’ trembling finger to his brothers who, through red faces and watery eyes, shrugged as if to say “Wha…? Us...? Huh…?”

“Can’t you all see what is happening here, you fools?! It’s a prank! A goddamn prank I tell you!” Chiles' urgent desperation echoed throughout the room, but the gravity of his outburst

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was scuppered by the awkward, fumbling dance he'd begun to avoid applying any weight to his now tingling, bloodless, slabs of meat shoved into their tiny leather prisons.

“You’d have thought he'd of had a piss before he came in, the fucking psychopath” someone murmured in the crowd.

“Order! Order!” The judge cried, banging his hammer. He motioned decisively to the jury, summoning the elected spokesperson. Battling against her lenses the elderly woman adjusted the piece of paper back and forth to gain clarity. “We the jury... find… Chiles Brandon…”

Charles and Charlie did everything in their power to prepare for the punchline. Near enough biting chunks of flesh from their fists and holding their bursting sides together.

“… guilty of murder in the first degree.”

The handcuffs tightly pinched his wrists as he was escorted to the cells to await sentencing. Over his shoulder, Chiles glanced back at the enemy. The victors. The history writers. In fits of childish laughter. Giving him the finger. Mouthing “unlucky, you fucking dickhead.”


Entrenched Emily Rankin


MANIA and/or MANIC Robin Gow

I used to be so good at writing mad man poems but now my spinning is so normal to me I struggle to make it legible.

Flush my tongue down the toilet just to spit it back up. All the gnats and their night circus. The voice telling me

to take the trash out of my mouth to become a more stable mother for the infant in the impending stained glass.

I have to use the same bowl every day or else [ ]. My heart goldfishes at the thought of touching someone again.

I can’t tell if it is better to imagine it all as a separate entity or just the violin’s bow. I fantasize about re starving myself

until I’m light enough to be a pigeon. Nothing fancy but still capable of flight. Everyone else is hotter than me. Take my feet

for a walk in the cold night. Take a spoon to the mirrors. Gut them.

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All Dressed Up with Nowhere to Go Leah Terry, FLCC Student

My disappointment wears the face of my unrequited, its smile cracked wide like the fissure across my heart, and its eyes cold, like my bed and the icicles that reside behind my own eyes, threatening to melt.

It dresses well, sharp and refined in a cloak woven of friendships lost to betrayal, bad habits, and boredom.

I wonder, doesn't the sash holding it in place look the way I felt when my messages went unanswered

not once, not twice, but thrice?

Those freshly polished shoes stamp footprints shaped like my almosts, which were lost to a pathetic, pale entity who roommates with my rationality, the two of them fighting over dirty laundry beneath my skull.

And I'm sure the heel ends of its socks wear the stains of my stomach dropping to the clefts between my toes when I realized I was not special and never would, could, or should be.

The funny thing is, the two of us make a wonderful pair, don't we? Sitting here alone together in our wretched, rakish, fetching attire. All dressed up with nowhere to go.

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Primal Epeolatry

Shyla Ann Shehan

We dance around the pyre, our feet full of alliteration and rhyme. A mantra of aums echoes the edges and bounces off walls of the pentameter that shelters us and provides structure from which we may one day break free.

"Throw another spondee on” someone from across the blaze shouts. “Oh! How they burn so bright.”

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This One Calls for Takeout Shyla Ann Shehan

I turn three or four pages at most, channel the spirit of some poem’s host. Words and ideas spin, salt dissolves into water, and molecules bond out of control.

Connections are everywhere— an anchor, a ski lift, a headless doll. Nonsense all.

As I ponder November it’s not for naught it’s a grave evening by the Pacific I’ll remember. I despise winter’s predecessor and all the nations and all their war I’m making my own preparations for rage as I face the tree fallen before me.

The construction doesn’t stop there. Words wild and ravenous beg to be stacked together. They form phrases in my head as I reconsider what I read. This one calls for scaffolding and now I can’t be bothered to cook there are lines of rhymes in the middle of every corner. You go read your pizza. I’ll eat my book.

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She pointed the ‘L’ word at him. Loser. Elizabeth Wadsworth Ellis

Our fear to fail publicly is the walk back from the bowling lane convinced that everyone saw our gutter ball. We scuff the lane with the toe of our shoe as if that explains everything. Nobody wants to be a loser. Our email queue empty, or no blinking messages on the answering machine mean that No one wanted to get hold of me. People alone engender boredom, the inability to self entertain without stimulation. Lonely is when the persons who surround you are not the persons you want around you. I’m reminded of graffiti I once saw in Washington, D. C. ‘An unfinished thought, an unmet gaze, an unmade bed, we who cannot be forgiven.’ Socialized is living with others, ssolitaire is something to play when there’s no one to play with you. The Rolling Stones sang, "You can't always get what you want.” Fail and you don’t get hired. Someone once said of a job interview like getting published or a first date “They either like you or they don’t.” A woman I knew said, “I should go back to school so I can get a better job.” She better go back for herself, or she’ll seethe with resentment when she doesn’t get that ‘better’ job. I remember looking up from the dirty sink at the white tile of a low level entry level job, arms akimbo in dishwater up to my elbows, and thinking, ‘I paid back my student loan.’ College promotes itself as guarantee against slinging hamburgers indefinitely. College is seen by some as an impediment, a turnstile to be gotten through before moving on the next thing. Like the toilet they intend to get in and get out as quickly as possible. I once heard a college student dub the man in the White House a "seasonal employee."

Our feelings, like kites, reel, soar, dip and plunge. Like the ancient people of Homer’s Odyssey, we are always looking perpetually looking for guidance, a sign, the stars, the sky, whatever so as not to fail, to make a decision or a mistake. Even as we are blessed with possibilities and choices a negative outcome is repulsive. The possibility of a blunder frightens us. In times of pain escape is the only thing that matters. Electroshock therapy ‘reboots’ the brain; however, life does not have the ‘undo’ feature of a computer.

I was walking, thinking, adding up my biases booze, cigarettes, religious zealots, obesity, begging with cardboard signs and discovered these are my principles inverted, flipped. My resolve, my desire is to adhere to my principles for good health. A positive identity is shaped by culture, the expectation of our peers, their belief about us, i.e., our character.

Inside our body is the laptop, the hard drive, our brain stem, the faculties where we house memories, store our being. Our definition of ourselves comes from the mortar and brickwork of this temple we’ve built. Others can offer their input, voice their opinions and observations, yes, but we answer for the outcome, the summation of our decisions. Decisions made while painting determine how the painting will turn out in the same way decisions we make for or against what fate hands us work out our destiny to a result, to whom we become. When we achieve a level of certainty a threshold of confidence we stop counting. People stop counting when they feel secure. A girl stops counting how long she’s been dating so and so. Parents stop counting the newborn’s age in weeks. People announce, "’Been sober xxx years," as if to ward off demons, to avert failure. People want there to be the security of ground proofing, of meaning, definition and purpose.

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23 SmokeBreakattheTemple

Renegade Painting Richard Dent

On the balcony, above the pool, there is woman hiding in a canvas. She is a shadow, cast by a porch light hanging over an outdoor fern. A strip of black hair rolls down her right shoulder, until art takes on a life of its own, plotting great escapes, the water splashing over us, gasps, as the woman dives into the pool below.

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The trouble with names Esther Sadoff

I can't remember the names of flowers beyond rose, daffodil, marigold.

I give the flowers new names: nectarine kiss, peach flare, mint sheaf, plum lily.

Forget the clouds: streaky, wispy, seafaring, and ten ways to spell rain.

What do you call a patch of shaded stones, tree roots looped into keyholes, filled with moss?

A wood bind of black branches, early spring flowers, a chain of sweat across my brow smoothed by wind?

In poems, you are charged with clover and fog. Gray skies and sudden swipes of sun. Days with enough beginnings to fill any appetite.

I look to the horizon, as if it could separate me from words I can't say, a map where I can't find myself, a place I can’t name.

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Me, My Dog, My Mother, and Molecules

Emma Perrone, FLCC Student

“That was a problem for Cairns Smith's ideas. If the crystals were to gradually evolve, there needed to be more inheritance than mutation, so that mothers could have a strong effect on their daughters' pattern of dislocations.”

Martha Henriques in “The Idea That Life Began as Clay Crystal Is 50 Years Old”

Alexander Graham Cairns Smith was a chemist and molecular biologist who theorized that the first molecules of life formed on clay.


