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Po u r

Summer

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Vida

2020


“Foxes and Coyotes” Zach Murphy…………………………………………………………………….3 “Woman in Phone Booth” and “Super” by Gary Duehr………………………………..……4-5 “Void to Home” by Noah Haggerty…………………………………………………………………..….6 “Black Lives Matter at Fort Greene Park” by T.S. De Maio………………………………….7 “Scree” by James Owens………………………………………………………………………………….…7 “Time” by Catherine Moscatt………………………………………………………………………………8 “Yielding to Reprieve” Cole Hersey…………………………………………………………..……9-10 “Shaang-ril-aa” by Ishan Bose”………………………………………………………………………...11 “Another Walk in the Woods” by Harlan Yarbrough…………………………………….12-16 “Penthouse” by Palaces Potvin………………………………………………………………………….17 “Waist Deep” by Hayden Moore…………………………………………………………………..18-21 “Aubade” by James Owens……………………………………………………………………………....22 “Prewar Ladders to the Sun” by Gator the Elder……………………………………………….23 “The snow in summer” by Marina Kazakova…………………………………………………….24 “Juvenile.” By DS Maolalai……………………………………………………………………………….25 “The Intruder” by C.P. Souto……………………………………………………………………….26-27 “Magneto” by Thomas Piekarski…………………………………………………………………..…..28 Cover photo by Gator the Elder To be considered for upcoming issues of Pour Vida lit zine, please send submissions of writing, artwork, and photography to pourvidazine@gmail.com

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“Foxes and Coyotes” by Zach Murphy The tulips grew apart from each other that spring. The ground cracked and crumbled in ways that I’d never seen before. I watched the foxes and the coyotes battle all Summer on Cesar Chavez Boulevard, where the blood would leave permanent stains on the concrete. The reckless packs would flash their teeth, mark their territories, and steal more than just scraps. Me, I was a squirrel. I was small. But I was agile. I hustled from sun up until sundown at a frantic and frenetic pace. I always kept to myself and stayed in my own path. I didn’t want to get involved with the vicious nature of reckless pack mentality. My best friend was a squirrel, too. We grew up around same nest. We used to climb trees, chase tales, and break soggy bread together. We’d walk the wires between safety and danger. And when we got too deep into the mess, we’d get out just in time. Growing up, I always wondered if we would live long enough to die from old age, or if the elements and the environment would get to us first. That Fall, my friend got caught up with the foxes and the coyotes. Now he’s gone. The foxes and the coyotes lied low in the Winter. Me, I trotted across the frozen ground and desperately hoped I’d see my best friend’s footprints once again. ***

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“Woman in Phone Booth” by Gary Duehr In the interval between What's glimpsed and what's unseen, Between the hidden and the big reveal, There's a kind of ballet. You feel That everyone's complicit: The passersby, the looker and the looked-at, who each elicit A grin or frown of disapproval. And at the center of it all A woman in a phone booth Like Houdini's water torture. What's her truth: Her face is half-obscured In shadow; the phone receiver's covered By her right hand. Maybe she's about to say, Some guy is taking pictures. There's something in the way She's turned to face us, As if she's trying to debase us For our curiosity. Is she aware of our attention? Her eyes are lowered in discretion At this private tête-à-tête That's playing out in public. And yet Isn't this a conversation With all the other photographs whose passion Prefers to be anonymous? What does that say about us? ***

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“Super” by Gary Duehr It’s 1968. There’s a phone booth by the airport gate. And in the phone booth there’s a guy Who’s pushing hard against the glass, as if he’s trying to fly Like Superman. He can’t. He’s stuck there, phone in hand; a boorish rant Escapes his sideways grin: “Just listen, pal, what I’m sayin’…” The glass cube of the phone booth offered Superman What many came to understand As little more than privacy’s illusion. For actual seclusion A closet makes more sense. It’s more the fact Of being seen yet unseen in the act That makes us a voyeur. Oblivious, The salesman on the make ignores the obvious— He’s on display Where everyone can see, the way A monkey in a cage is. In 1969, The Human Zoo by Desmond Morris Proposed how consciousness Is shaped by primal urges, amidst the stress Of modern life. That guy looks trapped Inside the booth; his alter ego’s apt To smash the glass, not with a superpower But just because he’s superordinary—he’s our Exhibit A inside the vitrine Like a formaldehyded shark by Hirst, Damien. Behind him, in the shadowy recess Of the airport lounge, a woman in a cocktail dress Seems tuned in to his frequency Like a scene from Wender’s Paris, Texas, telepathically. What if it’s not an airport but the lobby of a bar Or strip club, heavy with desire, where things can go too far? ***

