Artwork: Prima Vera - NYC5
WINTER IN THE CITY
LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
Since our release of Crooked Teeth’s inaugural issue, “Summer In The City,” we have seen incredible strides toward our goal of forming an artistic community. We held our third live show at the Art House in Berkeley, California. Roughly thirty people gathered for a night of food, poetry, music, and thoughtful appreciation of art. We read poetry of life in the city, genuine struggle, and political awareness. Despite the uncertain times we are living in, there was a feeling of hope and togetherness that is so easily forgotten in the madness of the day. Unfortunately, that madness has continued to permeate throughout the last few months. There is a resurgence of fear of nuclear war that hasn’t been so powerful since the Cold War. There has been a wave of white supremacist and other extremist hate groups coming to the surface to take advantage of our confusion. Lies in politics are no longer hidden behind a veil of decorum, but rather are blatant. The United States is a country divided by its us-versus-them mentality. For the majority of these months, I have had the opportunity to view my country from an 2
outside perspective. During the rise of both Senator Bernie Sanders and President Donald Trump in 2015, I watched from afar in Seoul, South Korea. People from other countries asked me, an American citizen, what was happening in my home country. I was asked if I agreed with it, or if I did not agree with it, if I could at least justify or explain it. That year I learned that while I am not defined by my country, my country is defined by me. While I could choose to distance myself from my home, this would not change the situation. In the minds of those who met me, I was draped in the stars and stripes. This did give me the power to give them a new way of looking at the United States. This gave me a chance to redefine American in their minds. Over the last few months, I have been viewing the the political upheaval of my country not as an active participant, but as a spectator in the United Kingdom. The experience has been sobering. While living between San Francisco and Orange County it was easy to see daily life in the United States and be reminded that our leadership does not define us. While away, it has been harder to hold onto that concept, as everyday marks another questionable event from the United States on the international stage. It is with this in mind that we have continued with Crooked Teeth. As we stated in the first edition, we are not a political magazine and have no intention of becoming one. I do not wish to be another name and face taking jabs at our administration to ease our worries of the future with commentary or comedy. While these are important jobs and have their place, Crooked Teeth has a different goal in mind. We hope to be a representation of the times we are living in, a platform of discussion, and a place where voices are heard based solely on the merit of what they have to say and how they choose to say it. While we are not a strictly American magazine, we still hope that we can be evidence of something larger than ourselves. Decades from now they will ask if anyone was paying attention, and we will be an example of that consciousness. The following works have been gathered from our base theme of city life. Some of them are quiet and simply reflect on small truths such as the comfort of a neighbor’s porch light and what it is to love in a digital age. Some of them are loud and touch on themes such as gentrification, the Asian-American experience, and gender transition. It is the coming together of these messages–both loud and quiet–that create a true community. That is the vision of Crooked Teeth. As you flip through these pages, we hope you allow yourself to be both distracted and reminded. Allow the narratives to draw you in and the poetry to soothe you. Allow the messengers to speak and allow yourself to listen. If there is one thing that I have learned from my time abroad, it is that the world is much larger than we remember at times. It is easy to get anchored down by the twenty-four hour news cycle. It is easy to forget that what happens on the macro-level does not need to ruin life at the micro-level. The United States has been and is a powerful player in the direction of the world, but it is only one country. Sometimes it’s best not to take life too seriously. Sometimes it’s best to be one of the few Americans in the land of the British. Sincerely,
Andrew Halsig Editor-In-Chief & Co-Founder
Reality falls from chapped lips and crooked teeth.
Letter from the editor Poetry
8 12 13 14 15 16 17 20 22 26 28 32 33 36 38 40 41 42 44 45 48 52 56 60 64 66 68 72
Abandoned Advertisements for the underground An expert’s guide to mango eating And I let the fish go As usual Bike mindfulness The bleeding heart Bridges Bugged Car Slow Burn City livin’ Damn Bear Daylight savings Doll parts Footnote to a footnote Franklin Ave Fun things to do in Columbus, Ohio Getting there James How to be cool in 1967 San Francisco if you’re a filipino american teenager Late night local How to get home using the subway system In my father’s house Mission in the rain Morning downtown 2 train Oakland steps mindfulness #19 Oakland steps mindfulness #20 Our dirty laundry The light next door
73 74 78 82 84 88 90 91 94 96 100 102 104 106 107 110
Reading myself resolved Poem 2 Postcards from Bizarro World The Cinephile Sea Monkeys The emerald city through the eyes of the colorblind Port authority The man down the street You are Santiâ€™s poem Whimper Trying to reason with the baby I never plan to have When I chew these puzzles pieces I can taste your permission Within the depths of New York harbor You wake We are both mimicking drowning victims Fiction
117 125 137
Check mate You keep coming back like a song Gas lit Music
140 141 142
Deer blood Dead end Forward
ABANDONED BY DAVON BALWIT
(originally published in Auk Contraire)
the shopping cart tipped to its side wears extra rails snugged on with electrical tape by the one who dropped it at the bus stop, abandoning its rattle for an engine more promising. the guardrails slant inwards, the better to grip what remained of the life it carried. resting in winter grass, its rubber wheels, red-hubbed, evoke Radio Flyer, not an overpass dripping rain, a flapping tarp. a youth has leaned his skateboard against it as he scrolls his phone, not interested in the souped-up cart, nor wondering why someone would take such care then bounce. the worn tape extends its melancholy as it awaits the truck to corral it home.
Artwork: Alexandria Yip - Abandoned Closet
Artwork: Make Up Mix (London 2010) by SEIGAR
ADVERTISEMENTS FOR THE UNDERGROUND BY R.T. CASTLEBERRY For L I crawled one summer in a room rented by my labor. Hiding in a haze, fucking a woman revenging adultery and divorce, I took her by turn with Maoist cell members, sale brand liquor, every writer she knew to climb under naked. There was a schedule, a progression to the day: each afternoon a demonstration, a march; each night the scratch and scramble for beer coins, a buyerâ€™s stumble down Portage Street. There were nights we shared three ways: squatting with drug punks or Marxist poets who trafficked in punchlines or latest polemic, esoterica of Communist street wars, movie memories from the mid-seventies. Lesbians, cranks, co-conspirators moved in, moved on. Filling her mouth with cock and Cold Duck, I fell back on a pallet, pants off. Drifting, senseless, drunk, not John and Yoko, not quite Scott and Zelda, I tipped my glass back, wondering if I still had a wife.
AN EXPERT’S GUIDE TO MANGO EATING BY JORDEN R. LITTLE
Your Sunday best will be covered in sap and dirt before you leave. The green ones are good with salt and lime. But the best ones are purple, blue and red. They’re sweet and leave strings in your teeth. Check them carefully for worms before you bite, Then check again for worms after. You can share one mango between two people While you scald the bottoms of your thighs On a too hot swing set. The sun inflates in the sky like a giant, smoldering, beach ball And once it’s too hot to move (It will be) Splay out in a hammock Poke your fingers through the holes in the rope Lindsey said that staring at the sun makes you go blind And it is your job to test this theory until it proves false, Or until you doze off, tangled in that scratchy twine, Belly full of ripe mango, Hands beginning to blister. Did you know that mango comes from the same family as poison oak? When you wake The sun is a popped balloon on the horizon. It spills out viscera in purple, blue, and red
Artwork: Neon Lights by Colleen Brady
AND I LET THE FISH GO BY ELISABETH BISHOP
swift twist un-ensnared a cat is harder to capture.
AS USUAL BY DEVON BALWIT
(originally published in We Are Procession, Seismograph, a colection published by Nixes Mate Press)
“at the usual time, in the usual place” Steve Lacy I turn up my collar against the weather but not the crumpled condom, the flung gust of someone’s carfuck. Its rumple resurrects the Condom Man, champion of safe sex, who visited my classes with his condom pump, blowing up dozens at a time: French ticklers, ribbed, flavored, lubricated. Whenever he sensed attention’s flag or embarrassment’s creep, he’d pump it, pump it, pump it, like the upstairs neighbor’s squeaky bed, and they’d inflate. No one could frown before this variegated porcupine, gaining and losing turgor. (The same cannot be said about his puzzling, dental dam, a talc-y non-starter, like cunnilingus at a drive-through carwash.) I’m not Proust and so must settle for discarded latex to take me back to my Combray, where clueless, chafing against the ordinary, I somehow let solipsism obscure the march of history—the Berlin wall crashing, the first Gulf War, Rodney King, the Oklahoma City bombing. It was hard, then, to get a sense of scale, like walking the Nazca lines. Up close, they seem mere scraped earth, while from hillcrest or higher, they morph into tarantulas, monkeys, geckos. To the present, I’m as blind as when I birdwatch, unable to pick feather from leaf, breeze from wing. Decades from now, something will tap everything into sudden focus, something ordinary.
Artwork: NEWW by Marie Aburto
BIKE MINDFULNESS BY NANCY PATRICE DAVENPORT
happy man down the teaching his boy
nifty new bike
don’t know his
no matter the words are the same don’t go to fast remember what I taught you be careful I love you
THE BLEEDING HEART BY DAVID RUSSO
He seems young but dusk airbrushes flaws. He smiles, then â€œhey.â€? White teeth surround his words. He is new to this life, radiant smile will dull as his street expiration date ticks down, as he is stalked by hunger pangs, desperate need for a fix. Quick alley sex offered to bandage his loneliness, bargain for burger, a smoke. I feign preoccupation with earphones which muffle but do not protect me from the newly-rehearsed pleas for help, words I do not want to hear. Even so, my impulse is to lift him up, cleanse him with kisses, show him love exists in a city that looks the other way. But there are too many. I cannot save them all. So I give nothing. Do nothing. Cowardice, shame, quicken my pace.
SHADOWS ON WATER FINAL
Artwork: Neon Rain by Colleen Brady
BRIDGES BY TONY GLOEGGLER
You’re sick of the snow blowing against windows, sick of this D train stuck between Brooklyn and Manhattan, sick of scanning sports pages filled with lock outs and scabs when this lanky black man strides in from the next car like it’s the ninth inning and he’s answering a call to the bull pen. He’s wearing a St. Louis Browns uniform, number 27, and dragging a Hefty bag of rags. You fold the paper, pray he doesn’t smell like the dead and get ready to recite, “Sorry man, catch you next time” when he stops in front of you, extends his hand and says, “Satch Paige is my name.”
Satchel Leroy Paige died in Kansas City, June eighth, 1982. But this guy looks like he stepped out of every photograph taken in his prime. You smile, tell him your name and pump his hand. He’s heading south. Gonna show them replacement boys Ol Satch still got a little left. His meal money done run out and it’s a long stretch to summer. If it was 1961, closing in on midnight, and you had just finished kissing your first girlfriend good night, you’d be riding your new three speed over the Williamsburg Bridge, trying to make it home before your father keeps his promise and beats your ass for being late.
And will you dig into your pocket, give Ol Satch enough change for coffee, a buttered roll? Will you fold a twenty dollar bill into his hand, rummage through your knapsack, pass him paper and pen, and ask for his autograph? Will you get off at the next stop, order thick steaks, baked potatoes, and split the last piece of cheesecake? Will you listen to him talk baseball until he couldnâ€™t eat one more bite?
If you were pumping the pedals hard, if lines of cars were speeding past, their tires hissing against the tar, their wide open windows singing top forty tunes, would you notice the big black bear of a man standing in the walkway, lifting a shiny brass saxophone to his lips? Would you skid to a stop and sit at his feet, lean back, close your eyes and listen? Would you believe it was Sonny Rollins blowing? Yes, Sonny Fucking Rollins woodshedding, communing with his music. Would you say to hell with your father and stay until Sonnyâ€™s breath ran out, stay until the first shell pinks of morning lit every city building?
BUGGED CAR SLOW BURN BY LINETTE REEMAN
After I was arrested for allegedly vandalizing the Trump National Golf Course in Pine Hill, NJ, I suspected my car had been bugged by the arresting police department. While this suspicion has not been confirmed either way, the following piece is a dramatization of this concept. //
[PART I] CONVERSATION WITH A MAYBE-LOVER DETAILING THE REASONS WE ARE STILL ALIVE okay so picture a car and in it us, and in another universe the same car, but maybe you and someone else, or i and a crash, or us but not kissing, or us but maybe fighting, the point is infinite possibility, get it? so picture You multiplied by infinity. the only You you can control is this one. anything you do in This world rules out the possibility of that specific scenario happening to any other You. so This is the only universe where We are doing This. and say there is some universe you kill yourself. and that means there are infinite universes in which you don’t. but that means somewhere there’s a kid who is You who is going to die. but say you kill yourself in this world, then maybe the other kid won’t, get it? the first person to give me this thought told me this is how i promised some god that i was serious about living, by ending myself. fuck that guy, amirite? hey, whatever. i’m not dead because once my best friend’s other best friend jumped off the moon and my best friend still hasn’t forgiven them-self for not predicting the future and damn i don’t wanna give someone i love the same nightmare again, you know? yo it’s fine, though, i guess i’m just worried because we keep kissing and nothing’s gone wrong yet. or we fit so comfortable i don’t want to tell anyone in case saying it out-loud triggers a less-truth. or commitment feels like too-big shoes over hot coals and everyone else got a head start. or there’s another universe where i don’t get to be this lucky because i get you at 2 AM pressed into my kitchen sink and laughing at how we flounder through the thick air in This universe and who decided i get to be all intimate with circumstance anyway? //
[PART II] NSA-EDITED VERSION OF THE PREVIOUS CONVERSATION, IMPLICATING ME IN AN UNSPECIFIED CRIME okay so picture a car and in it us, and in another universe the same car, but maybe you and someone else, or i and a crash, or us but not kissing, or us but maybe fighting, the point is infinite possibility, get it? so picture You multiplied by infinity. the only You you can control is this one. anything you do in This world rules out the possibility of that specific scenario happening to any other You. so This is the only universe where We are doing This. and say there is some universe you kill yourself. and that means there are infinite universes in which you don’t. but that means somewhere there’s a kid who is You who is going to die. but say you kill yourself in this world, then maybe the other kid won’t, get it? the first person to give me this thought told me this is how i promised some god that i was serious about living, by ending myself. fuck that guy, amirite? hey, whatever. i’m not dead because once my best friend’s other best friend jumped off the moon and my best friend still hasn’t forgiven them-self for not predicting the future and damn i don’t wanna give someone i love the same nightmare again, you know? yo it’s fine, though, i guess i’m just worried because we keep kissing and nothing’s gone wrong yet. or we fit so comfortable i don’t want to tell anyone in case saying it out-loud triggers a less-truth. or commitment feels like too-big shoes over hot coals and everyone else got a head start. or there’s another universe where i don’t get to be this lucky because i get you at 2 AM pressed into my kitchen sink and laughing at how we flounder through the thick air in This universe and who decided i get to be all intimate with circumstance anyway? //
[PART III] THIRD-PARTY HEADLINE ABOUT MY SUBSEQUENT ARREST FOR THE UNSPECIFIED CRIME, FOR AN ARTICLE WHICH QUOTES THE NSA EDITION OF THE ORIGINAL TRANSCRIPT, BUT DOES NOT MENTION THE BIAS OR DECEIT WITH WHICH IT WAS OBTAINED okay so picture a car and in it us, and in another universe the same car, but maybe you and someone else, or i and a crash, or us but not kissing, or us but maybe fighting, the point is infinite possibility, get it? so picture You multiplied by infinity. the only You you can control is this one. anything you do in This world rules out the possibility of that specific scenario happening to any other You. so This is the only universe where We are doing This. and say there is some universe you kill yourself. and that means there are infinite universes in which you don’t. but that means somewhere there’s a kid who is You who is going to die. but say you kill yourself in this world, then maybe the other kid won’t, get it? the first person to give me this thought told me this is how i promised some god that i was serious about living, by ending myself. fuck that guy, amirite? hey, whatever. i’m not dead because once my best friend’s other best friend jumped off the moon and my best friend still hasn’t forgiven them-self for not predicting the future and damn i don’t wanna give someone i love the same nightmare again, you know? yo it’s fine, though, i guess i’m just worried because we keep kissing and nothing’s gone wrong yet. or we fit so comfortable i don’t want to tell anyone in case saying it out-loud triggers a less-truth. or commitment feels like too-big shoes over hot coals and everyone else got a head start. or there’s another universe where i don’t get to be this lucky because i get you at 2 AM pressed into my kitchen sink and laughing at how we flounder through the thick air in This universe and who decided i get to be all intimate with circumstance anyway? //
Artwork: Bissman 2 by Wayne Russell
CITY LIVIN’ BY TONY GLOEGGLER
City life is dark, mean, riddled with pee stains on concrete sidewalks, overflowing with good ganja and long money even if it’s not always old money. The city by the bay is rampant equally with hustlers in sweats and con-artists in suits. It is a stomping ground for artists and a rest haven for activists and creators. This is the funeral parlor for boredom and the birthplace of freedom; it is where everybody can be anybody and anybody can be somebody. I walk these streets and remember the times; I recall spreading love and have to admit to also taking away futures. I stroll past the tall buildings, the color-coded projects, the posh boutique like stores that we just call small businesses and fusion of aromatic spices wafting in the air. I have floated into another space on buses forging into designated pit stops throughout the mecca of west coast nor cal greatness, and created dreams in my head that I would later use to create a new reality. But it is the people that have always kept me grounded. The shades of black, brown, tan and the untanned coagulate into a collage of distinction. We aren’t the typical city and we ain’t like nothing you ever seen. Hidden genius lies in the alleys offset from main streets in the mission district, and major blocks of the under-world known as the Tenderloins. You can find a crack head with an eclectic sense of style perfect for contemporary interior design. Mad scientists and child-development specialists walk long ways down town to get a short break on being broke and a long shot at surviving. You can find more talent in the grit of San Francisco than a tour through Juliard School of the Arts. Wishes, hopes and dreams lay dormant in a coma as the air is breathed into severe hustle. The determination not to fail even if the keepers of the struggle can’t really feel free enough to live gives
us life. This is where you love to stay and make any space you claim a home. Nobody ever comes to the city and says they forgot how it feels once they are gone; the place that never leaves you even when you think you got away. No one has to wonder where we are from when we venture out, the smooth drawl and catchy phrases speak for themselves. We created keepin’ it real and made the word hella a household word. We said ‘bruh’ in the hood before it was mainstream vernacular with spelling variations and became registered in the urban dictionary. We do what we want and we want to have it all. The city teaches us you can always keep growing and the sky is not the limit as long as you can be strong enough to push through the clouds like the high rise apartments that spawned up one day and gave shade to the traffic on the bay bridge. You can be gay, transgender, non-binary or undetermined as long as you can determine you don’t need to care what anyone else thinks in order to be who you are and do whatever it is you like. The city lacks conformity and embraces truth. This is not the city of homosexuality it is a sensual place where you can be free sexually. Straight people will use the same mouth to speak on the importance of gay rights as they will to place passion inside of a lover and make love, babies and money together. Named Frisco for short and categorized by 40 plus districts and areas each holding their own weight and wealth, the city is anything but lacking. Full of culture, vibrant zest for living, strong with the fragrance of survival, the city is a vulture and an angel in the same token. This is where we do jail visits different from other counties and praise Jesus in over a dozen languages every Sunday. Sunny San Francisco is the home of Sunnydale projects where I first learned to play softball, got molested, lost my virginity, fell in love with my first best friend and learned my mother was not only a person but also the greatest friend I would ever have. The projects by the cow palace was where my mom shocked the neighbors by wearing sexual freedom proudly and proving that gay culture is
a part of black culture and being broke, or a single mom, or administrator of a non-profit or a devout Christian cannot change the fact that a woman can fall in love with a woman who is a better man than any of the guys her kids have ever known. The swamp or swampy D as we called it back in the days is home to a home I lived in that housed two silent rapes and a loud rancid stench of grief from a missing daddy; the rooms held memories of playing with Barbie dolls and naming cabbage patch kids. The dirt lawns reminded all of us kids that we once played actual games for pleasure instead of theoretical games for power. I never forgot the time my mommas husband swam in the dirt as he was going off the deep end from too many dirt rocks and crack pipes. The look of surprise and worry in my mothers’ eyes unfolds itself anytime I close my lids to reminisce about home. The city will always be home because home is where the heart is and pieces of my heart died every time I lost another friend or loved one to gun violence and each time I took a fist blow to the face from a boy who called himself a man because everyone feared his anger too much to apply corrective action. San Francisco doesn’t even need the abbreviation behind it to see a ray of where it is and what it looks like – the City shines bright, just like all of California. This is where I learned I was different and discovered my God was a God who couldn’t fail and designed me to win. The first time I let the Holy Ghost hold me was in a church at the end of Geneva in front peers who were waiting for us to leave so they could show how to really get by without anybody grown seeing us sin. San Francisco holds a little bit of everything for my soul to recall how far we have come. It keeps a discography of songs that I have danced to throughout the ages of MTV and into the tunes of BET. San Francisco is where a bunch of us found the will to prove other people wrong, but it is most special because it is where I first started to discover myself and the treasure box where I found something priceless – something just for me.
