RIGGWELTER #28 AUGUST 2020 ed. Jonathan Kinsman
The following works are copyrighted to their listed authors ÂŠ2020. Riggwelter Press is copyrighted to Jonathan Kinsman ÂŠ2017.
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Foreword After the Battle A Good Catholic Education Sibyl Vane Predicts Her Suicide pers klippe Samaritans Portrait of local butterfly in prayer-pose The Porn Ohio Landscape (May 8th, 2020) Accident and Emergency The Hibiscus of Paradise Marge Simpson’s sisters don’t forgive their mother Skinny Dreams Poppies genesis The Orchestra At Last Olives After a Night of Heavy Drinking with Elizabeth Hardwick Pachamama Apeirophobia Titanic Brahmasmi Riptide Arriving Worldwide Monroe House Above the bed Growing Salvage Not Being in Venice There are Parallel Worlds Moving Backwards and We are Still Here Survivors And Mama Keeps ‘Em Growing breakfast Contributors Acknowledgements
4 5 6 7 8 9 13 15 17 18 22 23 24 25 31 33 35 36 37 38 41 42 44 45 46 47 50 51 52 53 59 60 61 68 69 70 75
Summer 2020! What a time to be alive! With the state of the world being what it is, art is more important than ever. Speaking personally, it’s the only thing keeping me going through this extended period of isolation and stress. Here at Riggwelter, we hope you’re all keeping safe and well. This issue is all about what art excels at expressing – what we cannot bring ourselves to say, both the good and the bad of it. This is art that says I love you and I
hate you, I’m fearful and I’m hopeful. Now more than ever it’s important to listen to that silence, to reach out and answer it. As always, we owe some thanks before we commence. Thank you to our readers, our writers, our submitters and our promoters, you make Riggwelter happen. Thank you as well to the people keeping society going in this time: our medical staff, our carers, our retail staff, our delivery drivers, our teachers, our technical support and everyone that’s there at the other end of the phone. You deserve so much more than a round of applause for the risks you take on behalf of us all. We’d also like to thank everyone who is protesting in this time – some things are more important than personal safety, especially making the world a better, kinder place to exist in. On with the show! We’ll see you next month.
Jonathan Kinsman (Founding Editor)
After the Battle
Tonight a church porch, hard-worn polished bench. No gloss, instead the stale smell of obedience. You remember the wait each Sunday morning. A hard bench in the bus station where you watched buses come and go. Dressed in Sunday best, awkward, alone. Constructing a sermon, a lie to tell. Fear loosening a tie. Last night a bus shelter. Domed sky. A breeze lifts wings of newsprint. Sleep-wrapped dusk-heavy body, a scry away from sweeping thickets, rising over cold stone. The dark has followed you up from underground. The thwack of wood on bone. A stampede of hooves pounding in your chest. A boy raises an arm, gauntlet ready. In Godâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s own country the hawk seeks you out like an old friend grips your wrist with talons of red-chipped nails. Marion Oxley
A Good Catholic Education
teaches you to read into things, not like a book, but like the peeling wallpaper of the chaplaincy, its neat distraction of precious metals. Beneath the science portacabin, they removed the bones of over forty small animals, alongside the body of a vixen, who, upon becoming trapped with her prey, learned what it means to feast. George Aird
Sibyl Vane Predicts Her Suicide
â&#x20AC;&#x153;The world is changed because you are made of ivory and gold. The curves of your lips rewrite history.â&#x20AC;? â&#x20AC;&#x201C; Oscar Wilde in her dressing gown, with her hair piled high and her costume / on a hook behind the door / while her mother steps out of the room to greet the patrons / Sibyl wets a cloth and undraws the beauty / from her face, wiping her skin until she is just / ivory & gold, ivory / & copper, ivory / ivory / under the dressing-room lamp, where she is a girl, just a girl / with bare feet / a bare face / the swell of her body beneath her gown. she wants chiffon, wants to be / a Michelangelo / the curves of her lips in white marble / where another Dorian will fall before her / & kiss them, without her having to kiss him / back. she is young, a Libra, wants to be something more / than her body / than the painted cloth in her small hands / her tremulous eyes saying / i am something too sacred / to be touched. make me a god / & pray until you forget / my name. with her back to the narrow window / dingy curtains, tattered lace / she undresses, for a second in her undergarments before she pulls on a shift / a shade paler / than blood / chaste, irreverent / her body a temple / only she / can desecrate. Aryk Greenawalt
pers klippe Malgas Mashego
Two guys in a Samaritan Call-In Center. One says to the other, Here, hold this. The other, whose name is Dave, is sitting at the table in front of his own blue helpline phone reading an Auto-Trader. He looks up at his colleague – they are also, coincidentally, buddies; started at the same time, took the training together, went onto the night shift together – and says, you gonna hand me a call in progress? You know you can’t do that. Jeff, waggling the phone, the palm of his hand over the mouthpiece, says, Come on! He’s drunk. He just wants to talk. Says his wife is killing him. Figuratively, I’m pretty sure. I got to pee. Dave continues to look at his friend. I got to piss! If I don’t go now, I’m gonna piss all over this guy’s bad day, not to mention your car porn magazine. I’ll be right back. Dave shakes his head but then takes the phone, listens and says, Yes sir, I’m here. Bit of a technical hitch, for which I’m very sorry, and all back to normal now. How can I be of help to you this evening? Jeff walks away towards the door holding a hand up and waving. And he’s right, the man on the phone is drunk. All he wants is to rant about how his wife, his whole miserable family if it comes to that, doesn’t appreciate what he’s been going through recently, at work and with his health. It’s why he drinks. Eventually he runs out of steam and hangs up. Dave goes back to his Auto-Trader. He has been looking for – dreaming of – a new car for weeks and he’s almost to the point where he
might manage a down payment on something a couple, maybe three, years old. A Duster, or a Dodge Dart, with a cool paint job. He should put on another pot of coffee. Hours to go until morning. The other phone rings. He looks at it and wonders where Jeff has got to. That’s a long piss. The phone stops ringing as he reaches for it. A few seconds later, his own phone starts to ring. Damn. A fresh cup of coffee in front of him would have been nice before another call. He picks up the phone. Hi there. You’ve reached the Samaritans. What can I do to help you this evening? It’s me. Sorry? It’s me. He actually starts to say, Me who, but then he recognizes the voice. Obviously, I’m not taking a piss anymore. Jesus, what are you doing? Where are you? You’re tying up a line. You’re not supposed to tie up the lines. What are you doing? I’m in the box along the street. I’m done. The call center is on the second floor of a two story strip mall on a narrow street off Saskatchewan Drive on the south side of the river. The phone box that his buddy is talking about is a half a block away, back towards Whyte. You’re done? What do you mean, you’re done? No. You gotta get back here. You can’t tie up a line like this and there has to always be two of us. I’m not tying up the line. I’ve called you. I know you’ve called me.
Dave glances at the chair beside him. He frowns. His buddy’s parka is on the back of the chair. You don’t have your coat. No. I mean, I’m calling you. You’re on. Dave thinks for a minute. That means you don’t have your key. That means you can’t get back in without me coming down to let you in and I’m not supposed to leave the phones without someone else being here. What the fuck are you doing? I’m done. No. You’re not done. Get back here. What is done? He looks up and out of the window while he’s holding the phone. Outside it’s minus 24 degrees, is what Radio CHED was saying at the top of the hour. Ice crystals drift through the streetlights. His friend is wearing an Abraxas T-shirt and jeans. Sneakers. Not just the key for the building, his friend’s car keys are in his coat as well. Jeff? Dave has walked past that phone box a hundred times, heading up to the Strathcona Hotel from the campus to get a beer with the gang. It stinks. Cigarette smoke and sweat, even in winter. Not the bar, the box. Well, the bar as well to be honest. Listen, I’ll run down and meet you at the door. Start heading back. I’ll run down and wedge the door open. Hurry up. Silence. Except maybe his friend cleared his throat a little. What? I’m coming. It’s fine. Sorry?