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“Void to Home” by Noah Haggerty We all continued staring up at our screens. Weightless. I looked around but no one dared to look with me, to acknowledge our fate. As if looking to me sealed it. Their glossy eyes darted across the screen illuminated by the cool blue light in the dark cabin. Sally closed her eyes. She began to cry. I relaxed my muscles as the tension in the air was cut with each whimper. My mind felt completely numb, destroyed from the past ten hours of fighting for our lives, well, fighting for our purpose. Martin broke next. “What do we do now?” “We live.” Erin was our commander. She pressed on her screen; the display ended. We all followed suit, unsure of what else to do. Our four faces drifted from the light blue of our screens to the dark ambient red, blending in with the cabin. Sally finally pulled herself under control and it was quiet again in the cabin. My ears still humming from the constant blaring of sirens telling us what we already knew. Now it’s over, flying through the void of space at 10,000 mph towards nowhere in particular, with no thrust, and no control. The one red light keeping us alive held strong. Letting us know we still had the oxygen, water, and food for another forty days, but that light gave us no other comfort. No other options to fix an exploded engine or contact home a few light days away through a scorched antenna, and no purpose or meaning. In one minute we had gone from the most important humans to have ever existed, bringing humanity out of the solar system to the loneliest most isolated and irrelevant humans alive. Drifting in the coffin, waiting for the end. I reached back and grabbed on to a handle. I squeezed it and it comforted me and told me I was safe. It told me everything would be okay. I began to cry. In the silence of the cabin. Each whimper pushed me deeper into the nothingness. Martin reached back to place his hand on my shoulder, but I couldn’t feel anything. I squeezed onto my handle harder. I took one last breath and turned the handle. The siren only blared for a second before the void pulled us all home. ***

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*** “Scree� by James Owens 1. The last sunlight of my best year whicks warmth from the skins of stones. 2. The stones are dense tangles of time that unravel more slowly than I. ***

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“Time” by Catherine Moscatt Time is mutated here The clocks are grotesque examples of modern Art with hands jutting out at odd angles And numbers melting into infinite pools Breakfast bleed eight o’clock and inches its way To noon, you feel proud you made it through this far You nap and time becomes confused, rigid lines, waves of color Four o’clock is crashing courtyard time Is different from the rest of the day, a football Spiral straight to dinner and then time mocks You as you linger by your bed, there are nights When time creeps and others when it dances But usually after medication time leaves you In a darkened room to be alone with your rigid Lines and waves of color ***

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“Yielding to Reprieve” by Cole Hersey When Roy was looking down at his hands, down at the floor near the precipice of a staircase, he wondered where those hands had been, and for who they belonged. They were made for many, given to many for very few days or weeks at a time, and now they were alone, facing in front of a long flight of stairs. Maybe now he could fly. He was tired. Work was a lonely room on a lonely floor just a flight above him. He looked over the railing to the bottom of the staircase. Fourteen stories. All not so well. But maybe, truly, he could fly. If a dog could fall in love, and if his dog could cry with joy, which she did often when Roy took her to the snow, then he must be able to fly. It wasn’t a death or ascension he was looking for, but rather to be a member for more than just a day. Perhaps, yes, he could fly. The air was always so welcoming. But for how long? And yet, here he was, wondering to himself if could fly, and not even attempting to test this sensation. Could you say you had anything if you had no one? What a lonesome highway it was back home. He decided against the attempt. The stairs were safer and more known to him anyways. He walked down as usual. Maybe down there on the street things would be different this time even though insanity led him to continue walking down the stairs as he did each day at exactly 5:13. But, as he reached the tenth floor, a gust of wind hurled him back up the stairs, out the door onto the roof. The gust of wind placed him on the edge where he could see the whole city, and all the people, walking just like Virginia Woolf described, as ants, all solitary members of the whole. The gust of wind came again and flew him back

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to his small house on the east side of town and to his dog. No, he couldn’t fly. But there was some joy in knowing he could be flone.