DAMN BEAR BY PHEBE PHILLIPS
it was probably Friday night or Saturday at their house Cronkite in the background Vietnam sounds our parents were friends you be the bear no, you be the bear so, he was the bear
on the head of the bear, that damn bear the bear went down yelling, screaming, crying bear sissy bear off we go sissy bear crying in the back room homebound long ride lectures about bears lectures about toy guns lectures about being a girl lectures about playing nice with others
there i was pinned between little-boy twin beds back to the wall my toy gun firing that damn bear wouldn’t go down death to the bear the undying bear as the beady bear eyes got closer growling hands in the air, being the bear i turned the gun the toy metal gun i held the barrel the cold barrel i hit with the handle wham!
too little to see out the car window i sat on my pillow in the backseat center i got the bear i know i got the bear damn bear should have gone down all the firing played dead but, no… damn bear wouldn’t die i saw him last Spring at my mother’s funeral.
Artwork: Soft by Pamela Pacheco
Artwork: NYC3 by Prima Vera
DAYLIGHT SAVINGS BY TONY GLOEGGLER
When I climb out of the subway, the sun still sits in the sky. I take the long way home, cut through the park. Boom boxes beat hip hop and the basketball courts are jammed with brothers running full out. I curl my fingers around fence links, taste sweat wetting my lips, whisper “I got next.” Girls straddle benches, stand in circles waving cigarettes, heads flung back, flicking smoke signals. A grandfather underhands a fat wiffle ball. The little kid swings, hits a humpbacked fly. I trot a few steps, catch it over my shoulder like Mays in ‘54. I grab a slice with extra cheese. Squeeze melons, mangos, nectarines. Pick up laundry and unlock my mail box. Home. One more hour of light to kill remembering my father died February first, that the last time I slept with a woman was nearly seven months ago in Corrales, New Mexico and I didn’t love one thing about her.
DOLL PARTS BY LEAH MUELLER
In the morning I am surprised to see my coffee cup open and waiting, like somebody placed it on the counter for my drinking pleasure. I cross the street to the market to buy more coffee, dodging cars, sidestepping a naked, abandoned Barbie doll, while an orange-vested man directs traffic in the parking lot. I wave to him, but he doesn’t wave back. More accidents happen in parking lots than any other location. Moving from a stationary position unnerves people, so their necks don’t swivel properly. If they were dolls, they could look in all directions, heads spinning fast.Their maniacal eyes
would catch every detail. The cashier asks me the usual questions about paper or plastic. It’s an elective choice between the gutting of forests or the smothering of the earth with petroleum products. The growth of a tree takes a hundred years. I say paper because plastic bags disturb me even more than dolls. My apartment waits in the distance, patiently like a dog. I make more coffee, hum to myself, feeling the veins as they pulse inside my inflexible neck. Outdoors, on the sidewalk, naked Barbie sunbathes with her back against the cement. Her nipple-less breasts point skyward while she smiles at the clouds, her expression as empty as the inside of my cup. I wave to her, but she doesn’t wave back.
Artwork: Carousel by Colleen Brady
FOOTNOTE TO A FOOTNOTE¹ BY TRISH HOPKINSON
Jacuzzis are holy. Garage door openers are holy. Back-up cameras and recycle bins—all holy. Putting the red flag up on the mailbox, waving at the elderly getting my toes wet with dew—holy, holy, holy. Keeping my eyelids open and trying to sleep like fish, signing my name with less letters and more scribbles, counting crows feet, counting yellow toenails, counting haircuts, counting plucked whiskers, counting constantly. Bookshelves are holy. Missing dust covers are holy, magicians and black and white T.V. shows, Penn Jillette theories and Andy Griffith justice, Uncle Walt songs and Ginsberg poems—holy, holy, holy. Drinking beer before noon, drinking liquor right after, drinking it warm (or on ice) with a friend (or not). Waking up drunk, waking up sober, waking up tired, waking up hungry, waking—always holy. Table wine is holy. Candle sticks are holy, dishwashers and cloth napkins, the folk art cricket made from wire and a rail-
road nail, rock salt from the salt flats in a salt cellar— holy, holy, holy. Opening an empty cedar chest to still moths and crumbs, staring at stretched cobwebs immersed in the sun, swallowing nests, swallowing nectar, swallowing chimes, swallowing saliva, swallows—always holy. Self-portraits are holy. Ceramic urns also are holy. Tape recorders and keyboards, drawing pads and gold-plated ball-point pens, calligraphy and stipple—holy, holy, holy. Unfolding a letter, unfolding a chair, unfolding into downward dog, from child’s pose, into corpse pose. Picking apricots, picking green grapes, picking out a husband, a shower curtain, selection—always holy. Twist-off caps, dresser drawers, remote controls, carpeted stairs, revolving doors, product recalls, keycodes, passwords, restaurant reservations, last-minute invitations, cell phones, voice recognition, land minds, and secrets—holy. Holy word, holy water, holy book, holy soap boxes, bathtubs, soap dishes—holy, holy drains and draining, empty. ¹ after Allen Ginsberg’s “Footnote to Howl” (orig. published in Chagrin River Review)
FRANKLIN AVE BY MOLLIE MURTAGH
The subway floor is speckled in gross colors: ketchup, dusty mayo, and old hamburger meat all left out in the sun too long I get off at Franklin Ave a man in a black and teal track suit walks with little steps a newspaper ad flies towards me-two pineapples for the price of one, a real deal, I stomp it down with one rainboot and a satisfying crinkle I can’t find my friend’s place but I do find love in the shape of mailman I secretly miss the summer uniform-The belted shorts that expose their knees and black socks like park rangers or cub scout leaders I keep walking down Franklin Ave and can’t help but think how I need to save money and how funny it is when people call money bread and how warm bread is the most wholesome of all foods and how I should stop wasting money on food now back to thinking how I need to save money, still lost and getting the creeps from a bicyclist who dinged his bell at me.
Artwork: NYC3 by Prima Vera
FUN THINGS TO DO IN COLUMBUS, OHIO #13: ENGAGE WITH LOCALS BY MADDIE WODA I got catcalled twice yesterday, assumingly because I wore lipstick before six PM and open-toed heels, big blocky shoes with wooden frames and metal grommets at the leather. I want to return the favor to the man who asked why I couldnâ€™t take a compliment as he followed me through the farmerâ€™s market pocket of his dad jeans and he most likely would),
,slide one of my business cards into the back smack his ass, see if he likes it (the problem:
while his wife looks on, troubled but quiet because boys will be boys. I rehearsed what I would say in the bathroom mirror this morning, nostrils flared like the eyes of potatoes above a peach pit mouth; I am nothing but a thing to be devoured, which I promised not to believe as the flames licked my cold faucet taps and my face turned to cinders.
GETTING THERE BY JACK STEWART
At least I had not paid extra to sit in the no-smoking section of the Greyhound. I would have to shower anyway, the road Over 20 hours from Cleveland to Tuscaloosa, a scratched and smudged view and not being able to sleep in the lie of air conditioning gone lukewarm before the first state line. Then the curiosities of rural one-man histories, the obscure outlaws, the birthplaces of people who gave up their places in the latest editions of textbooks. The reflection of my own face floated in the window. Is anyone pretty enough to talk to for 20 hours? I wanted a blonde with a sainted halo of her hair mirrored in the plexiglass. The driver had a little fan. We moved slowly enough that Tuscaloosa became exotic: flowering trees, a name nowhere else shared. I learned boredom leads to gratitude on bland mornings if you see everywhere as arrival: the outskirts waiting just for you, even the traffic making a fuss, and the waitresses have uncapped new pens for whatever you want, and you say when.
BY INés van berkel The first time I left home for over 52 hours I remember thinking after 40 that no matter how much I was dying to leave, I couldn’t wait to come back. I kept thinking about the taste of the water at the other side of the river and the midnight noise of the bank’s vans underneath my window awakening me as little reminders that I’m making it alive through the night. I haven’t been home in eight years, and I don’t miss it. You’d only been gone for a month when you asked me to go back with you. You missed St Helen’s and it’s clouds, the morning rain, your car and king sized bed. You never found a home amongst these busy streets and sleepless nights I can’t blame you.
so. It all seems the same to me. See, lately it’s been so much about my body that I thought you’d forgotten about my brain. You said you didn’t love the city as much as the idea of it, yet you asked me to go walking, so you could breathe in all of it’s life for one last time. Never dressed for the occasion, but in my defense I didn’t expect it to be this way. By the time we’d crossed Génova I could feel the blood dripping into my heels. An extension to shaking legs blaming the temperature change in the late afternoon. Sorry, evening. I can never get used to your times, and that’s why I’ve yet to feel homesick. You have to understand, no matter how South I go I can never get the North out of me. The cold will always run through my veins but cats are night animals and I swear Madrid has raised me like one of its own.
But I really thought I saw a spark in your eyes during the walk back from Barceló to your place. Overpriced dinner on a rooftop filled with fairy lights How could I say no? It’s our last time together after all. I’ll try to keep you happy, for the memories that endure (hence all of my drinking) I need to make it interesting for me too. So after one, two, five and eight glasses I smiled like on our first date. I don’t remember but you said
Now it might be the vertigo or that second bottle of merlot but the hold of your hand turned into a grip of your arm and two blocks later back to your hand - this time guiding you through the back of this dress I surely couldn’t have gotten into by myself. It took you less to find the zipper than for the elevator doors to shut and I’m certain it’s the wine now cause you’re
just wearing trainers. Next thing I know we’re standing in a freezing living room because you forgot to close the windows. Wrapped myself into a blanket and made my way back to your room where you’re already choosing music to try and set the mood. You know I always said no to The Boatman’s Call but it’s your last week away from home and I’m too tired to complain. You go through an inherited collection, almost changing records twice while I try to keep my eyes from closing to the sound of Lime Tree Arbour.
your silhouette, while the sound of kids playing football outside silences Where Do We Go Now But Nowhere? You never found a home amongst these busy streets and sleepless nights. You no longer blink an eye at the amount of people outside after the sun sets but still you say this city hasn’t grown on you. I could never get used you to your times and that’s why I’ve yet to feel homesick. I crawl into your sheets and they feel wrong It might just be from lying on your side. I haven’t stopped shaking since we left the restaurant and you know. “Are you still cold?” you whisper as you gently place your hand along my waist. Pulling me closer, I nod. “Are you still cold?” your body softly clicking into mine. “Are you still cold?” your arm around me as I feel your heartbeat to the pace of mine. “Are you still cold?” your fingers tangled in my hair, leaving me but millimeters away from you. “Are you still cold?” as I can no longer move. “Are you still cold?” as your grip on my body strengthens. “Are you still cold?” as I feel your lips tremble against my skin. “Are you still cold?”
As the wind blows in through the window I notice your fingertips on my skin. They move in circles, changing direction approximately every ten seconds. A stain is formed on your shirt as you blink and I can still taste the salt as I get up to kiss you. I wish I had something to say but I l don’t get why you’re leaving, so I’ll leave this up to you. Without looking me in the eyes you slip me out of my dress and into one of your sweaters. I walk to the door to turn off the light and let the record spin it’s final track. You’re lying on my side but I don’t mind. I’m lying for your life but you don’t mind. Through the curtains streetlights illuminate
But I guess I’ll always be.
HOW TO BE COOL IN 1967 SAN FRANCISCO IF YOU´RE A FILIPINO AMERICAN TEENAGER BY VINCE GOTERA
—terza rima haiku sonnet You gotta know howHow to Be Cool in 1967 San Francisco If You’re a Filipino American Teenager —terza rima haiku sonnet to pimp, walk like in the ’hood. Don’t fuck with me now, I’ll lay your ass out! Dashikis and ironed jeans, black Cuban-heeled boots. Or else . . . pants by Ben Davis, blue Derby jackets, desert boots, buttondown pin-striped pale shirts. You cool enough now, little brown wannabe white? How do you dodge the peril between and still be, yeah, cool?
LATE NIGHT LOCAL BY CAROLINE SNAPE
the subway at night can be a wonderful place of music dancing and drums a girl vomiting over the platform edge as her friends hold her hair back a cop giving the guy who went for a piss a fair warning that teacher you never quite trusted who taught alexander technique and you caught him slouching but at rush hour when the men and women in suits push and shove and no one gives the pregnant woman a seat it is a terrible place of sweat and stale frowns the child crying as the tall man allows his body to swing around the carriage
with not a care for people half his size who get crushed when the carriage speeds past the bend jolting to a stop because of train traffic ahead of us but at 1am a peace rests on the platform as the hum of the announcement speaker lazily waits for next train two stations away and the people will get home when they will who knows if the train is running on the local late night The girl who is vomiting and her friends donâ€™t mind neither does the boy dancing to the drums late night
Artwork: A Glimpse of Chinatown by Harshal Desai
HOW TO GET HOME USING THE SUBWAY SYSTEM BY LYDIA FLORES
Spit your gum out on the side walk and wait for it to turn black, till it bruises the concrete with the memory of who you used to be. Bend under the turnstile and don’t pay, don’t get caught but if you do tell them this is not your home. Ask what train gets you back to mama’s arms, back to skinned knees and Timberland boots. Forget the uptown train goes to the Bronx how you and mama transferred to the 6 to get to Parkchester. Re-route your mind to ascend from the tunnel of canal street to the Brooklyn bridge. Ride the 4 train until you find your way, until you know 125 street like the alphabet. Lights are bright, so close your eyes for the ride and it let it inside. Listen for the next stop until the next stop feels like home. Feels like transfer to who you hope to be.
