Justin Lawrence Daugherty
Amy Pajewski Aubrey Jane Ryan
Eric Neuenfeldt Leyna Krow
Casey L. Patrick
Cynthia Brandon Slocum
It's hard to believe we're already upon Issue Three on this ship. Itâ€™s been a good ride, and, in the past, we've been fortunate to get so much great work from really talented writers. That trend continued with the third issue, and we are so happy to bring it to you. Issue Four will be our unofficial one-year-anniversary issue. More on that to come. In creative nonfiction, there are stellar essays by Kristine McRae and Jonathan Rovner. We have lots of great fictionâ€”pieces by Ryan W. Bradley, Ezra Carlsen, Chrtisopher DiCicco, Brittany Harmon, Lindsay Herko, Dan Mancilla, Sam Martone, and Brian Oliu, the editor of our forthcoming GAMES theme issue. Finally, poets really light it up this issue. We have work by Jackson Burgess, Susana H. Case, Kat Dixon, Brad Garber, Pilar Graham, Caroline Kessler, Sarah Malone, Carrie Murphy, Helen Spica, and Changming Yuan. It's a wonderful thing to continue to be able to do what we do and publish such great words. As always, we are grateful to our writers and readers. Keep on reading. Best, Justin Daugherty Managing Editor Sundog Lit
Jackson Burgess My man Saul offers me a cigarette every Saturday at our stop, even though my answer is always no. Saul shrugs and exhales, and I can see the years of his life crinkling through the smoke. He was an orphan, and a bum, and a dealer back in Compton, and a father to two dead children who follow him and call him names. Saul shakes his head like heâ€™s got water in his ears, and then he looks over and asks if I want a smoke. Every Saturday he does this. Every Saturday I want nothing.
Kat Dixon He says you brought the smoke in with you this time Because smoke can become a knitted scarf some days Or the blue silk handkerchief in your front pocket Though usually it doesn’t, usually you come in without it And don’t do it again. So many planets were pulled Into alignment, and we did not talk about it happening Because we were suddenly still not dead. I think occasionally About driving my gray Chevy into the little pond on Holt Road where geese go to bring the planet smaller geese And lead them crooked across the street in school hours. It’s an easy task, the more I think of it, the road’s quick Curves and soft shoulder, water up to the neck. I could Say my eyes got caught in Christmas lights, my thoughts Inside of any old, sad song on the radio, how they play Old, sad songs at night on the radio when no one is awake To be listening to the radio, all the DJs quiet somewhere No one else has ever been to coding messages to one Another across an unknown galaxy or space. The more I think about it, too, I have begun to carry smoke around Like constant, steady breath or the nearly invisible coat Of hair that comes with any skin and is so much a part Of skin that it is safe to say that skin is more than just The clumping up of individual, moving cells but also a clear Forest, or, since I bother to shave most mornings, at least A patchy set of woods. Whichever way I wear it, I have begun To carry smoke, and it could very well be the reason why
The houseplants are dying, dying not in the way we blame Winter for but by something more akin to leprosy or the levels Of rashes too unsettling to show in slides in the back chapters Of the medical textbooks your grandfather gave to you So that you might understand how horrible and ugly it can be To be alive. Tell me, how can I begin to apologize for that? Maybe if I drive my gray Chevy into the little pond on Holt Road, where the geese have come and gone by way of season And the shoulder still is soft and soggy from the water crawling Misty-eyed like planets through the grass up to the pavement, And by some luck I can outlast the flooding, if I leave the window Cracked enough to swim through in my white coat or by new Chance the airbags float my Chevrolet to safety on the opposite Good shore, I could walk the night to one of my old houses Or to yours.
Lindsay Herko You are a man muddling the marriage of your wife, mixing it with egg wash—the smell of lies told online—itching her eyes out of your underwear like a yeast infection. What is wrong with you? Why are you such a troll? Your wife has been on an all-beef diet for months trying to lose weight, so she can return to the lip-like deck of your aboveground pool and surprise you in a kimono over her bathing suit. The air will smell like cut grass, and black flies in flight will try not to be caught as the sun looks delicious setting on the mount of the garage. Your kids will be up in the air-conditioning, not smelling human but smelling like the airconditioning within Sam’s Club, when people in nylon biking suits buy long slabs of saran-wrapped Danish. Even bicyclists cling to fattening things—things that look like your legs under khaki. You are a pasty human whale who thinks being romantic is hiding the gray-colored hairs that devalue your legs behind a pair of white tuxedo pants, while offering any female a hand to do a waltz. You tell that female you are a family man, you regularly use that hand to chip the skin off your children’s apples and cut them into quiet-sized pieces—pieces that make no crunching in the kitchen or the school library where you order your kids to have a lonely, reader’s lunch. You say you are a family man, but above that you believe in love—so every spring you donate yourself on karmic charity to dance with one girl at a party where you dress like a grandpiano-playing Brahmin. Your wife must let you move that way, toward their door, because you are a cloud and her hands slip on your clots of cotton and you escape because you float and your wife wouldn’t want to hold on to you, slipping—she’s afraid of heights—as you rise up through the skylight in the kitchen. Your wife worries in church: Are your kids part cloud too—is their cloud activated underneath their little well-tempered chests in their little Haines shirts? Will she lose a fourth grade daughter through the diamond shaped glass promenade in the food court one day, when walking to Icing via the entrance in JC Penney’s?
Will her children elope off with their father—for the spring parties cheering up other women, teaching them how to believe in love— the three of them along with their father provoking kitchen chairs in women’s kitchens across space and time to wait for them, to want them to return? She tries to sort out her feelings asking the OnStar in her car the directions to the places in Peter Pan. As if learning an opposing brand of disappearing will make her be able to grapple with her husband in Teflon-fingered gloves as he takes off for flight. Her husband looks like a turkey—with glasses and a gobbler he tucks in when he falls asleep in a frayed white sweatshirt, during football TV, rolling over on the couch to face the green grass of the backyard as if in sleep he is downloading the sighs of nature. She wonders what she can do to neuter such a husband. She puts Grape Nuts in his cereal bowl and hopes the food will weigh him down. Next April at a book club, her worries escalate as the women read erotica, seated Indian-style in a greenhouse, swarmed by the morning sun. She imagines her husband—the human, the cloud, moving onto women in his charity—leaving sachets of white chocolate beans, clover grasses, a perfume of anise, and a balled-up panty that is personalized to say his name of Steve. The other women in the book club have gone on to talking about the orgy that took place around an antiquated copier on page 144—men Xeroxing acts of intercourse with women and somehow a string of ants got into the images. But all Lori can do is lay down. Put her glass of lemonade above her heart. And let her fears weed. To the youngest woman in the group—Lori looks like an ironing board because of her position on the greenhouse floor and her meticulously starched blouse and belted slacks. To the older women in the crowd, everyone is thinking Lori has reached a pinnacle of rose arousal—swooning over scenarios that having a husband prevents her from trying.
Kristine McRae When the world stops making sense I make a new alphabet. -EELS As I drove to the meeting last week, windshield wipers feckless and smearing the blizzard across my vision, I wondered who had filed a complaint against the superintendent. In a small town, rumors radiate in the time it takes for a snowflake to float from my house to the frozen shore in a whiteout. The night before had been clear. I imagined the moon, high above the storm, waxing crescent. And the Big Dipper. I turned left onto the bypass and slid sideways into a bank of drifted snow. Pfooompf, like a fist hitting a pillow. For a moment I was relieved to have an excuse to miss the meeting. Conflict makes me uncomfortable. But the new truck has four-wheel drive and I backed away, easy as a fist from a pillow.
My daughter signed up for the spelling bee. Third grade is the first year kids can compete. She has a list of 350 words to study. In the evening while I’m making dinner, I quiz her and she asks, “Can you repeat the word?” “Can you use it in a sentence?” “May I please have a definition?” “Is there an alternate pronunciation?”
It might be two women who filed complaints. The first received an invite via text, to a hotel with a king-sized bed at an out-of-town conference. The second woman refused a late-night drunken plea for companionship
that didn’t go unnoticed by other residents in the apartment building. Still, rumors.
When I was nineteen, after my first year of college, I took a year off and moved to Seattle. Each morning I rode my bike from the house I shared with seven macrobiotic college students in the University District across the bridge over Lake Union, past the St. Vincent de Paul, past the car wash with the giant pink elephant, and downtown to my job at Pike’s Place Market, at an Italian deli. A Cucina Fresca. On days it wasn’t raining, I would arrive just as the sun floated into the sky. On days it was raining, I arrived in the rain. Sometimes I stopped for an Egg McMuffin because, despite the story I told to get a room in the house, the diet was killing me.
I’m not a real reporter; I earn extra money covering the school board meetings for our weekly paper. But I do know this: I cannot report on rumors of allegations I have only heard about from my neighbor in hushed tones over coffee in my kitchen while the dog is yelping like a lunatic because the children are shrieking and tossing pieces of dog food back and forth across the living room, trying but not trying to catch the kibble in their mouths. I’m pretty sure I need more than that.
“Mama, do you know what hacienda means? Hacienda is my favorite word in the list. Try this, mama. Try to use hacienda in three sentences that aren’t even about the same thing. You have to do it in ten seconds so . . . GO!”