***

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“Shaang-ril-aa� by Ishan Bose

for my love has flown so far to Shaang-ril-aa suppose for a wondrous moment during our frequent rituals in warmer, disorderly worlds we had held those eager birds close kept their warbling of summer omens latent in our laughing bodies & yearned for their weeping, wistful notes instead of stooping before our disheveled shrine of wilting calendars without really knowing why they'd flown in a past life so of course we picked each other apart undressing the veins that separated soft, frantic wings from rivulets of rosewater flesh ***

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“Another Walk in the Woods” by Harlan Yarbrough Vibram soles had carried away so much soil that some hikers referred to the trail as the Appalachian Trench. Nevertheless, Hazel and Ben had hiked a hundred miles of the trail in five days and had a great time. They'd had an even better time at night, but the days on the trail provided their own considerable pleasures. Five years later, they vacationed in New Zealand and hiked the Routeburn and Heaphy trails—although the locals called them “tracks”—where the days proved even better and the nights almost as good. Other walks and other trails delighted them five or six times each year. Twenty years on, Ben's old Kelty external-frame backpack was, apart from Ben himself, about the only relic remaining from those days. Even his many times re-soled Fabiano boots had finally perished and been replaced by a pair of Zamberlan rocker-sole boots Ben sometimes claimed were even better than the Fabianos he'd liked so much. His and Hazel's lives had hiked off in separate directions five years ago, and the two rarely saw each other. Since then, Ben had shared his walks with buddies and a few short and longer term romantic interests. On this bright but muggy day, Olga had driven from her little house near town to visit Ben and walk with him in the hills above his home. Today marked their seventh walk together, and Olga thought Ben had enjoyed the first six as much as she had. In addition to the pleasure of sharing the walking and the views, the two had talked almost nonstop—about personal topics, environmental topics, political topics, favorite books, favorite songs, favorite musicians, and

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everything else that occurred to either of them. After each of the fifth and sixth outings, they had shared a hug as they parted. Olga found Ben very attractive physically and otherwise, and, as they made their way up the overgrown and muddy logging road, she hoped their relationship might develop into more than just hiking buddies. Recognizing her strong physical desire was not the only intense feeling she felt for Ben, she found herself hoping they could become more than just lovers, too. Both Olga and Ben kept themselves in excellent condition, so neither needed to rest despite the ever-present humidity that crept up from the lowlands. Even so, the hikers made several stops to enjoy places with good views. The fourth stop found them on a little promontory that gave them a view of almost the entire valley and a little glistening sliver of the ocean in the distance. As they stood looking at the view, Olga took Ben's hand and laced her fingers into his. Ben moved so they shared contact from shoulders to hips, and Olga's heart and hopes leapt. The steepest part of the trail and the long views lay behind them, as they walked around a shoulder of the mountain to the back of the first of the twin peaks overlooking Ben's modest two-story house. One long-ish climb on that back side with views into the uppermost reaches of the river's drainage left them with an almost level circumambulation of the first peak. The forest's canopy and understory formed a tunnel, with infrequent openings providing dramatic views down the steep slope and across the narrowing valley. Ben pointed out a waterfall near the head of the valley and far below them, before they passed

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through a little saddle and continued around to the side overlooking his house. From that height, they could see most of the valley and more of the ocean as well as a smaller peak or knob between them and Ben's house. As they stood at one of the few spots where a substantial gap in the forest afforded them an expansive view, Olga said, “Beautiful,” almost like a sigh. “I guess this sounds like some lame kind of line, but it's true,” Ben replied, “it isn't as beautiful as you.” Olga turned to him and opened her arms, enclosing him, as his arms encircled her slim waist. Olga felt her friend’s turgid presence against her abdomen and could see he felt embarrassed. He needn't have. She pulled him closer and rubbed against him. Ben said, “Oh, dear! Excuse me! I didn't mean—” “It's OK,” Olga said, as she held him tightly in her embrace. “I mean, I didn't mean to—” “It's OK,” Olga repeated, as she placed a soft kiss on Ben's lips. “Whew! I guess you can tell how much I want you,” Ben began, “but I didn't mea—” Olga silenced Ben with a finger across his lips and tilted her head to kiss his cheek, as she said, “I'm glad you do,” and swivelled to face the view again. Ben's tumescence must have subsided enough for him to walk, so they made their way along where the old logging road traversed the face of the second peak. “Would you like to see the top of this one?” he asked. On her enthusiastic assent, Ben left the main trail and led Olga up the steep slope to the ridge that