I tell my dog he is the only thing I love while I watch him sleep on the dirty cool kitchen floor that is only a little bit more than apathetic of our campaigns as creatures and our gestures as coalitions to always make sure we carry some of the earth on the base of our body’s’ back onto her flat physique to remind her that although she is heartless and still now she once was some form of earthenware too, had some similarities in shape of the molecules that make up my heart, that one time I read that some organic chemist with the last name of smith proclaimed that “the first molecules of life met on clay”, I tell him this I tell my sleeping dog this as I hear the water fall into my glass that is now cold but once was burning and hot molten like lava in the earth's core that I saw for the first time in that movie journey to the center of the earth I was sitting on the couch while my mother stands a room away in the kitchen amongst the gallery of sunflowers displayed on the paper of the wall a different dog sitting under her feet hands above the sink washing the dishes, we ate from earlier the glass cups get washed last and

for a second, I mean it That he is the only thing I love

My dog is the only thing I love, but then I think of the daffodils next to the trees he smelt before coming inside today after we walked together in the melody of our silence listening to the wind and

I think of the orange ball my mother who was born the same year as when that chemist named smith spoke his empirical scripture bought him the orange ball that he carries back to me each time he finds it again after it becomes lost for almost a week in dog years with his tail wagging waving reminding me his heart is beating reminding me my own heart is beating That I am not the narrator of the tell tale heart but if I was, he would be the raven ready to let off a rasping call to cover my iniquity,

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That he will love me anyways My Hachikō, waiting for me to crawl home out from every tonnage of life he does not understand, only in attendance for my presence, only here for the yearning, the infatuation and the hankering of my shared devotion to his he knows I do not understand the excessive cargo our heart ships must push along the large yet short sea as he is waiting by the shore, and as well he tells me that he will love me despite my grief. and I think and I remember oh, I love my mother and her unbarred grace full, graceless grin oh, I love flowers oh, I love to love oh, how you remind me how to love.

When you are gone, I will carve you out of clay, put your body next to mine and when I fall into that porcelain bed, it will be like we are the first things alive on earth. Cairns Smith was a painter first and, perhaps, this is why he thought we (life we are forms of life) met on the same kind of tile he once put paint on and picked up with a brush the tile of the table that allowed the applicator to perform its recital of movements the ballet that belongs to the heart beholden by hands where the fingers are toes wrapped into pointe shoes pushing the canvas to display feeling with every stroke every brisé, every prisé ,every pirouette. But of course, of course, he forgot the motion of a mother's hand and the warmth of a dog upon any corporal injury. But I didn’t, I didn’t forget. Cairns Smith became a scientist because he wanted to find a “system much simpler than modern life” and perhaps he should’ve just stuck to painting and gotten a dog. But I know better of course, just like my mother, I too have not found any solace in studying proposed facts written in manifestos about the methodologies and movements of molecules. Yet, every time I pet my dog's pelage, I am painting a picture of my mother's face, that way I will never forget.


Butterfly Leah Smith Butterfly,

Usually equated with death in the swimming world. But not for me. No, I understand the name; skimming the water, make it look flawless, natural, soaring, grit your teeth and try to breath, body undulating and arms powering beneath the surface. Whenever I teach butterfly, I explain it as if it were a song. kick, kick kick, kick.

Dum dum, dum dum, dum dum. Head up and down again before the arms touch the water again. Flying.

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Underwater Jardana Peacock


Dolphins do not breathe underwater. They need oxygen from the water’s surface, which they take in through a blowhole. They are able to stay under water between eight to fifteen minutes without breath. They are intensely social animals living in pods. Despite laws against it, dolphins and other sea creatures are being forcibly inseminated and raised in captivity at places like SeaWorld. They often grow depressed in their small tanks. Dolphins live substantially shorter lives in captivity.

The first time I went to Sea World, it was 1987 and I was seven. In a photograph of the event, I wear a fringe of brown bangs, my face hovered over a large tank and my hand lies on the head of a dolphin. I felt an instant kinship with the dolphins. Later as an adult with kids of my own, I refused invitations to swim with the dolphins or go to Sea World with extended family. I do not believe sea creatures should be held in captivity.

At age seven I spent a large amount of my life in an imaginary world. You could find me barefoot in the yard pretending to be an underwater creature. Peach pits surrounded me, yellow juice between my fingers. I often drifted away on the inside without ever making a move on the outside.

The characters present in my childhood were my dolls, my books, the peach tree, the grapevines, the maple, and Mary, the outdoor cat. My imaginary worlds. Even my siblings fell outside of focus.

Is this when I started to learn more about being in a place physically but really being somewhere else mentally? Oh no, I had been learning that since I was even younger.


Trauma is a story we know and also do not know because we’re always shifting position in search of more protection. I was like an octopus before I knew much about them.

An octopus hides when threatened, burrows into coral caves their same color. They vanish, they escape.

When I think back on my childhood, I do not find my mother there. I do not see her at the center of anything. She is always a streak of red flower patterns and jeans. She is on the periphery, folding the laundry, making dinner, or tending to the garden alone.

At age nine, I started to believe I hailed from a different place than my blood family. An underwater place.

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On the playground I could be found battling sea serpents with my friend Andy. Andy who didn’t speak and wore thick glasses. At the margins of the blacktop parking lot, we were laughing but we hadn’t chosen to play at the edges. The other kids found us strange; him and me with my books, my long skirts and off brand sneakers. We were forced to find our comfort in the imaginary.

However, I still yearned for a place where I belonged in the real world.


The characters who first taught me about bodies and what they want and can do were mostly men. They had sickly white skin and sunken eyes. They pulled cars to the curb during my walks from the school bus stop to home, from home to the bus stop. “Hey little girl, want to see something.” I would peek over into the car interior to see an eel extending from their crotch.

When I told my mother she said, stop pausing at men’s cars and looking. They became more aggressive when I didn’t come closer, they yelled, “Bitch. Whore.” I wanted to escape. I did not know what these words meant when I was young, but they pricked my skin like needles when the doctor took blood.

In the doctor's office when I was thirteen for an annual checkup, a doctor with steel colored eyes and a white coat like sharkskin, examined me on the thin paper covered bench. This doctor man touched me softly on my inner thigh. I shivered. Then he moved his hand in between my legs. I was both captive and curious. “Stay still, shhhhhhhhhhhh.” He moved his fingers in and out of me and I gasped. His fingers lingered in me for a long time. I held my breath for a long time.

By fifteen I was keenly aware of how I was something to be caught, dominated, and ravished. As I became less innocent, I learned the rules of the game. I played. I knew how to give a boy or a man a certain kind of glance to make him stop and stare. Caught. I convinced myself danger was fun.

Shape Shift

Cuttlefish are the chameleons of the sea. They can mimic their environments and squirt ink like a magician disappearing into a cloud of darkness. Along with squid and octopus, they are some of the most intelligent invertebrates. Cuttlefish and squid have three hearts.

An octopus camouflages and shape shifts. When threatened by a predator their shape transforms into something less appetizing, more dangerous looking. One octopus sucker contains ten thousand sensory neurons. A squid has gills to pull oxygen from the water.

The summer I was seventeen, I learned the bus route to River Road where my boyfriend lived in a rundown house. The dress I wore over was neon green, sixties green, colors that work on your


eye, seaweed underwater green newness and delight wonder and dance green. I was a sea creature sashaying down the street.

The dress hugged my breasts. I had decided my small B cups; along with my mid drift were some of my better features. How do we really decide these things when we are young? Isn’t it really those around us who confirm or deny what is beautiful and sexy and what is not? I was a seventeen-year-old who just recently broke from the Catholic Church and had taken on a predictable rebellion as my new religion. I wanted to show my body now that I was free from original sin.

I opened the door to my older boyfriend’s house. Empty beer bottles and takeout food containers stacked into an overflowing garbage greeted me in the kitchen. My boyfriend twirled me examining every aspect of my physical form. “Babe, you have great tits and this waist. I mean, fuck.”

I agreed with his assessment. He told me what was approved about me which became what I thought but none of it was original. He felt this way about my body parts and shape because of magazines and masculinity. You may know this story because maybe you have experienced it too?


Blue whales are the largest animals to have existed on earth. They also breathe like dolphins in and out of blowholes at the top of their giant heads. Whales communicate with each other up to 4,000 miles away. They can stay underwater for up to two hours. Humans on average can stay underwater without breath for one minute.

My boyfriend and I were going to a neighbor’s party, but we got nowhere but my boyfriend’s hall. Suddenly my seaweed dress tangled with my boyfriend’s hands. I was pinned. He unbuckled himself and a large swollen tentacle poked out from his blue briefs. I found myself staring at it, frozen by it. It was the first time I had seen him naked. This is where memory becomes fuzzy. I was scared. I had been in this scene before. When my boyfriend reached for me in the hall, I felt the fingers graze my skin from an uncle, an adult male friend I couldn’t recall. I had been here in a hall like this before when I was younger, many years younger than I was in that hall with my older boyfriend.

He pulled my pale pink underwear aside and pushed into me. I was dry, my throat was parched, and I couldn’t breathe. I was silent, I felt myself begin to drift. It had just begun, and it was done. He was dripping into my insides and then he slid out of me and zipped up. It is how it would always be: he liked it rough and quick. He liked thrusting himself into me suddenly. I didn’t know then to wonder why he never asked how I was or if I felt pleasure. We had not used protection; he didn’t believe in it. He didn’t ask and I didn’t ask. I was swollen and throbbing. He said, “Shave next time it will be better next time.” Before we left for the party, I drank a glass of water in one gulp.