The owner of the Italian deli hired me the afternoon I saw the Help Wanted sign in the window. He was on his way to a nearby café and asked me join him for an interview. I ordered coffee and sat across from him as he chewed on small pieces of raw fish. He scooped some onto a cracker and thrust it toward me, “You eat ceviche?” Droplets of the lemony fish juice fell into my cup. “This is a hot batch,” he said, gulping from his beer. “The hotter the better.” I took a sip of my coffee.
Ceviche: fish pieces used for bait.
A young woman who works at the school district office just quit her job. She told a friend at church who told a teacher who told her daughter who told my neighbor, who is also a teacher, that she was uncomfortable working with her boss.
I’m helping her with those confusing endings: -ent, -ant, -ence, -ance. I think of a mnemonic. The point is to associate words ending in -ent and -ence with being in a tent, which will remind her that the final vowel sound is an e, like subsistence, a word from the list. I told her, “Just think about what it means to do a subsistence activity. You’re hunting, or fishing, or picking berries. You’re out there in the country and you’re sleeping in a…” “Sleeping bag?” “Yes, but you’re inside the sleeping bag inside the…” “Do I have a headlamp, or is it still light enough to read?” “I don’t know. Probably, yes. Anyway, it’s tent. Get it? So when you hear the word subsistence, you think of being in a tent, and then you know it’s t-e-n-c-e.” “But tents is t-e-n-t-s, mama. Everyone knows that. Now, ask me hacienda again!”
Two or three mornings a week, when I got to work, I would ignite the giant gas burners to char red and yellow peppers until their skin was black and bulbous. When they had cooled only a little I sealed them in a plastic bag to sweat. Later I would peel away the flecks of burnt derma, slice the peppers and set them to marinate in boiled vinegar, lemon juice, olive oil, garlic. Roasted marinated peppers were a big hit.
Setting up your tent the same way each time requires consistency.
Sitting at the school board meeting is like listening to a performance of Schubert’s Sonata in A Minor at a town community hall. Minutes into the piece you feel an interminable sense of the fidgets, like the theme has been trapped in your head since 1824. You start to ascribe words like “this thing will never end” to the relentless melody. Then the piano ritardandos into what sounds like a slow and natural end, the viola answers, the piano curls around again with tune-slowing taper, and BAM! The viola jumps up again, as if on prescription tempo drugs, in a staccatoed allegro. Then you accept that the movement is nowhere near over, but you never stop hoping that each refrain will be the last, all the while resenting every drag and yowl of the brittle bow as it dances in the ring with the plunking keys, droning on until you wish one of them would just get it over with and knock the other out cold. That’s a little what it’s like.
“Mama, do quesadilla again.” My daughter lies on her back in front of the heater with her feet pressed against the grate. We can’t get warm in February because the wind skulks between the cracks and each time I chink one up I anger the wind and it finds another crack and funnels the force of the one it has been denied. “You already know quesadilla,” I tell her from the kitchen where I’m attempting to resurrect limp lettuce. “And use it in a sentence, but not with cheese. Make it a gross one.”
I do not want to write about the superintendent’s perhaps nefarious behavior. I’m sure I can’t call him up and ask him about it. And I can’t very well contact the women who are accusing him because, even though by now I’ve been told by several sources who they are, they have not made their identity known and they likely have a gag order. And, like I said, I really don’t like conflict.
If you hear scratching noises outside your tent, you may be in a predicament.
The school board will say nothing. They are bound by confidentiality. The complainants have not come forward. And no one is saying the words inappropriate, harassment, allegations. They say, “confidential personnel matter.”
Early in his novel Les Misérables, Victor Hugo presents the villainous innkeeper couple, Monsieur and Madame Thénardier: There are souls that, crablike, crawl continually toward darkness, going backward in life rather than advancing, using their experience to increase their deformity, growing continually worse, and becoming steeped more and more thoroughly in the intensifying viciousness. The musical version of Les Misérables utilizes the couple for comic relief, but Hugo’s was a savage vision.
I am not on the receiving end of this guy’s harassment, so I wonder if I have a moral obligation to pursue this issue, especially since no one has asked me to. I’m afraid to accuse someone when it might just be a misunderstanding. When I ask my editor how to approach the story, she says, “I’ll tell you what I told the teacher’s aide who called me. Girls really need to tell these guys to ‘Buzz off!’ and mean it. That’ll give ’em the message.” So, four women?
In an article that appeared in Hypatia, Carol Hay claims that a woman who has been sexually harassed has a moral obligation to confront her harasser, to preserve and protect her own autonomy (“self” + “law”) or moral agency.
She seems to have a knack for spelling, like her father. For me, it becomes less important the older I get. Still, I encourage her because she is so dedicated. Really, I just want her to protect her own autonomy before she is obligated.
Some mornings, after I had arranged the dishes of antipasti across the ten-foot bed of shaved ice, I prepared arancini. To make the “little oranges,” I scooped a palmful of herbed risotto made with traditional Arborio rice and pressed it into a ball around a smaller sphere of grated mozzarella. After I had formed about forty, I rolled the balls in flour, gently dipped them in a bowl of whipped eggs, and carefully submerged them in a bin of sandy breadcrumbs before I laid them on a tray. The chef would fry the arancini until the crumbs were crispy and golden and the cheese oozed into the starchy rice.
This morning, before coffee, my inner voice told me, “When you don’t know about something and don’t do anything, well, you can’t help that. But, if you know about something and don’t do anything, well, then you’re culpable.” (from culpare: to blame, from culpa: guilt.)
The chef taught me to combine flavors without separating the cheese. With patience I simmered the Bolognese, rolling the words around in my mouth. One day I didn’t burn the garlic bread and I never burned it again. At Christmas, our boss and his wife invited “the crew” to their home: me, the chef and his family, and the guy who came in twice a week to squeeze sausage into hog casings. Their two children were home from college for the holidays. Together they had prepared baccalá, pasticcio di tortellini, struffoli.
If you spend more than a week in your tent, you will feel a sense of accomplishment.
When I approached him with my idea, my boss said, “Well, now that sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?” So we made a deal. On weekdays I would continue to artistically display antipasti and to keep Pavarotti playing near the open door to draw in customers, and on the weekends, to earn extra money, I could make the restaurant deliveries. I could be the pasta delivery girl. That was spring, 1989. In Alaska, the Exxon Valdez had just struck Bligh Reef and ten million gallons of crude oil gushed into Prince
William Sound. I was saving my money to take the ferry back home. I wanted to see the damage. I wanted to help clean up the spill.
I don’t want to have to out the superintendent as a pervert. I do not want to sift through gossip and rumors and squinty eyes and words that sound like spitting. And still, what if it’s not true? Part of me feels sorry for him, sitting up there, feigning consideration to budgets and house bills. What if he’s getting a bad rap? Something in me hates to make trouble for another person. Even, apparently, for a sexual libertine. I stop short of talking myself into his innocence.
On our way home from school my daughter tells me she doesn’t want to be in the spelling bee because she’s afraid her dad and I will be mad if she goes out, especially if it’s an easy word, or if she forgets because she’s nervous.
The cassette player ate the Pavarotti. O Sole Mio warped and garbled to a not unwelcome end. Because my boss insisted the music play nonstop at the threshold, I replaced it with the Paul Simon tape from my Walkman. A couple of hours later the cassette player ate Graceland, too.
If you’re setting up your tent in the wind, you need to be patient.
Each time I write “superintendent,” I spell it “superindentant,” and the red squiggly line appears and steals my thoughts. Still, I do not want to play the tent game with superintendent.
I have to be careful. I shouldn’t tell her that I care nothing for her ability to spell, because I do. She has a particular mind and it seems to enjoy the arranging of letters. I say, “I promise you we will not be mad. Even if you get out on dog. I think it’s important that you are interested in something and that you see it through. You have been studying these
words, you go to practice two days a week after school, you are enjoying yourself. That’s what I care about.” She had stopped listening to me.
I had just packaged the last of the Quattro formaggi when he drove up in the Econoline to take me on the route. As we wound our way through the late afternoon traffic, I noticed all kinds of things I didn’t see from my bike. The expanse of green over the hills. We got on the freeway and crossed a long bridge. Behind us the sun was setting on Puget Sound. The tiny whitecaps on the surface of Lake Washington. Miles of tickytacky houses, and I realized I’d never thought about how many people lived there. I remember feeling a shake of excitement at the thought of the extra money that would take me back to Alaska. He pulled through a park entrance and turned off the van beside a pond and picnic tables dusted with little cones and crinkly, leftover leaves. The shadows from the trees blocked the sinking sunlight and I felt a chill.
Camping in a tent is a good way to get closer to your environment.
It’s frustrating trying to Google the superintendent because he shares a name with a man who was executed by lethal injection last year for killing his young daughter, his estranged wife, and her parents. Even more confusing is that they both hail from Tennessee.
Even though she’s no longer listening, I also tell her I’m interested in people who are kind, and who have a sense of self, especially when they need to be strong and stand up for themselves, or when they need to stand up for other people because it’s the right thing to do. “Ugh,” she says, “but what if it’s a really easy word and I accidentally say the wrong letters before I know it and it’s too late to take it back?”
In 1990 The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission published the Policy Guidance on Current Issues of Sexual Harassment, which said, "In determining whether harassment is sufficiently severe or pervasive to create a hostile environment, the harasser's conduct should be evaluated
from the objective standpoint of a ‘reasonable person.’” Further, title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 should not serve as a “vehicle for vindicating the petty slights suffered by the hypersensitive.”