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brought them to the highest point, hardly high enough to justify the term “summit”. There, they could see the local cellphone repeater, sitting atop the region's highest peak. “Not very romantic,” Ben observed. “Still, it's nice to see it,” Olga replied, as they looked across the headwaters of the river toward the summit and its enormous red-and-white tower. They stood looking at the view, with Ben pointing out the few visible cabins and houses and explaining who inhabited them. As if on cue, they turned toward each other and embraced. Once again, Olga could feel his desire swelling against her belly. This time, Olga surprised him by placing her hand in his crotch and rubbing him. Before he could react—other than perhaps to grow even harder— she unzipped his fly and began stroking the object of his former embarrassment and her considerable interest. With her other hand, she unbuttoned her jeans and pulled them and her panties down to her knees. She then turned her back to him and guided him into her, as she leaned her head and one shoulder against a convenient tree. When their coupling had reached its natural conclusion, Ben wrapped his arms around Olga's belly and held her close against him for several minutes. Eventually, she straightened and turned to him and took him in her arms and said, “That was very nice.” “That,” Ben replied, “might just be the understatement of the century.” After more hugs and affectionate kisses, they descended the second peak and completed their circumambulation of the first, holding hands most of the

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way. They stopped and enjoyed the views—and many hugs and kisses—at several promontories along the way, then retraced their steps down the rank and muddy way to Ben's cabin. While short stories don't usually contain epilogues, this story demands one: five years on, the observer finds Olga and Ben enjoying a life of connubial bliss, with their two toddlers, in the subsequently-expanded cabin they overlooked— and still often overlook—from the two peaks.

***

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“Penthouse” by Palaces Potvin If we spend the summer away on hotels so we don’t get caught and it’s hot, will you take me on the rocks? If I bend over the bar, will you give me another hit? It’s okay if we’re broke teenagers: no matter the room, you bring me up to the penthouse ***

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“Waist Deep” by Hayden Moore

‘The weird sisters, hand in hand, Posters of the sea and land, Thus do go about, about: Thrice to thine, and thrice to mine, And thrice again, to make up nine’ (William Shakespeare: Macbeth, Act I scene iii) At the hour when the shade lay least on the wooded shore, the girl walked on the thirsty rocks and felt the sun’s power on her back. An oppressive heat which had lasted for weeks made the mountain heaped high upon the giant’s throat in the distance look like fantasy. On this little stretch of land shaped like a bow, Scylla tried to convince herself it was a place of peace. Not far behind her, the Cyclops’ field still never knew the plough and the narrow strait that led out to sea welcomed ships. The herb-clad hills that marked the way back to the mainland were still bountiful and food for birds and butterflies. But as the sun on her skin reminded her she was mortal, Scylla left the dark shore without a ship in sight. She headed back to the hills without a sprout. In the field of the Cyclops, the ground was still smoking. In her mind, the song was still meaningful. (Scylla singing) ‘She shined down on the broken land, Dogs bark at what they don’t understand, Herbs for healing have gone amiss, Now magic for the land of Dis, High above and far below me, Deities have tried to break free, But look around the time is lost, We had our time not worth the cost’ She looked up just before the rocks became roots and the ancient cypress trees surrounded her. A nebulous cloud of sickly white stretched across the sky with patches of it undulating like the underside of cardboard with the first layer torn off. Scylla noticed the ruin as a physician would the plague patient: Doomed within but rather whole without, but the tell-tale marks had left hope behind the moment they appeared. The world lingered on in its fever-sweats and boils, the bell to mark the end nowhere in sight and beyond hearing. The invasive herbs that baffled twisted along the ground in a tangled unity where clover once grew. Even Scylla’s sneakers seemed useless against the potent powers of the singular plant claiming the ground for its own. Whenever the colors of the day turned to gray, she swore she could see them glowing just before darkness smothered everything. But not everything new in the old world was pernicious and tyrannical. Where she was headed, the water was a revelation, even if it kept its secrets. Circe’s Perfumes for Transformation & Other Uses ~ 9 x 9 Ways