I’m getting cold. Gimme your spiel. You’ve got, like, a minute. Go ahead. Hi there, you’re a Samaritan. What can you do to help me this evening? Dave drops the phone and runs down to the street. Other than his friend’s car, a fully frosted over Pinto, the lot is empty. The street is empty. It’s the middle of the night, in the dead of winter. Who would be out there? The phone booth is empty too. He can see it from where he’s standing in the doorway. He looks up and down the street for a minute or two and then climbs back up the stairs into the office. The office is still and quiet and feels as stale as the old coffee in the pot. He walks over past the table with the phones to the window and looks out across the river valley for a moment at the city skyline. Behind him one of the phones starts to ring.
Portrait of local butterfly in prayer-pose
The endstreet window box once occupied by local ice-cream sellers anointed by a polyester vein; thin blue line lacerating flaccid stripes of black and white. / Next door, daily grasses kneel before the man prunes his story bare. Forgets the way his wife forgot her heartbeat by the end. / My house has a big rust deck a tiny weeping willow and an empty shed. I used to claim the backyard tree branch by tart-rot branch Til it gave beneath my weight. / Downstreet grew a vast expanse of overgrowth since razed for suburban boxes bared as teeth against the sun,
informing former deer of tree bone fences speaking private property and other foreign languages. /
A horse and mule graze streetside shadewise, girdled paces from the road bulbous with golf balls whiter than the absence round their iris eating til the shade itself shits plastic in their crawlspace at the left hand of suburbia Sarah Cavar
Is falling out of hedges. The porn is waving from railway embankments. The porn is flickering in the front room and in the Travelodge. The porn is in the workplace. The porn is under your bed. The porn is buffering and the porn is rewinding. The porn is paused and the porn is viral. The porn is vanilla. The porn is amateur. The porn is HD. The porn is celebrity and the porn is CCTV. The porn is handheld. The porn is voyeur The porn is POV. The porn is on silent. The porn is on in the background. The porn has gone full screen and the porn is your browsing history. The porn has been signed for. The porn is subscription only and the porn will appear on your credit card bill. The porn is vintage. The porn is niche. The porn is your first time and the porn is like the last time. The porn is what you think about and what youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re trying not to think about. What will survive of us is porn. The porn is normal. Porn is the same. The porn will open in a new window and the porn is to blame. The porn is happening now. Porn is what you look for.
The porn is harmless. The porn is hardcore. The porn is for a laugh and the porn is slowing everything down. The porn is why you canâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t come and the porn is what keeps you awake. The porn is to help you sleep and the porn is why youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re always late. Ian Harker
Ohio Landscape (May 8th, 2020)
Rude knots, refusing to bow when I am in the midst of a day that is only bowing, I have a secret love for you that I am not willing to share with my children. There are whole limbs of my body that shake with such a tremendous anger that there are no thousand steps that can free me from my own attractive creature. I would, without pause, with six fingers touching cruelty, hold the heads of darkness. I suppose that is the first fight I must win. I suppose I should forget those names. Darren C. Demaree
Accident and Emergency
The dust of our argument has barely settled when he comes back into the kitchen with mucky boots on the clean linoleum and says, “I need you to take me to A&E.” We’d argued about the out of date milk. How he’d gone shopping and not bothered to buy a new carton, which turned into an argument about how I’d gone shopping the week previous and bought things only to waste them. Peaches – soft. Cheese – mouldy. He’d snapped and I’d goaded, until we ended up telling each other to fuck off – heaved out and bitten; angry dogs to a ready bone. The argument flashes before me as he stands there, dishevelled and dirty; a distinct oil mark on his forehead. The blood seeping from the top of his thumb takes over. It’s started to snake down his arm in corkscrew lines. I grab the car keys and he grabs an old ragged towel from the garage and winds it around his thumb. He’s quiet in the car. Keeps peaking at the cut. Deep. 4cm. Maybe more. * A&E is brimming. At the desk a woman asks what relation I am to the bleeding man I’ve brought with me. “His daughter,” I say. “Okay. Wait time is two hours. You can get a coffee if you want.” His face has started to turn a shade of light pale. I ask him if his thumb hurts and he lies. I ask him if he wants a coffee and he nods. I already know where the cafe is. I used to deliver pizza to the nurses on the ward next to it after I left university. First class degree. Failed interviews. No money. Delivering pizza was a temporary solution. I
try not to think about how much that sense of disappointment made me consider my place in the world. Or the chart I had to fill in at the doctors so they could assess how much of a risk I was to myself. We weave between corridors. Even in the mid-afternoon light there is a sense of horror about the place. The shades of weak blue. The smell of chemicals. The absolute knowledge that there is death. He burns his tongue on the first sip of coffee. The towel around his thumb is damp with blood. * “You want to see?” We’ve been waiting for an hour. Time moves like an upturned jar of syrup in a hospital. As I get up to peer at his cut, I realise I haven’t asked how he did it. “Angle grinder, trying to get some rust off the car. Hand slipped. Didn’t have the guard on. Or gloves.” He pulls it open with his index finger. I imagine the serrated blade biting in. How he had to slide it back out. I ask why he wasn’t wearing gloves. Or why he had forgone the guard. Two things he would’ve scolded me to the high heavens for. He shrugs and says, “doesn’t matter now.” His name is eventually called. Before he goes, I take a picture of the cut for him on his phone; a memento. He gets up to follow the nurse. “You coming?” It’s not really a question. I move without an answer. *
The room is small. Three plastic chairs. A ticking clock. It reminds of the room where I was told I might have cancer. There was a lump in my neck. The scan was inconclusive. I can still remember the diagram the consultant drew. Numbers 1 to 5. I was a 3. They couldn’t rule it out. He didn’t take it seriously until I told him I had an appointment for a biopsy, and he needed to drive me to it. Three weeks later I pinned the letter to the fridge that explained it wasn’t cancer. Four days passed before he read it. * The nurse has sandy hair and kind small eyes. She cleans his wound and says that it’s not the first angle grinder cut she’s seen, which isn’t surprising. She says that it’s a good one though. That it could make the hypothetical hall of fame. She bins the antisceptic wipes and disappears to get whatever it is she needs for stiches. He looks over. His eyes are welling up. I expect him to make a joke but all he says is, “Jesus, that stung.” An errant tear escapes. I’ve only ever seen him cry once, at his cousin’s funeral. It was like having the rug pulled, except beneath there was no floor, just an empty, endless cavern. He bites his bottom lip when she pushes the needle through his skin. It draws more blood. * In the car he asks if I’m alright and I lie. When we reach home, he asks if I can fetch him the bottle of whisky he keeps in his desk and I nod. I reach past old payslips and
take it out. His thumb is wrapped in mounds of white bandage. It looks bulbous and ridiculous. I open the bottle for him, pouring until he says stop. He shots it. “You not having one?” I tell him I’d rather have a mug of tea. He sniffs and makes to leave. “Where are you going?” “Back to the angle grinder.” I’m incredulous. He’s nonchalant. “I’ll use my other hand.” Then he’s gone. I wait for the kettle to boil. It’s not until I open the fridge that I remember. Milk. Out of date. I think about how much I’d have to drink before it really made me sick. A sip wouldn’t do much. A good gulp and the bacteria might take hold. I hold it up to my nose. The smell makes me gag. I reach for his whisky, swirl it into a glass, sink three fingers worth, and let it burn.