When I asked, he told me we’d stopped to look over the orders and he climbed into the bench seat. He motioned for me to join him and he shoved the clipboards, splaying forms and addresses, onto the floor. I heard the crack of an empty pasta container as he heaved himself sideways onto me. My hand stuck to the Naugahyde seat and I felt his tongue slide across my cheek and into my mouth.
Did you know that Naugahyde is a trademark? Naugahyde™ is a vinyl coated fabric so versatile that it has a plethora of uses. You'll find Naugahyde™ in almost every seating application imaginable.
I can’t seem to stop the tent game; I play it by myself, in my head. Incandescence? Well yes, especially if it’s dark out. You could build a fire. Grandiloquence? I could do it but it’d be a stretch.
The allegations against the superintendent are still hush-hush, but folks are showing up to talk around the issue. One young woman told the school board they “owe the public and staff an explanation of what steps were taken and what policies were followed.” And the grandmother of a fourth grader said, “It boils down to that one person hired by the school board is making it very miserable and uncomfortable for certain teachers who are non-tenured.” The school board said they had taken action; they just can’t say what the action was.
“When you spell efficient,” I tell her, “imagine winter camping and how, while you’re setting up your tent, you must be efficient so you don’t get hypothermic.” “Couldn’t we just be efficient in the summer? We don’t even go winter camping!”
Una bella lotta. I put up a decent fight, I would say, but I admit I was scared. I wish I could tell you I kicked open the door and ran out into the night. But I didn’t. At some point, with all my fidgeting, my boss became irritated, then soft. So we made another deal.
I call the Professional Teaching Practices Commission. The director confirms the board is looking into allegations against an administrator in our district, but that “we have our regulations, and we have to follow due process.” I’m relieved she tells me nothing.
If your mom and dad give you a tent for graduation, you are the recipient of a very cool present! “Whadaya mean?”
My boss picked up my hand and curled it around his flaccid cock. At work, I had helped the chef wrap prosciutto around raw scallops and, just before they went into the oven, I drizzled the aperitivi with melted butter and sprinkled them with chopped basil. The word prosciutto derives from Latin pro (before) + exsuctus “to suck out [the moisture].”
I’m picturing the stick of sweat on flushed skin. Slick and stinking like droplets of gin cupped in the pores of a ruddy face. And the blurry, slowmotion movements of a waning party. Bad decisions waiting for a good time to trap memory in the time warp of early morning, to wrap memory in a gauzy cloth that obscures truth from not-truth and teases reality through tiny holes with the sharp point of a pin.
In 1991 the Ninth Circuit replaced the term “reasonable person” with “reasonable woman” in sexual harassment cases because “a sex-blind person standard tends to be male-biased and tends to systematically
ignore the experiences of women.” That is, we hold males to a different standard because, given their sex, they are not able to understand or appreciate the connotation of inappropriate behavior. Therefore, a panel of reasonable women, those females who can impartially assess a particular behavior and ascribe an emotional reaction to that behavior, will better perceive the hostile behavior that might be unrecognized by a man.
from harer: to set a dog on
My daughter stomps into the kitchen and yanks the list from the counter. My hands are submerged in a bowl of sourdough and I have just told her that exuberant and protuberant are not “tent” words, for obvious reasons. “Mom! This doesn’t make sense anymore. Not everything happens in a tent!”
Some days, when the lunch crowd thinned, I would set out a tray of cannoli shells and fill them with a sweetened whip of ricotta and mascarpone. If I held one of the blistered shells too tightly, the fragile casing would crack and the creamy mess would ooze through my fingers before plopping onto the tray.
Citing circumstances beyond his control that require him to be with family, the superintendent has resigned, effective next week.
It was a cooperative effort. My skin. His grip. Together we pumped and pulled him to an incompliant climax.
The PTPC board and the Commissioner of Education have “severely reprimanded” our superintendent in response to several complaints against him for sexual harassment.
The origin of cannoli dates back to Palermo, where it was prepared during Carnevale season as a symbol of fertility. If the dough is not rolled thin enough, it will not blister, and good cannoli should have a blistered surface.
I still don’t officially know the identities of the seven complainants; maybe they were advised to remain undercover. The allegations against the superintendent will never reach a court of law, so it doesn’t matter whether or not anyone considers these women reasonable. But I hope they do. Consider themselves reasonable.
It seemed like a gesture; he pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and patted the back of my hand.
The British pronounce harassment with the accent on the first syllable. Try it: harassment. Eloquent, no?
I will raise a reasonable person. “Give me hacienda again,” my daughter told me, “and use it in a sentence. And make it a good one.”
Brad Garber I am not of the animal people I dress in drag and eat choke cherries while whiskey drowns laughter like the ancient river. Herds separated by kind sing songs to the maker while great Father’s voice washes across the thirsty land. “Why did this happen?” “Who should I gift this golden fish to?” “What can be done with this?” The animal people do not hear their own hearts’ hard pits wasting in the sun bellies full of the voice.
When the full moon rises out of Coyoteâ€™s gaping mouth the Father has his answers walking away in his pumps.
Sam Martone Open your eyes: you must continue on your quest. You are on a ship in the middle of the ocean, but this time you remember boarding it. You remember every move that has led you here. Your only companions are monsters now, beasts you have managed to tame. They are strong, fierce, but they are not much for conversation, they don’t always listen to you. You remember spending hours alone in your room as a child, drawing monsters and robots, but that may have just been a dream. Now you draw the girl with the ribbon in her hair, imagine what she has grown up to be. You draw her like the girl in your dreams, the one you wanted to marry, with big headphones hung around her neck. You are starting to think there are no right moves to make, that if you’d tried to take a different path, the universe would’ve conspired to put you here, on this ship, on your way to the port city on the western continent. If you tried to stay where you were, nothing would happen, you would walk in circles and the world would stagnate, stick itself in time. Before boarding, you stared up at this massive ship. It looked like the ship you remember waking up on as a child. A woman told you that if you didn’t hurry, you’d miss your chance to board, but you weren’t sure you believed her. Maybe you could have stood there for hours, watching the ship rocking in the water, imagining all of the places it might go, but knowing it would only take you to one. When you arrive in the port city, talk to the sailors on the dock. They will tell you the voyage here was a one-time trip, at least for the foreseeable future. Sea monsters sunk the city’s ferry; this great ship is just on loan from a generous billionaire. You wonder if it is the same wealthy man you remember from your childhood, whose daughters you couldn’t stop stealing glances at. Compare them to the monsters you used to draw. Compare them to the girls in your dreams, who shave the
sides of their head, who wear necklaces of bone, of bear tooth. You wonder what kind of people they have become. In the city, you try to interpret the graffiti on the walls but find no answers. In the tavern, there are rumors of a spell that allows you to return instantaneously to places you’ve visited before. You remember, in your dreams, a question you’d ask the girl you wanted to marry: What super power would you have? It was a game you played. You traded answers back and forth, different ones each time: the power to manipulate fire, the ability to split yourself in two, in three, to be multiple places at once, to be all the people you wanted to be, to lead all the lives you wanted to lead. But the game always ended with powers that brought you closer: she said if she could, she’d fly right to you, through your bedroom window. You said if you could, you’d teleport to where she was, right beside her, inside her. Remember: these are only dreams. There was a whole country between you. In the end, you don’t know what power could have kept you together, and then, you woke up, you opened your eyes. Remember: you have a quest to complete. You are still so far from the end. There are rumors of an ogre in the lighthouse, but maybe he’s just a lonely lighthouse keeper. Wind up the lighthouse stairs, to the very top, where the Cyclops bulb spins lightlessly in the bright afternoon. Look out across the world. There’s smoke rising from a far-off town. You have visions of cottages lit up by torches, that simple touch of fire. The monsters beside you, whichever you have chosen—the tiny dragon, the hooded hammer-man, the carnivorous plant, perhaps—they growl in sympathy, but you think maybe it is hunger. You think, if they wanted, they could devour you. In your dreams, there is a certain ache, a wish, to be consumed wholly by someone, to think of nothing but that person. You take your edged boomerang and carve deep into the white wall of the lighthouse, an image of a girl’s face, but you can’t quite make out the details, you can’t quite see who she is, and then the lonely lighthouse keeper, not an ogre at all, chases you, you vandal, down spiraling steps. You rush outside dizzy and panting, and everything, the whole world, it all seems so far away.
Pilar Graham § My mother, blonde and bent Cleans the garage, not even a year After your death, pulls at the blue miles Of dive equipment and cracked black Hoses—more plastic baked from the heat From the Sierra sun bleached bones Of what used to be, for this family The years we spent underwater. § And so, mother works, late past summer, And needs to count Three falling stars before going to bed. She dreams in metal submerged by wind, A chime from the east, where the Sunrise continues to stretch, even over A now half empty house.
§ Hours pass, become hard as quartz, And then, one day, still sorting through What you left behind, she finds your dive slate.
The writing is still legible, It says: FISH EGGS. What she sees are little sacs of life, Bite-sized hope, oceanic youth, tart as bourbon. Their fins kick in unison, a diligent emergence, That rises and falls, hand-in-hand—all inside This salty earth. Then, winter arrives. § I knew love once. Each year, the days grow shorter in the valley, And we learn to find beauty. We have some of the best California smog: An explosion of rubies and a tangerine electric Pink that can reverberate any sky. And then, I think of the hearts I’ve collected, Even the ones I refused to shell open. I taste the valley on my lips. § The locals complain about the heat, but No one is listening, except me. Round words Bounce inside my ears and stick to my throat. I pay for my weekly car wash and become Lost to a view of soap; I wait for the dryer, My favorite part: little teardrops swim Up my windshield, like sperm traveling north. I stare at the dance—so, this is what it looks like, When cosmos push themselves past the stars.