Clap for the ones who sing even if you have no money to give and hope the song isnâ€™t insufficient fare for the voice, you are looking for. Write a love note and fold it up inside your last dollar, drop it inside the cup of the empty man. Give him all your change until the change is undone and you arenâ€™t begging for things to change. Remember the train isnâ€™t making local stops after 5 pm so you got to go express to your mid-twenties. And there is no downtown service. The next stop is silence. So, say something in the rush hours. Squeeze in your whispers. And hold on while the train is moving. Look up and listen. The next stop is all you must say Doors will open but words will still hold tight to poles and poems will stay sitting cross legs on blue-grey seats. Let go. This is your stop, pull your pen, step aside and let all your darkness off first.
Artwork: Taxi Driver by Colleen Brady
IN MY FATHER’S HOUSE BY GALE ACUFF
I walk home from Sunday School--it’s just about a mile and sometimes seems like my last but when I get to where I’m going, home or church, nobody crucifies me like I can. When I get to Sunday School Miss Hooker makes me think about my sins, she’s my teacher and that’s her job, being sure I don’t wind up in Hell. She does her damnedest. And when I get home my folks are sitting at the kitchen table with Larks and Camels and Sanka and the paper but they barely say a word, as if I’m dead already or there’s really bad news they don’t want to tell me or they’re just plain mad but there’s never been any trouble yet. I say hello anyway. Father grunts like my dog used to in his dreams but he’s dead now. Maybe in dog-Heaven he still does. I pray pretty hard about that and even got Miss Hooker to pray, too, or she said she would and I’ll bet she did, she wouldn’t lie to me, she wouldn’t lie at all, not lying’s part of her job. And Mother asks, Did you have a good time but this is religion so she knows better but I say Yes ma’am and go to my room to change and come downstairs again and fry some bacon and eggs and burn the toast to their taste, not too much but just enough so
you’d think there’s a fire, and set the table practically under their noses and divide the food among us three and think if Caesar was still alive I’d hold out the best fat off the bacon for him, he was my dog and chased his tail on command, not even a person can do that and that’s pretty smart, that Caesar could I mean. After we finish I collect the plates and forks and knives and spoons and glasses and (continued; no stanza break) wash and dry them and take the comics --all color--up to my room and read them until I fall asleep. The only one who wants to crucify me is myself. I think that means I’m free in the worst way or maybe it’s the best. I’m only 10 --there’s time enough to learn, I only hope that I won’t learn too late and something else will take me away, some other kind of dying that I can’t control. God loves me and wants me back, in Heaven I mean, but it’ll probably hurt a spell before I’m dead enough to die. I’ll rise again like Jesus did, or they say He did, and if He did I guess I’ll find out but if He didn’t I might try to anyway and start something--maybe it’ll catch on. Then Father and Mother will have to make their own Sunday dinner. I’ll pray for them.
Artwork: Bettyâ€™s Divine by Demi Rivera
MISSION IN THE RAIN BY BRUCE FISHER
And over on Mission street I see Everyone I ever worked with in The late night sea of fine dining Booze driven madness, all the Line cooks, bussers, dishwashers, Bartenders and fellow servers of Italian and French bistro gotta have It all gringo solamente life, with its Cumbersome table-side service and Crazy made up wine descriptions, All total lies of course, and then “Sure separate checks are no Problem for your party of ten” as I curse them behind their backs, While punk white boy managers with Their frowns etched in gloom, stand Motionlessly underpaid.
Earth changes things, from diners And upholstery shops, to the slow Moving delivery trucks bringing City souls to a standstill in keen Sight of Pancho’s tacos and Those sugary doughnuts sold from Yellow carts and tamales making An appearance during the holidays. And all down Valencia street the Mission rain falls like a wandering Wind-swept Jerry Garcia segue Of purple jalapeño sky that slips Back to smoky mist, infused with The spirit of shoeless Mexican Troubadours, with their brown and Holy feet, who made their way back From the dry and brittle nighttime of Hidden Sonora desert moons, And like a bubbling cauldron of Laughter, the people of God know Their kind.
And so I come back to the Mission Because even in the rain the clay Ovens of heart still beat, giving life To my gringo soul with the churning Sound of frijoles being stirred, And corn tortillas Slapped down on hot skillets by Hands of ancient mothers, as Little Guatemalan boys with soccer Shirts and little girls in their little pink And green dresses play like Pixie spirits from some past life. And in all this, is all there is and Ever was, my tattooless body Going unnoticed but my heart Living proof of heavenâ€™s Here and now, and of all the Neighborhoods at the edge of a New North America, the continent of Salvation, in this little family Taqueria where sanctuary is free, The tacos authentic, and the Laughter golden, like the infinite And borderless dawn, I hunger, Once again, for nothing.
And dancing in the rain-blessed Carnival of red and yellow bows And birthday balloons bobbing To Mariachi horns and ecstatic Voices singing to all the souls of Mission street where Yelamu Medicine women still hold their Young between the falling drops of Timeless water, where the banks Of the Mission river still feed the Earth and the Ohlone people who Fished there and swam there and Prayed there, with every step on its Noble shore, before the Spaniards, Before father Palou, before the white Men, before the great vanishing. Before America.
Artwork: Rainy Hallmark by Colleen Brady
MORNING DOWNTOWN 2 TRAIN BY KELECHI NWANKWOALA
The rule of cramped NYC subways is donâ€™t take up too much crescendo space and donâ€™t mind the crazies. Especially on daily commutes to your Wall Street internship. Practice seeing beyond undersides of eyelids and above restrictive suit posture. You must keep still when the performer walks in as a modern Atlas lugging your whole life on his back before you can look away. In that moment you are his. Suddenly accountable for your carnage. When the music rattles the whole subway car and he catapults off iron bars laughing blissfully in between lines of poetry he recites off the back of his heart. He whirls up and down the aisle stinking of real-life, hat in hand outstretched toward me
when I don’t give him a dollar he says it’s okay, some of us don’t want to be free then he smiles in the way of ancient gladiators, those who are willing to die to be seen.
Artwork: Intensity by Harshal Desai
OAKLAND STEPS MINDFULNESS BY PATRICE DAVENPORT
this grey and is perfect for painting
sitting here on the Diebenkorn stairs I wonder if Richard would discuss this exact mission I think
paint me in
might paint me up here in abstract in my brown bathrobe surrounded by
my tiny garden
American Spirit lit I think Marcel also grab a chance
painting me descending the staircase step by step calling
Nude Descending Staircase 64
Artwork: Rosy Window by Jordan Kady
OAKLAND STEPS MINDFULNESS # BY PATRICE DAVENPORT after a
I am still spacy this morning not certain
is actually still being asleep my meds have
and when I cup of jake
out with my steaming
the red Diebenkorn stairs
my morning smoke alit the flora begin to speak to me the small jade tree is
thirsty feed me
Sunbonnet the gerbera other way saying
have had enough
you very much Mama
not my season sorry dear
the violet adds I will bloom
whenever I damn please the
finish that damn smoke
and Estimated Prophet, the California poppy take it easy, baby it’s Sunday
OUR DIRTY LAUNDRY BY LYDIA FLORES
Mommy’s wrinkled fingers clutch the handle bar, fingernails sheathed in a fist. She pushes the red shopping cart over splits in the sidewalk, the black wheel’s stutter and the cart hiccups, like the way the Chinese man on the corner does, as he tries to tell his son not to run in the street. The shopping cart lined with a large trash bag; mouth barely tied shut from all the dirty clothes. We turn the corner on 116 Street and Third avenue. Turn our complaints into silence, turn our smiles to resting b*#! face. Turn our hunger to food stamps and carry our Benefit cards like birth certificates because it’s all we will ever be. Associated supermarket standing at attention with its arms open, holding tomatoes, cucumbers, & seedless green grapes, sitting on coral Styrofoam plates wrapped in plastic. Plastic clinging to the skin of vegetables. Bodies packed tight, in the cling wrap of Spanish Harlem. Cultures melding and clashing like a symphony. Chinese restaurant cocked between cash checking place and beauty salon. A woman carrying her baby in a wrap around her chest. Dashiki hem swaying in the wind at her ankles like a flag, yet her tongue hisses in English. We pass her and I stumble. Trip over the fallen invisible branches that ancestry dot com refuses to acknowledge. Leaves flowing down the curb, like our African diaspora and the Taíno into the sewer of Americana. The Cuchifrito releasing perfumes of adobo and sister spices arousing my mouth, tongue lapping saliva as we pass by. I can almost taste the pasteles, see them wrapped in paper because here we don’t have the right leaves. Here” made fresh” only means made in a bag, marinated in preservatives and chemicals worthy of today’s crown. Today, all the dirty laundry must be cleaned and folded. Johnson projects beckoning like a maze, windows high up looking down like Big brother. Scaffolding painted blue, like a chalkboard... graffiti scrawled upon them. But we only learn what we cannot do. Froth up the answers like suds to the dirty questions that refuse to be answered. My best friend should be home by the time the last laundry load goes into the washer. But
this is all a foster home, because I had to leave mama beyond the waters. And she had to leave papa beyond airport borders. Hanging in absence like mama’s delicates on a clothes line. I pull the clothes from the washer, the way America pulls me from my family, pulls my tongue from Spanish, pulls us from 73 billion dollars of debt that they caused, but calls it saving, calls it dirty laundry cleaned. Assimilation stirs us in heat, burning the wetness of pride until dry, until I call something else home and I am folded on top of a table just to be worn and wrinkled by the body that looks nothing like mine. I watch the clothes clump and spin. Machine like the Jones–Shafroth act humming citizenship but always being folded into something I never was. A machine in place of mama’s knuckling cotton under the faucet of the kitchen sink. Mama gives me 8 quarters and tells me, put the clothes in the dryer when they stop, begin to fold and she’ll be back. We know work, work like laundry. Heavy loads, heavy detergent ready to smudge itself into the jeans of my genes and get paid less than, so I am still dingy in the arms. We know it as familiar as the birth mark on our own skins yet tía can’t find it for herself. So, she disappears into the fog and we fend for ourselves The way the crackheads on the corner limp in faded torn pants, shoes swollen and bent at the heel sock peeking out and stained brown. The way home is nowhere but here, but there… bedroom on the concrete floor. Who’s gonna do theirs? who’s gonna’ stir their failures clean? Homeless man with ashy hands, coffee cup in hand, sagged like my brother’s True Religion jeans clanking with pennies. Ringing like church bells, but no one stops to pay their tithes or give their offerings. I pray in silence because it’s the only language I’m allowed other than English. Staring through the laundromat store front, at passing faces. Browned and gleaming like pennies, pale and spotted with moles, hair shiny and greasy, skin sagged at the chin, wrinkles creasing at the cheekbones, they call them laugh lines but I see only a ghost of laughter disjoined from its body. I turn away. Turn back to time passing through the spin. This is all a house spinning and it stops when you’ve become so dizzy you forget home. The washer machines and dryers hum and I watch an Italian couple come together, holding the corners of a fitted sheet. But no matter how open are American arms, we can never come together.
Artwork: NYC 1 by Prima Vera
THE LIGHT NEXT DOOR BY PEGGY CARTER
Is on. So they’re home. I like that. Even when they’re not home, they still live there. I don’t know why it reassures me, seeing this. We hardly speak – they’re quiet and keep to themselves. They have a pool but even so you’d hardly know it. Our neighborhood is so much like this. We all keep to ourselves Well except maybe on Saturday morning when we’re out doing stuff in the yard. Everybody nods and smiles, even waves, when we drive by. We like it here. Especially when the lights are on.
READING MYSELF RESOLVED BY CHRISTOPHER STOLLE FOR ROBERT LOWELL
Chewed this morningâ€™s news And couldnâ€™t swallow A world incessantly burning But this fire smoldering Like fog suffocating sunrise Feeds arable soil damp With rain-licked embers Dropped by scarecrows Finding compassion and leaving Birds to perform natural selection On crops planted by experience And neglected by dreams Caught between teeth And never given voice But still imprinted delicately Like scars left from itching Or etching fingernail hopes Into skin that knows every language But only speaks with this touch Impressed by dormant wantings For this moment to come alive
POEM 2 BY TéA VAN ACKEN
“My heart beats faster as I take a tight grip around the burning metal handle, stretching my leg over the railing. Everyone else is cheering, Jump! Now! as I watch for boats passing underneath me. I listen to the splashes of bodies and the congratulating cheers of a successful backflip, or the 5-star dive. My palms are getting sweaty, maybe it’s because of the sunbeams soaking into my skin, or because of how everything, yet nothing is slipping through the channels of my brain. I try to allow myself to let loose and breathe, and I think to myself This is it. I unwrap my fingers around the railing, take one of my shaking legs off of the edge and-
or the psychiatric nurse that checked in on me every half hour in the hospital, only to see that no, I still hadn’t eaten the buttered cranberry muffins she brought me that contain easily over 200 calories. But as a mother, as a nurse, it’s their job. This isn’t the same as summertime bridge jumping. It’s foggy and cold, and morning dew rests upon the rails of this bridge. It’s much taller, by an entirety of 165 feet. The difference now, is that I am not wearing my favourite black bathing suit and sunglasses. I am not cheered on by groups and groups of teenagers holding ice cream cones, and preparing themselves for the backflip of their lives. I am not jumping for fun. This isn’t a lively summer afternoon, this is another dragged on October morning. My all-black outfit, from pure black chucks with black socks, to black jeans, paired with a black belt, hidden by a black long-sleeve that buttons up from the top of my ribs, lastly topped with a black coat. Before I reach the edge, physically at least, I try to look unbothered, and walk along the bridge as I inhale the toxins of my Belmont cigarette. I never noticed the scars on my knuckles until now, and I realize how plagued my body is by the markings of my past.
Puffs of my second-last cigarette last no time, so I reach for my lucky upside-down cigarette. Sparking my newly purchased and ever so rarely deliberately white lighter, I breathe in a sure 4,000 chemicals. Do I care? No. “SMOKING KILLS” is branded across the pack, as if it’s supposed to make a smoker grow sympathy for their lungs. But gee, I must say, it’s hard to quit when there’s such motivating messages right on the pack. My last drag holds the wish that I could disappear. My self-destruction holds no interest in anyone’s mind, unless you’re my mother who claims she cares, yet doesn’t have a problem putting me in the most vulnerable positions,
My heart is barely beating, and nothing is occurring in my mind- or maybe I’ve just been numb for too long. I allow myself to crawl over what’s keeping me here, planting my feet to the cliff of concrete, only my heels on my last touch of solid ground. It takes less than an effortless second for my arms to let go and stop clinging to my last moment, clinging to the railing. Hesitation lasts for what feels like forever, but realistically is less a single second, before my feet reach out past the edge. As if angel wings have planted themselves into my shoulders already, I feel like I’ve been lifted up, despite the force of gravity bringing my (for now) only dead inside body to where I need to be…. Hitting a liquid that’s suddenly rock solid, I can’t even feel the splash- only instant relief.
I was just there. Just an inconvenience. The faces of those who knew me may say otherwise, but I know who I was. People only care until you’re gone. Most artists’ work only became worth something, once they were dead. My absence has been my highest, maybe only form of presence- So maybe it’s true; maybe the impacts I have caused and the sudden care wouldn’t have been there before. They’re here now, but does it matter? Is it the truth, or is it pity? Summertime bridge-jumping will never be the same. My newly earned reputation consists of “Rest in Peace”, and “You’ll be missed”things years ago, I never would have expected to be known for. Our modernized sympathy floods social media with black and white photos of a smile that is now just a memory, and every prayer written in text. I can’t come back and tell anyone, but the moment I let go, and I felt myself falling, I wanted back up. I wanted to crawl back to the other side of the railing, and walk home. I could never be the same. My body may momentarily rest at the bottom of an ice cold river, but those wings still hold onto my soul. I am still here in spirit, in heart. I wish I could say the same in a physical sense, but my corporeal self has slipped into, and taken over by the undertow of both my mind and this river.”
I see no reactions. Maybe someone saw me jump, but in a stranger’s eye, I’m just another person. Just another story that could be told. Hours later, I watch everything unfold from above. The call home, announcing my “unfortunate” death. My love’s face, when they heard the news. The shocked reactions from people who just knew me from passing by me in the hallways at school, and the smile melting away from friends’ faces. Frankly, this is the first time I’ve made an impact on those who surrounded me. My legacy is now the kid who killed themself. Not as if I had a positive legacy in the first place, or one at all.
Artwork: From Inside by Heather Laurel Jensen
POSTCARDS FROM BIZARRO WOR BY BEL SáENZ
I. In arcane dreams, I am an emperor, stark and forbidding. I even get to wear a red cape. My realm stretches as far as the eye can see. My bed is empty. I write imperial summons for a husband nowhere to be found. I declare that I shall marry whoever has the sharpest nose in all the land. Nothing less will do. At dusk, I am become Death, my sickly twin, the other monarch. In this B-side of the kingdom, the suitors run away, leaving behind a trail of prosthetic noses. The sky goes pink, then purple, like a cheap light show for some sleazy jazz act. The castle grows cold and fills with black cats but they’re no friends of mine either, and not for lack of trying: they’ve all the milk and meat scraps gold can buy, the ingrates. Maybe they just don’t like my singing. The wind howls in the woods to drown it out. Wake to a persistent allergy filling the nostrils, an uneventful day that tastes like breadcrumbs. The right side of the bed still empty.