I wore the green flower dress to the party. It was not wrinkled because it was polyester. A queer man talked to me in the corner as I held a Red Stripe bottle lightly in my hands. I yearned for gills to breathe under the water that had pressed around my lungs and guts suffocating me. I wanted so badly to feel my feet on the ground and in the room so I could laugh at his jokes because then I would be okay. His soft voice was only slightly distracting me from the throbbing in between my legs. There is no way I could know that night would be like all the nights I would spend with my boyfriend for the next three years. How could I have known; danger had become familiar and common. I had learned how to assume many shapes, like a sea creature.


Starfish sense their environment through sensory input, which allows them to find food, community, sense danger and avoid pain. A starfish’s whole body is their brain. Their brain runs inside of them is a spindly network of nerve nets. Their body is in constant communication and dictates all of their choices. They want to survive.

It would never be better or different than the first time with the older boyfriend. When I started saying “no” he wanted more. What is it about the word “no'' that is so exciting? I let my no get softer and my body dissolve into an outline on the bed, on many beds, in many bedrooms, in dirt, in forests, alleys, in many dirty cities, in the dark and in the day, with him and with others, many, many, many other men. I became a body for their deposits.

Now, many years later, sometimes I drift away when a lover touches me. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed by my emotions. I feel flooded by the ways love and sex opens me to another. I have been told by lovers I am closed off; I am not vulnerable enough. I am still healing from the ways men took from me without permission. I am cautiously learning how to experience my emotions. To stay present without becoming overwhelmed from feeling. Sometimes though, I dissociate. It feels safe.

I am always surprised by how much I am still learning about what is me and what are the objects I collected to hide behind when I was young. Like an octopus assembling themselves under hard shells and dead corral when being hunted by a shark. In the treasure chest I find a white taffeta wedding dress with dirt stains on its edges, a mermaid Barbie with a faded green tail, and a red viewfinder with a film of sea creatures that change with every plastic click. I collect these items and remember their stories. These objects were keys to my escape as a young person. But who am I after I’ve been found?

In many ways, I am still like that child standing in the grass surrounded by peach pits pretending to live in the sea. I am also learning how to trust the instinct and wisdom of my body. I am learning how to come up for air.

33 TempleofWinterDays Marsha Solomon

Restless Spirit

Christina E. Petrides

Through a glass I look deep beyond the hair and marrow, to what makes people bleed. Then my thoughts run unfettered by social mores and my forehead burns with feverish ideas. This also happens when I am estranged from sleep he trails doting fingertips over others’ eyelids while he shuns my bed. So I dream awake of adulterous possibilities fueled by fatigue and wine

34 Poetry

Bound in Human Hide William Doreski

In the coffee shop you read a book that sold a million copies the day it was published.

Bound in human hide, it explains our current political angst in prose the color of pork.

Your hair has curled with horror. Your tears trickle like motor oil seeping from a busted engine.

I’m afraid to sit and chat because the pages of that book are sharp and your hands are weeping blood from a hundred tiny paper cuts. Who would write such a nasty and troubled account of events

that already cost us many sleepless nights, our bodies raw with useless attempts at sex?

The author died of exhaustion after hand binding every copy with the hides of famous critics.

You can’t stop reading, so I sit at the next table and open my pocket Bible to exorcize

the demons that roil the planet like a soccer ball. The waitron informs me that Bible reading is prohibited. Her disdain erases the last of my faith.

Feeling slightly naked, I sip

35 Poetry

my coffee and watch your lips move. The pages rattle like foil. The recounted history unfolds with seductive whispers as small but vicious animals cruise for crumbs beneath our tables.


Photograph Lydia Fanara, FLCC Student

It was a shadow of what once had been The gilt on the frame long faded to tarnish A bit of blurred film suspended in glass

She had pigtails then And she stared at the Kodak with a lopsided smile Thumbs in the pockets of those ridiculous overalls

If the photograph had lived it would be as old as my children

If she had lived she would be older than me

Every time I think of it the colors run together

The red smudge of her socks blends with the dirt at her feet

Her grin shifts and stretches and I cannot remember her eyes

I think they were blue

I have not looked into those eyes since the fire in '97 When the glass bubbled and burst and the film shriveled away


I have not looked into those eyes since we sat up all night by the railroad tracks And laughed and talked and sang and cried And she told me her secrets as we waited for the dawn

The night pressed in The owls called A train whistle blew

Her hand clutched mine, still wet with tears

Please don't forget me.

I am still here. But the glass is shattered and the film is ash and I no longer remember the color of her eyes Perhaps my mistake was thinking I could hold on

37 Poetry

The Shattering

Leah Terry

There’s a place where it’s dark where monsters and beasts roam free. They haunt whoever they may find, unfortunate souls trapped beneath the invisible weight that keeps them there. These monsters are of the mind, conjured up by the deepest regrets and fears of the ones they haunt. They never touch; only scream and wail and sometimes whisper. Have you ever heard the whispers of a monster? Oh, they are so much worse than its roar.

The girl stands in the grass that is not green beneath a sky that is not blue. There is only grey and black and darkness here. Life, yes, but barely. The girl is none of these things. She is just simply there, a nothing girl, with only a name and pain. Her name is Naomi.

Naomi doesn’t always see the monsters before they come for her. Sometimes they are silent before it is too late, and there is nowhere to run. Today is one of those days. There is nothing before the wailing but a barely there shush against the grass. And then it comes, shattering the calm Naomi had finally managed to find, for a little while; shattering the grass and the sky and the life until finally, finally, it is gone again. Here, she is left to rebuild the peace she had just managed to find once again.

There’s a place where light shines over the world, bringing a new brightness to the colors that are always there. The sky is blue with a yellow sun that never tucks behind a cloud, for there are none. There are no monsters here. There are people who smile and laugh and sometimes whisper, though these whispers are different than those of the monsters. These whispers are gentle.

The boy stands in a field where purple flowers grow in the golden beams of the sun. The flowers are alive and so is the boy. His name is Luke. Luke has never heard the wailing of a monster. But sometimes, when he stands right here, he can feel the shattering of a girl who is nothing.

The grass that is not green is where Naomi lies when the monsters have gone. Always here, always now. She waits for the broken pieces of her body and spirit to find each other again and meld together. It’s all she’s known. She doesn’t remember her life before she became trapped in the darkness. What would she do if she lived in a world with light and color and no monsters? She doesn’t know. Maybe she would like to smile.

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Luke lays down in the purple flowers infiltrating the green grass in the glow of the sun. He doesn’t know why he does it, but he feels compelled to. He doesn’t understand why he feels the shattering. Is it a dream? How can one dream when they are awake and standing? Is it real? How can it be? There is no darkness here and no reason to shatter.

Naomi sits up in the grass, her body still feeble from the shattering. It was worse this time. So much worse. She hadn’t been sure her body would be able to put her back together again after the monster’s attack. She almost wishes it hadn’t. The monsters would come again, as they always did, and she would be here again, trembling and broken. She would always be nothing. But still, her tendons had reached for each other, her skin had melted and fused together, sealing the cracks, and her bones had snapped back into place, as always. She laughs with no humor and lifts her decaying arm. All hail the Queen of Nothing.

A swarm of moths descends upon her after the small sound. They fly over her, fluttering before her and teasing her on the ground with each flap of their wings. She hates them. She hates everything here. And most of all, she hates herself, for letting herself become trapped here in the darkness long ago. She swipes at the swarm, catching a moth in her fist and slamming it into the ground beneath her. And the ground breaks.

Luke is still in the flowers, eyes closed. He has forgotten what he is supposed to be doing now and lets himself become lost in his mind. Then he feels it. A caress against his cheek, almost like a kiss. His eyes snap open, and he sees what looks like a butterfly with no color flying against the blue sky. He can see something else, something dark, far above him, and he squints. The sky has a hole in it. He stands up quickly, peering up at the black hole above him. He gasps when he sees her, a girl, peering through the hole at him. To others, she might’ve looked like nothing, a rotting and decaying mess, but he can still see something in her that resembles life. Then the hole begins to disappear. No! The girl makes a strangled gasping sound, and then she is gone.

No, no, no! The world beyond the darkness is gone. Naomi whimpers and paws at the grass, hope come and gone again so briefly. She had seen light and color and a boy. His skin was bright, and his hair was orange and he was standing in a sea of purple and green washed in gold. It had been so beautiful. So close. How did it happen? Was it the shattering? Had it broken more than Naomi this time? Could it happen again? Could she endure another? She had to.


Everything here was dark, and she had seen the light. Everything here was colorless and empty, and she had seen a sea of purple and a boy with flaming orange hair. She had to.