The Hibiscus of Paradise Alexander Kennedy
Marge Simpsonâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s sisters donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t forgive their mother
For Patty, Selma and Cressida Like when the moon was just born wearing pineapple lip balm & breaking hearts, there will always be yearning and worship in the company of another booming heart crying like a mammal over soap stars. Your lives are one painful and beautiful pregnancy. Tell apart each of your breasts like four cow-bells in violet wire-bras. ~ Smoking in bed together is an emblem of sisterhood ~ Count the objects in the room & drink a White Russian, Selma. Your boneless yellow body and fatty heart adhere to what is difficult, what it means to yield half smashed-up things and call it commonality; Patty, I mean Selma I could switch off the TV-set and sit here in the dark with you forever. Eve Esfandiari-Denney
The way my clavicles arch out, create a hollow at the base of my neck. How I track calories, my phone in my fist after every meal, measuring every morsel that slides down my throat. The scale that sits quietly in the corner, pulled out each morning at the same time, my naked skin glowing in the dark, predicting the rest of my day. The smell of brownies baking, rich chocolate filling the house. I eat one, take the rest into the office â&#x20AC;&#x201C; how Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;m loved by my coworkers. The lines of definition in my biceps, the curve of my calves, the hollow dip where I once had a belly. My hip bones jutting out beneath my skin, perfect hooks for hands or underwear. And how my belly growls late at night, a lullaby I fall asleep to. Courtney LeBlanc
I couldn’t shake the bear, who visited me every night. The first time she appeared, she was thick with pregnancy and bopped out of the woods to stand in the driveway. She yawned, rubbed her hindquarters on a crape myrtle bush, then sniffed the air, her lips pursing in a kind of kissing twitch as she followed a scent-trail toward the house. She scaled a tree growing alongside the home, slid open a side window, and disappeared. *** Ben stole away often in the mornings, then woke me by whispering bits of the day into my ear, quotes and dreamy things he’d studied in some book. He breathed newfound knowledge. I’d wake to him murmuring, kissing my throat, pulling the hair off my face. “The men dance together in the remote villages of China, waiting for the crops,” he once said. “But how is the dance perceived by the village women? Braids through the hair and stripes of colored ribbon indicate marital status to visitors.” Ben had a memory like that. His mind pulled things to it like a magnet, and his sweet way of sharing rolled me closer to him. Ben professed facts and questions in a sing-song until sighs and underthings floated upward toward the ceiling. Often, we would lie on top of the bedcovers, gazing out the window, watching the wind handle junipers with gentle strokes, and we’d share our dreams of sailing. Ben would say wistfully, “A boat could drift in this wind,” pointing to the jostling limbs. ***
The bear was hungry, as bears often are. It was no surprise then when she broke into the unoccupied house. She first pillaged the kitchen, sniveling along the counter until she discovered the pancake syrup, which she drank from the jug, gulping the liquid with her head back. Then she gnawed on a box of Pop-Tarts, swallowing the treats whole (wrappers and all), and slimed her snout across the hallway’s wallpaper as she ambled through the home. *** “How do you like this new haircut?” he once asked. He had shaved it to the scalp. I didn’t like it, not at all, and I threw a bottle of perfume at him as a response. He ducked, and the apartment smelled of gardenias for weeks. The reek made me nauseous. However, there were so many moments of friendship and kindness between us. Ben gave me trinkets. He left gifts out in the open where I discovered them, and, whenever I found the objects in his absence, I longed for him, already out and going about his day exploring. He was passing through, and I knew, too, there would be a day when the presents would look back at me with nothing to say. One morning, after the door clicked behind him, there was the tapping of a wind-up metal bird hopping in the bathtub. When I set it on the windowsill, it slowed down to a gentle pecking. It took a while for it to wind down to a full stop, a half-hour at least. But I watched it lose momentum, sat on the floor, waited. I kept a list of all his presents: a wooden brush for scrubbing fingernails, two gold foil-wrapped spheres of chocolate, three balls of silk thread—lime green, hyacinth, and azure, a milkweed pod, a bar of lemongrass soap, and the hopping, wind-up bird. ***
The bear found the Steinway in the living room. When she stood on the piano’s keys, buttressing on top of the ivories, the instrument’s hammers struck strings. Thunder! Danger! Her fur hackled between her shoulders, and she waited, but no avalanche swept down, no growling wolf attacked her. After a long pause, she swiped the keyboard as if carefully wading into a cold stream, and more sounds wheezed forth from the strange object she’d mounted. She understood now and swatted with gusto, tapped her nails across all the sharps and flats—the 52 white, 36 black. A hearty rhythm. A raspy jig. *** When my mother was pregnant with me, she suffered from chronic somnambulation—the doctors diagnosed her sleepwalking as a temporary condition experienced by expectant women. During her second trimester, one night, while she was dead asleep, Mom bumbled into the next-door neighbors’ apartment, where the O’Connors were awakened by clattering. They found Mom standing barefoot at their stove, bulbous belly jutting over a sizzling skillet, eyes glazed, open yet unseeing. After that incident, Dad tied Mom to their bed’s banisters so she wouldn’t wander off. *** Months passed, and while drowsing inside her timberline den, the hibernating bear dreamed of piano music. She remembered the instrument’s sounds. So unlike the wind outside as it clacked through the branches. And the noise wasn’t like the morning breezes, either, clinking over the frostbitten grass on the hillside. No, the music was something she couldn’t quite understand, but the memory tugged at her, wouldn’t let go.
*** All through my childhood and into my twenties, I heard tales of my sleepwalking mother. I assumed the stories were an exaggerated creation story, some overblown family lore. And then, when I was 29, I went back to visit the old homestead. I knocked on Mrs. O’Connor’s door. “Come on in!” The wizened woman welcomed me with a hug, and we sat in her parlor and made small talk, sipping on oolong tea, and she reminisced about my sleepwalking mother’s middle-of-the-night meal. “Your ma made the best bacon I ever tasted.” *** After months of absence, on a summer evening, before dusk brushed blue across the mountains, the bear returned to the house; this time, she brought her two cubs. The little family bounded down the slope. They zig-zagged through the darkened fields of fireweed and poppies. With her meaty fists, the bear nudged at the kitchen’s jalousies, jiggled all the triple-locked latches. No luck. But she didn’t relent. She clambered the drainpipe to the second story, snuffled each bedroom’s sill, her stale breath fogging the panes. The young ones laddered up her back. Why was it so difficult to make music? ***
During these dwindling days, I look out and think about how I used to like the streets when winter was undecided—the rain came and went, like the sun. And when strange weather appeared, the sun and rain occupied the same space, so the streets were wet, but the sun crossed over through drizzle. It would rain all morning, and then a cheerful city sun appeared like a miracle. A few months back, Ben left one early morning. After he hadn’t been home in days, and all my texts went unanswered, I knew it was over. I sat on the balcony and worried. The snow transitioned to mist, and I leaned under the protection of the awning. On the snow-wet railing, I traced a kind of infinity symbol, thinking of Möbius-strips, swirling my finger, adding another eight-shaped figure. Double-infinity. A double-whammy of forever. Forever what, though? And nothing lasts. I’m fond of poppies because they’re as miraculous as mercurial weather and unexpected dreams. The flowers are so fragile, fluttering silhouettes and thread-thin stems too weak to support their flamboyant scarlet petals and contrasting black hearts. Like me. Like Ben. I can easily spot such a flower from afar as it pokes up its head in the middle of a field, on the banks of a country road, or in the most unexpected places like cracks in sidewalks—and I find that it is a flower best left unplucked. As tempting as it is to tuck a poppy behind my ear, without its roots, it withers away so fast that I might regret picking it.
Ben was like this. He was just fine as a wild thing, but to pluck him up meant he’d wilt away. I knew one day he’d keep going. It’s what people do. Anyway, last night, I dreamed as always of the bear. We stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the balcony, her cubs wrestling behind us. We peered up at the sky, and as we gazed north to Ursa Minor and the Little Dipper’s seven stars of hope, the bear’s fur brushed my arm. I wondered, what if we jump off this ledge and wheel high? And we turned to each other and nodded in unison, and I grabbed her leathery mitt. As we stepped off and into the air, I jolted awake and found myself standing at the stove frying bacon, spatula in hand. I know it’s a cliché to end a story with the final statement, then I woke up, but I did, and this is not an ending anyway.