RLD II. You the wife have been dreaming strange dreams. You try to tell your husband, in the mornings, but he’s unimpressed. You’re running late. The cat needs to be fed. Besides, he can do better: I been havin’ those since the day I met you. I’d dream we were in the dark woods and I put a wolf ’s pelt around your shoulders... But I’d never wear one of those, you protest, you the staunch defender of animal rights. It doesn’t matter. It’s out of his hands. Who knows what wayward chemical in his brain generated the image, what wicked logic wanted to see you in furs. Instead, you say, Well I dreamed that I took you into the forest and put us to sleep, and you were glowing like a light bulb or an angel but cool to the touch. And we got married after, he says, somehow anticipating the rest of your tale. He was there, after all. You were wearing the winter. I remember. Then what? There’s some hesitation before you go on. An army of red ants, this next part. A fish in the percolator. Then I caught you looking at someone else the way you used to look at me. There was proof, there were pictures. The pain literally woke me up.
Your husband shakes his head. That was period cramps. That’s not how it happened. Nah, you led me by the hand into the forest and hung me from a tall birch tree with your lover’s checkered three-piece suit. Neither of you are sure what to make of all this. The thing about oracles is they don’t come with a cheat sheet. A murder mystery, this love. A treat so sweet you’ll get cavities. III. Spouses can’t ever really talk to one another. Every dream is a letter unsent. Everything beautiful’s good, or at least it used to be. If we could talk to cats, we’d finally get some answers around here.
Artwork: Low Wind by Alexandria Yip
THE CINEPHILE BY BRAIN LOMBARDI
Her brain turns on when the movie does Sitting in the middle row, thumbing through an orange and Eating it in quarters while it runs sticky down her wrist. The citrus mixes with the theater smell, And inside the beam of light, dust swirls. She quotes every line to herself, quiet enough so I canâ€™t hear As she stares into the screen like a lonely painting, resetting its life in each frame. So she drives to the beach and we hang back to watch the fog leave, Reading my palm as the sun hits the water, And she runs her glance along it, staining her eyes with silver. Seagulls are making jet streams above the shore. We are peaceful like a museum, empty and alive Covered in a language neither of us can translate While lost sunglasses sink into the dry sand, And the sunshine is buried with it.
She thinks her dog has suffered terrible things in a past life. She thinks I have too. She’d like to choke me to death, And I hope she will, in some freak accident. We dress our best to sit at home and whisper to each other, Loving it hard until the very last second, until it’s no longer cute. Catching each other’s eyes, looking for some of the same things, But not looking long or hard enough. Falling asleep to a small conversation, She only pays attention to the part she didn’t like. We try to fill in the spaces with pretend narratives, trying to help ourselves, But it’s all negated and twisted between us. As pieces of furniture started to disappear from the room, She said, “I’ll see you in a different life,” And I told her I’d probably see her in this one too.
SEA MONKEYS BY JOSé LUIS GUTIéRRES
Sea Monkeys Well, if it doesn’t jell, it isn’t aspic, and this isn’t jellin’! —FROM THE FILM PSYCHO Brine shrimp spawn a galaxy in a fishbowl. Ergo, sea monkeys exist. So do Higgs bosons and demodex. These last look like scorpions and live on the canopy of your eyelashes. The difference being they’re not sold at toy stores as a novelty item. PETA has so far remained notoriously mum about sea monkeys. Long before that Nazi sympathizing corpolite von Braunhut patented his presto shrimp aquariums in the late ‘60’s, Kubla Khan’s gift to Marco Polo when they first met was a porcelain bowl of sea monkeys swimming in unfettered motility. Michaelangelo sculpted a frieze of sea monkeys once. It’s now in one of the nine circles of the Vatican, next to Pope Joan’s feeldoe. Lao Tse was fond of traveling with an entourage of sea monkeys wherever the wind carried him. This led Confucius to think him a mad poet beyond his time.
It is a well known fact how highly Jesus thought of sea monkeys. This explains their fluency in Aramaic. Sea monkeys, like leaf hoppers and earwigs, could desperately use a rebranding. According to Pliny you’d be hardpressed to find creatures more congenial than sea monkeys. In this sense, they fall under the same category of barnacles, bonobos and Wallace Shawn. I’d wager anything My Dinner with Andre would’ve scored a spanking 10 on IMDB if only sea monkeys were in the cast. There’s a UPS package that arrived from Omaha yesterday from an unknown sender. I fear the worst. I’ll say it once more, with bated breath: sea monkeys exist.
Artwork: NYC by Prima Vera
THE EMERALD CITY THROUGH THE EYES OF THE COLORBLIND BY O.F.R.
i am what a city wanted to be when it drove its teeth into the rotting neck of the muraled parking garages when it forgot the river bleeding through the spine at the center, the couch floating down the current lost and unwanted and mildewed in the summer rain when it broke down the minerals in the cement and opened its manholes like i wanted to open my veins one august night last year i am what i could never be when i lived in the sizzling and hazy countryside of a country that did not love me, with no buildings under my bones and all the saggy skin of too many generations of dust when i left the stick figures and chicken bones and prayed over moss and moth spit turning spiderwebs into sticky glycerin traps a city cannot live without me and this i know because i walked too much one day one day in september after the flash floods stopped at last and the lakes receded and all of the creatures who live at the bottom of the skyscrapers finally came out to splash in the puddles that were left
or maybe that one day that one time when i couldn’t live inside the city that had painted my nails gold and stumbled into the subway system of my circulatory redness like an unwanted parasite you’re born with wasn’t the only day the only time that i couldn’t live inside the city i learned underwater that the fish inside of me swim gasoline currents across gray skies and i cannot survive another winter inside of this city this city cannot survive another winter inside of me i am what this city was meant to be all sinew and dangling denim strings off of a fourteenth story building and calling that mercy calling that diy mind your own business fast-paced learning how to crowd the mind and mind the crowds that sweat in my chest calling all ambulances past the apartment building where it rains all day long and begging for help let me out let us out i am not what was meant to survive here i am not what i am i am not
PORT AUTHORITY BY DANIEL DAMIANO
A legless man shrouded in a nest of Duane Reade bags cuts in line for a black coffee and buttered bagel, a TV ascending over the register like a plasma Phoenix broadcasts that the current Jeopardy champion died weeks before, and on the Hazlet-bound bus, Kris Kringle sits alone in the back, white beard, red sweater, modest spectacles, but no gifts, no reindeer, no emanating Ho-Ho-Hos, just an open newspaper on his plump lap, revealing an article about the president-electâ€™s refusal to appoint anyone lacking horns, as olâ€™ St. Nick gazes dejectedly out the window, his mind numbed by the plethora of beige strip malls, wondering if children will still care enough to believe in him.
THE MAN DOWN THE STREET BY DENNIS E. DONHAM
No one claims to know the man down the street. Mr. Wilson sees abandoned steel mills and weeps. He observes children at the bus stop and ponders the ruin of education.
He has a reverse mortgage and struggles not to abuse credit cards. He attempts to avoid eye contact and seldom leaves his house at night. He never pays admission charges and barters at yard sales.
He notices expensive cuts of meat and passes them by. He clips coupons and scouts clearance racks. He eats light meals and never dines out.
He reads the newspapers at the library and peruses the classified ads. He curses the government but fears anarchy even more. His family has forsaken him, and he circulates with few friends although we all really know him.
He completes errands in one car trip and walks the rest of the time He endures old clothes and drives an antiquated automobile. He undertakes his own repairs and never borrows from anyone.
Mr. Wilson is jobless. and we all really know him.
Artwork: NYC6 by Prima Vera
YOU ARE BY VINCE GOTERA
You are the fog horn booming out of deep sleep like a black whale. You are not the gay Filipino man lying on the sidewalk the next street over, blood spurting from his chest, where a knife handle sticks out. Black hilt like the Mark II he wielded in â€™Nam. You are not his last breath, the shudder of his death rattle leaking out into heavy San Francisco air. You are his brother.
Artwork: Untitled by Madeline Sefton
SANTI’S POEM BY DANIEL DAMIANO
“Was he born with a Mustache?” Was the first question I was asked at work Everyone laughed. Mexican babies are hairy get it? Santiago Gael is such a beautiful name For a beautiful smiling brown boy He cannot speak words yet But people already know what to call him “Mexican” Yes. He doesn’t know it yet but that warm blood Those swaying hips Those big brown tapatio eyes The tortas for dinner The menudo at New Years Will teach him soon. “Man” Before he is even a boy he will be determined As a patriarch The breadwinner the hard worker For some reason The foundation laid over the ground Guarded by womyn, his ancestors, our mothers But given up, to him
Santi, This is your poem As you crawl around the floor of your grandparents home I hope they tell you stories Of the floors they scrubbed to get you here To live under your father Who made your grandparents proud Who became a doctor Who claimed his name Who claimed his manhood Who claimed his culture Who is the Mexican man The patriarch since birth Who gave you your beautiful name and wished you the same fate As you crawl and laugh And as your mother changes your diapers And cooks your food I wish you more I wish for your kindness I hope that you cry That you sob And hug your mother And your grandmother And realize that While you were born with so much They were born with so little And while you grew into a title To a job To a man They still grew into mothers As they hug you And clean you And feed you Remember that you came from a womb Even if your father speaks wise words
Artwork: fluorescent by Valentina Caballero
BY TRISH HOPKINSON
Allen wore his skin inside-out. When he blushed, the air around was rose-colored. When he cried for his lovers, for himself, for his mother, the tears poured within; a well for which there was no bottom, no bucket from which to draw or drink. He sacrificed the sacred, his lamb of passion—a savior of poets. He pushed his spectacles to the top of his nose to see forward & envisioned emotions as alphabetic symbols. I whimper. His organs & intestines stretched out from left to right, neatly arranged in rows & bound with string, then sold under City Lights. Pieces rich with iron-clad allegory, some chewy, some tender, all meta-life. Unadulterated exposition, sun-seared & out in the open, beneath heat, atop cold, blue veins lay aching. Flip the front cover & let the oxygen in. He howls, “Dreams! adorations! illuminations! religions! the whole boatload of sensitive bullshit!” Turn hope humbly on its heels & send sympathy to Hell. Our sensitivity is bullshit. Our smallness is truth. god is an excuse—flippant & fantastic, fiery & crude, spun from cells spun from atoms, all still spinning cerebral. I turned thirty & left god roadside to hitchhike his way home, his back toward me, his thumb outstretched.
1 after Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl” (orig. published in The Chaotic Review)
Artwork: Flowers by Julia Andreyeva
TRYING TO REASON WITH THE BABY I NEVER PLAN TO HAVE BY BRYANNA LICCARDI
Know that it takes one thousand days to detox and my weekly trip to the winery is unavoidable. Know that big heads run in my family, that a baby’s head makes up 25 percent of its length, that Einstein’s brain was 15 percent wider than normal and you would definitely be smarter than Einstein. Know that Americans are over-eaters, that you would probably be obese because my cat is obese, and because I eat when I’m upset. Know that aliens like to abduct babies at night, that I sleep with the windows open, that aliens run in my family, that they say kids are growing ramped these days, that girls have rapid heartbeats, boys blink less, that unlike other humans, identical twins have the same exact scent, that babies are born with 100 extra bones, and I can’t decide which one of those facts freaks me out more. Know that people live better without food than sleep, that babies don’t understand the concept of night and day, that I have to go to bed by 8 o’clock or I’m no good, that high levels of testosterone make you feel pleasure from inflicting pain, that testosterone runs in my family. Know that anger increases people’s desire to possess things, and I can barely share a bottle of wine, that I’ve been known to hide it before company arrives. Know that having you would eat at least 20 percent of my salary (and my figure), that by not having you, I can avoid the wage gap, and though people see this as proof of lesbianism, or alienism, I’m okay with that. Know that you’d be able to hear my voice in the womb, that I can’t sing worth a damn. Know that if you died, hearing would be the last sense to go. That if the heart stops before the brain, you might still hear me saying your name.
WHEN I CHEW ON THESE PUZZLES PIECES I CAN TASTE YOUR PERMISSION BY DANIEL DAMIANO
I think of you while in his arms I think of you with his head between my legs I think of you with two tongues in my mouth only when he holds the back of my neck did I forget I recited the first lines of a poem I wrote for you He asked if it was dedicated it to him. I lied Maybe I’m just triflin’ like that or maybe I’m just more comfortable with him. No, not maybe
I am more comfortable with him propped up on my elbows nipples grazing my belly
deep mahogany areolas were his favorite kind when I wished they were quarter sized and deep pink like my sister’s instead of brown
I wanted the words to be for him because there was a time I wrote him lines like that
He begged to suck them right there on the park bench and I let him for a second before pushed him away
we were full of words then walking block after block Breaking night after night.
I don’t think you understand how addictive it is For someone like me To be wanted bad like that when you don’t want me bad like that.
I gave him everything from my lungs , heart, and throat back when we took turns going down on eachother in empty apartments
Not consistently Anyway
Smoking wet on the roof across the street from my mom’s building we could see my old bedroom window
he is a sun coming back to my sky morning after morning
back when he asked me to pull down my strapless ruffled blouse with the cherries on it
you are an uncommon comet who ‘s return can only be predicted by complicated equations
On my fingers were lots of gold rings and long squared acrylic nails
so what I projected the words I thought up for you on to him when he burrows into all of my dark places
I let him peek down my blouse
he earned them more.
he told me my saucer sized
WITHIN THE DEPTHS OF NEW YORK HARBOR BY DANIEL DAMIANO
Within the depths of New York Harbor lie the unfound, the intentionally drowned, the bloated victims of purported mafia whackings left to sleep with 3-eyed fish in an underwater living room of old Panasonics, couches, and formica coffee tables, a Grand piano serving as a luxury townhouse to toxic clams, arrowheads of long banished natives, a â€™68 Lincoln Continental with Wyoming plates and the skeletal remains of a giraffe who must have escaped from the zoo in the hopes of a short swim back to his native Africa.
YOU WAKE BY LAURA CORNS
You wake and by your side is the man you slept with last night. You blink and stir aware that he is still and you are unheard. You take a moment to retrace your thoughts most are still blurred, but the bare facts bare all. Sleep clots your eyes, your throat and mouth feel dry. You pass a hand through your hair trying to recreate the style that was there last night. As he wakes and turns to look in your eyes, he seems more aware of you being there than you do yourself. He kisses your shoulder and smiles. At this you are surprised and smile back with a smile that was snatched without your permission, reckless and empty. You close your eyes. As though programmed he turns back on his side. You are back to where you feel safe, facing the back of the man you slept with last night.
Artwork: Still Life no. 4 by Raysam Donkoh-Halm
WE ARE BOTH MIMICKING DROWNING VICTIMS BY LINETTE REEMAN
It is my birthday. I have just told a boy I like him and he agrees reciprocally. We haven’t kissed yet, but he wants to. I am wearing a black dress without a bra and I am so drunk I want the whole truth.
der my feet when I stand up facing him and hungry. You’re so beautiful. // Tell me how you first liked me. // In your car. Driving back from Philly. You were singing. I haven’t stopped hearing you.
Have you ever kissed a boy before? // Once. // How was it? // Fine. // You know if you kiss me, it’s not like you’re kissing a girl. You know I’m not a girl. // I know. You’re you. // So if you kiss me it’s a queer kiss, even if you’re not queer. // I know. // And you still want to kiss me? // Yes.
I ask him to unzip my dress. I am so drunk I know what I’m doing. The cheap fabric pools my waist. I am topless. I still have tits. I bring this up. I know what I’m doing. I’ve seen my body reflected in a man’s sweat before. I know how to do this and make it good.
I am melting him into my rental’s kitchen wall-paper. We are both mimicking drowning victims. He is learning I always wear bike shorts under dresses. Then, the stairs jullien underneath us. Then, we are in my room. Then, we are on my bed. We have not unattached this whole time. The rest of my birthday party pulses un-
Please, touch me. A sound like a waterfall, but swallowed. A hand dolphins around my shoulder. I can move like humidity. I can concoct a storm
in my throat.
and making sure the blanket covers my feet. It is my birthday and I am angry I cannot get a guy to fuck me. It is my birthday and I am drunk and he is a good person but I am still angry. It is my birthday and next week I will not have tits anymore and that means a man who is not queer will not fuck me knowing in the future I will look Boy. And I suppose this is a good thing. For a pair of hands to know their place and not sully or mislead the altar they were offered. For someone to love me enough to not ruin me. For a boy to want a body that is not mine in his mouth and so he does not use me as a substitute. But it is my birthday and I have just learned the opposite of Want and it stings. I have cut my palms open on my own teeth and don’t know how to mop up the blood. I am so drunk I wonder if there is something I should have apologized for. It is my birthday and I am sad about my body which means it is just another day and still not the worst birthday I have ever had. I am drunk and wish I could rearrange linear time which means it is every other night bookended. It is my birthday and I am drunk and I am trans and this is what makes me angry. That I am a good fuck until I look like someone else. That I queer everything I touch and this needs a warning. That I warn potential lovers of what I look like under the drapery and they still want to press their palm to the hot stove as if there will be an outcome other than getting hurt. That it hurts. That it hurts me. That it hurts even if they can’t feel it.