In the pit of his stomach, Luke feels wrong. His world is one of light and life, but when he had seen the dark world and the decaying girl, he had felt…familiarity. He feels like there is a queue of memories waiting on the brink of his mind to enlighten him. Could this explain the shattering he felt? Was this not the first brush of his with the darkness? Luke kneels, staring up at the sky in wonder. A world beyond his own had been revealed to him. How was this possible? A flash of blue catches his eye, and he turns. A piece of the sky, the one that had fallen with the strange butterfly, lay in the grass by his side. He is afraid to touch it at first. Afraid that it will disappear just like the girl had. He touches it with one finger, then two, then three, and then he holds it in his hands. The top feels smooth and cool, but when his fingers slide over the bottom, they are tangled in rough wisps and soiled with dirt. He turns it over and, just like the butterfly, sees that the piece of the ground from the world in the sky is colorless. He tucks the sky and the ground into his pocket and runs back to his village, yearning to sing to all about what he has discovered.

She is ready. The monsters will come again to wail and shatter the world and she will escape. She will bask in the light and the color, and she will find the boy with the orange hair. She is ready.

His village does not care about what he has discovered.

“A girl in the sky…” His father says, shaking his head.

“Even if what you say is true, why should we have to help her?” His neighbor asks, shuffling through his newspaper.

“It’s not our problem,” says the priest that Luke prays with on Sundays.

Luke does not listen to any of them. He remembers the cry the girl had sounded when the hole in the sky had disappeared. He remembers seeing the darkness and colorlessness of the world and knows that no one should have to live there. Especially not alone. The piece of the earth and the sky weighs nothing in his pocket but heavy on his mind. He goes back to the field of purple and green where he can feel the shattering and refuses to leave.

The monsters are here again and this time, they are whispering. The whispers are crueler than the wailing and screaming, Naomi finds. A whisper is meant to be gentle. A brush


of air through the ear that pronounces love and secrets. But not this. Not the grating tension that the near silence brings. Not the harsh air that cuts through her brain and skin. This is a different type of shattering. It is one that is gentle and brutal all at once. And it hurts so much more.

Luke can feel it, stronger than ever before, ripping into his chest. It hurts so much, and it is only a small fraction of what the girl in the world in the sky is enduring. He does everything he can to split open the sky and free her. He prays, and he screams, and he beats his fists into the ground. He jumps, but he can never reach the sky. He collapses, sobbing into his hands, a new kind of shattering taking hold of him.

It didn’t work. Naomi is still beating the ground long after the shattering has stopped, and it remains solid. How had she been stupid enough to hope for a change, to hope for a world of light and color? It was never hers, and it never will be.

Luke studies the piece of the earth in his hands, running his fingers through the brittle blades of grass. He wishes he were taller than the tallest mountain and could break open the sky that trapped the girl with his bare hands. But he knows he is too small and too weak to split open the sky all on his own. Perhaps it is not his to break. Suddenly, a hand grabs his own. He jumps and tries to pull away at first, but it holds strong. It is only a hand, coming out of the empty air above the piece of the earth. As the fingers squeeze his, the feeling of familiarity returns. And with it, a flash of memory. He leans down to their clasped hands and whispers timidly, “Hello?”

The Awakening

There is a hand on the ground. Only a hand. Naomi tilts her head at it curiously, watching it stroke through the grass almost thoughtfully. It has color to it, unlike anything else in her world, and she grabs it desperately, hanging on for dear life when it struggles to get away. But soon it relaxes. Then comes a voice.


Naomi chokes out a sob and rasps out what she thinks is a word and squeezes the hand harder.

“Can you hear me?”

“Yes!” The word has to fight its way through her throat and her lips as it has been much too long since she has spoken. She has only cried for a long time, with no reason to speak.

“How is this possible?” the voice asks.

“I don’t know!” Naomi calls. “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know…” She repeats the words over and over, overjoyed to have a reason to speak again.

The voice waits patiently for her to finish before speaking again. “I want to help you get out.”

“Me too!” Naomi sobs.

“But I don’t know how. I’ve tried.”

Naomi whimpers, afraid that the monsters will come and tear the hand and the voice away from her.

“Now it’s your turn. You have to try,” the voice continues.

“How?” Naomi clings to the hand with all her might, her eyes darting all around, looking for the monsters.

“Fight back,” the voice whispers.

Fight back. It seemed like the right thing to say. Luke has done his fighting, but it hasn’t helped. But the darkness is the girl’s world. If she fights for herself, perhaps this is how she will escape. The hand unclasps from his and he lunges for it, not ready to let go just yet.

“Wait!” He shouts, but the hand is gone. He stares at the spot where it had disappeared, willing for it to come back. “I think I remember you,” he says softly to the ground.

The dam holding back his memories breaks. He remembers seeing her in his schoolyard, years ago, with her downcast eyes and her drooping shoulders. He remembers how she never smiled, and how she had seemed to flicker in and out of existence before his eyes. He remembers her disappearing completely one day, consumed by her darkness, and then he remembers forgetting her. Everyone had forgotten her. He feels ashamed to admit it, and he vows to make everyone remember her, and never forget about her again.

Fight back. She will. She will be the shattering now. She will shatter this place of darkness and monsters with her own screaming and whispering. She will fight. She will break through and fill the empty dark with light and color. She will cast out the monsters once and for all and watch them break apart as they did to her so many times before. She will be the shattering.

He doesn’t just feel it. He can hear it.


Naomi’s screams pierce through the dark and colorless world, and everything is shaking. The more she screams, the more the weight bearing down on her lessens. The monsters come to try and stop her, but she will not be a victim to them any longer. The wailing coming from her wide open mouth slams into the monsters, ripping through their bodies and crinkling them into pieces, like broken glass. Once the monsters are gone, the rest comes easy. The sounds of her fight are drowned out by the sound of the shattering world, falling down all around her like snow. The ground beneath her breaks apart and she falls through the blue sky.

He will catch her. Above Luke, the world in the sky falls apart, and the girl falls through the sky, free at last. He can see the darkness from her world flow through his own, dimming it slightly, but he doesn’t care. He will catch her. And he does.

Naomi settles her feet in the sea of purple and green with her arms wrapped around the boy with the orange hair. She is free. As the sunlight strikes her, she can feel her rotting body come back to life, slowly at first, and then completely.

“I’m sorry,” she apologizes. “I’ve let the dark into your world.”

The colors are less bright now and the shine of the light is lower than before.

“I don’t mind,” he says. “As long as you’re not alone.”

44 Untitled(03) from Memory(MeandtheMachine)2021 Max D’Amico

Untitled Margaret Hargrave

“Don't look in the basement.”

“Why not?”

My sister huffed at me. “Because there's no point. If he was down there, locked in, we would have heard him whining.”

“Okay,” I said. “Let's go and check the back garden again.”

“Sylvie, you're a wuss, you know. He's run away. I don't think he liked being here after all.”

I shrugged. “S'pose.”

We shut the basement door after us, went through the side gate and down the gravel path to the back garden. The ground was still slushy after all the rain, so perhaps there'd be some footprints. But no. We'd churned up a lot of mud earlier when we were playing with him, not thinking he'd want to escape, not thinking he was waiting for an opportunity to race off when our backs were turned. He'd seemed happy enough in the beginning.

I said, “It's all your fault, anyway, Tasha. You shouldn't have encouraged him. Not let him follow us home.”

“He only wanted to play. Where's the harm in that?” She tossed her head and flashed her eyes in that bossy big sister way she had.

We didn't say anything for a moment. Just looked under the bushes. Then I saw a shoe.

I stood still.

It was a little boy's shoe. Muddy.

I picked it up. “Look.”

Tasha shrugged. “I suppose he lost it when we were playing hide and seek. He seemed to like the dark. Under bushes. Behind the potting shed.'

'He is in the basement, isn't he?'

Tasha just smiled, the smile Mum didn't like, the smile I didn't like.

'If he asks me nicely, I'll give him back his shoe and he can go home.' 'And if he doesn't?' I whispered.

45 Fiction

notes scribbled in the margins of my art history class notebook upon learning of the libel-worthy art period called “Suprematism” Ashtyn Porter

malevich did five versions of a Black Square because apparently one wasn’t enough. it’s a Black Square; it’s a Square and its Black and if you need a metaphor for that i don’t really know what to do with you. oh, to hell with you: one version is Black, but with the cracked lightning strike gorges of drought ridden rock, or sand, or whatever it once was when rain fell and vitality was more than just a word. one version is surprise! Black, but like the side of the moon crafted last minute with a brush stroke, exposing imperceptible white dots like aliens winking in morse code. one version is void, it’s mercilessly Black, it’s the feeling when you see Black Square and it stares back at you, uncaring of your truly holier than thou witticisms, because it knows it is worth sixty million dollars and you are decently self confident, but you certainly don’t carry the price tag of sixty million dollars there’s a version four, a version five, but i’ve lost them. somewhere among the versions one-two-three that i can’t distinguish you can hear them sneer with a fully embraced New York Stockbroker accent: “He painted a White Square, too. And you’ll love this Guess how much they’re worth?” (sixty million dollars!) I need a drink.