Dan Mancilla Before Uncle Angelo’s Z-28 skids to a halt I jump out the T-top. “Combat roll! Combat roll!” Uncle Angelo shouts. I hit the gravel and roll. I’m a paratrooper landing in enemy territory. Once he cuts the engine, Uncle Angelo slingshots himself out the driver’s side and combat rolls too. He dusts himself off and cradles his head in both hands. Twists back and forth like he’s working a rusted lug nut loose. He lets out a groan. “Good stuff, Maestro,” he says when he finally gets his neck to crack. I strap on my army surplus webbing. Pack a flashlight, a .45 cap gun, the wooden ninja sword Uncle Angelo made for me. He crams rations of peanuts into his fanny pack. It’s slung low off his hip like a gunslinger’s holster. We’d cruised up north to check construction on the new house he and his girlfriend bought. Raced the old state highway that snakes along the Fox River from Black Hawk up to the forested highlands of Salk Point. Uncle Angelo gunned every hairpin turn along the way and put as much faith in his hot rod’s fat racing slicks as the pine-scented Mary icon dangling from the rearview to keep us on pavement. Until it burned down, Uncle Angelo lived a block away from us at the Prospect Arms. WEEKLY RATES, CASH ONLY a sign taped to the front door of the hotel read. Now he stays at the Locust Street projects with his girlfriend. Her name’s Davina Kipka, and she’s beautiful like a cartoon. Sometimes she and Uncle Angelo take me out for White Castles. Davina usually pays. She makes good money dancing at Club Beiderbecke. Calls herself an “artist of burlesque.” Mom calls her a pole polisher.
Davina Kipka’s the most colorful thing about the Locust Street projects. Everything else is gray. The walls, the sooty windows, the doors. Uncle Angelo complained about living there after his apartment burned down. “I need a full palate, Maestro. I got an appetite for the entire spectrum of human life. I got powerful, Technicolor hungers, little man.” No two doors at the Prospect Arms were the same color. Whenever the cops bashed one in to cart out an expired wino or a crook with warrants, the building manager replaced it with whatever he could scavenge from Vargas & Sons Salvage. Green is the color of the day for our commando mission. The maples and elms are leafed-out. Spruce stands higher and the hills of Salk Point edge the sky. I’m in camouflage. Uncle Angelo wears a green Tshirt with the cracked and peeling words I AM THE IMPOSSIBLE spanning his chest. The mission is to make our way from the drop zone undetected all the way to the build site where half-framed houses bloom in crescents around cul-de-sacs like petals on asphalt sunflowers. Davina and Angelo’s house is an enemy missile base. We’re charged with stopping construction at all costs. Uncle Angelo tucks his jeans into his socks. “This is how we did it in the war. To keep the creepy-crawlies off our legs.” “You weren’t in no wars,” I say and tuck my pants into my socks too. White tube socks with red stripes make me the medic for this mission. “Every damn day I march through the universe of battle, Maestro. Davina Kipka’s a war criminal. How else you think she got me to move up here? She lays the kretch on me, says, ‘Black Hawk’s no place to start a family.’ And when that don’t work she shimmies them glorious hips all night long until I throw in the towel.” Uncle Angelo makes a circle over his head. “Look at this place. Where’s the action? Where’s my spectrums?” He bobs and weaves and throws combinations at an imaginary opponent. Uncle Angelo used to box. Started out strong as a pro but never made it to the big time. He looks up at the spruce-lined ridge and takes a deep breath. “It’s a myth that women weaken legs. It’s our free will they work over.” All of a sudden he crouches down, gives me a commando signal to drop too. He tugs his ear then palms the ground. Whispers, “Enemy armor.” In the distance a convoy of dump trucks turns off the highway and onto the access road. The dust of a ghost infantry marches in the convoy’s wake. “Take cover, Maestro!” We roll to the side of the road and dive into the brush-covered culvert.
“Sniper rifles,” Uncle Angelo says when the convoy comes within range. “Affix silencers. Clean head-shots, soldier.” He sights the cab of the first truck in his imaginary scope. Pulls back the bolt to load a round. Fires. “Fffft. Doosh.” Reloads. Takes a second shot. “Fffft. Doosh.” Spit bubbles in the corner of his mouth when he makes the shooting and brain-splattering sounds. He flashes two fingers and gives a slit throat sign with his thumb, then I fire off three shots to take out the last of the enemy. We roll to the bottom of the culvert, and like nothing we’re on the move toward our target. Uncle Angelo’s on point, hacking his way through brush with the wooden ninja sword. I draw my .45 to cover him. He tamps down the brush as best he can, but branches whip me in the face and arms anyway. We creep through booby-trap burr bramble and thorny thickets. Battle clouds of mosquitoes. A dark oval of sweat forms on his back. “Nothin’s easy, Maestro,” he says in between whacks with the ninja sword. We slog through a flooded patch where Uncle Angelo sinks up to his ankles. The mucky, boot-shaped pools are landmines that I hop over. We climb the far bank of the culvert, take to dry land, and keep to the tree line. “It’s like Father Candeleria says, Maestro. Can’t appreciate the trees of the forest until we wander lost amongst them. Just like Jesus H. Christ.” Uncle Angelo started going to Mass with us not too long ago, because, if they ever get married, Davina Kipka says she wants a church wedding. It had been so long since he went to church that Uncle Angelo forgot what to do. He followed my lead on when to sit, stand, or kneel. One time I faked him out, pretended to stand when we were all sitting, listening to Father Candeleria’s homily. He shot up then popped back down. “You shit me good on that one, Maestro,” he whispered. Davina heard him and pinched his ear. The air in the shadow of the forest is cool on my sweaty arms. I cover Uncle Angelo’s ten o’clock with my pistol. He covers my two with his imaginary sniper rifle. In the distance, syncopated shots of carpenters’ nail guns pop off. Enemy fire. We take cover. Uncle Angelo dives into a patch of burrs. “Man down! I’m hit, Maestro.” When I belly-crawl over to him I can see he’s in bad shape, so I administer green M&Ms. “This big medicine,” I say like an Indian. While he picks burr shrapnel out of his hair, I recon the perimeter. From the branch of a maple I can just make out the build site through the trees. Men climb on the skeletons of the houses like ants scavenging a carcass. Higher on the trunk of the tree is a patch of smooth flesh, the scar of a lightning strike. Someone’s carved BETH NEEDS TARANTULA 4 EVR in the center.
I trace the grooves of the letters with the barrel of my .45 and dream of the spider tattoo that crawls up Davina Kipka’s thigh. A black widow with lips smacking a kiss, legs wrapping down around her calf and creeping up into the V of her bikini bottom. I saw most of it the time she and Uncle Angelo took me to the Wheelock Park pool. Uncle Angelo practiced jackknives and suicides off the high dive while Davina sunned herself near the shallows. Instead of diving with Uncle Angelo I suffered the piss-warm waters of the shallow end to be close to her. To memorize every last inch of that spider. To supplement our peanut rations I forage tiny, bright red berries. Uncle Angelo dares me to eat them. I chicken out. He chews a handful then spits them up. “Poison,” he says. “Sons a bitches sabotaged me, Maestro.” He grabs his chest and falls into the culvert. “Not gonna make it this time. Give this to my woman. Tell her I did the best I could.” Uncle Angelo tosses me his dog tags. We won matching pairs on the midway at Brother Underhill’s Big Top last year. He presents the wooden sword and salutes me. “Finish it,” he whispers, and I run him through. Stab the sword between his side and his arm so it looks true. When he goes limp I check his pulse to make sure he’s dead. I run him through one last time. He can’t come back. If I survive, if I get back home, I’ll melt down those dog tags and make a wedding band out of them. I’ll marry Davina Kipka and never speak of this mission. Nearby, cicadas wind up their buzzing mating calls. In a minute two stoned teenagers, enemy scouts, will ride by on their Huffys, make us, and laugh until they’re out of breath. Not long after that another convoy of enemy armor will pass, but I won’t get off any shots. In three years, after they’ve moved into their new house, Uncle Angelo and Davina Kipka will marry and divorce without ever starting that family. Many years later he’ll remarry, finally have kids of his own. By then I’ll have moved out of Black Hawk too. First to Chicago, then to Michigan to marry and lose a woman of my own. But now it’s time to abandon this mission and make for friendly territory. I pocket Uncle Angelo’s dog tags and soldier on through this green frontier.