God must’ve left his crayons out on my kitchen table, ‘cause when I picked one up (cerulean blue), a river flowing all the way to the ocean, strong, constant and ageless sprouted from my hand. so i drew myself a continent, the wildest you’d ever seen, bright pink wildebeests and chartreuse flamingos frolicking among the charcoal weeds and purple rocks, rainbow tigers dipping their paws into white, milky water, searching for neon green fish. i constructed multicolored cities, with roman arches. art deco towers, sleek, modern skyscrapers with plum colored glass on every side. ottoman minarets stood beside cathedrals and bazaars, strip malls and museums, streets in every language and every direction. quite the sight, might make a city planner have a heart attack, but i’ve always been a maximalist.
last, though, i drew you a body. the kind you’ve always wanted, the proper height and cleaned pores, erasing every hair follicle on your chin. i applied lipstick and eyeshadow as best as i could, despite my inexperience. added curves in all the right places, and a red head of hair flowing down to your waist, full and thick and ever so reminiscent of a lion, of that heart you have that refuses to cease beating. i hoped it would be enough, enough for reflections in public bathrooms. enough to keep you from worrying about double-takes and statistics. enough to fit your whole self in, hoped it would slip on just right and finally reflect who you’ve wanted to be. i colored in a gift box, and left it on your front porch, then returned the crayons to God, and said “now you know what to do.” Corey J. Boren
Some of us live for a few days. Too small to be buried, we are memorialized in the red stains on our mothers’ underwear, where they see us for the first time. They don’t recognize us. Unaware that we made them mothers, they push in tampons and take Tylenol, plus an extra dose because their cramps are particularly bad this month. Some of us live for 8 weeks. Most of our mothers know us by now. Our heartbeats are strong enough to join the orchestra surrounding us, pounding their allegro pattern above the steady rhythm and gurgle of our mothers’ bodies. But our tempo slows in the middle of a measure, ending before the song is over. When the doctors listen for us with slippery wands, we are quiet and still, and they hear only the empty krrr of their wands sliding back and forth in the cold gel. We take our time leaving. Even after it is time to go, we nestle deep within our cocoons, awaiting our transformation. A week or two might pass in eerie stillness before the walls tighten and our watery blanket is stripped away. Reluctantly, we are born into a toilet bowl instead of a swaddle. We are not the butterflies we hoped. Some of us live for 11 weeks. We have names. Samuel and Jamar, after our fathers. Isabella and Asia, like our mothers always dreamed. Taylor and Huan, in case the gender scans are mistaken. Hope, because they look forward to meeting us one day.
Some of us live for 15 weeks. As we descend toward the light, our mothers’ music guides us on. Familiar voices accompany our movement: our fathers’ muffled trombones beneath our mothers’ soprano wails. We are pushed gradually, laboriously, painfully out until we fall into our mothers’ arms. The orchestra is quiet now.
At Last Fabrice Poussin
They remember their primacy in the firmness of their stones. Ancient stories of hope, of peace, rest roundly on my tongue in softnesses of black and green, and when I chew into the smooth, sarcous resistance of olives, I taste the salt of antiquity; my lips are smeared with sanctifying oil. O to be holding this power in my mouth. The next person I kiss shall be a king. Megan Pattie
After a Night of Heavy Drinking with Elizabeth Hardwick
Robert Lowell was a shit, I tell her. She puts down her glass. Every night I Count the women he slept with Exact as a saint. Rustling in the sheets Their eyes blue and Green and blue again A universe of this. The body is an animal that Needs to remember, I tell her. There is water boiling for tea. Blue napkins set out on the table. Sometimes I think of his face, she says. The beauty of his cheek Ripe As a plum. I finish my drink and watch her clear the table. I think of all the men I have loved. Those Who have left me and all the rest. The room glows with a light Naked & Undone. I am Floating In a pool of Salt. My hollowed Body Now overflowing with song. Ann Pedone
“Do you know the word rude means coarse or rough, like stone?” You tell me this, taking my hand and you draw it across the fractured wall. I feel where the rocks have given way with the weight of centuries, and the decades of tourists who trek here every day. The ticket booth is long closed, and you place your finger to my mouth, then pull me towards you and I smell the pisco on your breath. Now you push me away and then motion for me to follow, uncurling the finger I had felt seconds ago. I hug the wall, imagine the shape of you clinging to the shadows and creep forwards, feeling for your presence. You know how to avoid the security cameras, which stones to stand on to prevent the creak and groan of uncertain ground. I am new to this and freeze at every foreign noise. Even my footsteps are strangers here, their landings amplified by the absence of sound. I shudder in the evening air. Here in the cloud forest, the heat drops after sunset, but it’s more than the fall in temperature that makes me shake. We creep past the gift shop, where a platoon of Paddingtons watch us. They are new to this too. The Peruvian tourist board has bought unreservedly into Hollywood. You’ve already told me that spectacled bears come from these parts, and now they are endangered. I am desperate to touch the glass, but you’ve warned me what will happen if we’re caught. I quickly retract a paw; promise the stuffed sentries I’ll heed their plea. “Please look after this bear,” I whisper, wondering if anyone will hear. I see your silhouette ahead, elongated by the river of moonlight. You pause at the edge of this Inca citadel, head tilted to the sky as if beholden to the belief that this
was an astronomical observatory. You are watching the heavens, perhaps summoning the myths of old, and I wonder if you’re calling on the founder of this place, Pachacuti, whose name means, ‘he who shakes the earth’, or Pachamama, the one the Incas worshipped as presiding over time. By the time I reach the wall, you are already on the other side. My palms graze the torn edges, and I feel a stab of pain as gravel lodges in my hand. I follow you clumsily across this threshold, land on my knees on something hard. I start to tremble again, and soon can’t stop. “We shouldn’t be here. We’re trespassing,” I tell you, but this time you push your fingers more forcefully to my mouth, and I taste the rudeness of stone and soil. Still I follow you, blindly. On a patch of grass, you spread a patterned woollen throw, like the ones the local women wear to carry their babies as they tend the farms in the Sacred Valley below. “The Spanish invaders never found this place. Only the indigenous people knew it was here.” You trace your fingers across my body, exploring places I had long forgotten. “The Incas had no written language, so nobody knows for sure why Machu Picchu was built – or why it was abandoned.” Now your kisses taste like the coca leaves that the Quechua chew for altitude sickness here in the Cordillera. “Some of the stones cut by the Incas fit so well that a knife blade cannot come between them. Imagine that,” you say, pulling the blanket across my body and pulling yourself onto me, so that the weight of you almost stills my shaking. The night is fragrant with the smell of orchids, and when I move my head against the ground, it feels fuzzy. I know the air is thin here, but you are pushing down
so hard there’s even less for me to breathe. I strain my eyes to focus on the heavens threaded with constellations, seeking for the stories of why these great rocks were laid. We are balanced above the Urubamba river which moans and sighs hundreds of metres below, and I know it is whispering words only the gods can understand. If they hear my quiet sighs too, they might read them. I lie still, imagining what it would take for these rocks to slip and to tumble headlong into the teaming waters. You are finished now, and I no longer lie beneath the weight of you. Time passes, but how much I don’t know. Only Pachamama must. But before she answers, you turn to me, presenting a jagged piece of rock. “Rude not to,” you say, and in the lunar light, I see you have written our names across the ancient stone.