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The Ecstasy of Albina Larice Grace Sleeman

Albina Larice, born in 1895, worked at the United States Radium Company in Orange, New Jersey with five of her sisters. She was one of five women who pursued legal action against US Radium and the third in her family to die of radium poisoning, at the age of 52.

The bug is on the ceiling and the cat is watching and you are on fire.

Not a lot just your hair; just the ends. Don’t worry, though, I have mangoes to put you out, and I made bread.

The handle fell off our toaster oven last week so now we have to pull on the hot screws with our fingernails to get our toast. I’ll get yours for you.

Your hair is on fire and you’re sobbing but you can’t tell me why so I’m guessing, badly, and shredding the mangoes to pulp with my fingers; your whole head is on fire now, and the rest of you is catching and we’re laughing so hard we’re crying, and our upstairs neighbors are on the verge of murdering each other.

Both cats are watching the bug march slowly across the ceiling tiles and all of you is burning and my wisdom teeth are coming in. I think one of them might be infected, or maybe it just hurts, but I put Orajel on it and now I can’t feel my fingertip but at least my gums don’t hurt anymore.

I’m convinced the whole thing is rotten: gangrenous bone creeping down through my jaw and into my skull.

(Did you know about the history of glowing watches? How young women painted the numbers with radium paint, which glowed in the dark, so soldiers wore them in the trenches of the Great War? And to get the numbers thin enough the women licked the brush, each time, and swallowed so much radium paint their bones began to glow, and then to rot, and eventually became so riddled with holes that a doctor lifted one girl’s jaw right out of her head?

47 Poetry

Maybe that’s what’s happening to me. Maybe my teeth will fall into my palms.)

But my tooth doesn’t hurt anymore; it’s just a weird empty blankness where the hurt used to be a knowing hole in the awareness of my own teeth. Maybe this is why you’re on fire, and sobbing. The place where something used to be feels like nothing, now. The bug must be wearing steel toe boots for all the noise it’s making on our walls, or it’s just our empty fists clamoring against the walls of the space where things once were. My tooth hurts. You’re burning down. I’ve misplaced the fire extinguisher, and the Orajel.


Hold Your Breath

Evilyn Pinnow

I’m splayed on my bed in my approximation of death. Each muscle is relaxed. Each breath is deliberate: 10 seconds sucking air into the stomach, 20 seconds squeezing the used air between my teeth. Slowing the rhythm increases the oxygen carrying capacity within my bloodstream. The countdown reaches thirty seconds. One last exhale, then my final breath. My lungs rake against my ribcage.

Now I wait. Each tensed muscle and contracted tendon costs oxygen. So I relax them, starting with my toes and ending with my eyes. I don’t think about time. Those thoughts will only make the waiting unbearable. Instead, I cycle through the body scan until my muscles melt and deaden. My heartbeat accelerates anyway. I must have reached one minute by now.

The pain associated with holding your breath is caused by an accumulation of carbon dioxide. Suddenly, I tense.

Free divers call this “the struggle phase.” It begins when the brain senses a concerning level of CO2 and tries to forcibly override the will. Animal instincts claw at my windpipe via diaphragm spasms a series of rhythmic contractions that batter behind the rib cage and break beneath the throat. There are no tricks or distractions now, just the calculated advice that I have enough oxygen to stay conscious for at least two more minutes. Three spasms in I’m drowning. No, that’s impossible, a second of frantic peering reveals the abundance of oxygen in my surroundings. Calm down. Close your eyes; now smooth them. Breath holding champions will float, facedown, for hundreds of convulsions before they finally stagger surface bound. In 1891, the French physiologist Charles Richet tied the windpipes of ducks and timed their frantic spasms. In open air, they lasted about seven minutes, but when dunked underwater they survived an average of twenty three minutes. Their heart rate slowed in the presence of water in a meaningless effort to conserve energy, a response which is called the mammalian diving reflex. Humans also inherit the reflex. The best trick to maximize breath holding times is to splash cold water on the face, being sure to submerge the nostrils. I wonder if it took similar experiments to say that conclusively. This tip is followed by a warning in bold: do not practice breath-holding underwater. Approximately 1 in every 500 freestyle dives result in death. Most drown in the ocean shallows within sight of the dawning surface. Alex Pullin was found bumping an artificial reef in Australia without diving equipment, his spear hook washed deeper into the ocean. Audrey Mestre took a single breath, attached herself to the 200 pound sled designed to accelerate her dive, then submerged off the coast of La Roma. Her body weight still attached was pulled to the shore. Natalie Molchanova was carried away by the Atlantic currents. Cary Chiswick slipped unconscious in the shallows. A list of ducks who drowned without thrashing. Were they reckless divers pushing their limits? Perhaps days and years of bypassing the warning signals of rising carbon dioxide taught them to ignore the very sensations of drowning. Each diaphragm spasm is like the beat of a fly’s wings against the skin. Irritating, but miniscule. I imagine the weary shock Molchanova must have felt as her eyes closed under the heavy brine. A diver who was

49 Creative Nonfiction

rescued from such a death described the experience as “euphoria.” I imagine the burning in my chest swallowed up in the mindless dark pool. I’ve imagined too much to enjoy swimming. The upturned bodies of the drowned hang suspended like beads of amber above a murky floor. I tread water to keep my face dry. I only dive in the dry air: it reveals how much of myself is me, the truest me, and how much is simply the body I inhabit. If I wait a little longer in weightless defiance, perhaps I’ll find the depths of my will and wake from the blackout in triumph. I bite my lip as my lungs reflectively convulse, close to a gasp but without the relief. Willpower is overwhelmed by a terrible ache. I bend and tense like cracking wood. Then I snap.


Blasphemies, Screamed and Unheard

Aircraft control is deaf and blind speaking in four letter words with forked tongues

As apples seem to fall into everyone's hands but mine while I go hungry

And the world burns leaves withering and forests charcoaled

Strangely enough, the rats aren't jumping ship but digging in their heels to go another ten rounds

Swinging vigorously as if against Tyson or Pacquiao and squealing quietly as they grapple on the mat

As they work ever so diligently against each other all together cohesively for and against and by us all

Parsing sentences operatically incorrectly correcting their grammar and inventing new expletives

And all of the noise is deafening but not as much so as the never ending silence that echoes everywhere Especially my ears

51 Poetry

unpierced though they are and in my cavernous soul

As throughout every bustling city all of the horns honk with violent silence and all the screams go unheard

And throughout all the sleepy country towns cattle moo articulately with profane silence and all the screams go unheard

So many four letter words I count more than most being bandied about the silent ruckus so loudly and dancing amid the motionless flame


A Statue Come to Life Ty Lasher, FLCC Student

A burning pyre sat next to my father and I. Empty cans of Canadian imported beer, Scattered at our feet.

The stone statue that is my father, Began to crack slowly.

From the Under Armour sneakers to the Red Sox baseball cap.

We were contained by the pitch black of night, My mind wanders to where the sun does shine, While my father tells tales of Neil and Jerry.

I notice the gray stone crumble to the ground, Something underneath began to appear.

My brothers had left. My stepmother had left. The fact that I was still present physically was strange. The fact that I was still present mentally was stranger.

This statue that I have praised, I have feared, I have loved, I’ve dismissed. Was crumbling away, Revealing something underneath.

I remember moments of my father tethered along a thin timeline, Broken in spots.

I remember dreading his coming home from work.

I would rush to clean any mess I had made, As the rusted chains of the garage door churned. I remember feeling loved as he looked in the rearview mirror. Making funny faces to a kid feeling small and cold,

53 Poetry

As the grey scenery rushed by the car window.

Now my father sits next to me happily, As a fire, he started for his son’s, burns in his eyes. Suddenly I appear in his stories.

As the stone completely fell from his skin, Something real appeared.

I’m told of regrets. Of who I was around, Of who I wasn’t around enough.

This unmoving figure now turned to look at me. He’s free from the unfeeling, Statue I kept him in.

Suddenly this wasn’t another moment of my father, Hanging on some faded timeline. This was a person.

Someone sitting directly next to me I can look to, Talk to.

For the first time in my whole life, I asked my dad if I could take a photo with him.

A photo that froze as still and as a statue.



Elissia Kimball


Poets of the Late Shang Dynasty Bruce Meyer

The poets saw the mountains first from far away, saw the slopes as beggars sleeping at the strewn crest where the summit sloped away to foothills awakened at first light and grew from long blue dreams where a tree bough over hung the way after a dawn rain washed it clean

thirsting for words to comfort them through dry months of rocky summers when a harvest of high dust clouds promised another year of hardship.

The poets saw a rich, green harvest and compared it to a faithful servant.