Sarah Malone In one state I was born knowing how to nest potted in small duties in a crooked porch town I grew buttoned against the wind You kept a sill for dust and bulbs frozen before me I saw you dream of waking saying I was asleep At the turn of a faucet I strode above the house too tall to last a storm and if naked I looked set to attack or love a suitcase fit me better than dresses for occasions Someone had to keep things going I thought long between dishes and made space for losses and woke as a doe to gather from the trees You will be in your thin skin when I come down in the wild sap-running weather I have learned to turn a spigot I have learned a science of the inside
Jackson Burgess It is 3:12 a.m. on the morning of the earth’s end, and I’m pianissimo on the high keys, just little taps on the white to match my pulse. Maybe somewhere people are leaping from buildings hand-in-hand. Maybe somewhere the birds have all flown south—but not here. I’m spreading legs across clean sheets with toothpaste on my upper lip and all my clothes torn and tossed in piles, while you’re lying in bed some 70 miles away, smelling like you do, crying, like you do, having dreams with storylines about filicide and cogs in machines. We lie in the same dark. Tonight I had the urge to pull onto I-5 and drive the 35 miles north to Tacoma—or farther. Instead, I wandered home. I’ve been bent over your beauty from the moment we first swapped spit. I keep tracing the lines between us on a map in red ink. Let’s do something crazy tonight. Let’s stand atop a building and not jump. Let’s crash double crescendos all over this mess of dreamy absence. Let’s watch everyone die and hear beautiful music bleeding out from each other’s lips, wispy notes grazing past our cheeks, forcing us both to close our eyes and feel for our faces with our palms.
Carrie Murphy The space between manic pixie dream girl & peeing the bed while you’re shitfaced drunk, the mattress pad lying huge & white out in the sun in the courtyard, the panties bunched up in the bathtub & the judgmental smirks of the boys next door. That’s the space. You can stop talking but you probably won’t. You buy a new lipstick, but it won’t really change anything. You can hang a bunch of bangles on your thin arm & walk quickly down the street so people watch you & hear you at the same time. You can rub your mouth raw while tracing the words everyone’s saying on the roof of your mouth with your tongue. P-I-X-E-L-A-T-E-D. C-O-C-K-T-E-A-S-E. You can wear the beauty of the indulgent smile around your neck & dabbed behind your ears & dabbed behind your knees & you can spend every morning picking
dirt from your teeth & kicking cans down the street with the light that gets caught around the buildings & squeezed at the sides, but it won’t turn into anything you can touch or talk to. It won’t roll over. It won’t rub back.
Helen Spica They ate the horses first, thin with sheet-ice and mountain grass, stale, though the dogs were next, who went happily to the knife, beneath those children screaming to the empty rocks and basin— the long Nevada. The cats, too, who followed them from Colorado for their fishbone and buffalo skins were next to be ripped raw from the hip, though there was little to them and no fire for the blackening of their sides. What then to eat for Donner, for dinner, for his wife who dreamed of goose and onion, bread rising sticky in the flour bowl, her mother’s Missouri butter the color of new bed linen, of milk-saucer, of lace. Bury the bones of your son in the snow and keep his hair, gone dull, in your pockets, twisted ’round your neck, forget the gray of thigh and tongue.
I think of this when the sow eats her children, one by one, leaves their sour hooves in her hay and wails against the back barn wall for days. From the house we hear her, desperate, calling with the meat and song of her stomach. She’s too stupid to know what she’s done but she knows she has done something, knows from the silence of loft and pen, fills it with the breaths of her own breast. My sisters gather the relics of backbone and knee and bury them in a coffee can beyond the barn, where the goats wander in fresh May. But I have seen in watercolor the folds of cannibal kings, their glowing, greasy faces full of enemy, teeth wrapped about their throats and wrists, as garlands, rosaries. How proud of their feasts they are, their bone-thrones, sending out to the ether their greedy gladness, the howls of their victory. I have wondered, what of mercy knows that wide mouth? Perhaps this only: the bringing of bones to altar— the kiss of daughter’s cheek.
Sam Martone You return to the village where everyone knew your fatherâ€™s name, only this time you return without him. This time, it is no longer a village. The houses have been leveled. The ground is covered in a toxic dust that stings your skin, makes you lightheaded whenever you inhale. Poorly marked graves surround the crumbling well. Sometimes a single wall remains standing, supported by air, sheltering nothing, hanging there waiting to fall with rain. All that is left of the house you once lived in are stairs leading down to the basement. You played in that damp darkness as a child. The remains of this village remind you of the dream where you are watching the Weather Channel, where violent winds become cyclonic, decimate the town where your dream parents live. In the dream, you are hundreds of miles away, unable to close that distance, to rummage through the rubble. In the dream, your mother calls you on the phone, but you cannot talk to her without crying, you cannot hear about the houses torn from their foundations, about the photo-covered walls of people missing, about the business cards and restaurant menus that blew fifty-seven miles north before touching down. You werenâ€™t born in this once-village or in that dream-town, but they are the only places you know to call home. You thought, when you left this village, it would fold up in your mind until it was a single sentence, safe in your mouth, a thing you said if you ever said a thing: for a time, I lived there. Instead it has become something else. The church was spared, and there is a kindly couple running an inn within a cave. They tell you that soldiers from the castle set fire to the houses, let it consume the village, killed anyone who tried to run. This inn is not in the cave where your father died, but you cannot sleep in the beds, in this dark dampness, in these jagged echoes of the past. You dream again about the girl lying naked beside you in bed. In the
dream, you know this to be a year after the storm that destroyed your hometown. You know that your dream life has changed in other ways since then: you are in a new place, another home you assume will be safe in your memories when you leave. But whoâ€™s to say? There could be heat waves, droughts. There could be sandstorms. There could be an untold number of catastrophes waiting to shatter your dreams of this place. Some of them may even be caused by you. The girl beside you, she feels important, but you are not sure why, you cannot see her face, it is shrouded in the smoke that billows from her cigarette. When you wake up sweat-drenched and gasping for air, light a candle. Shake the former prince awake. Take him with you to the river that winds snakelike into a cave. Your father was hiding something here, you are sure. Tunnel down the deepest tunnels, unearth the place where your father kept something secret, something safe. In the dream, your dream mother was safe. Your dream father was unharmed, too. They hid in a thin hallway while photos of your face, a sequence of four, rattled in their frames. They were lucky, but you know that not everyone was saved, not even under mattresses in porcelain tubs, not even in rooms without windows. In the depths of the cave, you find a letter from your father, your real father. He says he knows he is no longer by your side. He says in order to confront the unearthly darkness extending its grip into the world, you must find the legendary hero. Beside this letter is a sword. When you lift it, you are drained of your strength, your hands feel as heavy as lead. You can carry it, but you cannot wield it as a weapon. You are not the legendary hero, and this surprises you. Maybe it was foolish to assume that the tapping tangled in your hair was God or fate, guiding you to some destined glory, some glorious destiny. But now, you must find your mother. You must find the hero. There is nothing for you in this arsenic-swept village, nothing buried in its charred remains. Put the sword away. You cannot use it to cut through anything. Not even smoke. Not even wind.
Helen Spica I’ve never seen a boy quite so ugly since Jason Kim got into his father’s factory acid and had his head wrapped up for weeks. This boy who sits Saturdays at the library steps like a boy king who hasn’t yet died of typhus, but will soon, reads I don’t know what and the bums ask him for money and he gives them just what he has, sometimes dimes, sometimes less. He’s too short, a joke, like a soufflé that fell in the oven but goes to the table anyway, because it’s what’s for dinner, though no one looks at it
for it isn’t polite to acknowledge such mistakes. Perhaps he’ll know love, won’t get married but know love with such ache and hunger he’ll lose his ears over it— it’s just so loud, what ears could bear it? Naked before the bathroom mirror he’ll be ugly, and in the living room he’ll press his head to piano back for the silver moon of God’s throat.
Changming Yuan yes, yes, with your yellowish skin, you enjoy meditating within the shape of a wishbone, inside the broken wing of an oriental bird strayed, or in a larger sense, you look like the surfacing tail of a pacific whale who yells low, but whose voice reaches afar far beyond a whole continent, to a remote village near the yellow river, where you used to sunbathe rice stems, reed leaves, cotton skeletons with a fork made of a single horn-shaped twig when you were a barefooted country boy on the other side of this new world
Ryan W. Bradley I started masturbating to pictures of you and stopped trying to find ways to justify it to myself. You are obsessed with Anne Frank and I tell myself: it’s impossible to be in love with a girl who wants to be Anne Frank. No matter how hard I try, though, I seem to be exactly the kind of guy who falls in love with such a girl. The pictures are all the same. You, looking out a window, clutching The Diary of a Young Girl. It’s not a stretch to picture you naked. The jean shorts you are wearing are skintight and barely cover your ass. The book covers your breasts. I wish I could see your shoulders. I stole the pictures from your online profile. You have over five hundred friends, so you probably don’t even know who I am. We had class together once, Geometry. I tried to ask you on a date and ended up asking what kind of car your mom drives. You stared at me like I should ride the short bus. I should have said, “Anne Frank died at 15, the same age we are now. Shouldn’t we make the best of the time we have?” Most of your status updates are about how oppressive your parents are. I put a towel at the base of my door at night so my parents don’t see the light from my computer. In the dark I read all your updates from the day. Then I look at the pictures until I can’t take it anymore. I pull out an old gym sock, close my eyes, pretend your house is BergenBelsen. That I am an American soldier, liberating the camp. That I have arrived just in time.
Susana H. Case In an empty Tuscan mental hospital, you watch Marina Abramović dance the mambo. May your eyes not be sewn shut with wire. The last year of the marriage, your husband spirals into love with your neighbor, her seeing-eye dog, a giant schnauzer. He brings his lover apples to palpate, a plate of sliced sheep cheese. Curled up under her fractal art quilt with the dog, he eats, he confesses. He’s Marina Abramović on a cross, covered by thirty pounds of open appetite, of sheep’s eyes.