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Scylla tried to avoid looking at the sign every time she passed through the rusted chain-link fence. Faded graffiti that once covered the massive billboard had faded away like just another ghost amongst the multitudes. The only defacement that was still legible read: ‘—irce defiled the bay w—- deforming drugs.’ But nothing vast entered the world without a curse. The dear treasure that flowed within the ruins of the perfume factory was a consolation for Scylla, a little wink from the nameless goddess who handed out pleasure blindly and without reason. Bronze sculptures of the sun lined the way, a dim reminder of days past when even a heavenly body could be copyrighted and called a corporation. The reclusive ways of Scylla had spared her the choking death of the noxious fumes from the factory that day. But it seemed the whole earth had exhaled its disgust all at once. Within a few months, the eradication of humanity was almost as thorough as it had been for the life-giving herbs. In a land of the obscured, only the nebulous clouds growing dimmer betrayed the time of day. In the distance, where the concrete became rocks again, a pack of feral dogs were barking as a collective. As Scylla approached the place where the Earth still gave back, she noticed her left sneaker was untied. But just before she reached down to retie it, she saw strands of the baffling weed intertwined with her shoelace. She reminded herself that the little heart-shaped leaves were marks of death. Any signs of hope and sentimentality, heart-shaped or otherwise, had asphyxiated in the noxious cloud that day, too. Scylla left the laces unattended and headed obliquely away from the barking dogs. Where she walked, the baffling weed left its invisible seeds. A slight breeze from the West blew bits of the factory ruins in Scylla’s direction. The air smelled like a funeral home, false florals as abundant as the false sweetness of words. The aromatics evoked the past and Scylla knew it was impossible to ignore. Even if ghosts were confined to fiction, memory was just as haunting. (Scylla singing softly) ‘In magic halls of Circe shined, The false Sun sat his light confined, Death smelled so nice and what is more, When they smelled it they closed their door, But perfume’s more than something sweet, The breath of that you all will meet, Now get you gone you poisoned air, Life lingers on but is not fair, I’m almost done my—‘ Searching for the next rhyming couplet, Scylla took to her heels as the feral dogs flanked her. In the midst of her reverie, the wind not only carried memories, it carried her mortal odor as well. By the time she found her swiftfooted rhythm, she ran out of her left shoe. The tempting smell of foot odor in the lost shoe distracted a few of the wiry hounds long enough for Scylla to reach the other side of the factory yard and squeeze through the fence. Four of the dogs

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barked manically at her escape on the other side of the fence, their wild eyes indicative of yet another species that had given up on humans. Scylla watched as her sneaker was torn to pieces in the distance. She wondered what she tasted like but shook off the thought when she smelled where she was. The mineral brine of the waters she sought were bubbling as they always did. Evening, with its worn but soft hand, hushed the little world and even the dogs stopped barking. Scylla almost smiled as she turned around. But when she did, surprise mangled the expression into a look of blank confusion. “You lost something back there,” a woman said, through the mist. In the dark pool of bubbling water, a woman was half-submerged while the rest of her body was hidden by the congregation of vapors rising upwards. Scylla could see that the woman was naked but something about her skin and limbs looked far more distorted than any kind of tricks the mist could have achieved. Humans were rare but Scylla still knew them by sight and scent. Now Scylla was struggling to confirm if this was a human or a monster from the deep. “How long has it been since you saw another?” The woman laughed softly. “It’s been…,” Scylla paused, finding herself singing her words as she had for so long, “Two summers tomorrow.” “You weren’t expecting me. But I’ve been watching. I always am. The curse of my blood,” the woman said, splashing the water. “You are a quick one. I expected my beasts to catch you. They would have started on you from below, you know. I’ve seen it, over and over again. People and dogs and pigs do it. Haha, what’s the difference? You would have watched them eat you until they reached your throat. You would have cursed the world before they finished you. Barking beasts your whole body round. And if you fled, you would have fetched them along.” The woman fell into a coughing fit and sprays of blood fell into the dark pool. In the midst of her coughing, the thick vapor dissipated and Scylla saw her unadorned. Her face was twisted but the verity of it was undeniable. Stamps, billboards, commercials, newspaper clippings and gossip columns and the factory itself, all bore her resemblance before the perfume cloud ended things. Now her hands were missing and her chest concave, the greater portion of her skin peeling off in clumps and her bare scalp pockmarked. “They still worship me, you know. Down there,” the woman said. “By that same logic, dogs bark at what they don’t understand,” Scylla muttered, taking a step closer. “Funny. The gods, I hate your beauty. Probably only beautiful because you’re not misshapen like me. Little fish in a big empty pond. Don’t you know who I am?” “Daughter of the sun, right? Daddy sure is burning less brightly these days.” “So you can’t even say my name?” “What’s the point? Do you care what mine is?” “I should turn you into a—“ “You already did that.” “In my day, if someone spoke to me like that—“