Green is the growing type of infinity. I run like a program, a current away from seeds. Hide with me on an iceberg. We will disobey, never waver. I may have been told to float toward a Pole by my mind. I can belong to the obedient fire of cold, talk in code. Lean with me, waveward, against this door in the air above the frozen ocean. Lean hard. Green tries every key. Amy Poague
I want something to cast a shadow on me the right way, in the dark, my fingers indivisible from the air, where lifelines and love lines blend into frigid waters and stars catch on breakers. I want a dirge to draw out the shape of me in D minor, my fingers violin strings. The ship sings mayday mayday from a thousand dials, flickering like anglerfish, in a thousand frequencies. I am still foolish enough to keep my mouth shut. I want to say I am before my head goes under, but people keep sliding silent into the sea. I want to name my handsâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; this one is safety; this one the seaâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; but the lights go out. If I reach down, the deck an imperfect 45 degrees, could I pull myself up? I am cutting my knuckles on door handles and smearing them with ink. When the sun rises it will reach the ridges of our spines first, clothes stuck to ribs. We were not meant to tell this story, our mouths puckered like fish. When the cold Atlantic rushes through the bodies of violins and their strings snap, will there be angels? Not from Heaven but something drenched in light. A sunrise, a scale? Will anyone take my hand and count my fingernails like a mother? Take my lips and name them, call them mayday,
let me sing. Kiss me in Morse until someone arrives to bring us home. Aryk Greenawalt
Brahmasmi (Cover Image) Jyotirmoy Sil
For Josh Fedder When the water finally hooked you, trout-like, and drew you (struggling) into the gaping gullet of the ocean, your thoughts were for the son you clutched hard against your ape-hairy chest. The water susurrused the rhythm of Mack the Knife, and you knew, in that moment, that dying was dancing, and living was too â&#x20AC;&#x201D; dancing with your pregnant wife, barefoot in the kitchen, or spinning her, fast across a clockwork floor, all those legs and skirts swirling in rhythm. As you fought against the waves, clutching your son, you remembered the fish you tore free from this element, thought of the bright flash of the knife as it crunched through those spines. You remembered the sight of those bones, that bright, flaky flesh. You thought of your son, holding that knife, his small hands, guided by yours. When you realized that the water had you, that the tide was dragging you, inexorably, out, you lifted that son, held his small, thrashing, body over your head, over the water. You drew your arms back, over the glitter, into the sky, and you sent him sailing, trailing water, hurling like a comet back to the shore. Bethany W. Pope
Watching their mouths open and close, faces radiant, lit from underneath, the police officer and a witness in the headlights, you in the back seat of a squad car, hands cuffed, numb, trembling, feeling at once sorry for and angry at yourself, formerly a bird flying above trees and below clouds, then cornered, cowering in the corner of a top bunk, you hear your cellmate say, You are not the only one trying to hide in plain sight. Come on. Letâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s go to chow. Wearing white Velcro-fastened sneakers, oversized blue jeans, and a loose-fitting chambray shirt, you shuffle down a hallway reeking of pine-scented bleach, feeling sick, frustrated about your mother whom you love and hate, unwilling to bring your daughter to see you in this gray place, stonewalling, saying you will just have to learn to let it go, but how can you let it go, staring down at a hot dog, fried okra, and macaroni & cheese, thinking I cannot eat this shit, not realizing you have said it out loud. No need to bother trying to explain yourself to yourself, the woman beside you whispers, until after a year because it takes that long, sometimes a lot longer, to finally arrive here. Ben Sloan
Anger, always, no reason, always there, like a dot, a fiery dot: tiny, contained,
compressed, like a miniature sun the size of a grain of sand, or like a fragment of neutron star lodged inside her skull just above the left ear, a tiny, poisonous star burning fiercely, rested in the wet folds of grey matter, burning through the flesh of the brain like a glowing-hot coin plunges down through a fat slab of uncut butter. She notices that a bit of space has opened up before her in the queue. She toes forward her shopping basket, piled with raisins, wet wipes, jam and several expensive, pungent cheeses. She misses French cheese. And French coffee (though the coffee in Brazil is good too). She doesn’t know why she continually punishes herself by buying these “sophisticated” Brazilian cheeses that always turn out to be a disappointment. The curdled stench of cheese wafts up from her basket, then grows harsher, and finally fully manifests as the faecal brutality of a fart. The man ahead of her begins to whistle and takes a step forward. This time she decides that she will not close the gap. Rage, like a sheet of flame beneath her skin, like a slick of oil scalding her nerve endings. It broils. It bubbles. It bakes. She imagines a scalpel and what she’d do with it. When she gets home she’ll thrust all the shopping into the fridge with a vengeance, slam down the jam jars so hard that a pearlescent crack will shoot up through each one, a flaw imprinted on each, like a scar that will remind them both of her anger this day, until ─ weeks from now ─ the last jam is scraped from the glassy bottoms of the jars and spread thinly on the very last slices of their shared bread.
The gap is such now that she’s forced to advance, and the reek of farts grows louder as she draws closer to the slob ahead of her. The electric lights are harsher here closer to the till and she’s sure that each bulb is hissing minutely and that this is causing her headache. This and the farts. She finds shopping to be a peculiarly stressful activity. Nearly as nerve-wracking as having a boyfriend. She curses inwardly at the thought of her boyfriend. The spark of fury in her brain burns brighter. She hates him. It is as if her whole mind is as black as a starless night sky, with this one tiny sun burning ferociously, burning alone, stranded in a lonely corner of the cosmos. She hates him, she hates him, she hates him. And she doesn’t know why. Fartman pays by card and it’s her turn next. She places her purchases carefully on the conveyor belt and watches as they trundle toward the cashier, a plump, middle-aged lady who smiles at her in greeting. She looks away. She feels flustered but happy. The cashier is nice. She squeezes out to the other side of the till and begins to double-wrap the bags, flicking one open, then another. Then, wearing the second like a glove, she plunges it into the first, twitches the handles until they’re flush, and then begins to pack up her shopping. She imagines ─ but only with minor irritation ─ what it would be like if she had a Stanley blade and she could cut her boyfriend out of her life, like one cuts a blemish out of a fruit, or a burl from a tree trunk. That would be good, really good, if she could avoid cutting herself out in the process. She pays with a R$100 note and is relieved when the cashier doesn’t protest ─ or even check it for that matter ─ just smiles and gives her her change. She drags her purchases into her arms and says, “Thank you! Goodnight!” A little too loudly she thinks.
Outside, young men are manoeuvring trolleys around the car park, shoppers are stocking up their cars, and the traffic is tumbling past on Rua Riachuelo. She looks up and sees faint, dim stars pulsing weakly in the night sky. But she knows these are really immense giants, monsters of thick, ripe, radioactive furore. A single lick of a flare from one would wipe the whole of Rio de Janeiro off the map, including its awful cheeses and her wonderful boyfriend. And with that rage begins to glow again, sharper, brighter, hotter, just above her left ear, searing. And she feels a great weariness inside her as if, suddenly, a great, burdensome voyage towards an uninteresting destination has been thrust upon her. And she cannot tell if a star-like dot in her brain is burning or her whole body is burning or if she is only imagining it, this sensation of being aflame a weak substitute for feeling nothing at all. And she feels weary, all her purchases weighing down on her arms, stretching the fragile shoulder joints apart. She cranes her head higher and catches a glimpse of a single star â&#x201D;&#x20AC; brighter than all the others â&#x201D;&#x20AC; and it is the pole star of her life, the North Star of her quailing soul. And she knows that in all this immense universe there is not a hunting knife large and sharp enough to allow her to reach up into this sky and cut this star out and thrust it away. She knows that in this enormous world there is not a knife long and bright enough to do the job. So she looks down from the sky and begins the weary march home, repeating to herself again and again that she knows the name of this treacherous star. She knows its name, and its name is Wormwood.
I’ve heard of amazing summers and your windows made of untrained silence hammered down. I sever my ring finger when no one is looking. Dog licks ice cream from the child’s ankle. “Get out of here,” she says and buries the bra under the steps. We first heard scratching a week to the day. Two window shades open and close like brown clay. Crawl space dirt echoes cold stench. The girls won’t play and the toys stay still with the unslept eyes and cat pissed stairs. There’s a man in this house who won’t go away. Flies die softly in the windowsill of the violent dawn. Sean Patrick Barry
Above the bed
I remember the young boy, how he was able to levitate. He said it was like holding on to a balloon, airless, weightless, as he floated up like a cobra being played by a flute. He rose to the ceiling, hovered with thoughts of being free from his body, from lungs that struggled with breath. He could see himself lying on the bed, but the moon and stars were calling him home. I remember the young boy, how he let go of the strings and fell to earth, how it was only the hard walls of his room that kept him from flying, flying away. Penny Sharman
Growing Mohamed Elhassan
You lean against the tire of a hollowed-out Boeing 747, taking advantage of the shade its massive body casts. Light winds kick up dust clouds that roll between the decaying airplanes, layering on thicker coats of brown. In the distance you see the dust and loose brush whipped into little tornados that spin across the desert before sputtering out. You scratch the back of your neck, packing sweat and dead skin beneath your fingernails. All around are the piles, the endless jumble of salvaged parts you now know intimately. Guts of old hydraulics systems, antiquated engine pieces, bundles of wire, fittings that don’t fit anything anymore. You wish for the millionth time that your phone got service out here. It’s the last summer you have to be here. Only six months until you turn eighteen, until you can leave this godforsaken desert and never come back. You thought he’d run out of resources long ago, but your father keeps finding places to pick up garbage – junkyards, thrift stores, estate sales, the dumpsters of local gearheads. The worst by far are the metal detector sweeps, the hours spent wandering the desert waiting for a beep. Hacking at the solid earth with trowels and picks just to find an old hubcap.
Now he’s found an airplane salvage port, a boneyard for broken airliners and obsolete military aircraft. The massive machines are parked and dissected for curious trash-pickers like him. Oxygen masks dangle from busted windows; faded blue passenger seats lay on their backs. The place looks downright apocalyptic. It would be impressive, if it weren’t so damnably hot out. You’re glad to have shorter hair this year, though you’re not sure if the scalp can get sunburned through a buzz. Something you’ll find out soon, you suppose. You leave the relative cool of the shade to look for him, and maybe poke through a few trash heaps along the way. Steel is the new objective, rusted or not. You pluck out a sheet of metal stamped with electricity warnings. Someone has scratched
No Good in the bottom corner, a detail you know your father will appreciate. You find him crouched over a water trough full of control panel knobs, frowning in concentration. He is greying at the temples and bending over a beer gut that hasn’t receded after years of sobriety. Two fingers are missing on his left hand, something you discovered when he picked you up from the airport. A table-saw accident, apparently. The stubs where his pinkie and ring finger used to be are knotted with scar tissue, white and lumpy like chewed gum. How he’s managed to continue sculpting, you have no idea.