Ezra Carlsen Creatures in-between, we are half men, half boys, tossing empties onto brick stoops like the morning paper. We are the angel mutants, the streets for us seduction. We are melodramatic and we don’t care. We rock shit tattoos: Max von Sydow at the chessboard, a hovering Chevy Malibu glowing green, a she-demon with a ginger muff and red angry snatch. Our dresses flow over matte black BMX bikes whose serial numbers were long ago stripped by flea market vendors. We pedal for speed and our dresses sully in the bike chains—quinceañera dress, flapper dress, other dress we don’t know how to call it. Macabre scars litter our legs and we don’t care. We land in barren fields amid art deco vacants, a menagerie in chainlinked fences. We spark Marby Reds, our echoing laughter not faintly falling but swelling like applause. We stub our cigarettes on black stomper-boots. We perch on backhoes, heaps of rubble, singing Little Anthony and the Imperials: think I’m goin’ outta my head, well I think I’m goin’ outta my head, over you, day and night, night and day and night… We’ve seen your 3-D movies. We’ve seen your summer constellations a hundred times and more. In violent abduction we blast your mindless structure. We see your Latin beauties through the chain-link: dolled up, tank tops, tits, and a whole lot of something more. They whistle and say, Hey girls! They call us their sabrosos, and we lift our dresses and give them the sun and the moon and they laugh and scream. We apply mascara and, cocking our heads back, kill our beers. We see your backwards baseball caps. You call us faggots and we don’t care, though we say we like sabrosos better. We are three on three. Our cause unjust and ancient, we need no introduction for mass annihilation. We’ve let our
blood before and we don’t care. Our hands a storm of haymakers; we draw blood, too. We see into our futures, reapply mascara and, hiking up our dresses, pedal west, thinking of invincibility, though we don’t know how to call it. We land in warehouse parties, the insemination of little girls in the middle of wet dreams. We need no introductions. We’re here for what we want. We want it, we need it, we’ll take it. On the eastern horizon, set against the sawtooth buildings, the sky begins to blue. We see into our futures, futures that will soon make humans of us, and we care, we care.
Christopher David DiCicco In the future, when you die in a video game, there’s no coming back. That was my doing. I did that. And I’m not sorry. If it upsets you, that’s a good thing. It’s important for you to get upset. It means you’re human. In the future, that’s more important than ever. Because things can get blurry. They were. For me. They’ve gone to great lengths to fix the blurry parts. In the future, things are more clear. Because, in the future, when your character dies after he gets shot—he fucking dies. It’s like having one quarter. Actually, it’s worse. Before I was born, there were arcades where you could pump machines full of your money. You never paid more than you were worth. That’s something. That’s why I can’t even compare it to that. Because even then, if you had a quarter, it probably entitled you to at least something like three lives—three chances to do something epic. My grandfather told me that one. He cried the whole time too. Told me how he blew up an entire alien base once and slaughtered a city of zombies. Now he never completes the first level because he’s afraid to die. Sometimes he doesn’t even start the game. He only watches the intro with the sound all the way up. In the future, my grandfather hates his real job. He wishes it were more epic than estimating monthly revenues. Sometimes he types his name into the Player One Database, and acts like he forgot his ID. He’s hoping they’ll let him on, as if he were some young Dominic Dillianhaul from Nebraska who has never played the game before, as if he were someone different and new. Someone other than himself.
They know the trick. One game. One life. That’s all you get. All you need is proper ID to start. Then you can play the game, Dominic Dillianhaul. My grandfather, along with most of the population, doesn’t have the money to spend on a new game. There was this one that got released the other day called Dimes and Dames, a first-person futuristic cowboy adventure where you basically are just about the most badass hero I’ve ever seen. I thought about it, looked at the price, and decided that an education and maybe my first home weren’t worth it. In the future, games cost more than you might think you’re worth. My grandfather and the rest of America used to hope someone would die quick and sell their game. But it doesn’t work that way anymore. I took that one away, too. I’m supposed to be sorry about that, so, sorry. If it offends you, you should seek help. In the future, it’s like going on an organ donor list. You have to wait and have a reason. Why do you deserve to play Simon DeFinch's Gales and Ruin II game? What? You just want to see what it’s like compared to your own? I’m sorry, sir, but your application has been denied. Used games are reserved for those with broken or defunct ones, games where they didn’t even have a chance to begin, to really start. Shit. That must be depressing. Just starting and BAM. The game console turns red and the game shuts off or something won’t move or your character can only walk, never jump. My cousin had a son who couldn’t use his kidneys. He must have felt like a broken game. The boy next door, the one in the wheelchair, I wonder if he feels that way too. I wonder if he plays. In the future, once you lose, it’s over. The game can never be used again. In South Dakota, a kid’s military pursuit character jumped off a ledge because most of his friends’ characters in the game were dead. There was no more point. He hasn’t been able to get a new game yet, and so the police finally promised him one, anything to get the kid off the roof. His parents won’t let him play though. Why would they after what happened to me? In the future, some guy who played with the same pack of wackos who had managed not to die for some six long gaming years, he gunned down his entire group during a Sunday night mission. Not the people—the characters, the game-version selves. But in the future, that’s the same thing.
They’re suing that guy, one couple who was part of the group. They’re pressing charges, claiming he can’t feel, that he’s dangerous to anyone in or out of the game. I never liked them anyway though. In the future, that guy will have a whole lot of nasty charges pressed against him. It’ll be a landmark case. It’s the whole point of the laws after all, a respect for death, for life, for adventure, for greater deeds and my grandfather. I’d shoot them again too though, but I’m not getting another game anytime soon. And neither are you.
Kat Dixon I wanted to go to the waterfront, sure, I wanted. Someone on the boat said This is a girl who knows what a poem is supposed to feel like only there wasn’t a boat. We were walking the ice to Mackinac, we were Omaha up to the ears. I wanted to know who you were, so I learned how to read. Captain said Go down into the belly and flip the second switch, and that was what it meant to know sound in terms of shape— the body in clothes or other consonants, any open-closed mouth—because before there was shape there was the ocean, which was the thing I wanted, and that part turned out to be true.
Caroline Kessler the whole world hums this is where the dayâ€™s rain gathers a lake of want the rural midnight translates to these words please, peel me open until my insides shine while grit lodges in my teeth uncover me from this cave of sand & tendons the no & the yes held in place
in the V of your shirt my hunger begins until weâ€™re swimming in it silty & slow darker than eyes stitched shut your folded tongue & foreign lips small enough to swallow expose me, fuzzed skin & ridged pit with blood so thick, it oozes black make your hands a shovel unbury me from what hovers between the shutter & its release even after the camera is lowered
Brittany Harmon I A History of Love and Violence From Calton Hill I crawled south toward the burial ground. Through obstinate coastal fog and legendary rain, I dragged this body through the darkness, baring my soul to the trees. Branches scratched the air like mahogany talons and the wind drew ghosts from their graves. In the cemetery I clawed at the earth until the ground loosened, and worms and maggots replaced dirt and gravel. I took the Past off my back and unpacked it for the final time. There were the souvenirs: 14 museum guides 10 laminated name tags 37 concert tickets 24 movie stubs 11 playbills You hated the way I couldn’t sit still during long productions, the quickness to my browsing in art galleries. At times I thought your lingering was just to spite me, to imply that you saw aesthetic depths in certain paintings that my mind was too shallow to comprehend. I hated how you didn’t understand the fears that were awakened by certain horror films, the way you’d attack my neuroses when I was drunk on my birthday. It was after we watched The Shining that I began to doubt. I kissed your neck with light bites. Instead of kissing me back you pretended like you were homicidal Jack Torrance. So you put your mouth next to my
ear and your hands around my throat. In a menacing voice you said: Heeere’s Johnny. Sexy. Letting go: Wendy, let me explain something to you. Whenever you come in here and interrupt me, you’re breaking my concentration. You’re distracting me. And then it takes me time to get back to where I was. You understand? Maybe you should pursue a career in acting. Now, we’re going to make a new rule. Whenever you come in here and you hear me typing or whether you don’t hear me typing, or whatever the fuck you hear me doing; when I’m in here, it means that I am working, that means don’t come in. Do you think you can handle that? I’m going to bed. Now, why don't you start right now and get the fuck out of here? You’re not funny. You started laughing. It was manic and you wouldn’t stop. I pulled the comforter over my head and said: Christ. Will you cut it out? Little pigs, little pigs, let me come in. Not by the hair of your chiny-chin-chin? Well then I’ll huff and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house in. Stop. You’re scaring me. Aw. Am I scaring you? Come out, come out, wherever you are. I swear to God. I really hate this shit. Why, baby? I’m not going to hurt you. Please. I said I’m not going to hurt you. I’m just going to bash your brains in. I moved as far away as possible without falling off the bed. You were silent for ten minutes then, like a possessed child, grabbed my arm with one hand and the scissors from my desk in the other, yelling: Red rum! Red rum! Red rum! I screamed and hit you: This isn’t fucking funny anymore. I’m scared. Just stop. The lights outside glowed red and the soundtrack played on the television. You pinned me to the bed and said: Gonna bash ’em right the fuck in! I was frightened and yelled: Get away from me. Your normal voice came back as you said: Fine. I’m leaving. It’s four in the fucking morning. You started getting dressed.