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“How long have you been looking for someone else? Huh?” Scylla frowned, crouching down. “I’ll bet you can’t even turn a man into a pig anymore.” “Why don’t you come closer and see? I don’t need hands to tell you ‘twice nines and another time, thrice nines again to make up what’s mine!” As mutterings of broken charms failed to wind up, Scylla fiddled with her remaining shoe. Careful not to touch the heart-shaped leaves along the vine of the baffling herbs in her shoelaces, she pulled one out like an experienced but drunken doctor would a stitch. Charm after charm failed to move anything but the woman’s lips as the vapors of the water began to smell like boiled hotdogs. Through the mist, Scylla found the babbling witch’s yellow eyes and made sure she saw her when she did it. “Mine plus your nine, will turn out just fucking fine. The rhymes are worn out,” Scylla almost sang, dropping the strand of herbs into the water. No dogs howled or lightning struck when the water turned. What had been left of Circe dissolved as sugar does in boiling water. There were no words of rebuttal on the witch’s part and an eternal curse did not fall Scylla. The girl watched to make sure every bit of the Daughter of the Sun melted and resolved itself into a dew. Night fell and the crickets failed to play their sharp instruments of darkness. The journey back to the shore where the reefs once flourished was one of redundancy. This night felt just the same as every other one. Scylla had rehearsed what had just transpired so many times over the course of two years, it felt like seeing and smelling a memory. In the distance, the baffling herbs were glowing softly. For the first time, Scylla called them beautiful without regret. Just as she confined the day to just another one along with all the others, she heard shuffling behind her. She whistled out of instinct and nine dogs trotted up to Scylla. She decided to name them tomorrow. But as she walked with the nine hounds that ringed her in a loyal circle, she smiled for the first time in years. ***

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“Aubade” by James Owens Bright sky. Swifts' wings unstitch my healing wound. ***

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“The snow in summer” by Marina Kazakova The snow in summer happens in an empty field where the ropewalker stops striving to feel the soft, the white, the green two thousand eighteen, to levitate relooking into the ‘Mirror” of Tarkovsky: to throw a black question over the pasture of white: “Do you hear me?’ Do You Hear?” The snow absorbs the unpronounced words, the yellow voice, so evanescent and blocked, soaks up the heat that spreads over an empty field of white anticipation, puts to the silence the loud red passion, uncolours the fire, transparents the intention of the ropewalker to purple dance over the white snow of green summer, along the lucid skin of one olive drummer who keeps knocking the sun.

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“Juvenile.� By DS Maolalai opinions topple like apples in autumn and I've put out another book which is selling quite nicely and giving license to all my friends who didn't really like the first one to come out and finally say so. and it's not as if I like it myself now a bad waste of a good title. but I don't like it personally because it just feels so juvenile - and I was juvenile when I wrote it so that's alright. but I was being honest - it was all over this one ex-girlfriend, and everything I said about her I really tried to mean. my perspective on that has shifted too - of course. it's been years. I admit it sad angry love in afterthought ages worse than wine found open in the kitchen the morning after a loud party; nothing like a good bottle, fine and forgotten under the stairs or somewhere else. ***