The AC in the van is broken, and the ride home is unbearable. Your arms stick to the upholstery, and the boiling air weighs down your lungs. There is so much he could say on these drives. So much he could ask. You’ve been managing questions from every adult in your life for months – which college, what major, how tall are you now – but he just sits there with one hand draped lazily over the wheel. You’ve tried being the talker; it only manages to exhaust and frustrate you. If he wanted to know anything about you, he would ask. So you sit in the silence and melt in the heat. Evening settles as you approach your father’s property, purpling the sky and cooling the air. Your father eases the shuddering van off the paved road and onto the dusty driveway. His home is an optical illusion — sprawling from afar, a lopsided palace silhouetted against the nearby rock formations. Up close, the house itself is rather small, a wooden one-story with a bowing porch and crooked window shutters. It’s the junk that gave the property its shape. Towers of tin roofing lean against one another for support. Black columns of tires stand over six feet tall. A cluster of pink and white toilets sit in a semicircle, dry weeds growing through the cracked bowls. Heaps of plastic and wood and metal surround the house on all sides, protected by a fence crowned with barbed wire. Among the piles, scattered and half-hidden, are the sculptures. A clockwork stag, its head lowered, stands next to the pyramid of washing machine drums. A girl with braided trash bags for hair, a rebar octopus, a lifesize bear made of wire framing and license plates – they dotted the land, waiting to be sold. When unwanted things pass through the gate, they stop being trash and become supplies.
For the past two months the only project has been the spider. One of the junkyards got a dozen or so disintegrating pieces of railroad track, and he absolutely had to have them no matter the cost. It took four trips in the van, plus a flat tire that left you both cooking in the sun at the height of day. For a week he did nothing but plan, filling pages of his sketchbook with segmented legs and hairy carapaces. The garage door opens and shuts intermittently, and piece by piece an enormous arachnid takes shape in the front yard. The eyes are a careful working of headlight glass and reflector tape. Half the abdomen is coated with inch-long hairs, each individually spun from steel and attached in an even pattern. When everything is assembled, he plans to spray the entire beast black and dab highlights of bronze powder on every fastening bolt. His movements are smooth as always; the adjustment from ten fingers to eight doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t seem a great impairment. Gas fires are lit with ease, materials are melted and manipulated without issue. He scrubs rusted sheets with vinegar until the air is sour and the original gray luster peeks through. So much of his process is still a mystery to you. Not once in all your summers with him has he taken the time to explain how whisks and socket wrenches and bicycle chains morph into claws and faces and teeth. Youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve never been old enough to him to understand the intricacies of his work, and you donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t think you ever will be. The spider continues to grow. The walls around his world remain high and insurmountable.
On your last night, sleep evades you. You flip your pillow over and over, count backwards from a hundred, rub your eyes raw – nothing. The moon is full, and the living room is aglow. When you can’t stand to stare at the ceiling anymore, you roll out of your creaking bed and step into the night. The sky is swathed in silver, untainted by light pollution. The plateaus and pillars of rock on the horizon are dark blue cutouts against the infinite shining. It’s nice to feel so miniscule against that vastness. You navigate through the junk expertly, the paths ingrained from so many summers spent wandering this little city of art and trash. The only roadblock is the spider. The sculpture looks nearly alive in the unfiltered moonlight. The eyes seem hungry, glistening in a dotted trail down to the sharp fangs. It is a work of mastery, decades of metalworking culminating in one perfect creature. You imagine it tensing on its mechanical limbs, poised to strike and swallow you whole. In your mind, the metal consumes you, erases you. Nothing is left but the spider. You hate it right then. All that intricate detail, the hours of work he poured into each leg, each joint. Care he would never put into you. Money he would never put toward you. You are so fucking sick of being ignored.
You want to destroy the thing. The workshop is full of tools made for wrenching metal around. The garage door has been left open, a rare oversight by your father. You can see a sledgehammer hanging on the peg wall. How heavy could it be? You bet a hammer like that would do some real damage. The sound of the first hit would wake him up, but you could get a few more in before he came running down the porch steps. You stand there for a long while, flexing your hands, letting the anger burn through your blood. The night is warm, but your body is shaking. You chew on your tongue, hold back the ugly sob trying to fight its way out of your throat. The spider stares. You can’t deny that it is a beautiful sculpture, with more attention to detail than you’ve ever seen your father give to one of his creations. You run your hands along the pattern of stiff hairs, press your hot face to the cold metal of one of its arched legs. Loneliness carves a hole in your chest, and you try to see the worth in making things as beautiful as this. He’s a shitty parent, but he’s a wonderful artist. You hope he gets a good offer on it.
Not Being in Venice
It’s five in the afternoon and the man in the woollen tie lifts his espresso with the fastidiousness of a horologist. Time runs out of his face. There are voices, forks tinker their way round plates of cake, paninis crack and flare. The speakers are doing their best to help Renee Fleming’s Puccini rise above the sticky discourse, the chorus of crockery. Under the slightly out of focus print of Ponte di Rialto, a child in candy stripe dungarees measures out his life in toffees strewn across the table. Black doesn’t suit the barista, he looks washed out, like a sixth act Hamlet. His hands perform the usual ritual with steel and steam. He assembles cups on the tray, remounting a slipped teaspoon, nudging out a tiny jug of milk, offering the edge of a smile. Beans are put through the mill. foam heaps on cups. there’s a beautiful bitterness in the air. Ged Groves
There are Parallel Worlds Moving Backwards and We are Still Here
God, you should really know betterâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;
I am not to be trusting. I am to be a handful
of star batter to be scattered wherever
your hand opens to believe is beyond my nebula to have faith is a universe moving in reverse. Adam Hughes
Beth’s laid up in bed, arms flopped heavy in her lap, sulking. Yes, she does need all this extra bed rest, even if Zach does roll his eyes about it. Of all the crap Beth expected that city boy to catch by marrying her, this had never lit in her mind. But she’s been real good about it—mainly. She only gets up for the toilet. Or to stuff her face. Or to rearrange perfume bottles on the chifforobe. Before she knows it, she’s up again. Wandering to the empty nursery, to the changing table, to an open swaddle, its flaps stretched out to forever await its first wrapping. Back in bed again. The air tastes dead, tainted with the crusty sweetness of dry flowers on the sill. The flowers’ heads bow to their chests, mourning themselves. The impulse is too great; she pads over to the Ball jar and lowers the flowers, real solemn, into the waste. Not much point to an empty Ball jar.
The screen door slaps the frame behind her. She plods across the grass, slogging through puddles in the sod, through broken branches and clusters of leaves: the fallout from a recent storm. The sun is as heavy on her shoulders as if it was balanced there. Even just crossing the lawn, her ratty nightshirt sticks to her still-bloated belly. Her lungs are soaking sponges, legs no lighter than sacks of mulch. In a flash of faintness, bitsy little lights twinkle all around her. She drags on.
It’s not far to that twinkling blur up ahead—her refuge. She learned the tomatoes there how to climb, held the vines’ hands as they figured how to walk, and marked every inch the gladiolus grew. Her labors there, anyhow, promised new life. At the garden, a breeze whips up the spice of grape tomatoes. She reaches out, plucks at a red blur, and pops it between her teeth. Sultry and sweet, the tang blows right through her. Another would hit the spot real nice, but then her blurry eyes clear. She stops. The garden’s an unholy mess, a roiling sea of plant pulp. The soil is saturated, fruit and veggies everywhere, mangled and bleeding. The earth seems to tip sideways, and she sways, tears her eyes away from the drying pulp. Her collards, beans, peonies, corn, all of it in total ruination. How in the hell did it happen? Maybe how don’t matter. —But how? A moose? Do they get mooses? Meese? Stupid. Think. The storm. A flood of air in her lungs, and she chokes on it. Her world’s gone watery, her eyelids crush tears. Days after the storm, the okra’s shriveled, the squash is chipped and rotting, everything’s leveled—everything. —Everything? Her eyes strain over to the melon patch. She shuffles, she stumbles through tangled stems, the rhythm, the cadence all taming her breaths.