What the fuck is wrong with you? You wouldn’t respond. I grabbed your arm. You wouldn’t respond. I finally slapped you. You said: I’m proving a point. And what the fuck is that? You’re acting completely crazy. Exactly. What? Now you know how I feel when I’m with you. What are you talking about? Your emotions make you a monster. You said it like a curse until I believed it, until my nails became bloodied claws and my words screeching howls. I sat on the floor and cried. You picked me up. You fell asleep holding me with your shoes still on. You thrived on that control. There were the gifts: 3 canvases with a note: For my biggest fan. My love. I couldn’t have done these without you. You are my muse. Think of me often. 1 framed picture of yourself from your mother 6 bags of Pull ’n’ Peel Twizzlers with a note: Here’s to cavities and mustaches and eating like the dogs from Lady and the Tramp. 10 mix CDs 13 pages of loose-leaf with cartoons saying: In the world of stick figures, obesity is a non-issue. Let’s build a campfire. I want marshmallows! I want you! Here’s a picture of a squirrel. Squirrels! I’m rambling. You make me silly. You make me realize that everything is beautiful. Even when you’re angry with me, I love you. Even when we don’t understand each other, I love you. When we hurt each other, I love you. Your eyes could kill me. You’re so much stronger than you make yourself out to be. P.S.—I like to believe that ladybugs have dinner with each other behind pieces of fine art. 20 novels 1 fake rose with a note: It’ll last forever. I thought the standard things like dates and flowers could keep us normal. But it was the subtle derision in your smile that made me want to smother you in your sleep after I said things like: It aches sometimes— how life seems so long.
You thought therapy could keep us sane so you made it an ultimatum and flushed my Seroquel down the toilet. You told them: She’s always threatening to kill herself. I told them: He’s always telling me to kill myself. And they looked at us like we were the most beautiful kind of sadness. There were the stolen items: 4 shot glasses 1 pair of bowling shoes 1 salt shaker 3 Cow Tales 1 pocket-reference guide to wine 2 pairs of 3-D glasses 1 hand-painted hermit crab shell What are these things? Why do we keep them? When I imagined our future, I saw us only in terms of our collective belongings. Cheap amplifiers and cameras. Oil paint and candles. Records and magazine clippings. And a two-story library for the hundreds of books. I thought that the material could serve as an adhesive for the abstractions. But, of course, real truths lay in unconscious choices. We observed each other and analyzed. Like how you interacted in groups. The dramatic gestures you made toward others, particularly women, in the form of grand embraces and playful humor—this ceaseless need to be liked, an almost defensive display of affection to showcase the friends you had and to point out the ones I didn’t. A recurrent desire to be the center of attention. Or the way you’d cock your head and squint your eyes every time we passed a reflective surface, stealing glances at yourself. Sometimes you’d run a hand through your hair or suck in your cheeks and I wondered what you thought about in those moments. Other times I couldn’t help but smirk at the overconfidence in your step. You’d say things like: You have Daddy issues. And I’d say things like: You have Mommy issues. You’re pathetically unsure of yourself. You’re disgustingly narcissistic. I’m not narcissistic, I’m histrionic. I’m not unsure of myself, I’m just shy. It’s so like you to skirt around your vulnerabilities.
It’s so like you to pick the personality that allows for your unnecessary exhibitionism. We dug into each other until we were so naked and damaged that we didn’t know who to be, what to say, how to act, what to do. There were the miscellanea: 23 corks 1 hospital band 45 Polaroids 8 arcade tickets 1 turquoise bouncy ball 11 buttons 4 shoelaces 1 Dead Kennedys sweatshirt 5 funeral booklets 12 gas station receipts for coffee and cigarettes 1 pair of handcuffs 6 guitar picks 1 old-fashioned key It was distressing—the active construction of our own nostalgia, like a constant preparation for the End. You built me a treasure chest to put the objects in, to preserve and remember, as if we had to convince ourselves that there was happiness once. Even though it was never that simple—there was always the heartbreaking pain of uncertainty. At the diner you said: I think we should see other people. Where did that come from? It’s been here all along. After everything? We’ve been trying for three years, babe. It’s a bit asinine at this point. Who says ‘asinine’ in regular conversation? Are you really criticizing my speech right now? I’m sorry. I love you. I don’t know what love is anymore. That’s such a bullshit thing to say. Well, it’s true. I need time. I need space. But— Do you want some pie? It’s cherry. No, I don’t want any fucking pie. I laid in trails of tea leaves and loose tobacco that you left on my ink-stained sheets, but the space of your absence, the shape of vacant air,
was the most painful remnant to sleep with. When I wasn’t in bed I spent hours in the shower pulling out my hair until I collapsed into the tub. Like a diminished chord—unstable and dissonant—used in passing on the way to something fuller. I choked: But I need you. Never resolved, always a half-step off. You said: You’re so weak. Everywhere I walked through ghosts. It was you. It was us. It was pain. It was lust. I began researching self-induced amnesia. I thought I could extract the pieces of you from my memory. I called it spring cleaning. The doctors called it intentional brain damage. I gave myself twelve concussions before they sent me away. It was: Let the girl out. (Let the dog out.) Let the girl out. Don’t you miss me the way I miss you? Whole months are gone, blacked out. Why do we remember? Why do we forget?
II Time and Space The first thing my roommate said to me was: Did you know the human heart occupies the same amount of space as a clenched fist? I put down my bag and asked: Who are you? Zoe. Why are you here? I killed my momma with an ax. Really? No. I broke into a pharmacy to steal a bottle of Dilaudid. You? I can’t remember. There was a silence. She was assessing me and I, her. She said: You seem hurt. It’s okay. We all hurt. Just let it bleed. Let it bleed.
There were daily meetings to talk about feelings. The nurse called them “discussions,” in an attempt to dispel the stigma of psychotherapy. She said: I want you all to write down your earliest memory. Zoe wrote: Being.
I wrote: When I was a child, I caught a glimpse of a horror movie on the television set. It was in passing on its way to another channel, but the image pierced and darkened my imagination. After Mom and Dad tucked me in, I crawled out of bed and crept into their room. I tugged at the blankets and said: I’m scared. I want to sleep with you. They said: No, no, no. You’re too old for that. So I went back to my room, but couldn’t fall asleep. With the sheets pulled up to my chin, I stared into the strange incandescence of the hallway. The natural creaks and moans of the house made me think that someone was breaking in, that something ethereal was about to steal me away while Mom and Dad were sleeping, unaware of my abduction. The anxiety made my heart thrash. I couldn’t bear lying around in vain, so again, I slipped out of bed and went to the top of the stairs. Every night I did this. With bloodshot eyes I stared into the darkness and sat waiting, waiting, waiting to be taken.
Zoe and I never had any visitors. To ease the sting of loneliness, we wrote dirty iambs in red felt pen across each other’s thighs and went down on each other after lights-out. Not even the Zoloft could reduce our sex drives. We needed a diversion from the overwhelming sterility of the place. There was a certain comfort in her boyish build. I told her I loved her then took it back an hour later. She adjusted to my extremes and I to her crippling depression. I tried to paste your face on top of hers but could never quite summon you there. Your body was my favorite haunt. Some nights I dreamt only of the smell of your unwashed hair and sweat glands. Other nights I dreamt of desertion in the dead of winter. On the shore of a ghost town, we snuck onto the pier. It was under construction. The wooden planks were rotting; the foundation needed to be replaced. There was always something unsettling about an off-season boardwalk at night, like something sinister was lurking in the darkness. We crept onto the Ferris Wheel—the one the little girl died on. At the top, you jumped off and ran into the funhouse. There was a shadow and a threatening growl. I followed and yelled for you, but the words didn’t work. My voice was broken. I ran around and around but was lost in the labyrinth. Abandoned in the abandon. You were always leaving me in my dreams, even after you’d already gone.
Dr. D said: Tell me a little bit about your parents. I drifted into the Past and dug my nails into green carpet. Trying to pluck the fibers out like blades of grass I asked: Why is this happening? Dad said: We went our separate ways. What do you mean? I don’t understand. As if talking about expired yogurt: We just went bad. I want Mommy. She’s not here. But I want her. Hey, what am I—chopped liver? He joked, trying to make me smile, but was unable to mask his watery eyes. A single tear fell and got stuck in his red beard. I ran to the phone and choked through sobs as I called Mom, screaming until Dad made me hang up. He said: Hush, hush. I laid on the cold counter in the kitchen, curled in the fetal position. He always stirred my chocolate milk. Someone was shaking me: Wake up. Cut here: --------------------------------------------------------------------------In the common room Zoe and I watched the Royal Wedding on TV. I said: I think that’s why people cry when they’re happy. Why? Because they’re afraid. Afraid of what? Well, the bride and groom cry because they’re afraid of losing their happiness. And everyone watching is crying because they’re afraid of never attaining that happiness, or have already lost it. They’re crying out of fear.
Daily discussion: Tell the group something that makes you upset or angry. Zoe said: My body. She picked at her skin until it broke open. She sucked on the wounds and whispered: Lacerate. Lacerate.
The nurse said: Don’t do that. I stood up and said: In Catholic school, they’ll tell you three of many lies: 1) Adam and Eve were real people; 2) Mary was a virgin; 3) Love is patient, love is kind. And those ideas will be enough to completely pervert all of your perceptions about the possibilities and actualities of life, stemming from a basic misunderstanding of evolution, reproduction, and the inherent complexity of human emotion. Zoe laughed off her chair and the old women protested: She’s evil. God loves his children! God loves his children! I cursed and stuck my middle finger in their wrinkled faces. The nurse said: That’s enough, dear. Take these. I dreamt in haunted houses.