Mountains became dragon teeth, yawning at heaven with hungry prayers, knowing that poetry must invent a language to describe the long way back, reminding others to leave messages too if they wanted to follow the difficult road, where the mountain offers equal hardship the shade by a quick brook across the path

not just to slake a traveler’s thirst but to sparkle as it touched the sun.

The last of the early Shang poets was asked if mountains are made of words.

He shook his head and poured a ladle of sunlight so clear it could have been water.

56 Poetry

Discordant Symphony Ruth Mota

It isn’t the somber colors the gray of cracked concrete or the upturned umber of asphalt or even the smell of piss that makes this city sad. It’s the sounds: jackhammers, car horns, sirens repeated fuck yous from a guy wrapped in a blanket a defiant “I am drugs!” shouted across Van Ness towards our table.

Because of covid we are eating outdoors so this volcanic cacophony splatters onto my husband’s honey baked chicken over my pumpkin pie. It’s a wretched overture to the Beethoven and Strauss we’ve come to hear.

Near the concert hall she catches my eye a young black woman pretty in her frayed beige sweater striped with pink. She’s done something stunning to her hair something that takes skill, potions, a good mirror. So I’m surprised when she says she’s homeless. I nod when she asks. She waits as I fumble through my purse then place a twenty in her lowered hand. We touch each other’s shame. Feel it ignited by the lady in stilettos who stares at our furtive exchange.

The crowd pushes me away from her towards the border crossing where we must present: ID, tickets, vaccination cards. I sit in the center of the third row of this other country. The seat in front of me is empty. I save it for her.

Imagine watching the orchestra over the dark waves of her hair. Am curious what she would think of the famous Bronfman who is slumped over the Steinway hair tangled in a great gray bush, looking frumpy and rumpled as Beethoven himself.

57 Poetry

He wouldn’t see her. He sees nothing.

All ears, he listens to the orchestra’s questions. Answers them with pristine trills, the kind of dialogue I want to have with her after the concert. How would she react to the velvet hammers right in front of her whispering, caressing her cheek or, in a swift turn, pounding out their rage at life’s injustice.

And the bassoon player in the Richard Strauss would she fall in love with him too?

See the twinkle in his eyes this water sprite with his iridescent blue pendant. Hear how he laughs us up with reedy bleats of mountain goats leaping over grassy Alpine slopes. So fun the way his fingers flit like butterflies over his clinking silver keys.

Would she be flush with excitement by her brief but spectacular rescue from the din of cars and cussing or would the comfort of her plush red chair put her to sleep like my husband beside me?


The Psychic Cat Vendor Willy Conley

There's a man who comes to the La Brea Tar Pits every day wearing a tie, a ski cap pulled down to his ears, and an overcoat with bird droppings down his back. His routine is to tote a rusted luggage cart and a cage covered in black cloth over to one of the palm trees surrounding the Lake Pit. A stench of rotten eggs permeates the April air, not from the man but from hydrogen sulfide burping up to the surface of the pit where a statue of a gray mastodon stuck in tar extends its massive trunk and tusks skyward in a frozen snarl. On the man's shoulder is a parrot, and once the man sets everything down, the parrot jumps over to the cart handle, and paces side to side, squawking at passersby like a robust circus barker. Usually by then, a small, hesitant, gathering of adults and children draw forth. The parents keep their arms over their children like seat belts.

The man doesn't talk. His dark eyes sweep rapidly back and forth over the bystanders in contradiction to his slow and deliberate movements. Meanwhile, he unties old shoestrings that hold down a wooden box with a bird sculpted on top of it.

The man places a cracked mirror against the side of the tree. Colored rhinestones are glued to its surface, arranged in crooked lettering: TRAINED PETS GIVE GOOD LUCK. Next, the black cloth is whipped off the wire cage revealing two albino cats. Their tails snake in and out between the bars with a slither that beckons people to come closer. The man pulls out a can of cat food from his coat pocket and opens it with a dime store can opener. He feeds the cats little morsels from a spoon.

On the ground with his back against the tree trunk, the man puts the wooden bird box on his lap. He whispers to the sparrow and gives it a gentle pat on the head. He takes out one of

59 Creative Nonfiction

the cats and scoops up a small chunk of food, waving it teasingly in front of the cat's nose. The cat swipes and misses.

The man holds the spoon closer to the sparrow. Another swipe and miss but this time the cat strikes the bird’s tail thus tilting it backwards. A small cellophane tube rolls out of the bottom of the box. The parrot quickly retrieves it with its talons and flies back to its perch. The man rewards the cat with a generous lump of cat chow.

The man motions to a young girl from the crowd to come and take the tube. The parrot transfers the tube to its beak. The girl, not wanting to risk getting too close, reaches out as far as she can and grasps the tube with two fingers. She runs back to her mother who slips off the plastic wrapping to read its contents. The dirty, smudged message with an ornamental border of harps and cherubs reads:

ajust your rhithim to those around. come out difficalt cycul to good job, money, love, and family together. i love you deeply Psychic Cat

The man picks up the other cat and tricks it into hitting the bird tail lever. Another message pops out. A young boy volunteers to take it from the parrot. His father hands him a quarter to give to the man, which starts the man's trickle of income for the day. Meanwhile, the mother takes the message from her daughter, glances around to make sure no one's looking, and drops the fortune slip on the ground behind her as they leave. Other people come forward for a prediction of their future and throw a few coins on the ground. They hang around and wait, expecting the unexpected, but eventually they get bored and leave.

The man tucks the cats back into the cage and lifts the parrot onto his shoulder. He scrapes up his coins and drops them into his coat pocket. He walks over to where the crowd stood and goes down on his knees to pick up the littered psychic messages. He brushes the dirt off the papers, rolls them back up and slides them into their cellophane tubes again. The last one he furls up says:

new area solution of conflict in your faver. period of learning something new. Strong money lots. break thru for you with eksellent situation.so good luck in new faze in life. i love you deeply Wizard Cat

Piling all of the little scrolls together, he drops them through a slot behind the wooden box and then straps it back onto the luggage cart. After he covers the cage with black cloth, he picks it up and hobbles over to the other side of the pit to find another tree to set up his next performance. The parrot on his shoulder jerks his head every which way, and the cats in the dark meow loudly, not knowing where they’re going. A pigeon flies in and squats on the mammoth's back while tar bubbles release oily film on the pit’s surface near the statue's legs all oblivious to the expression of rage on the mastodon’s face.


FilanArt Jodie Filan


Drug Spots

The people are so happy. They’re dancing and ankle wading on a sunset beach. They’re cooking together. They’re families, they’re communal, they’re full of the joy of living and they never look back. They golf and they hike. They have happy kids. Even the dogs get in on the act, smiling around bright ivories as they receive yearned for human hugs. Whatever was troubling the people has been vanquished. They’re free and ebullient. Their hair blows slo mo in the wind. In their eyes glows the gift of longed for contentment. Revived ‘70s pop songs are their soundtrack, symbolizing, of course, rebirth.

I want to be them. The people in the drug commercials.

In so many of the spots, you can’t tell what the drug is actually treating, so I compile a list of drug names leaving out the obvious non contenders like Skyrizi for psoriasis, Xeljanz for rheumatoid arthritis, Ozempic for diabetes, Ubrelvy for migraine and make an appointment with my doctor.

Dr. Neelambam, whose name sounds like a drug I’d be delighted to take, is a no nonsense sort of woman, with a strict brow and stern, black framed glasses that make her look like she’s about to do some welding. I sit on the exam room side chair as she rolls toward me on her wheeled stool, a stethoscope already plugged into her ears.

I take out my cheat sheet and start reeling off the drugs I want, stumbling on a few whose names have no relationship to any words in the English language. Ingrezza. Caplyta. Dovato. Levetiracetam. Eszopiclone. Idarucizumab. Ixabepilone.

She stops me with a raised finger. “I’m trying to listen to your heart and lungs,” she says. “Hush.”

“It’s just that, I want what those people have.”

“What people? Which people now?” Her accent is punitive. She yanks the stethoscope’s horns out of her ears and looks at me with analytic penetration.

“The people in the drug commercials,” I say. “They’re so happy.”

“Those people are actors. They’re happy because they found verk.” “No, they’re happy because the drugs solved all their problems. The problems that were holding them back. Like plaque psoriasis. Toenail fungus. Restless leg syndrome. Lyme disease.”

“But you don’t have any of these things. You’re completely healthy.”

“Am I?”

“Physically, I mean.”

“Maybe I can take something prophylactically. You know. To ward something off.”

She pushes back on her stool and crosses her arms. “That would be a complete waste of time and money, not to mention malpractice on my part. What you’re telling me is you’re not happy and you want me to fix it.”


Dr. Neelambam is disappointed in me, I can tell. I hate that. It only makes me unhappier than I already am.

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A smile creeps over her lips. “I will not put you on antidepressants. No. And I will not recommend a better diet or that you stop smoking and drinking.”