What’d she expect? Not this fresh hell: every damn melon smashed to fruity bits, broken timber everywhere. Her eyes sting. She knuckles them. They’re only plants. —Only plants, after all. She kneels, the soil digging into her knees, flies banging all over her face. She swats at them, sifts a broken rind from the muck. The warm curve is all too familiar to her hands. She drops it, her hands dripping sour juice, and her arm jolts a sizable leaf. Something hides in its quivering shadow. She can’t stop her own hand lashing out, her own lips babbling a plea. Under the leaf is a whole, precious, bitty watermelon. The vine, too, is still hale and plump, sprawling lazy-like over the ground. Lights twinkle before her again as she rises, but she’s got no time for that and shakes them away. She’s got eyes only for the garden rake, wherever it’s got to. On her first tug, the rake won’t budge. She shakes out her arms, takes a breath, pulls—dammit—pulls, and the prongs scrape the earth. She scrapes and scrapes and scratches away, making a bed for the bitsy little melon. *** When Zach gets home, he’s not expecting to find his wife doing calisthenics in the yard with a rake. The woman has hacked a crater in the dirt, the crushed verdure and veggies rising up in a ridge all around. Before she can destroy anything else, he dumps his briefcase and jacket, dashes over, and traps her arms against her sides. “What are you doing?” He realizes he’s eyeballing the veggies, as if they’d retaliate.
“Cleaning.” Her grimy nightshirt billows out, hair drips down like a sweaty root ball, but she’s smiling. Really smiling. He can’t help but wrap her up and squeeze her tight. He gets a face-full of her sweaty tendrils, but woman sweat is no never mind. She pulls away and sets her hand on the rake’s pommel, Farmer John. The heat is stifling, and he tugs on his collar. “You’re outside.” “It were a mess.” “It was a mess. Now, it’s a bomb site.” He wrestles the rake out of her hands. “Are you even cleared for exercise?” She turns aside and hefts a heap of vines into a wheelbarrow. “Can you build a greenhouse?” She brushes a leaf with her foot, revealing a melon, the only thing, apparently, to have made it through intact. He raises his eyebrows. “For one melon? That seems excessive.” “Only one left.” “Couldn’t we just plant more next year?” Had he blinked, or did her eyes just bulge? Two hours later, Zach trudges on back, lugging the thing. It’s more like a plexiglass doghouse, but for two hours, what do you want? Beth offers to help lift it, but he brushes her off and thumps it down over the watermelon. It takes her an age to pour the melon a swig from the watering can, and he stands off solitarily, waiting for her, then he drops the lid. Finally, the western hills cradle the sun, the end of another long day. He reaches out, folds his fingers through hers and hauls her away from the chilly night. ***
It’s sweltering again, and still, but for the buzz of cicadas in the tree line. Beth checks on the little orphan in its incubator, the only living thing in an open field of dirt. She runs her hand over the rind. The ridges ripple underneath like stretch marks. A tremble. She starts and squeaks, still palming the melon, her eyes swivel right, swivel left. A tremble again—from under her palm. The melon, shuddering like a breath. She has never run so quick. On her return from the shed, she tromps back with a lawn chair, pokes it in the dirt, and perches next to the greenhouse till the sun sinks low. *** She looks like she might sit out here all night, if Zach lets her. With one eye on the horizon, he tugs on her elbow. She turns her doe eyes on him. “Stay with me?” Not a chance. He tugs again, but she’s not budging. “How long?” She stares up at him and pulls a shy smile. He drops her arm. “What—all night?” “Grab you a chair.” He steps back from her. “We’re human. We need sleep.” That whiny pout again. It’s a melancholy tune she’s singing, and he’s heard about all he can stand. Before he can stop himself, his eyes are rolling. Then he shoots: “I’ll just fetch us a kerchief and cap and be back in a jiff.” He never comes back. ***
Eventually, Beth’s arm hair stood like wheat in the wind, and she tiptoed away to the warmth of her bed. But the sun’s hardly over the smoky horizon and she’s back by the melon’s side. She has to touch it, has to know it’s real. The melon thrums, and then thumps. It thumps again, and again. As if something’s kicking to get loose. And that’s it, she knows it; that’s just what it is. *** As Zach lies in bed staring down his book, Beth goes on a tear through the closet. He’s seen “nesting” a lot on the Animal Planet. If he ignores it, maybe it’ll quit. A wall of shoeboxes clops to the floor. He looks up. “You seen my sleeping bag?” she asks. “Why would I have seen your sleeping bag?” “It’s a thing we own.” “I sleep in beds, not bags.” Finally, she yanks a blue nylon roll from the closet. “I could hunt for yours too.” “Try the attic, near the bat shit.” She turns with the bag curled up under one arm, commences to pick at one unraveling corner. Her eyes skewer him. He looks away. She scoops up her pillow, shuffles over to him, plants a kiss in his hair, and leaves him be. *** Beth flops her sleeping bag down on soil still radiating the warmth of the day. Humid air rolls out from the greenhouse like a breath. The melon’s skin is moist. Her fingers comb across it as if it had sprouted a tuft of hair. First, it only quivers, then it replies with a giddy kick. The ground hugs her warmly as she lies down.
Far off, a door closes with a scuff. Closer, steps rasp in the grass. Closer, dry dirt crunches. A breeze dances across her as Zach unrolls his bag. His warmth joins hers as he nestles up behind. She guides his hand to the rind of the thrumming fruit. His breath over her shoulder is buttermilk sweet. At his touch, the melon shivers and thumps, thumps, thumps.
And Mama Keeps â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Em Growing Mohamed Elhassan
today, I woke up with the weight of three nightmares. I did not, however, cry into the folds of the curtain or curse at the sky. I added three sugars to my coffee and spent seven minutes buttering my toast, watching the crumbles gather and settle on my sleeve. I am learning to believe that there is still breakfast after the world has ended. Now I am finally brave enough to say that I am very afraid. My nightmares will not have names but I will insist on nomenclature so I can call a wound a wound without having to describe oozing blood. My nightmares never respond but there is so much that does not budge despite being called to. Has that ever made us give up calling? I am being dragged gently by their power and dismissed. My way of not admitting defeat is this coffee and toast; it is to stay that I will stay. Swastika Jajoo
George Aird is a writer based in the North West of England. His previous work has appeared in The North, The Interpreter's House, Under the Radar Magazine, Birmingham Literary Journal, Eye Flash Poetry, and Ink, Sweat & Tears, among other publications. In 2019, his poetry was shortlisted for the MaĂrtin Crawford award. Twitter: G_Aird. Sean Patrick Barry is an artist currently residing in Windsor, Ontario. The vulgar underbelly of language, its surroundings, and the slang of street mismanagement is his inspiration for unmapped gold. . . or so he thinks. Corey J. Boren is a junior at Utah Valley University with an unabashed passion for pop music and Oreos. He loves storytelling through both poetry and prose forms and has been previously published in Touchstones and Warp & Weave. When not writing, he'll be found ranting about obscure historical events and drawing bad doodles in expensive sketchbooks. To see more of his work, visit @coreyjborenpoetry on Instagram or @BorenPoetry on Twitter. Mark Cassidy was born in Glasgow and grew up in a market town near Teesside. After finishing school, he emigrated to Canada. He has worked all round the world and, at present, lives and works in Texas in the US. He has had several stories, both short and flash fiction, published in the US and the UK over the years. He loves jazz. Sarah Cavar is a student and writer of ambiguous gender. A PhD student of cultural studies at UC Davis, they live and study at the intersection of queer, trans, disabled, and Mad experience. Find Cavarâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s work in 3:am Magazine, The Offing, trampset, Glass: A Journal of Poetry, and elsewhere. They blog at sarahcavar.wordpress.com and reluctantly tweet @cavarsarah. Darren C. Demaree is the author of fourteen poetry collections, most recently Unfinished Murder Ballads (October 2020, Backlash Press). He is the recipient of a 2018 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, the Louis Bogan Award from Trio House Press, and the Nancy Dew Taylor Award from Emrys Journal. He is the Managing Editor of the Best of the Net Anthology and Ovenbird Poetry.