This is probably the last time I’ll ever do this with tits. // What? He is shallow-breathing. He puddles and I drink from it. I’m getting top-surgery next week. Remember? // Oh. Oh. Oh. Each realization thunder. Each second a roughened wind-chime. I’ve wanted this for so long. // Me? // Yes. // Like this? // Yes. // What about next week? // I want you. // Are you queer? // I don’t know. // If you like me you’re queer. // I don’t think so. // But you like this? // Yes. // But you like me? // Yes. // But this is queer. I have him straddled. He has the widest hands I know. I hope he will leave bruises. I hope he will flood me. Underneath us, the party unhinges. My name floats from somewhere like a haunting. He’s got one hand around my throat, my tits taut and ready. Oh. Yeah. Oh. He pulls back. I am so drunk I think I can fix this. I-- // I like you a lot. But I love you as your friend. And I am not going to have sex with you. Because we will regret it. // I won’t. // You’re drunk. // I know I won’t. // No.
Publication note: This piece is forthcoming in tenderness.
Then, he is kissing me goodbye even if he isn’t leaving yet. Then, he is turning my lights off
Artwork: Tulips Life Cycle by Avram Gur Arye
Artwork: there is no GOD but More Video by Mike Callaghan
Artwork: City of Brown by Jhaki M.S. Landgrebe
BY KENNETH LEVINE (ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN NEW PLAINS REVIEW)
“Checkmate” by Kenneth Levine (originally published in New Plains Review) Outside the rats squeal and their claws scratch. I slap my hands together, then drink my Cisco Red while I listen to them scatter. After the third swallow I’m awake enough to remember the Sunday morning when John’s eyes shined brightly with youthful pride as he said “checkmate” for the first time and I tilted my king on its side to acknowledge his victory. John, who was twelve and had been playing chess with me every Sunday morning for five years, ran from the den to the kitchen into the open arms of his mother, exclaiming, “Mom, I did it! I won! I beat dad!” Alice fried eggs, buttered toast and poured orange juice and coffee and we ate a celebratory breakfast. When John bolted to his friend to report his win, Alice thanked me. I almost told her I didn’t lose on purpose as she had been requesting but I realized I was responsible for his victory because I had taught him how to play chess. We kissed, went to our bedroom and made love. I take another three gulps and with my eyes closed I can picture my Alice as she leaned over me with her breasts clapping and her strawberry locks tickling my nose. It’s an incomplete image. I can’t focus. I can’t feel her. She’s gone. I squat, lift up the flap cut into one of the
long sides of the corrugated, cardboard box that was previously the packaging for a Kenmore refrigerator and crawl into the alcove beneath Houston Street. Clasping a brown paper bag in my left hand and a stick to ward off rats in my right, I walk slowly through the stifling heat, grateful for a 600 foot train that fans the subterranean air as it roars past. I walk two blocks in the dark with a wall of the tunnel to my right while swatting rodents and being careful to avoid stepping on other mole people and the remnants of their crack pipes, empty wine bottles and hypodermic needles. When I reach the stairs that lead to the platform of the subway I drop the stick, climb the stairs and exit into the blinding light and traffic of Second Avenue. Trapped in the collective movements of the surface dwellers that underscore the meaninglessness of my life, I maneuver to the side of the street and pause, slide the paper bag down the neck of the bottle inside, undress it, lift its lips to mine and thirstily drink my Cisco Red while I remember that it used to be my Alice whom I lovingly undressed, kissed, drank and craved until she said, “I want you out of here.” And I was gone. I walk to the corner of Houston, turn right and make a left on Broadway. I pass Little Italy and Chinatown to my left, then City Hall to my right. I stop at the corner of Fulton, 117
face right and look skyward where the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center stood before they crumpled and left a gaping hole in my universe. I take another three gulps of my liquid crack while I remember John, Alice and I as we sat in the family room of our house in Queens and watched the planes repeatedly crash into the towers on television. John said, “It’s like a fly hitting our home and making it collapse.” I said, “A fly isn’t filled with fuel.” I walk to the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street and sit on the stoop facing Trinity Church. Perhaps I stop here often because it’s a house of God although God is never home or elsewhere. At least that would explain my life. Maybe it’s because the Church is an Episcopal Church and in that way is a house of my father, the Rt. Reverend Joseph Stringer, Bishop, Episcopal Church, Armed Services, a man who, like God, has never been home for me. I enter the Trinity Churchyard and sit on a bench on its park-like grounds amidst the few graves of well known, interred, historical figures such as Alexander Hamilton, William Bradford, Robert Fulton, Albert Gallatin and Captain James Lawrence and the many graves of others who died between 1697 and the mid 1800’s. Except for me it’s a cemetery without mourners. They too have died. But grief is everywhere. In the slightest breeze I hear the cries of loved ones who stood graveside in centuries past. The grass must be so green because of all the tears they shed as their loved ones became fertilizer underfoot. I walk among the dead and read the inscriptions on their tombstones, which rise vertically or lie horizontally on the ground, like fallen soldiers. I fill in the many letters and numbers that time has eroded. Mourners die; monuments fade.
On my right a tombstone reads: “Here Lies the Body of Deborah Wife of John Dowers who departed this Life Oct’r 21, 1761 aged 42 years. Fare well a thousand Times Dear. Till we shall meet & never part.” I feel his love for her, the all-consuming vacuum of his loss. A few steps away the grave is that of Juliet, daughter of Samuel and Catharine Lockman. Only their names and the words, “Parents weep,” are still legible. I know they weep. They weep and try to forget but they can’t. And they die inside because nothing challenges the order of the universe more than the untimely death of a child. On the tombstone next to Juliet’s the inscription reads: “Here Lie the bodies of two infant brothers. Valentine Morris Wilkins and Isaac Wilkins. The first departed this Life on the 24th September 1793, aged 1 year and 5 days, the second on the 1st Feb. 1794, aged 5 years and 2 months. We were born to die: Tis but expanding thought and life is nothing.” I despise those words. Children are born to live! Their life is everything. Without them there is nothing. Nothing! I down more of my Cisco Red and remember that when I pressed my ear against Alice’s bare, bulging belly to listen to John kick, Alice stroked my hair and said, “I’ve been researching names and think we should call him ‘An.’” I sat up. “In Vietnamese that means peace, peacefulness.” Alice smiled. “I know. Isn’t it a beautiful name?” I shook my head. “I want him to be Americanized. It will be easier for him to be successful if he has an American name. Let’s name him John.” Alice frowned. “I think we should instill in him a sense of his past. I want him to 118
be proud of his Vietnamese heritage. I think we should give him a Vietnamese name.” “I said, “You haven’t experienced bigotry. Believe me, when you have Caucasian and Asian blood, it isn’t possible to forget your Asian roots.” What if I had named him An instead of John? What if I hadn’t taught him how to play chess? Chess is descended from a game originated in India in the 6th century called Chaturanga, a Sanskrit word referring to the four divisions of an Indian army—elephant, cavalry, chariots and infantry. Worse still, my handcrafted chess pieces were representative of the Third Great Crusade led by King Richard I of England, who in 1189 joined King Phillip II of France in an effort to recapture the holy city of Jerusalem from the Muslim leader, Saladin. Maybe John joined the army because we played chess, a game depicting war, the Crusades, the Christians against the Muslims, with John always choosing white, the Christian side. Maybe John wouldn’t have joined the army to fight Osama Bin Ladin in Iraq if I had named him An. I tried to stop John from enlisting. I told him about the horrors of the Vietnam War but he was infused with patriotic fervor and wanted to protect America because I taught him that America was noble and good. I had used my life as an immigrant who had come here with almost nothing but still was able to graduate from college and own several markets and a home through my hard work as an example of the wonderful consequences of its nobility and goodness. A few feet away from the Wilkins’ graves, the bond between parent and child is proudly displayed. Samuel Johnson, the father, and Samuel Johnson, the son, were buried thirty-three years apart and lie side by
side for eternity beneath their two abutting tombstones. I counted upon that natural bond and my father’s experiences during the Vietnam War the day I flew to Virginia to ask him to convince his grandson not to enlist. Although I grew up believing my father was a United States lieutenant who died in Vietnam during the war, my mother’s diary, which I read after she died, revealed he left Vietnam before I was born. Seven years later he sent her what she called “guilt money,” which she used to move us from Vietnam to New York City. According to the diary, after a claymore created something like a football field scattered with the arms, legs, entrails and other body parts of the enemy, my father and his men sifted through the pockets of the dead for money and war trophies as if it were Christmas morning. When he found a photo of a dead man and his smiling wife and three girls, he made an excuse and burned the treasures because he felt like he had stolen a piece of their lives. Although my mother was shattered when my father deserted her, I, as a child of war, had felt kinship with him each time I imagined him lighting the fire. For years I had known where my father lived and that he had become a bishop but I was afraid to confront him. Necessity finally conquered my fear and I stood at my father’s door not knowing what to expect. “My mother was Huong Tang. I’m your son, Hien Tang,” I said when the door opened to reveal the man who had given me his brown eyes and square jaw. “I have no son,” he said. “I read her diary. It said you were her lover, my father,” I said to the man who had given John his blond hair and six-foot height. “I have no son,” he repeated. 119
ture. I run my hand through my beard, which is as long as Bin Laden’s, and stare into his eyes. I can discern neither good nor evil. Although I know this is what John wanted, I feel nothing. I eat the burger, apple and bread, but leave behind the cookies because the black bits are ants, while I try to think of a reason why I shouldn’t follow Benjamin Thomas. I toss the Bin Laden cover back in the garbage and remove the bouquet. Carrying the flowers I turn right on Fulton Street and pass a market that reminds me of the three markets I owned before my company failed. It has been easy to dismiss the loss of material things but no matter how much I drink I haven’t been able to forget those I’ve loved and lost. I raise the bottle and swallow hungrily until it’s empty. After the last drop of the red syrupy hooch coats my throat and gullet I wait for oblivion but it still isn’t enough. I turn left on Nassau Street and stop at a liquor store where I buy a 375 ml bottle of Cisco Red for $1.99. Outside I pull the neck of the bottle from the bag, open it and drink, titling my head back until it gushes down my throat and its overflow oozes from my lips and stains my beard and tattered clothes the color of the blood shed by John on June 12, 2005 when he became the 1,706 th United States solder killed in Iraq. According to a letter I received from John’s company commander, John’s platoon stopped a suspicious van in Baghdad and ordered the man inside to leave the vehicle. The man walked toward John and blew himself and John up. I remember sitting on the back porch of my house a few months after I was notified of John’s death. I was drinking a glass of scotch after having drunk half the bottle on the table beside me. I was thinking they had
“I read about the claymore, how you saw the smiling family photograph of the dead Vietcong soldier. My son, John, your grandson, wants to enlist. I need you to help me convince him not to.” “I have a wife and daughter. You’re not my son. I have no grandson,” he said before he slammed the door in my face. And he was gone. The next inscription I read says: “Here Lyes Interred ye Body of Benjamin Thomas who Departed this life Aug. 1, 1744 as you ayer now So once was I In helth & Strength thoe here I lye & as I am now So you must be Prepair for Death & Follow me.” I’m too distracted to think about its meaning. Everything itches. Beneath my beard and under my balls and my armpits and in my anus there are millions of tiny pinches and little bites from an army or armies of things crawling and driving me to distraction. I scratch and keep scratching, rubbing myself raw, but it’s pointless. I take five more gulps of my Cisco Red. It’s the fuel I need to move and I have to walk so that the stepping of my legs and the swinging of my arms distract me. I trot from the graveyard and walk north on Broadway as I look into each garbage can I pass for food. I see a discarded quarter of a quarter pounder in a Burger King wrapper, an uneaten apple with teeth marks, some cookies with black bits that look like chocolate chips or raisins but they could be ants that aren’t crawling, a couple of pieces of white bread, a discarded bouquet of rotting flowers and the cover of the Daily News. I read the newspaper’s headline: “ROT IN HELL! Obama: U.S team kills Bin Laden in firefight” that partially covers Osama Bin Laden’s pic120
turned John into nothing more than number 1,706 after I had taught him about numbers and how to count, add, subtract, multiply, divide and use them in chess to place values on pieces—pawns, 1 point; knights, 3 points; bishops, 3 points; castles, 5 points; queen, 9 points; and the king, 4 points in the endgame—when Alice entered followed by a middle aged man in a lieutenant’s uniform. “A Lieutenant Stevenson is here to see us,” Alice said. “Isn’t that wonderful,” I said, ignoring her icy stare. “Mr. and Mrs. Tang, on behalf of the United States government I am here to present to you a survivor’s benefit check in the amount of $100,000. We deeply regret the loss of your son,” the lieutenant said. The lieutenant handed me the check and I stared at it in disbelief. “John’s life for $100,000? If you gave me a million it wouldn’t be enough. There isn’t enough money in the world,” I said. “I’m sorry, Mr. Tang.” “You’re sorry?” I extended my hand. “Here. Take it back. Give me back my boy.” “I wish we could, Mr. Tang.” I tore the check into little pieces and scattered them in the air. “That’s what you did to my John. Leave my house,” I yelled. “I’m sorry, Mr. Tang,” the lieutenant said. Alice escorted the lieutenant from the porch. When she returned she said, “I’ve had enough. You stink from scotch. You exhale it. You sweat it. Your pores are saturated with it. You get aggressive and obnoxious and then depressed. You piss in our bed. I can’t take it anymore. I want a divorce. I want you out of here.”
I looked at her and saw John in her forehead and her nose, in the redness that stained her cheeks and in the movement of her hands. In that moment I knew her presence would always underscore John’s absence. I left her and my house and all my possessions with only the clothes on my back and the bottle of scotch. As I walked away she said: “You should have listened to me. We should have named him An.” At the end of Nassau Street I enter City Hall Park and sit on a bench from which I look at the Brooklyn Bridge across the street. There’s something majestic, beautiful and lonely about the bridge’s Gothic, double pointed, arched towers built of limestone, granite and cement, long, sleek, steel cables strung like harpsichords along its sides and expansiveness that links Manhattan to Brooklyn Heights over the East River. But to me, today, it isn’t a bridge to a place; it’s a bridge to John. Today I will heed the inscription on Benjamin Thomas’ tombstone. I disassemble the bouquet, craft its daisies, lilies, roses, lilacs and freesias into a crown that I place on my head, finish drinking my Cisco Red and toss the bottle in a garbage can. I cross the street to Park Row and Centre Street and enter the bridge’s pedestrian walkway. As I walk toward Brooklyn Heights, swaying slightly from side to side as the bridge oscillates to the steps of the many people around me, I listen to the cars swoosh by in the automobile lanes beneath the wooden walkway. Everywhere people are walking, running, rollerblading, biking, driving, living but the bridge and I are alone with each other. Fortified by the thought of being reunited with John, I use all my strength to climb over the pedestrian gate and up the ca-
bles to the top of the bridge’s Manhattan tower. Below me the wind whistles through the cables and the East River beckons. I stare into its waters unsure if I can jump. Am I strong enough? Weak enough? A gathering crowd on the walkway looks at me. I say to the sky, “Each day points to eternity. The fate of all time depends upon a single moment. My John was stolen. Killed. He’ll never feel life growing in the belly of the woman he loves or hold his newborn in his arms. What will become of the woman he would have married or all the people whose lives would have been touched by his children or his children’s children? The people whose lives would have been touched by him? He was a chess player, a mathematician, a scientist. Think of what he might have created, the questions he might have answered, the people he might have taught. I miss him. I miss him terribly. I can’t stop missing him. He was my conscience, my soul, my heart, my everything. There’s nothing without him. How can a father live without his son? It’s unnatural. It’s wrong. Look at what I’ve become.” The crowd below swells. It yells something that is drowned out by police sirens. In the automobile lanes beneath the walkway cars are stopped too and their drivers and passengers stick their heads out the windows and shout. I feel the onlookers’ collective concern until the sirens stop and I decipher their chant: “Jump! Jump! Go ahead, jump!” In a voice too soft for them to hear I say, “Don’t you see what war does to all of us? John and I will never play chess again. We’ll never hug, laugh, cry together, confide in each other, be father and son, friends, best friends. He’ll never give Alice and me a daughter in law or grandchildren or great grandchildren. I’ll never again know the love of Alice, the
touch of her hand, her lips, her breath, her pulse against mine. I never had the love of a father. Look at yourselves. You wait for me to jump. To you death has no meaning. It’s just another statistic you hear about on the news. But John wasn’t just number 1,706. They were all more than numbers. They were living, breathing beings with a past and with a future that was everyone’s. They’re missed. Don’t you see when you kill a soldier, you kill his family, all families? War is the end of decency, of civilization.” The chant continues and grows louder and more urgent: “Jump! Jump! Go ahead, jump!” I study the landscape in the distance. Cold, tall, steel shapes look like icicles scraping the sky. As I walk to the edge of the Manhattan tower a news helicopter flies overhead and I imagine the helicopter as a plane hitting each Twin Tower where it once stood. The two icicles melt, leaving nothing behind. I stare at the water below. Am I strong enough? Weak enough? I say, “I lost my John—three points; I lost my Alice—nine points; I lost my father— three points; I lost my home—five points; I lost my employees—one point each.” I tilt towards the East River and whisper, “Checkmate,” to the water that rushes me.