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“The Intruder” by C.P. Souto It was an ugly child birthed unknowingly. A demon running rampant in my mind, pulling out screws, chewing on cords, tugging on wires. It went undetected for too long; it got too strong too fast. It planted its first seed when I was standing at the cash register at Macy’s. A line of customers stood on the other side and it came with a subtle thought… that I had a whole lifetime to suffer in a body that was slowly dying. Suddenly I was reeling, gasping for air, the line of customers like giant, peering insects waiting to pay for their clothes; cardigans and pants draped over their arms like dead things. There was no sense to it, no purpose to anything. What did it matter what they wore when they were all going to die anyway? Then stumbling, stumbling down that long hallway to the bathroom where I sat on the toilet, shaking. When I told my mother later, she said its name and chuckled like she was remembering an old friend. It had silly names… Anxiety. Panic Attack. Just like the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus... or the Boogeyman. It was a wisp of smoke, an intangible cloud. In my moments of happiness and content, it would swirl out of the shadows and whisper with a noxious breath: “Do you remember what you did to the man with the green eyes?” I could feel it smiling when I’d crumple down in shame. I spent years wondering how it got in… perhaps I swallowed it once when I gasped between the stinging lashes of a belt. Perhaps I inhaled it when my father exhaled his whiskey-fire-laughter. Or maybe it got in 25 years ago in my mother’s womb, clawing its way into me through that gestational conduit between us. It was a parasite that demanded an endless food supply. In moments of comfort and stability, it rattled my ribcage and shrieked. It pushed me until I fell off that bumpy wagon into a fat pool of stinking mud. And then it was satisfied, like an overfed cat slowly blinking and content. Soon, I could see a shadow of the creature darting in my peripheral vision. In the middle of the night, I would wake to find it perched over my bed like a gargoyle, watching me as I slept. It was always watching me. I woke one night to a shuffling sound in my kitchen. Slowly, I climbed off my futon and spied a shaggy black thing hunched over sheets of tattered paper; my journals, shredded on the floor. It was murmuring, whispering, rocking, its back to me. It sensed me and began to turn, a deep sound coming from its throat. My knees buckled when I saw its profile in the moonlight; I had seen that face in the mirror. Its head was matted, the glistening patches missing from its scalp were plastered on the kitchen linoleum in bloody clots. Long eyelashes blinked, tangled and crusted, blue lips moving over broken teeth wordlessly. It was

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moaning and sucking on its fingers, ripping fingernails and spitting them onto the remnants of my writing. In the morning I found that my journals were still intact, but I couldn’t open them. Years passed and I continued to feed the thing anything to keep it quiet. It was a child spoiled rotten. Beer. Pot. Meth. Tranquilizers. Whiskey & Vicodin was its favorite. “Oh, you want both? Ok, anything you like Sweetie. Just be good for Mommy!” Finally, we grew sober and comfortable together like an old married couple. It crouched over my shoulder when I wrote, it’s head trembling on a grotesque body. I calmly tried to draw its poison out of me with the point of my pen. I imagined it diminishing with each word, getting smaller and weaker and less significant as my work grew stronger. I sat in business meetings and it crouched in the corner, strangely contorted and shivering, listening to gray white men with golden-watch-faces talk over me. “No one listens to little girls,” it said, picking at a bloody scab on its chin. “They’re all going to die of cancer soon anyway. And so will you.” “I know,” I’d mutter back absently. I realized that the creature would never really leave, so I created a series of caverns in my mind with locked doors and torches that burned endlessly on the walls. It was the opposite of Plato’s Cave… It was where the real things lived. My mother was behind a barred door. Each time I passed, I’d hear a thump and a slither. She would whine my name with her barbed-wire voice that never quite drowned out the rattle of her tail. My creature shrieked when it heard her, its wet body slapping into the walls and thudding loudly. Wild screams echoed, racing through the twists and turns of the caverns. The torches quaked and guttered in its fury, making my own shadow ghoulish, flickering from shape to shape on the walls. The stone door was heavy where that broken, scabbed little monster lived. It had grown mad with loneliness, gnawing on itself with worry. When it saw me, its lips split and bled with an impish smile. It crawled to me, its broken hands scrabbling at my clothes, sniffing me and inspecting me, fussing over me. I finally understood the creature: my defender, my muse. We needed each other. For the first time, I realized that it was as miserable as I was. Perhaps, with the right training, I could help it recalibrate itself… Recalibrate us. “It’s ok,” I said, leading it out into the sunlight. “We’re all ugly demons in the dark sometimes.” ***

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“Magneto” by Thomas Piekarski Songs sprout from coming summer’s solstice as surfers emerge on California beaches… Motor homes belch fumes into otherwise clear spring air en route to campsites sequestered in deep Mother Lode ravines, vacationers bound for quixotic personal El Dorados tucked amid pine forests that populate north and south forks of the mighty American River. Both forks fed by snow melt, runoff that ripples, swirls, twists, hurtles, inimitable elixir, magical instigator, primal giver of life. ***

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