Mohamed Elhassan, from Sudan, is a junior at Hammond High School in Columbia, Maryland. His work mainly incorporates his strong views on animal rights, nature, and climate change in its subtle yet powerful visual metaphors. His pieces have won contests such as Celebrating Art (2019 & 2020) and have been shown in both local and regional exhibitions such as the Artists on the Rise: Juried Teen Exhibition at the Montpelier Arts Center (2020) as well as being selected for the 30th Annual HCPSS Senior Show and Junior Portfolio Development Exhibition at the Board of Education Gallery (2020). He has also been published in the Interlochen Review. Next year he will be a senior and he will continue to work on both his artwork and his aspirations as a leader, graduating soon in 2021. Eve Esfandiari-Denney is a British born Iranian poet living in London. She recently completed a BA in English and Creative Writing at Goldsmiths and is soon to begin an MA in Creative Writing at Royal Holloway. Her work has been previously published in Bath Magg. Aryk Greenawalt is a soon-to-be creative writing graduate from Keele University. They are nonbinary and neurodivergent, and their poetry has appeared in The Rising Phoenix Review, as well as in several now-unused journals. They have two cats and live in many places at once. Ged Groves lives in North Yorkshire. For a long time, he taught English Literature & Creative Writing, but doesn’t anymore. Ian Harker is a poet, and editor of the (currently furloughed) Strix. He's published a pamphlet and a collection through Templar poetry, and has a pamphlet, A-Z of Superstitions, coming out through Yaffle Press. Emily Harrison uses writing as an escape from reality and doesn’t drink enough water. She has had work published with X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Ellipsis Zine, Barren
Magazine, STORGY Magazine, The Molotov Cocktail, Coffin Bell, Retreat West, Riggwelter, Nymphs and Gone Lawn to name a few. She can be found on Twitter at @emily__harrison and online at emilyharrisonwrites.com. She is currently studying for her MA in Creative Writing. Adam Hughes is the author of four full-length collections, most recently ALLOW THE STARS TO CATCH ME WHEN I RISE (Salmon Poetry, 2017). His work has appeared recently in Love's Executive Order, Hobart, Cotton Xenomorph, and elsewhere. A recent graduate of Randolph College's MFA program he lives in central Virginia where he plays rugby for Blackwater RFC and sends tweets at @adamhughespoet1. Swastika Jajoo is currently studying Linguistics at Tohoku University in Japan. She has been invited to do a poetry reading for Rolling Stone India’s Pride Month event. She likes the colour yellow, crows and the number seven.
Alexander Kennedy lives in the Greater Seattle area, where he enjoys hiking, swimming, painting, and photography. His artwork has been selected for art exhibitions at his school. He is an advocate for mental health, having started a mental health club at his school, and serving as president. He hopes to combine his interests in science, math, art, and travel when he goes on to college. Courtney LeBlanc is the author of Beautiful & Full of Monsters (Vegetarian Alcoholic Press), chapbooks All in the Family (Bottlecap Press) and The Violence Within (Flutter Press). She has her MBA from University of Baltimore and her MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. She loves nail polish, tattoos, and a soy latte each morning. Read her publications on her blog: wordperv.com. Follow her on twitter: @wordperv and on IG: @wordperv79. Malgas Mashego is a female mixed-media artist from South Africa. She predominantly uses various water media paints, edible products, textile offcuts, and other raw materials when creating a painting. Concerning poetry, she ardently describes the writing as an extension of experiences drawn from daily interactions with people all around. She trained at various institutes primarily as an administrator. To date, her work has been featured in Arkana Magazine, YesPoetry and Kalahari Review. Cate McGowan is the author of the short story collection, True Places Never Are (2015), which won the 2014 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award and was a finalist for The Lascaux Book Prize. Her debut novel, These Lowly Objects, is forthcoming from Gold Wake Press, and her fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in Norton’s Flash Fiction International, Glimmer Train, Crab Orchard Review, Tahoma Literary Review, Phoebe, Shenandoah, Vestal Review, Split Rock Review, and elsewhere. A Georgia native and current Florida resident, McGowan is an assistant prose poetry and fiction editor at Pithead Chapel. Website: catemcgowan.com. Twitter @cate_mcgowan. Dermot O'Sullivan is an Irish writer whose work has been published in various journals including Crossways, Causeway/Cabhsair, The Dalhousie Review and Fence. He currently lives in Brazil, where he recently had his first full-length play produced. Marion Oxley is from Manchester but has lived amongst the flood plains of the Calder Valley for quite some time now. Her poems have been published in a variety of online and poetry magazines such as Strix, Ekphrastic Review, Butcher’s Dog, Bare Fiction, Ink, Sweat and Tears, The Poetry Village, Snakeskin and The Island Review. She was recently shortlisted for The Cheltenham Poetry Festival’s Wild Poetry Competition and the Erbacce Press Poetry Prize. She is companion to Alice, her boisterous Staffie.
Megan Pattie lives on the north-east coast of England with her fiancé, cat, and rabbit. She is a previous Foyle Young Poet of the Year, Great Northern Slam semi-finalist, and winner of North York Moors’ the Lost Words Poetry Competition. Her work has appeared in a variety of online and print publications. You can find her on Twitter @pattiepoetry. Ann Pedone graduated from Bard College in 1992 with a degree in English Literature. She has a PhD in Chinese Language and Literature from UC Berkeley. Ann’s work has recently appeared in Comstock Review, Adelaide, Apricity, Birmingham Arts Journal, Cholla Needles, Visions International, and Neologism. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Amy Poague holds an M.A. in Creative Writing from Eastern Michigan University. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared or is forthcoming in SWWIM Every Day, The Indianapolis Review, Boston Accent Lit, Yes Poetry, 8 Poems, Juke Joint, The Mantle, and Really System. She can be found online at amypoague.wordpress.com and on Twitter @PoagueAmy. Bethany W Pope has won many literary awards and published several novels and collections of poetry. Nicholas Lezard, writing for The Guardian, described Bethany’s latest book as 'poetry as salvation [...] this harrowing collection drawn from a youth spent in an orphanage delights in language as a place of private escape.' They currently live and work in China. Fabrice Poussin teaches French and English at Shorter University. Author of novels and poetry, his work has appeared in Kestrel, Symposium, The Chimes, and many other magazines. His photography has been published in The Front Porch Review, the San Pedro River Review as well as other publications. Rory Pryor is a writer from Tehachapi, California currently making their living at a rare and antiquarian bookshop in Boston. Their writing has appeared in Stork and Gauge Magazine, and they have received a Senior Writing Award from Emerson College. They know a lot about paper and think that anyone who likes deckled edges is lying. Noelle Schwarzenberg is an emerging fiction writer in Maryland, where she lives with her husband and her one-year-old daughter. Her work has appeared in The Red Jacket, and she has a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland.
Penny Sharman is a published poet, photographer, artist and therapist. She is inspired by wild landscapes and what makes us all tick. Her work can be purchased through her website: pennysharman.co.uk. She has a pamphlet and collection and is awaiting publication of her second collection to be published by Knives, Forks and Spoons Press this September. Jyotirmoy Sil is a dilettante poet and painter. Presently he is working as an Assistant Professor of English at Malda College, West Bengal, India. Ben Sloan teaches at Piedmont Virginia Community College and the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women. His poems have previously appearedâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;or are forthcoming inâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;The Tishman Review, Pembroke Magazine, Ozone Park Magazine, Natural Bridge, and the Northampton Poetry Review. The Road Home is a poetry chapbook of his available from Thirty West Publishing House (2017). He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia (USA). Hannah Storm writes flash fiction and memoir to pay tribute to the people she has met in 20 years of travelling the world as a journalist and to process her own experiences. She won second in this June's Bath Flash Fiction Award, was highly commended in the TSS flash prize and won the I Must Be Off! travel writing competition. She's also been shortlisted in several other awards and published widely. She runs a media charity and lives in the UK with her Kiwi husband and two children. Katherine Tweedle grew up cultivating a vegetable garden with her father in the countryside surrounding Baltimore, Maryland. She now copyedits from the outskirts of Philly and volunteers as flash fiction co-editor for an online literary magazine. Her work can be found in X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine and Barren Magazine.
â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Growingâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; by Mohamed Elhassan was first published in the Interlochen Review (2020).
ISSUE #29 COMING SEPTEMBER 2020