Artwork: City of Blue by Jhaki M.S. Landgrebe
YOU KEEP COMING BACK LIKE A SONG BY JEFF C. STEVENSON
There’s one in every town, an old house where an elderly person or couple have lived for years in relative isolation. The neighbors don’t see them much and it doesn’t appear as if they have any family or friends visiting them. On the rare occasions when they are seen in their yard, they may exchange a wave or nod at you as you walk past, but the message is clear: I’d really like to be left alone, thank you very much. A young mother pushing a baby carriage after an hour in the park may see a worn, gray-haired woman in a tattered bathrobe beckoning feebly from her living room window. What she is saying through the thick glass can’t be heard. There is a jerky, insistent awkwardness about her gesturing that is off-putting, perhaps even violent in its urgency. The young woman thinks dementia as she flashes a smile, nods at the grandmother, then immediately pushes forward in a hurry to be on her way and not miss naptime. At Halloween, children avoid the dwellings of the old and isolated, as do the Christmas carolers and the high school boys seeking cash to shovel their driveway. When storms knock out electricity, few bother to see if the aged are all right or if they have enough food or need a ride anywhere. During heat waves, no one thinks to check to see if they have air conditioning or enough cold water
to drink. The seasons are simply registered as changes in temperature for the elderly who live alone: it’s hot for awhile, then cold, sweaters are worn, extra blankets are used for a few months, then screens are inserted to allow in fresh air or a breeze when the sweltering nights arrive. When an old person is no longer seen in the grocery store or in his or her front yard, only a few observant people may notice. Unreturned phone calls are tolerated for a week or more, but after a month, the elderly need to be looked in on to see if they are all right. A grown son or daughter or relative who hasn’t visited the parent or family member in years will request a welfare check. The police will knock on the door, ring the bell, peer into the dirty panes to see if they can detect anyone. If there is no response, they gently gain access. They immediately are confronted with a sour stench. They track the odor to the back of the property. On the floor in the bedroom is the decomposing body of an old, withered up husk of a man who appears to have died about a week earlier. The internal gases in his tissues have formed large blisters, his body has started to bloat so his clothes appear too small for him. Fluids are leaking out of his eyes, nose and ears, his body smells of shit and urine. 125
Neighbors on the street watch as a silent ambulance and a second police car pull up in front. In less than two hours, all the vehicles have left as quietly as they arrived. The body is taken to the morgue, an autopsy performed the following afternoon. Yellow tape is stretched over the doors and windows, forbidding entrance. A few days later, the tape is removed (cause of death is ruled to be a heart attack), a cleanup crew wearing protective gear arrives. They notice stacks of ancient newspapers strewn about the rooms. Nothing appears to have been dusted or cleaned in many years. The man’s bodily fluids had seeped into the floor, flies now buzz about. After the bedroom is cleaned up, it’s sprayed with insect repellent. Gloved hands empty the refrigerator of its long-spoiled food. All the garbage—nineteen bags—is removed, packed in the back of the truck. They are finished in three hours. They make certain they’ve left none of their cleaning supplies behind. On the coffee table they place an air freshener. It has their company name stenciled on the bottom. Once they have checked to be sure all the doors and widows are secured, they say with satisfaction as they always do, “It really doesn’t smell that bad anymore.” ###
flight to Akron. Because he had to rebook and the plane was almost full, he was stuck at the very back. His seat didn’t recline. A storm blossomed out of nowhere, then went berserk, grounding all air travel for another two hours. When it was finally time to depart, everyone on board was in a foul mood. The crew matched each passenger’s frustration, glare for glare. All the delays and unpleasantness provided Dex with plenty of time to think and rethink where he was in life, what his next steps would be without Lionel. Steps, movement, progression; that was how he measured his life ever since the divorce papers were signed a month earlier. It was all about moving onward, baby steps; just getting out of bed in the morning was a small victory. An inch became a foot, then a yard, then you were on your way. Dex had had many boyfriends over the years. For him, when it was over, they were removed from his life, he moved on. He wasn’t one of those who kept former partners around as friends to prove what a nice, generous man he was. No, once it was over, they were exed out of his life, never to be heard from or seen again. But marriage was different. He had really loved Lionel, hadn’t seen any end in sight, no horizon or exit ramp. It was going to be a real-life, to-be-continued experience. Like his parents long, long marriage or his sister, now entering her twenty years of life with Max and their two children. A family, a home, a chance to exhale, not be so clenched up as Dex usually was; he held tightly to anyone who got close to him, pulling them in until it was time to let them go or they extracted themself from his embrace. He had learned quickly that depression had a weight to it, a gray, overbearing mass
Dex Abernathy, the nephew of the late Elroy Abernathy, arrived in town a few weeks after the cleaning crew left his uncle’s house. Nothing had gone right on this trip. Dex was late getting to the airport, missed his flight. That had never happened to him before but the traffic to O’Hare had been worse than usual; even though he had left in plenty of time, he was out of luck. He waited three hours for the next 126
that not only made it hard to move, it challenged the ability to breathe. It had somehow even managed to invade his stomach, shutting down any desire to eat. Then it impacted his vision, turning any color or delight or wonder in the world into a dismal shade of black and white. For the first time, Dex didn’t want someone to disappear from his life when the relationship was over; he never wanted an ex-husband but now he had one. They even had the paperwork to prove the dissolution of the relationship. The marriage, he thought. It was more than another relationship. I was married. I almost had the home. One day, I might even have had my own family. The cab ride from the airport to the motel took less than thirty minutes. Each pothole, each swerve of the taxi jostled Dex enough to momentarily shake him out of his memory funk. It’s all about moving on, had become his mantra. Baby steps, he reminded himself. Each step more confident and certain than the previous one. Soon enough, Lionel, the relationship and the marriage would be far behind him. Not forgotten of course, just in the past, like a childhood accident that leaves a scar but doesn’t hurt any more.
seven brothers. Dex had no idea why he was the one stuck with his uncle’s estate. It had all happened very quickly at first. He was suspicious, thought it was a scam. Who inherits real estate from a forgotten relative? But here he was, finding his way down the streets to his uncle’s former home at 22 Mildred Avenue. The cab ride from the motel to this rundown area of town had been uneventful. The problem had occurred when the driver—brand new to the job, of course— hadn’t known there was an East Mildred Avenue and a West Mildred Avenue. The address Dex had been given hadn’t indicated east or west, so he’d been dropped off at the wrong location, on the west side. Fortunately, no one was there or they would have responded with surprise as he tried the key in the front and back doors. An exasperated call to the real estate agent cleared things up. He had been dropped five blocks shy of his destination. Dex headed east, passed modest one and two-story homes, most of which needed a fresh coat of paint, some serious landscaping. Weeds reached up aggressively through cracks in the sidewalk and driveways. The neighborhood had a melancholy feel about it, as if it had seen much better days, was intent on reflecting on the past while the present drove it to ruin. The properties were packed close together, wildly overgrown trees and unkempt bushes enclosed each one, shielding them from the street. Looking over the homes reminded him of how he and Lionel had put together an aggressive savings plan to purchase a place of their own. Those funds had all gone to paying the divorce lawyer’s fees so they were left with no joint savings, no relationship, no marriage. Baby steps, Dex reminded himself.
### Dex had booked the motel just for overnight. He had already contacted the real estate agent, planned to look at the house in the morning to see if he wanted any of his uncle’s possessions, then the relator would meet him there at noon. This was not a trip of mourning; he had no sentimental attachment to the property or his uncle, whom he thinks he may have met sometime back in the 1980s. They never spoke on the phone or exchanged any letters. Elroy was one of his deceased father’s 127
Then, out of nowhere:
west to east on Mildred Avenue.
“Are you lonesome tonight, Do you miss me tonight? Are you sorry we drifted apart?”
“Does your memory stray to a brighter sunny day, When I kissed you and called you sweetheart?”
He shook his head to rattle the needle out of that depressing old Elvis track, “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” It had somehow gotten stuck in his mind even though he couldn’t remember the last time he heard it. The further he walked and the more he saw, the surer he felt that he wouldn’t be fetching much from Elroy’s place. He would price it to sell, make a few bucks off of it if he was lucky, consider it found money. Start to replenish the savings account, he thought. A new start, an unexpected infusion of cash. Clink, clink, clink. Dex heard the sound to his left and stopped. He was in front of a two-story residence with a cracked For Sale sign planted in front of it, the handwritten phone number long ago bleached out by the sun. The house had a generic look about it, as if it had been stamped out of paper stencil, assembled by a child. It had once been painted light blue but most of that had peeled or been scratched off by the weather. A white railing enclosed a warped porch with gray floorboards. To the left, a large ash tree appeared to be leaning on the roof for support. Dex remained still, straining to hear the sound again. It had been like metal tapping on glass. There was no one else around. Everything seemed to be locked up tight or for sale; he had seen three realtor signs and knew he’d be adding a fourth by the end of the day. The sound didn’t repeat itself so Dex continued down the street, watching the address numbers descend as he moved from
“Stop it!” he muttered to himself, wondering again where he had heard the song. Why had it become a permanent part of his playlist, his misery index as he called it. He had never been an Elvis fan, but was familiar with the song. Lionel was really the music fanatic, stored all his CDs in alphabetical order, spent hours downloading music every week. “You’re obsessed with acquiring every song ever recorded, aren’t you?” Dex had teased him one day. “You already have three hard drives stuffed with music, when will you have time to listen to it all?” “When we’re old and gray,” Lionel had said, looking over the computer at Dex. He had been serious, his tone firm, warm, stating a fact, making a pronouncement. Dex had been surprised at the emotion he felt. He had knelt down, held and kissed Lionel with affection, which was always more honest than lust. There was no agenda in his embrace; he was merely acknowledging the future that three hard drives of music promised them. He tried to swallow back the tears that were working their way into eyes. “Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again? Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?” ### His uncle’s home was really no better or worse than the others he had seen. It was a single story, ranch style that had once been painted brown; much of the color had chipped off or 128
had faded over the years. A long stretch of elevated brickwork designed to be a planter took up the face of the property. It held a tightly packed, robust cluster of weeds where Dex presumed flowers had once grown. Above that was a decent size living room window. The lawn was yellow and weedy, the bushes that clustered about were dried out and either dead or dying. What a disaster, Dex thought. He wondered about his uncle, why he had spent his last years in this mess or why he hadn’t bothered to maintain it. And why give it to me? Were the other brothers dead? After his parents had passed away, Dex had no contact with the rest of the relatives. He was an only child and had never been particularly close to his parents or his aunt or his many uncles. His father had come from a huge family of seven brothers who were spread all over the country. They never seemed to have any money so they rarely traveled. His mother’s family consisted of a sister whom she hadn’t spoken to in a decade. Her parents had divorced when she was eight; she never heard from her father after he left and her mother had remarried but they were not close, either. Dex dug the key out of his pocket, inserted it into the front door, entered the gloom. The air was stuffy and heavy. The room freshener that had been placed on the coffee table in front of him had pretty much given up the effort; it was only a thin wedge of its former self. Dex flicked a wall switch. The weak bulb under a dust covered table lamp responded. It barely made a dent in the dimness. He could make out stacks of old newspapers that stood about him like sentries, but that was about it. Everything else was in shadows. The kitchen was off to his right. In a few steps, he had moved from the patchy shag carpet of the entryway onto slightly sticky tile.
His footsteps echoed for an instant, a hollow sound, then all was silent. The sink was heavily stained from the minerals in the water. A dark brown streak—evidence of decades of a dripping faucet—marked the basin. He parted the beige, threadbare curtains above the sink. The glass behind them was filthy, smudged with fingerprints, so very little light came through. He unclasped the lock, struggled to open the window. When he had finally grunted it up, it revealed a torn screen that was fitted in place. A dozen dead insects were clustered in the bottom of the frame. He hoped some of the fresh air would usher out the musty, stale odor. Looking out at the back yard, he saw that it was much like the front; weeds, overgrown bushes, a twisted metal fence, a decrepit compost pile next to a stack of wood. That was it. No garden or any attempts at landscaping. The refrigerator was empty and had been wiped clean, thank God. Dex could only imagine what had been thrown out. One by one, he pulled open the drawers, scanned the contents: filthy, mismatched silverware; an assortment of rusty carving knives; a junk drawer; tools; rubber bands; ketchup and mustard containers from fast food restaurants; coupons that had all expired a decade earlier. The cupboards were filled with the usual plates, pots, plastic containers. He checked the cabinets, looked under the sink. Nothing of value, nothing he wanted. The counters were covered with stacks of junk mail, catalogs; the calendar on the far wall was from five years ago. Sad, Dex thought bleakly as he padded back onto the living room shag carpet. He pulled back the drapes from the picture window. They released puffs of gray 129
dust and debris. He stepped back while he watched them all settle. For some reason, the sunlight through the pane appeared greenish. He looked closer. The glass was lightly tinted for privacy. The living room had a sofa, a recliner, a TV set in a cabinet. There were no photographs or any decorative items; it had even less charm than your cheapest motel room. The paneled walls and their vertical lines were everywhere he looked, somewhat like the bars in a jail cell. No knickknacks or anything to show that someone had ever lived there. There was an end table next to the recliner with two drawers. The top one contained a deck of cards strapped together with a rubber band. The other one was empty. A closet behind the recliner was filled with more stacks of newspaper. Dex had glanced at a few of the dates, the headlines, but it all appeared to be random, a collection from the past decade but gathered for no real reason that he could discern. Sad, was the only word that again came to mind. Dex wondered about the tragic, bleak life his uncle lived. What did he do here all day? Maybe this is my future. He held the thought for several seconds, feeling the kindling of pain attempting to combust into a new burn, a new scar. Alone in my life, just making it through each sunrise and sunset.