I don’t smoke, and I’m not much of a drinker, but I sense that I shouldn’t interrupt her.

“But I do have a simple solution for you,” she adds.

“Fantastic! What is it?”

“Stop watching television. These commercials are poisoning your mind and giving you unreasonable expectations of what life is supposed to be like. And trust me: You wouldn’t want to trade places with any of those people you’re so envious of.”

“Why not?”

“Easy,” she says. “Side effects.”

And she gives me a stack of information sheets for all of the drugs I named, plus a bunch of others I’ve never heard of before, then she incants a litany of adverse effects: dry mouth, nausea, vomiting, rash, weight gain, headache, temporary blindness, liver damage, thrush, blood clots, dizziness, shortness of breath, hair loss, itching, numbness in the limbs, inability to achieve an erection, hemorrhagic stroke, death.

“Now go,” she says. “Happiness does not come in a pill bottle. Happiness is elusive but obtainable.”

“I thought maybe one of these drugs— ”

“Only one drug can make it easier to find happiness.”

I need to know the name immediately. “Please. What is it?” I beg her.

“It’s called ‘a chill pill.’”

She buckles with laughter.

That night I take Dr. Neelambam’s advice and keep the television dark, which my wife is fine with. I fix the family a nice dinner, put some music on the stereo, throw open the windows to let in the splendid spring air. Our two kids describe their schooldays with glee, while Lori and I exchange loving looks across the table. We clink wine glasses and toast the future.

It feels kind of like what I would imagine happiness ought to feel like. It feels nearly real. Nearly. But I’m plagued with the idea that something is still missing.

Then the truth lands on me like an unexpected diagnosis.

I need to get tragically ill before I can ever really be happy. I get it now: All of this is meaningless if nothing is at stake. That’s why those people look so happy. They realize they have something to lose.


the only moving thing

Fred Pond


I could count mountains somewhere not here

here I’m counting rooftops mocking birds and sparrows

trees aren’t minds here minds aren’t here although we have the trees and

once there was a goldmine then a mint built in the city I meant gold coins circulating somewhere

ii. I hear a new river after the rain after the wind

the shingles gone they sink and mingle in the river

the roof of love is every cause it falls in pretty numbers

the muddy river rises with rain the river rises king mockingbird commands composite rooftop shingles green wet ground a sparrow’s bowing shadow

64 Poetry

Anum Farooq

65 Fusion


Winter scenes remain separate between societies. Softly the snow falls to cover the dregs of fall like the wind that sweeps away cigarette ash from the sidewalks of city bars. We are not so far removed from civilization. Those puffy, rolling clouds will drift only a few miles to the sky scraper world where their chemical makeup will slowly transform from water to toxic waste, or else fall to the ground as ozone fog. No evidence of a nimbostratus in sight. But still, we are not so different. Taking the car ride between lands leaves its own trail of smog, but we like to pretend there is a certain magic in living where no train will stop. We practice spells on buses in the city, wishing with each revolution that their wheels will begin to peel up the asphalt and reveal the grass below. We cast charms on elevators, hoping they will pull down the space grey buildings upon their descent. We spin gold from McLitter and get rich quick. But I want to see the sunrise through the forest of seventy story office buildings. Break the image of content and apathetic perfection displayed on over priced postcards. May corporate windows drop off and shatter like deciduous trees. Let this winter be barren of frigid metal. Let my view from the country be the same as those painted scenes I’ve inherited from my great grandmother. Quaint. Rolling. An empty horizon waiting for the moon. We will use white magic to tear down the black hole of utopia.

66 Poetry

There is something enticing about the aromatic swirling scents of fall. Even in my grief, I still capture a dew kissed leaf as it falls from the grace of an emboldened maple branch only to be saved by my outstretched palm. I was afraid of fall this year, as if my mother’s death would have somehow compounded a melancholic haze over another summer demise. Yet, I am still in grateful comfort with the cooling haze of morning dew, the smell of firewood burning in the distance, the crave of pumpkin spice in all its ambrosial glory. I am still grateful to be alive as the leaves seek their burial one by one in the embrace of the wet welcoming earth. I have loved the celebration of death in fall’s majestic hues of burgundy and golden tangerine grains etched like muted lollipops atop a glowing mountainside. There is a promise of eternal rejuvenation I have witnessed in quiet awe. In the dying leaves drenched and softened by the earth’s gentle clutch, I have inhaled a potent promise of peace.

67 Creative Nonfiction
Gigi 9/21/21

Contributor Bios

Alex Mattingly has previously published work with journals like PANK, 3:AM, Joyland, North American Review, and others. Writing as Craig Francis Coates, his story “Donors” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize and the Derringer Award. Find him at bleakfrancis.com

Laila Shikaki is a 35 year old poet from Palestine. At the age of 6 she decided that she would grow up to be a teacher. At the age of 26 she realized that poetry was her calling. Laila has a Ph.D. in English Literature from St. John's University in New York City, an M.FA. from Chapman University in California and is now a full time assistant professor at Birzeit University in Palestine where she teaches writing and literature courses.

Kelly Sullivan is a photographer and writer located in Ohio. She is a former Navy wife and has two adult children. She has been published in several magazines with both her photography and writings.

Zoiey Mull is a Queer, agender writer and creator from Garden City, Michigan. Their work has been published in literary journals including The Phoenix Literary Arts Magazine, Pigeon Parade Quarterly, and The Figure 1. They have self published a poetry chapbook, songs from the sixth, and are constantly creating art exalting the messy, distant, and invisible. They are currently residing in Asheville, North Carolina.

JC Reilly has work published or forthcoming from Rougarou, Barely South Review, Louisiana Literature, The Santa Clara Review, and elsewhere. Her Southern Gothic novel in verse, What Magick May Not Alter, was published by Madville Publishing in 2020. When she's not writing, she crochets or practices her Italian, and serves as the Managing Editor of Atlanta Review Follow her on Twitter @aishatonu or follow her cats on Insta @jc.reilly.

Natalie Gasper is an internationally performed poet whose work has appeared in The Write Launch, Sheila Na Gig, and ellipsis…literature & art, amongst others. Natalie writes poetry, short stories, fantasy books, and has a writing themed blog. She is currently earning her editing certificate. Find her on Twitter and Medium @NatalieGasper.

Yasmina Martin is a poet and historian living in Brooklyn. Her work can be found in The Laurel Review, West Trade Review, the Aquifer (Florida Review Online), and elsewhere. She Tweets from @_yasminamartin.

William Bateman was born in Cambridge and currently resides in Kent, England. He is a writer of short fiction and screenplays, and spends most of time his spare time cooking, reading, and waiting for his cat to wake up and tell him what to write next.


Emily Rankin was born in Riverside, California and attended university in Texas, where she received a BFA in 2011. Her body of work deals with the tangles of emotion and understanding, and the intuitive messages of dreaming and subconscious exploration. Her work has appeared in various publications, including Gasher, Wild Roof Journal, Raw Art Review, Meat for Tea, Black Fox, Hey I’m Alive Magazine, and Rattle. She is currently based in New Mexico. www.eerankinart.com

Robin Gow (they/he/ze) is a trans poet and YA/MG author. They are the author of several poetry collections, an essay collection, and a YA novel in verse, A Million Quiet Revolutions. Gow's poetry has recently been published in POETRY, New Delta Review, and Washington Square Review.

Leah Terry is currently majoring in Creative Writing at Finger Lakes Community College. She will be graduating in 2022. She describes herself as a writer, skater, and an artist looking for inspiration everywhere and finding muses within the mundane and the mystical.

Shyla Ann Shehan is an analytical Virgo from the Midwest. She holds an MFA in Writing from the University of Nebraska where she was awarded an American Academy of Poets Prize. Her poetry has appeared in The Decadent Review, Ocotillo Review, High Shelf Press, Gyroscope Review, Plainsongs, and elsewhere. Her debut chapbook, Unsuspecting Cinderella, was released by Finishing Line Press in spring, 2022. Shyla is Editor of The Good Life Review and lives in Omaha with her husband, children, and four wily cats. Her full bio and an account of her published work are available at shylashehan.com.

Elizabeth Wadsworth Ellis was an outside child, conceived outside marriage, wed outside her culture, served outside her country in Serbia, Sofia and Russia, and holds beliefs outside her upbringing. She has jumped outside airplanes.

Sarah Louise Wilson https://www.sarahlouisewilson.com/

Richard Dent writes comics, poetry, fiction and screenplays and teaches creative writing at California State University, Los Angeles and in the National University MFA program. His work has received many accolades across multiple genres, including the American Academy of Poets, The Austin Film Festival, and the comic book industry's Ringo Awards

Esther Sadoff is a teacher and writer from Columbus, Ohio. Her poems have been featured or are forthcoming in Santa Clara Review, Drunk Monkeys, Roanoke Review, South Florida Poetry Journal, Wingless Dreamer, Parhelion Literary Magazine, Passengers Journal, SWWIM, Wild Roof Journal, as well as other publications. She is currently a poetry reader for Passengers Journal.


Emma Perrone is a student in the Creative Writing program at Finger Lakes Community College; she is planning to graduate in the 2022 2023 school year. Emma is a writer and an artist of multiple mediums and embraces experimentation through the deflection of reality, often represented through the remains of various but interconnected structures. Whether that structure is physical or metaphysical and whether it is manufactured or of the unprocessed, yet processed natural world, Emma is committed to these remains and the constant summons of grief.

Leah Smith was born in Cavan, Ireland in 2000. She is going into her final year, studying creative writing in the National University of Ireland Galway. She started swimming competitively when she was eight years old and has kept it up ever since.

Jardana Peacock (They/Them) is a queer, nonbinary writer and white antiracist activist. Their writing is featured in Pigeon Pages, YES! Magazine, Feminist Wire, and elsewhere. In 2022 they won The Porch Prize in Creative Nonfiction. They serve as the Director of Development at Peoples Hub and facilitate other rad projects. They love the mountains and the water. They live in unceded Shawnee and Cherokee land (Louisville, KY) with their two kids, cat Tuna and chickens. Find them on Instagram at: @jardana. Marsha Solomon www.marshasolomon.com

Christina E. Petrides teaches English on Jeju Island, South Korea. Scores of her poems have appeared in periodicals worldwide. Her new verse collection is On Unfirm Terrain (Kelsay Books, forthcoming). Her children’s books are Blueberry Man (2020; Korean translation, 2021), and The Refrigerator Ghost (in Korean translation, 2022). Her website is: www.christinaepetrides.com

William Doreski lives in Peterborough, New Hampshire. He has taught at several colleges and universities. His most recent book of poetry is Mist in Their Eyes (2021). He has published three critical studies, including Robert Lowell’s Shifting Colors. His essays, poetry, fiction, and reviews have appeared in various journals.

Lydia Fanara has been immersed in books since infancy, and once she could hold a pencil, she decided to write her own. Poetry was low on her list of priorities, but an FLCC professor encouraged her to expand her horizons. She’s glad she took his advice.

My name is Max D’Amico and I am a lens based artist living in New York City. I often use photographs to communicate philosophical ideas and explorations of life. I’m always shooting out in the world; experiencing and observing life is a key part of my process. The topics I have taken the most interest in are interactions between humans and technology, the relationship between humanity and nature, and physical representations of time.


Margaret Hargrave was born 8th November 1941. She spent her teenage years in Sydney's Sutherland Shire. She completed her education at Sutherland High/Port Hacking High. Her nursing training was completed at Sydney Hospital. She spent 13 years in Dubbo where her husband had a specialist medical practice. Margaret was a freelance journalist with the Dubbo Daily Liberal. She is also a registered poultry farmer. She was also an English teacher/teacher librarian in Sydney from 1984 2017.

Ashtyn Porter is a fiction and poetry writer from Richmond, Virginia.

Grace Sleeman isawriterwhohasfallenoutofeverytreeshe’severclimbed.Forher,much ofthecontemporaryfeminineexperiencemeansfindingthesensualityinthemundaneand findingthesacredintheprofane:herworkaimstoillustratethesetensions,andtoexpandand unwindthem.ShelivesinPortland,Mainewithtwocatsandherbestfriend.Herworkhasbeen publishedbythe Stonecoast Review,the Red RockReview,and Asterism.Youcanfindheronline at@myrmiidons.

Evilyn Pinnow is a recent graduate from Cedarville University with a B.A. in communication. She lives in her childhood home of Fort Atkinson, WI, while she trains to be a 911 dispatcher.

Originally from rural, southern Kentucky, Rose Menyon Heflin is a writer and artist living in Madison, Wisconsin. Her poetry won a Merit Award from Arts for All Wisconsin in both 2021 and 2022, one of her poems was choreographed and performed by a local dance troupe, and she had a creative nonfiction piece featured in the Chazen Museum of Art’s Companion Species exhibit. Her recent and forthcoming poetry publications include Deep South Magazine, Defunkt Magazine, Fireflies’ Light, Hare’s Paw Literary Journal, Moss Piglet Zine, Of Rust and Glass, Pamplemousse, Poemeleon, Red Weather, San Antonio Review, Xinachtli Journal, and others.

Ty Lasher is a current creative writing student at Finger Lakes Community College. Elissia Kimball grew up in Southern Illinois, and she holds her B.A. in Art History from SIUC. Her goal with her artwork is to inspire people to consider all the ways that a person can change and evolve while searching for self actualization. She feels that people should embrace these changes and spend time in nature to reveal the deepest sides of oneself, and to strengthen one’s spiritual connection with the world.

Bruce Meyer is the author of more than 70 books of poetry, short stories, flash fiction, and non fiction. His poems have won numerous national and international awards including the FreeFall poem prize, the Gwendolyn MacEwen Prize, and two E.J. Pratt Gold Medals for Poetry.

Ruth Mota received her BA in English from Oberlin College. As a violinist, she also enjoyed hearing the greatest musicians in the world perform there. While in a modern drama class, she was so inspired by a Spaniard reading “Bodas de Sangre” that she decided she must live in a Spanish speaking country but was sent to Brazil where she lived for a decade. Her poems have


been published in journals such as Terrapin Books, Gyroscope Review, Cathexis Northwest, High Shelf Press and Hare's Paw

Willy Conley's most recent book is The World of White Water Poems. His other books are Visual Gestural Communication: A Workbook in Nonverbal Expression and Reception, Listening Through the Bone Collected Poems, The Deaf Heart a Novel, and Vignettes of the Deaf Character and Other Plays. Conley, born profoundly deaf, is a retired professor of theatre from Gallaudet University in D.C. If interested in seeing more of his work, please visit www.willyconley.com.

Jodie FIan is a 30 year old, self taught traditional artist from Saskatoon, Canada.

Kevin Brennan is the author of seven novels, including Parts Unknown (William Morrow/HarperCollins), Yesterday Road, and, coming in May ’22, The Prospect. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Berkeley Fiction Review, Mid American Review, Twin Pies, The Daily Drunk, Sledgehammer, Elevation Review, Flash Boulevard, Fictive Dream, Atlas and Alice, LEON Literary Review, MoonPark Review, Atticus Review, Misfit, Scapegoat Review, and others. A Best Microfiction 2022 nominee, he's also the editor of The Disappointed Housewife, a literary magazine for writers of offbeat and idiosyncratic fiction, poetry, and essays. Kevin lives with his wife in California's Sierra foothills

Fred Pond lives in Concord, North Carolina. He has rarely published, always written. His work can be found in the inaugural issue of Litmosphere (May2022), as well as in The Puritan, Meat for Tea: A Valley Review, The Lindenwood Review, Prometheus Dreaming and elsewhere. He has earned a BA from Grinnell College (1975), an MSN from Yale University School of Nursing (1981), and an MFA from Queens University of Charlotte (2019). After 35 years spent in nursing, mostly in the U.S. Army, he is now retired.

Anum Farooq is an autodidactic artist, and she graduated from Imperial College London. An internationally published artist, global educator and mentor, Anum is fond of the creative links between the Sciences and the Arts. Anum’s art relates to exploring, dreaming and discovering the world around us, educating ourselves with inner insights enlightened with natural perspectives, to enable a holistic art experience. The insight between nature, faith and humanity is a life long discovery. Our perceptions of the natural world and our role within it, are interesting concepts to explore. Anum’s work can be found at www.anumfarooq.com

Chloë Williams is a writer, filmmaker, activist, and Professional Writing Master’s student at Towson University. She has been published in MAELSTROM Magazine, Our Minds, Our Future, Wingless Dreamer’s Still I Rise Anthology, Grub Street, and Sunday Mornings at the River’s Depression Is What Really Killed the Dinosaurs, which is named after one of her poems. She has read her work at the Chapel FM Writing on Air Festival, Leeds Beckett University's Mental Health Day, and the Crossing the Tees Book Festival. When she's not writing, she can be found making a cup of tea and playing with her rabbit, Bean.


Gloria R. Buckley has been published by Free Spirit Publishing “Pedal Away the Pain”

Wanderers Heart Recluse Short Story Anthology, The Tiny Seed Journal, Pigeon Review, The Write Launch, Formal People Journal, Ephemeral Elegies, Me First Magazine, Rue Scribe, The Star Dust Review, Defiant Scribe, Academy of Heart and Mind, Chaleur Magazine, Prometheus Dreaming, Red Hyacinth Journal, Sensations Magazine, Alcoholism Magazine, Chimera Magazine, Journal of English Language and Literature, Hermann Hesse Page Journal, Virginia Woolf Blog, Focus Magazine, Chimera Magazine and many other journals of poetry and prose. She was born a writer and is a lawyer for over 30 years and holds a JD, BA & MA with Distinction in English Literature.


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