personal and private place in anyone’s home. I wouldn’t want someone snooping through mine, Dex thought. He didn’t really want to know anything intimate about his relative. The family had always assumed Uncle Elroy was gay since it was unusual for someone of his generation to never marry, never talk of women or dating. Little was known about the man. Dex remembered that no one ever really talked about him other than some mention of his early days as an explorer in Western Asia, where he had lived for more than a decade in the 1940s. What he did for a living was unknown. He had returned home to this house in the early 1950s, then promptly shut himself off from the family. And then many, many years passed until he died, Dex thought, wondering again about his own life, where he’d be tomorrow, the day after. Baby steps. For how, he was here to give the house a quick once over, check for any valuables and then get it on the market, get it sold. However, he supposed if there were any valuable items, they’d be in his uncle’s bedroom so he started toward the hallway. But after only a couple steps, he stopped short. There was something about the passage that made him hesitate. It looked unnaturally dark, as if it was closed off from the rest of the room, or wanted to be its own separate place, impassible. Why would you think that? Dex asked himself even as he found he couldn’t help peering into the deep blackness before him, trying to discern if there was anything he could see. Maybe all the windows in the back of the house were covered or the doors were closed? The weak radiance from the lamp didn’t stretch very far. It actually stopped at the corridor as if it had encountered an invis-
“Now the stage is bare and I’m standing there, With emptiness all around.” He shook his head to silence the song. The bedrooms were all that remained to explore. He hesitated because he knew (he had asked) that one of them was where Elroy’s body had been found. Also, it was the most 130
ible barrier. He felt something shimmer off the back of his neck. He flinched wildly, cried out, thinking it was an insect, but realized it was just nerves. Why am I so jumpy? He squinted again into the deep gloom. Surely he was mistaken, but it seemed that the passage way was actively opposing any attempts of light to pierce its realm. He shook his wrists, squared his shoulders, trying to get himself energized. “Get a move on,” he said, hoping his own voice would embolden him. But he sounded nervous, uncertain, and remained where he was. The longer he stood there, the darker and thicker the area before him appeared to be. He wanted to check out the bedrooms then get out, but some creepy stupor had taken over. Put some light on the subject, the thought suddenly came to him. He pulled his phone out of his back pocket. It was 10 a.m. He sighed with relief as he activated the flashlight app. The bluish-white glow burst forth like headlights or a flashbulb. Dex was blinded for a moment. But it was powerful enough that the darkness fled in an instant. He was relieved, immediately calmed to see that it was just a hallway. What else would it be? he chided himself nervously. It was only about six feet in length Dex kept the phone up in front of him as if it was a torch. The rug in the passage was thick, surprisingly plush for being so old. He took another step. The shag carpeting was even fuller now. Abruptly, he felt his shoes sink into it, as if it was some type of moist sludge. I bet the house flooded, the carpet’s soaked through, he thought with disgust. He lifted his right foot but the flooring maintained its grip, even tightening. Dex turned
the phone to his feet. He was startled to see that the rug was dry. It was old, threadbare, not plush or water-soddened like he had imagined it would be. With the illumination exposing all these facts, Dex lifted his foot easily. His hand was trembling, the light flickered about in the darkness as if trying to find an object to focus on. Then it dawned on him: The place was probably stuffed to overflowing with that toxic mold that was poisonous, the stuff that made you hallucinate. He’d heard about it on one of those ghost hunter shows. They said that older buildings where hauntings were reported often had poor air quality from pollutants. People claimed they saw ghosts and demons, all sorts of shit. The fungi affected the brain, could cause psychoactive effects like people experienced when smoking mushrooms. Dex thought this through. It all made sense. If he was already experiencing hallucinations after less then thirty minutes inside, then he shouldn’t stay much longer. Fifteen minutes max. He thought it might be best to exit the premises, go in the front yard, breath some fresh air. When he was ready, he could return to the bedrooms for a quick check of his uncle’s possessions. That plan made sense. He switched off the phone light, turned around in the hallway. “No way…” he whispered. In front of him wasn’t the living room. Instead, there was an impossibly long passage, at least twenty feet in length. The large picture window was at the very far end. “That can’t be possible....” He squeezed his eyes closed, clenched his fists in an effort to change what he had seen. When he looked again, it was worse, like gazing down the wrong end of a telescope. Everything was now smaller, further away than it had been before. 131
Panicking, knowing he had to get out at once, Dex pocketed his phone, put his hands out in front of him, moved toward the front of the house. Even if he was imagining all of this, he knew he was headed in the right direction. The front of his head banged against a wall. Startled, he stopped. The back of his head gently tapped against something equally solid. He felt around in the dimness and touched the ceiling, just inches overhead. It was sloping down. He could not walk forward if he was upright. My mind is playing a trick on me but I can go along with it, he thought, trying to calm himself even as his heart thudded hard and furious and his terrified blood pounded in his head. I just need to focus on reaching that picture window, then the front door. That is real, that is where I must go. The house is not shrinking around me… He hunched over, began to scuttle rapidly forward. It was as if he was in a race against the house as it collapsed around him. The finish line, freedom, waited at the front door. He moved as quickly as he could, his arms out like a blind man as he pushed on, until, without warning, he rammed both his shoulders between the walls. The hallway had abruptly narrowed. For an instant, he was stuck. He squirmed around, then hunkered down further, had to crawl on his hands and knees, his breathing in huge, unsteady gasps. He made slow, fumbling progress. He could see the window moving nearer to him. Sweat burned as it ran into his eyes so he closed them. He didn’t need to see where he was going, but it didn’t matter, he could only go forward. Seconds later, he stopped to catch his breath. He opened his eyes. He had reached the living room. There was the lamp with its
dreary yellow glow. The recliner facing the TV set, the end table, the stacks of newspapers. He was still unable to stand. He remained on his hands and knees. Even if it was only a hallucination, the ceiling still felt as if it had descended. He shut his eyes again, tried to control his breathing, slow his heart before it banged itself out of his chest. All at once, Lionel’s face appeared. It was comforting to see him, the bright green eyes, thick red hair, freckles everywhere, as if he had been rolled in them when he was born. Dex had always been attracted to redheads. Lionel had been a very rare find on the Internet: Much better looking in person than his online photos, and they had been pretty damn hot. They had met for coffee at Starbucks in the late morning, both agreeing it made for an easy escape if neither was attracted to the other. The conversation stretched out to include lunch followed by a dinner date the following day. And then everything progressed the way Dex had always thought it should when you were in love… “Does your memory stray to a brighter sunny day When I kissed you and called you sweetheart?” The sour, musty odor of the filthy carpet pushed aside and replaced the recollections Lionel. Dex was drenched in perspiration, his hands and knees felt burned and raw. He decided to rest for a moment. He wondered how much longer the illusion would last, how much toxin had he inhaled? What time was it? The real estate agent was due there at noon and when she arrived— His cell phone. 132
He could call the relator and tell her that he was tripping badly, that he had been exposed to a mighty powerful toxin and he needed to be rescued NOW! How could he have forgotten about his phone? His head was pounding hard and he was finding it difficult to breath. He knew he was panicking so he forced himself to take slow, measured breaths. In the confined space, he wasn’t able to turn completely around; he felt like an animal in a cage. The phone was in his back pocket. He strained and twisted about to reach it. It was snug and tight and he concentrated on easing it out, inch by inch. Then, from the hallway far behind him, Dex heard a rustling, like calloused hands being rubbed together for warmth. There was a muffled silence followed by a low-pitched chittering noise. It reminded him of the cheerful greeting a dolphin made, but this one appeared to have teeth and was clacking them together with a growing momentum. From a different area of the darkness, the cries were repeated as if one thing was responding to another. Then a chorus of shrieks rose up and Dex had an image of dozens of bats fluttering into wakefulness. He swallowed, his mouth dry. His parched throat crackled. He heard moist suckling noises, then scratching sounds as if things were getting a grip, finding a foothold, preparing to move out. His mind created horrific images of giant insects with human eyes or rodents that resembled gargoyles with sharp, blood red talons that loved to tear at flesh; he couldn’t stop himself from imagining the worst. Stop it, he told himself. It’s not real. Focus on making the call. He placed his thumb against the phone but it was oily with his sweat, wouldn’t read
his fingerprint. He tapped in his code to unlock the phone but he was trembling so much he skidded off the digits. Behind him, he felt the air pressure change as the things began to advance. Their chattering and the sickening sound of their legs scraping against the walls were terrifying. He felt his pants soak through with urine. He put the code into the phone correctly and at the same instant, a movement outside caught his eye. Dex squinted. He could see an elderly man leisurely pushing a baby carriage. He was a plump fellow with suspenders arcing over his shoulders. A grandfather and grandchild, one generation following another. If he could only get their attention… Dex tapped the phone against the window. Clink, clink, clink. Outside, the old man stopped pushing the stroller and looked toward the property. A flutter of movement behind the tinted living room window attracted his attention. He saw a man, crouched over, and he seemed to be gesturing to him and striking something against the glass. The movements were erratic, almost threatening. After a few seconds, the grandfather abruptly turned away. He was visiting his daughter and didn’t really know the neighborhood. Something about that man in the window was disturbing. He needed to get his grandson back for his nap. The elderly man cried out, “Zoom!” and pushed hard on the handles. The baby giggled with delight. Inside the house, Dex continued to frantically tap against the glass as the grandfather and carriage moved rapidly out of sight. He was weeping now, terrified at what was happening, but hoping it wasn’t 133
real, that it was the toxins in the house. Maybe it is all a nightmare, he thought, grasping at hope even as it collapsed around him. He began sobbing. Maybe everything with Lionel is fine and I’ll wake up in his arms, secure in our life and our future together, all those years of music to enjoy. Then Dex remembered where he had last heard the Elvis song. It had been playing at the divorce lawyer’s office when he and Lionel had met for the final time. Lionel wanted them to sign the papers together in person, in the hopes there would be some type of healing that would begin as they both moved forward with their lives. I tried to move forward, love, Dex thought, his mind now only registering images of Lionel. But I didn’t get very far. “And if you won’t come back to me, then make them bring the curtain down.” From the darkness behind him, Dex heard the wet, saliva sound of many lips being moistened and the low growl of countless appetites preparing to be satisfied.
Artwork: City of Black by Jhaki M.S. Landgrebe
GAS LIT BY J.A. PRENTICE
The chimes of the clock ring out over the fog. Shadows stretch from grey buildings over grey streets. The Thames winds under bridges and past docks, murky water seeping up the bank. The stink hands over the city, a smell of people and industry and waste, a stench that worms its way into the bricks. And in the dark, the gaslights shine pale, flickering yellow over harsh and unfeeling alleys. In the night, the dead wait for their stories to be told. They lie on tables, cold skin against cold cement, empty eyes staring. The scalpel glints in the pathologist’s hand. He watches their faces, his pale face solemn as a priest’s. Everyone else has gone home long ago and the morgue is empty. It is just him and the corpses. They have told him to go home, to leave them to some student with clumsy hands and a laughing smile. He cannot. He cannot abandon them, not when he is all they have. They are the unclaimed, the unloved, the alone. No family wants them; no friends know them. They are shunned and forgotten, even in death. He is here for them at the end. He will show them the honour they deserve. Here, beneath his hands, is where their stories end. The pathologist tells those stories as his
surgeon’s hands minister to the dead. # The old man knew the sound of every coin. The ring of the pound, the clatter of the shilling, the patter of the penny. They were each as distinct to him as the calls of birds to an ornithologist. His smiles were like lightning and his laughs like thunder. Even those who gave him nothing were treated to a wave of the hand and a call of “God bless you!” There was more of God’s love on his tongue than in the sermons of any priest. He had a leather Bible he held close, even though his white eyes could not see the words. His worn fingers danced over the ink and he smiled, feeling the love of one who would feed the hungry and heal the afflicted. They came at him in the dark, not that it would have mattered. The knife slipped between his ribs three times, in and out. They kicked him after he fell, three pairs of shoving boots slamming into skin, muscle, kidneys, bones. They plucked the sixpence piece from his cold fingers, the only money he had, and kicked him again out of spite. The pathologist marks every bruise, every break, every wound. He marks the size of the boot, the style, the strength of the attacker, the shape of the knife, the angle of the 137
stab wounds, every detail he can. Deep down, he knows they won’t catch the killers. The police don’t have the manpower and they don’t have the motivation. One more dead tramp is no trouble to them. But he marks it all down. He has to try or there’s no point to anything. # The boy was seventeen. The last weeks of his life were the best, bright lights in an endless night. He was in love. Like he had found someone else to fall with, someone who he could hold tight. The man was older, married, two children, always sneaking away from his wife – but he was beautiful. Blond hair, pouting lips, sculpted cheekbones, bright blue eyes – an angel pulling him out of his hell. There were quiet places they could meet, shadows and corners where there were no stares, no shouts, no judgments. They held each other in the darkness, avoiding the gaze of society, the batons of the police, the iron bonds of the law. They were criminals by their very existence. No secret could hide forever. His father said he didn’t mean to kill him. Just discipline. To fix him. Change him. Hammer him into shape like steel on an anvil, with fire and fists and fury. # The pathologist runs his fingers over the broken bones, the swollen purple and black bruises, the shattered ribs, the ruined eye. There was nothing to be fixed, he thinks. He was beautiful as he was. # The woman watched as her cheeks grew hollow, her eyes hazy, as she needed more and more make-up to make herself pre-
sentable. Disease and hunger ravaged her like rats, eating her from the inside out. Then she felt it, the stirring inside her. The first stretching of new life, like roots growing from an acorn. And she thought No, please, dear God, no. It took them three days to find her body, washed up on the bank of the Thames, wet and bloodstained, victim of a back-alley butcher who had taken everything she had and promised to make her problem go away. She died in a morphine haze, unable to feel her lifeblood seeping away. She was twenty-seven years old. The policeman who found her body said, “Thank God, it’s only a whore.” # He looks at the ruin of her, what the pounding wheels of the city have turned her into, and wishes that he knew her name. He wishes that she had been given somewhere to turn, that there had been someone to protect her. His scalpel slices, gentle as it can, cutting through skin with thin, red lines. He came too late to do anything more. # The girl had no mother and no father. She wandered the bitter streets alone, ragged dress caught in the night wind, and held out dirty hands for farthings, pennies, shillings. So few people spared her a look, let alone a coin. Hungry, she learnt another way, the way of darting hands and quick fingers. Pockets and purses she pilfered. To her no bread was too secure, no oranges too closely watched. Her dress sagged under the weight of old coins and the ache in her stomach was soothed by the scraps of food she salvaged. One day, someone saw her. His lip twisted in fury and he shouted, racing after 138
her, face red as blood. She ran, weaving her way through the crowd, leaping out into the road. The cab driver didn’t have time to stop. The horse reared up, her eyes went wide, and heavy wheels crushed her bones. She lay there in the street like a broken bird trying to fly. Then she fell still, the weight of gravity too much for her. # The pathologist is gentle with the stiches as he repairs the incisions he has made. The needle dips in and out of her cold, pale flesh. His work is immaculate, his seems barely visible. He sews them back together, trying to make what was broken whole again. He likes to think that if he’d seen her, he could have saved her, could have brought her to a safe place, made sure she was never in that road, never had to steal, never had to feel hungry. But there are so many out there like her. Every day he sees them lying on his tables, beaten or starved or frozen, the broken cast-offs of a society that values profit over people, utility over the surplus population. So many dead and all he can do his tell stories. He lays down his tools. His work is done. More dead scientifically examined, their causes of death confirmed, the mortuary done with them. He doesn’t know if the stories he tells capture the truth. He doesn’t know if they give the dead any more honour, any more love, any more hope of salvation. He doesn’t know if there is anything more for them than the cold and the darkness, doesn’t know if they were good or evil. He cannot see their souls. He cannot save them. But he can tell their stories. He can
treat them as people and not as things. They are the forgotten, the discarded, the unloved. He is all they have left. He turns back to the room as he leaves and looks at the faces lying on the slabs, human beings whose lives ended in in tragedy. Souls lost in the shadows of gas-lit streets and the cold of the London mist. He says a soft, silent prayer, and turns off the gas as he leaves. The lamp flickers, wavers, dies down to nothing. And the bodies rest alone in the dark. END
DEER BLOOD BY A BIT PALE
Lyrics: Some people are out having real fun Growing pains and their veins Standing out against the sun And their deer… And their deer blood I don’t hate you, no not at all Maybe I would If I gave you any thought You’ve got deer… You’ve got deer blood
Words and music by Abigail Morris
DEAD END BY GOOD WOMAN
Lyrics: i give up i get down believe me i make sound. no contest just trying in color i’m fighting. you play games you take no blame i’m inside a crate i can’t think straight. i give up i get down believe me i bleed out suffer the consequences
i’ve been on the fences come to the middle take my presence. you play games you take no blame i’m inside your crate i can’t think straight. i can’t think straight. Publication Notes: written: juliet abtahi produced: dara hirsch engineered: lorenzo wolff drums: ben antelis strings: clara kennedy + justin smith mastered: joe colmenero recorded at restoration sound
written: juliet abtahi produced: dara hirsch engineered: lorenzo wolff drums: ben antelis strings: clara kennedy + justin smith mastered: joe colmenero recorded at restoration sound
BY THE FAITHLESS LOVERS Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V9XzkV-S01o&feature=youtu.be
“Forward” is a music video that evokes a dream-like quality, and is made from a mix of found clips (in the public domain) and artist’s own.
Artwork: IMG_1654 by Marie Aburto
POETRY BIOGRAPHIES Vince Gotera is a Professor of English at the University of Northern Iowa, where he was Editor of the North American Review. Editor of Star*Line, print journal of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association. Poetry books: Dragonfly, Ghost Wars, Fighting Kite, and the upcoming Pacific Crossing. Born and raised in The City— San Francisco, that is. As a poet, he has written in many styles and on many themes: being Asian American, rock and roll, war, science and science fiction, fantasy and horror, lots more. His “Russian Hacking Gothic” was recently featured as cover art in Killjoy Lit Mag.
Téa Van Acken is a 16 year old high school student, always searching for the most exuberant taste of life. Through experiences of the grey down, and the joyest ups, her best expressions come through words. Notebook after notebook, the spilled thoughts in ink run from mind, to hand, to paper. When Téa’s deepest thoughts come out less than describable as poetry, she typically can be found spending time out with a group of friends, most likely listening to music and dancing like a fool. Yet even distracted, Téa admits new possible writings never leave her mind.
Trish Hopkinson has always loved words—in fact, her mother tells everyone she was born with a pen in her hand. A Pushcart nominated poet, she has been published in several anthologies and journals, including Stirring, Pretty Owl Poetry, and Chagrin River Review; and her third chapbook is forthcoming from Lithic Press in 2017. She is a product director by profession and resides in Utah with her handsome husband and their two outstanding children. You can follow Hopkinson on her blog where she shares information on how to write, publish, and participate in the greater poetry community at http://trishhopkinson.com/.
Samuel Hoste Spalding was born in 1992 in Norfolk, England; a rural and isolated county in the east full of churches and lonely fields. Sam graduated from Dundee, Scotland in Philosophy and English and obtained a Master’s Degree from Queen’s University Belfast in Poetry. Sam is primarily interested in Philosophy, Theology, History, Folklore, and is currently researching a novel set in a puritanical Norfolk during the Civil War. He currently resides in Belfast, Northern Ireland. R.T. Castleberry is an internationally published poet and critic. He was a co-founder of the Flying Dutchman Writers Troupe and co-editor/publisher of the poetry magazine, Curbside Review. His work has appeared in The Alembic, Santa Fe Literary Review, Comstock Review, Roanoke Review, Pacific Review, Iodine, Foliate Oak and Silk Road. His chapbook, Arriving At The Riverside, was published by Finishing Line Press. An e-book, Dialogue and Appetite. He is currently revising his first novel, Too Late For Justice.
Tony Gloegger is a lifelong resident of New York City. His work has appeared in Rattle, The Raleigh Review, Chiron Review, New Ohio Review, Juked and Nerve Cowboy. His books include One Wish Left (Pavement Saw press 2002 and The Last Lie (NYQ Books/2010). Until The Last Light Leaves (NYQ Books 2015) was a finalist in the 2016 Binghamton University Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award.
Gale Acuff has published many poems in literary journals and has authored three books of poetry. He has taught university English in the US, China, and Palestine.
Natriece L. Spicer is a part of a legacy of educators, soldiers and people with very colorful pasts. Known to many under the pen name EssenceMahogany, Natriece is a San Francisco California-raised woman born near Motown in Detroit City. She has a heart stronger than steal and an unbeatable determination. She lives by the mantra “Lead With love”. Natriece is a Wellness Enthusiast and independently published author of several books including: The Journey Through A Thousand Lies and Shadow Boxing. She loves travelling. Natriece seeks to engage hearts, challenge people to think and provoke them to be well. well.
R. Dot, a Nuyoriqueña raised up from the concrete streets and bricks of the Bronx, NYC. After realizing she solely identified with her role as a caretaker/nurturer/worker/mom, she embarked on a path to self-rediscovery by way writing poems and essays which reflected on her past experiences outside of that familial schema. Her work can also be seen in St.Sucia Zine: Issue X, and the upcoming Mujerista Collective’s Breakups Zine. You can find her @eeqlzmc2 on IG.
Nancy Patrice Davenport is a native of the San Francisco Bay Area currently living in Oakland, California. Her poems are widely published in various journals and anthologies, and have been translated into numerous languages. She had a 2016 best of net nomination for her JUNE 2 RETROGRADE MINDFULNESS POEM, and has just had a ebook accepted for publication. She also has a broadsheet available by Country Valley Press. Her poems appear in: Allegro & Adagio: Dance Poems; Blue Fifth Review, Bookgirl Press (LA BRIZNA, her chapbook); Crazy Child Scribbler, Empty Hands Broadside #23; Full Of Crow, Haight Ashbury Literary Journal; I Am Not a Silent Poet, It Happened Under Cover; Naked Bulb Anthology 2017; Poetry Quarterly, Red Fez, Rose Red Review; The Lake, The Rag #7, The Tarot Poetry Anthology; Twisted Tungz Anniversary Issue.
Phebe Phillips is a Texas author writing poetry and short stories that illuminate the wonder and perplexity of life. Ending each work with the word, (PERIOD) is a signature of her work. Her poem, Pilot’s Story is featured in the anthology, Beyond the Hill by Lost Tower Publications. Her book, Why Me? Positive Verse for Loss and Sadness is forthcoming May 2018. Peggy Carter finds that writing provides her with real perspective on the world’s happenings, and her long life provides her with material. She enjoys taking workshops which provide her with new topics. The blank page (or computer screen) doesn’t scare her; rather, she is inspired. O.F.R. I study literature and political sociology. I am an environmental activist. I love my family, I love my friends, and I’m endlessly grateful for the communities I’ve gotten to be a part of. I hope someday to have a very big garden and a lot of dogs somewhere by the sea.
Lydia Flores is a writer and photographer from Harlem, New York. Her work has been featured in Downtown Brooklyn, Visceral Brooklyn, Crab Fat Magazine, Snapdragon Journal and several others. Find her at inlightofmysoul.com or on twitter @inlightofmysoul.
Maddie Woda is a sophomore at Columbia University in New York City. She is the editor of the Columbia Review.
Linette Reeman is a flying cryptid first spotted in the late 1800s around the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey, which gave them the nickname of the “Jersey Devil.” Besides being a general nuisance and popular tall tale, Linette is a multiple Bettering American Poetry and Pushcart Prize nominee, has been previously published in places like Public Pool, FreezeRay, and Blueshift Journal, and their performance credits include the Bowery Poetry Club and Busboys and Poets. // LINETTEREEMAN.WEEBLY.COM
José Luis Gutiérrez is a San Francisco-based poet. His work has appeared in Eratio, Scythe, Margie, Poemeleon, Cortland Review, Hawaii Pacific Review, Xavier Review, DMQ, Jetfuel, Thrush, Caliban, Kestrel and in the anthologies Mutanabbi Streets Starts Here and 99 Poems for the 99 Percent and is forthcoming in Metonym, Poetry Salzburg Review and Chiron Review, among others. His first poetry collection, A World Less Away, was published in 2016. Jackie Palacios is a first generation college student attending Chapman University as a double major in Screen Acting and Peace Studies. She hopes to use art to communicate, educate, and uplift under loved communities. Her work focuses on her own identities as a femme, mexican-american person, and finding a voice to fight machismo, racism, and xenophobia. Jackie’s work often focuses on her family, so she would like to dedicate this piece to her ancestors, her mother, and her nephew, Santiago.
Leah Mueller is an indie writer from Tacoma, Washington. She is the author of two chapbooks, “Queen of Dorksville” (Crisis Chronicles Press) and “Political Apnea” (Locofo Chaps) and two books, “Allergic to Everything” (Writing Knights Press) and “The Underside of the Snake” (Red Ferret Press). Her work has been published in Blunderbuss, Memoryhouse, Outlook Springs, Atticus Review, Origins Journal, Silver Birch Press, Cultured Vultures, Quail Bell, and many anthologies. She was a featured poet at the 2015 New York Poetry Festival, and a runner-up in the 2012 Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry contest.
Jack Stewart was educated at the University of Alabama and Emory University. From 1992-95 he was a Brittain Fellow at The Georgia Institute of Technology. His work has appeared in Poetry, Image, The American Literary Review, The Dark Horse Review, The Southern Humanities Review, and other journals and anthologies, most recently in A New Ulster. He currently lives in Coconut Creek, Florida, where he teaches at the Pine Crest School.
Laura Corns is a freelance editor living in South London (UK) with a degree in English Studies & Creative Writing from Sheffield Hallam University. Her work has previously appeared in Fire. She has been sharing short poetry pieces on Instagram for a few years (@fearlesspoetry), and most recently she has started performing spoken word.
Devon Balwit writes in Portland, OR. She has five chapbooks out or forthcoming: How the Blessed Travel (Maverick Duck Press); Forms Most Marvelous (dancing girl press); In Front of the Elements (Grey Borders Books), Where You Were Going Never Was (Grey Borders Books); and The Bow Must Bear the Brunt (Red Flag Poetry). Her individual poems can be found in The Cincinnati Review, The Stillwater Review, Red Earth Review, The Fourth River; Glass: A Journal of Poetry; Noble Gas Quarterly; Muse A/Journal, and more.
Kelechi Nwankwoala is a 18 year-old over thinker and writer from New Rochelle. He was the winner of the 2015-2016 Sibyl Poetry Prize at Phillips Exeter Academy, and now spends his time studying creative writing and biology at Johns Hopkins University. His poetry is driven by both his desire to be sincerely ugly and honest, and by his need to feel naked and loved, especially by himself. Caroline Snape is a writer and dramaturg from Blackburn, UK. She recently graduated from Pace University, and is currently based in Brooklyn, NY. She is on Twitter and Instagram as @ CarolineSnape. 148
Dennis E. Donham is a retired university educator. He has published a novel, The Lost Cry (Twin Creeks Press, 2017); and three books of poetry, A Fly in Time (Star Publications, 2006), a fly in time # 2 (Twin Creeks Press, 2010), and Zen Bytes (Twin Creeks Press, 2012). His poetry also appears in such publications as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Pennsylvania Literary Journal, Clark Street Review, and Bear Creek Haiku.
Bruce Fisher is a poet and actor. He studied theatre and mathematics at Cabrillo College and The University of California, Santa Cruz. He’s passionate about theatre, film, Jazz, and animals. Favorite writer is Shakespeare. Favorite band, The Grateful Dead. Favorite movie, Chinatown. He used to love beer. He currently lives in San Francisco with his beautiful wife, Kristina, and their dog, Chloe, and their two cats, Jack, and Mr. Bombadil.
Daniel Damiano is a Brooklyn-based Award-winning Playwright, Actor and Published Poet. His plays have been produced in many parts of the U.S, as well as Sydney and Melbourne, Australia and London, England. His play Harmony Park is set to receive its World Premier with Detroit Repertory Theatre in March 2018. His poetry has been published in the 2016 New Voices Anthology, Newtown Literary Journal, Cloudbank and HotMetal Press. He was a 2012 nominee for the Pushcart Poetry Prize. For more, please go to www.danieldamiano.com
Bryanna Licciardi resists the question, “Where are you from?” She’s lived all over - California, Texas, Michigan, Massachusetts - and has settled for the moment outside of Nashville. Bryanna has received her MFA in Poetry and is pursuing a PhD in Literacy Studies. Her debut chapbook Skin Splitting is out from Finishing Line Press (August, 2017). She is a multi-Pushcart Prize nominee, and has work in such journals as Poetry Quarterly, BlazeVOX, Northern New England Review, Peacock Journal, and Cleaver Magazine. Visit www.bryannalicciardi.com for more about her.
Brian Lombardi gets winded after long staircases, and goes out to breakfast a little too much. Brian is a writer from Massachusetts that owes everything to his teachers and professors throughout the years. He is stumbling around in the dark seeking direction for his future, but most days he doesn’t mind the exploration. He is hoping to write until one day he can call himself a writer without feeling fraudulent about it. At the moment, Brian primarily works with flash fiction and poetry.
Jordan Rose Little is a New York City-based writer and activist. She recently graduated Pace University with degrees in Gender Studies and English. And her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in literary magazines such as Aphros and in Catfish Creek. Christopher Stolle’s poetry has appeared most recently or is forthcoming in the Burningword Literary Journal, the Tipton Poetry Journal, Flying Island, Branches, Indiana Voice Journal, Snapdragon, Black Elephant, The Gambler, and Sheepshead Review. He works as an acquisitions and development editor for Penguin Random House, and he lives in Richmond, Indiana.
Bel Sáenz was born in 1994 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and holds a BA in English Translation. She currently makes a living as a freelance English<>Spanish translator and proofreader. A cinephile, Earl Grey enthusiast, and feminist buzzkill, Bel has had a library card since the age of six. “Postcards from Bizarro World” is her first published poem. Godspeed the rebels.
David Russo is a Long Beach, California, poet, political activist, and patron of the arts. Themes of difference, the nature of love, sex and society run throughout his work His writing has appeared in numerous publications, and his first three books, Tokin’ of My Esteem, The Poetic Heart, and Tokin’ of My Esteem:Hybrid Theory, are available on Amazon. 149
FICTION BIOGRAPHIES Kenneth Levine is an attorney who writes short stories. His work has been published or accepted for publication in New Plains Review, Anak Sastra, Thuglit, Imaginaire, Jerry Jazz Musician, Skewed Lit, Angry Old Man Magazine, a short story anthology entitled Fresh, and a short story anthology entitled Twisted. He is the winner of a Jerry Jazz Musician short story contest and the featured writer in an Anak Sastra issue.
J.A. Prentice was born in Redhill, Surrey, but has been a resident of the Bay Area for nearly twenty years. In 2017, he graduated from San Francisco State with a degree in Creative Writing. His flash fiction piece, “Multitasking,” was published on the site 365 Tomorrows, and he is the primary contributor to the writing blog Living Authors’ Society, which can be found on Wordpress, Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter.
Jeff C. Stevenson is a professional member of Pen America, an active member of the Horror Writers Association, and a finalist for the Best Published Midsouth Science Fiction and Fantasy Darrell Award. He is the author of the Amazon #1 bestselling FORTNEY ROAD: The True Story of Life, Death and Deception in a Christian Cult and more than two dozen dark fiction short stories. Jeff’s first novel, the supernatural mystery, THE CHILDREN OF HYDESVILLE, will be published summer 2018 by Hellbound Books. He’s now revising the suspense thriller, I’LL COME BACK TO GET YOU, and he also writes mainstream fiction under the pen name of Mary Saliger.
J.A. Prentice was born in Redhill, Surrey, but has been a resident of the Bay Area for nearly twenty years. In 2017, he graduated from San Francisco State with a degree in Creative Writing. His flash fiction piece, “Multitasking,” was published on the site 365 Tomorrows, and he is the primary contributor to the writing blog Living Authors’ Society, which can be found on Wordpress, Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter.
MUSIC BIOGRAPHIES Abigail Morris is a pale London based singer-songwriter who wishes she lived in a 70s B movie. She cites David Bowie, Jack Kerouac and Alejandro Jodorowsky among her influences and in her spare time she makes black coffee and bad decisions. You can follow her Instagram here: @ abignail_ to keep updated with her pug, Isadora and hear more music on her SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/user-707472246 Good Woman was created in 2014 by Brooklyn-based jazz vocalist and visual artist Juliet Abtahi. Influenced by the vocal and musical stylings of Anita O’Day, Portishead, and Little Dragon, Abtahi pulls from her Iranian and Argentine roots to create a tenacious sound with unique arrangements. Good Woman’s EP, “First Inversion,” will be released in early 2018. The Faithless Lovers is the musical side project of J. Kehoe, whose goal is to create short, non-conventional songs (and accompanying videos). Follow The Faithless Lovers on Instagram: @thefaithlesslovers.
VISUAL ARTIST BIOGRAPHIES Wayne Russell is a creative writer that was born and raised in Florida, he has traveled the world and currently resides in Columbus, Ohio. His work has been published as a fiction writer, poet, and photographer in various zines, online and in print.
Colleen Brady is a student in the NYC area who drinks far too much coffee and is constantly pulling her hair out at whatever script she is currently working on. Liminal spaces, neon lights, and dismantling the convoluted concept of gender, if you want to see Colleen’s adventures through cities or otherwise, you can follow her on Instagram @cucumberapocalypse.
Alexandria Yip is a San Francisco student and photographer. She was interested in art at an early age, but could never draw very well so she took pictures instead. She started documenting everything everywhere she went, which eventually sparked an interest in multiple genres of photography. She is inspired by the streets and the many creative people she has met throughout her life.
Raysam Donkoh-Halm is a Lowell, MA native and currently studying communication visual media production. Over the years, Raysam has gained skills in filmmaking, screenwriting, photography, graphic design, and comic strip illustration and cultivates original projects under his label Lame | Cool productions. Recently Raysam completed a documentary on the subject of Lowell’s current Civic civil war on the future of Lowell High called Days of Division that will be available online in the near future and an upcoming project is the live action TV adaptation of Raysam’s original comic strip Dry Campus. To see Raysam’s other work visit www.lamecool.net
Mike Callaghan’s work embodies fragmentation, rearrangement and reinterpretation -- considering the intimate cycles of identity, self-preservation and mortality while focusing on the agathokakological power of authority and technology. Mike’s work has appeared in solo and group exhibitions globally, including among others, Griffin Museum of Photography, Marin Museum of Contemporary Art, the Soho Photo Gallery and PhotoIreland. Mike’s work has appeared in several publications, including ZYZZYVA, Der Greif, BlackFlash and Drain. Mike earned an MFA from the San Francisco Art Institute.
Valentina Caballero is an 19 year-old Colombian-Canadian photographer, illustrator and writer from Toronto. Her work is influenced by the contrasts between foreign and North American cultures/landscapes and how these differences ultimately affect the identity of migrant communities as well as the wellbeing of the environment. Apart from working on creative pieces, she loves listening to Frank Sinatra, skateboarding and baking some amazing artisan bread.
Harshal Desai is a photographer and former scholarship awardee from Raffles, Singapore. His photography is forthcoming in Gulf Stream Magazine, Sediments Literary Art Journal, Stonecoast Review, Indianapolis Review, and elsewhere. Co-founder and art editor of Parentheses Journal, he is a diversification enthusiast. He enjoys breaking stereotypes and eating pizza. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Demi Rivera is a 23 year old girl from Denver, Colorado with an affinity for photography focused on the rugged beauty of city landscapes and Nature. She is also a freelance photojournalist for today’s biggest political conflicts including the Women’s March in Denver, and Defend Denver rallies. As her full time job, Demi works as a hairstylist and is a Lyft Driver. She enjoys weight lifting and is learning to read tarot cards as well. She works towards showing the beauty in all forms in her art.
Seigar is an English philologist, a highschool teacher, and a curious photographer. He is a fetishist for reflections and saturated colors. He feels passion for pop culture that shows in his series. He considers himself a traveler and an urban street photographer. His three most ambitious projects so far are his “Plastic People”, “Response to Ceal Floyer for the Summer Exhibition”, and his “Tales of a city”. He usually covers public events with his camera. He has participated in several exhibitions, and his works have been featured in international publications. He writes for The Cultural Magazine about photography.
Julia Andreyeva - an explorer and dreamer mind. After spending her childhood in the Ukraine, she moved with her family to Germany where, due to new culture, she was exploring and questioning herself and the world around her. During her design studies she moved to India for a year, where she was living and doing a design internship. This journey has transformed her personality and understanding of human behavior, emotions and spirituality. „Flowers“ is a work, she did after her return. Interested in exploring her world, art and view of life? Then follow her on Instagram: julia.andreyeva
Jordan Kady is a Florida based visual artist who uses her work to investigate anxiety, guilt, and shame operating in her own life and by extension, in contemporary culture as a whole. Often borrowing iconography from her Catholic upbringing, her work takes the form of paintings, embroidery, costuming, and interventions into daily life. You can visit Jordan online at jordankady.com.
Heather Laurel Jensen attends Red Mountain High School in Mesa, Arizona. She is co-president of her Scholastic Art and Writing Awards affiliate, where she has been awarded ten times, and she was a participant in the 2017 Adroit Journal Mentorship for poetry. She has also received a Strength of Doves, where her poems were published alongside Olivia Gatwood. Her work is published or forthcoming in Best Teen Writing of Arizona, Polyphony HS, and the Blue Marble Review.
Jhaki M.S. Landgrebe is an accidental teacher by trade and an artist and writer by otherwise. Her birthplace in the Midwest was a conservative start to a life of wander. She’s recently settled down and commutes between Sweden and South Dakota. Her artwork and publications can be found at www.jhakijhaki.com. Madeline Sefton is a 19-year-old amateur photographer currently enrolled at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. She’s loved photography from a young age but really started developing her own style and passion during her senior year of high school. She is especially inspired by the works of Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Francesca Woodman, and Diane Arbus. She’d like to thank Stephanie Molstre-Kotz and Joseph Schulte for teaching and mentoring her through high school.
Prima Vera (featured artist): I went to New York City earlier this year and in my room, I found a letter in the hotel bible. It was written in a different language but started with Hi Mom. I wondered who and why they wrote this? And why was this in a hotel bible? It was a bit haunting and that’s how I feel when I’m in a city. I miss my family when I’m in a city. There is a sense of freedom but loneliness when you’re alone in a big, scary city.
The Crooked Teeth Team: Andrew Halsig Co-Founder Cori Amato Hartwig Co-Founder and Editor Chandler Fitchett Chief Editor Jaden C. Kilmer Editor Julia Masalska Graphic Designer
Crooked Teeth Literary Magazine Issue 01/2018 San Francisco, CA 154
Magazine for urban poetry, visual art and music