At the mouth of a dim tunnel I was swallowed into an enclosed river. The rapids ruptured my screams then spit me out into a narrow, empty basement. Soaked and shivering, I crept into the flickering fluorescence. On the walls were thousands of opened scissors suspended on nails like crosses. A growling came from behind and I saw her limping toward me with that demented smile and dark, blood-matted hair. She whispered: You can run but you can’t hide. I ran anyway but couldn’t, of course. She lunged and pinned me onto the damp cement. Frightened, I yelled: Get away from me. You can’t get away from yourself. Who are you? I am you and you are me. I’m not you. I am myself. What is the self? It’s me without you. No, I am a part of your being. I exist in your self. How? You are your pain. You are what you carry. I struggled to the doorway at the end of the hall. The walls were closing in and I could see her shadow trailing my body. The scissors were vibrating and falling down like spears. Through the door was a small windowless room, blank except for a large brown rucksack resting in the center. I turned the lock and dumped out the bag. A sea of masks poured onto the carpet, gathering around my ankles, knees, thighs, drowning me. I tried to resist, but they overpowered my efforts, so I grabbed one and put it on over my face. Everything stopped. I forced myself out of the
pile of theatre, ritual, masquerade, defense. The door through which I entered disappeared and a new one formed on the opposite side. I opened it and stepped into the foyer of an old mansion where I heard the growl again, approaching from behind. Repeating the process, I entered room after room after room, getting lost in histories unfamiliar. They were infinite. There was no escape. She whispered: You can run, but you can’t hide. I outran the darkness, but was still trapped in its structure.
I thought: What is Time in a place like this? It all flowed into an amorphous, melancholy chime. Zoe and I had been writing letters. We were supposed to read each other’s before sending them out to prevent any sort of excessiveness, obsession, or madness from going through. We promised. We never kept our word. One day Zoe came back to the room sobbing, handing me an envelope. There was that initial sigh of relief knowing that you hadn’t forgotten about me completely, then a heartrending sense of dread. Zoe didn’t have any mail. She never had any mail. I took her in my arms. She shook as she said: It just hurts to know that no one cares about me as much as I care about them. She said: I never meant to depend on anyone so much. I know. I said: I know. After she fell asleep, I opened my letter. In one sentence you wrote: I know you want to hear that there’s something special about you, something that would bring me back to you, but there’s not. I kept my screams and scars in mason jars under the bed.
They started putting more medication in the tiny paper cup. I was becoming inhuman, or extra-human. I absorbed others’ sadness the way a sponge absorbs water. It spilled out from my pores, was wrung out daily in small convulsions. There was no filter of skin and expression; I saw right through to the very core of each person—felt their weaknesses, their flaws, their fears. It was like that first summer when we lived in your parents’ house; your cocksure attitude revealed hesitant, nervous confessions at my
touch, and I clung to those insecurities because they were the only things that made you real. I sat and wrote: Blue atoms fall into Tuesday, the moment both here and there, a working tragedy-catastrophe.
Dr. D said: Tell me more about your father. I drifted again—to the parking lot of a Blockbuster. We were walking out of the store when the sound of sirens erupted in the distance. There was shattered glass all over the pavement. As we got in the car, I lifted the dinner we bought earlier from the grocery store and put it on my lap. A man ran out of the bar next door with a baseball bat in his hands. Dad was backing out and the guy was running right toward us. Dad tried to be a hero and corner him with his Jeep, but the man pulled a gun from his waist and shot three times. The front windshield broke apart. The third bullet struck the head of the diamondback rattlesnake tattooed to Dad’s chest. He used to tell me: It’s the deadliest snake in the world. I sat there in my father’s blood and a mush of chicken pot pie. Daddy. I yelled: Daddy. It was the loudest I’d ever screamed. Someone was shaking me: Wake up. Cut here: --------------------------------------------------------------------------In the common room Zoe and I watched the Royal Wedding on TV. I sat and wrote: Fingers pull eyelashes leaving commas on the floor. Zoe asked: How did you know? Know what? That you were in love? I shrugged: He always stirred my chocolate milk.
Daily discussion: Share what’s on your mind. Zoe said: Death. I said: I have these dreams. The nurse asked: What kind of dreams? Haunted ones. What do you mean by haunted?
I don’t know exactly. There’s always this little girl covered in blood. This sort of Other. Okay. And sometimes when I wake up I can’t remember what I was doing before I fell asleep. I don’t know the difference between what’s happened and what’s imagined. You should talk to Dr. Dasein about that in your next session. I don’t know why I’m here. I’m anxious. There’s this urgency. Perhaps the reality you’ve been running from is now catching up with you. I’ve lost myself. I’ve lost my purpose. You must transcend what you’ve become. I’m afraid. I’m so afraid.
I sat and wrote: Button aberrations to the alien, preserve in consciousness the incoherent and disconnected, for it is all we have. Zoe was in her bed drawing bleeding eyes in a composition book. I asked: Who are you? I’m a creation. Why are you here? Because you want me to be. Your text is becoming unhinged. Well why don’t you leave? Because here I’m alive. What’s this all about? You’re coming to the End now. We all are. How much self-determination is there? Enough.
Dr. D said: Something’s troubling you. Yes. This isn’t helping. Psychotherapy isn’t the answer. It’s just a step. It’s a temporary solace until you learn to take control of your own life. I don’t understand. Often one’s depression and anxieties stem from repressions of trauma, abnormal or arrested development in childhood, unfulfilled desires, et cetera., but even more often these perceived sources of despair, like a lack of parental love or too much parental love, are just
another mask for the true issue—a fear of failing our responsibilities to the world before we die. How does one overcome this fear? Live an authentic life. You must project yourself forward and recognize the fresh possibilities of being. We are human because we are bound with others and the material world. We are represented by history and time. These relations are not accidental. They are constitutive of our life. Every time I leave here I can never remember what we talked about. Because you’ve been running. You have to stop resisting. Go outside and pay attention. Existence is just a dialogue with the world. All you have to do is listen. Listen and respond. Transmit your pain to the earth. Transmit, not transmute. I left and walked down to the water. I reasoned that selftranscendence must mean re-creation, that this creation could only come from destruction, and that the infinite must just be that—everything all of the time. So I slashed at my hospital gown with unclipped nails until it fell off in sheets. I curled into myself, hugging my knees in the fetal position, naked in the Firth of Forth. I pretended it was cleansing, baptismal, until I cried myself dry. But it wasn’t enough. When I sat up I noticed a message on my calves. It said: In case of emergency, cut here. A dagger washed ashore. I took it and pressed the blade into my flesh. Those legs that used to wrap around you bled black and slow. I kept cutting and cutting to get the darkness out. Hysterical and determined, I sliced through tissue and started working on the bone. It wouldn’t break through. Storm clouds burst open and I saw your ghost drifting closer. The people standing on the shore turned and faced me, pointing. With my right leg dragging by threads of muscle, I put the dagger between my teeth and crawled fast up the hill. Resting next to the monument, I looked down and noticed the same message on my left arm: In case of emergency, cut here. I incised my skin. The blood still poured midnight black. I thought of you and cut. I thought of my father and cut. But your ghost kept drifting nearer. Through the darkness I pulled my body to the graveyard. The rain came down like bullets and the wind whipped my hair. I chanted: Order. Chaos. Creation Destruction. Order. Chaos. Creation Destruction. I started to remember. I wasn’t afraid anymore. I clawed at the ground to transmit and let go. On my chest it said: If all else fails, cut here.
I had no choice. The traces were everywhere, woven into the very fabric of my existence. So I began cutting again to crystallize this gloom. The breastplate was tough, but the heart melted in my hands. I buried the Past with broken limbs and internal organs, interring myself with blood to pass on, to forget, to transcend. On your knees, face me. Cherry pie, baby. But under gothic arches, engraved in stone, you remain.
Christopher David DiCicco When I was little I couldn’t see. Not a thing. Not my dead sister Sally, my mom, or the sky. In front of me there was a greatness so black and vast that you would’ve thought it was death. That’s where I played with the rabbits and made myself seen. In the dark, a blind boy can find all sorts of things that other people can’t. When my mother called to me in the night, Where is the remote?, I found it. It was sitting next to her on the floor by our Labrador, Oodles. Hey, boy, get out of the way. Mom needs this. I needed nothing. Not even a flashlight. Except when it rained. Thunderstorms sounded an alarm for me. Inside my chest a pounding clock would bump, counting down until the lightning struck. When it did, I could see everything. I could see my best friends the rabbits, hurrying to get to their holes. Once I even saw my mom talking to my dead sister, just sitting there on Sally’s unmade bed, next to the window, beside herself with guilt. Before I was blind, I had a pet rabbit, black as the night. He was outside and I was in. And when it started to storm, I would get scared for him, all alone inside his cage, with only a roof to shelter him away from the wind. I’d run to him, and make sure he was alright. The time I ran to him, into the night of wind, rain, and lightning, I was dressed like a knight with tinfoil and pans. I had a television antennae I’d found in the garage, extended to its full height. And with my lance held high, I stormed out and was promptly struck down by God.
He blinded me and freed my rabbit. It was a sin. I blew right into the hutch, broke my arm and dislocated my shoulder. My mother cried in the hospital and apologized about not being there to stop me. She said she was sorry I couldn’t see anymore and that we could go home the next day. She was wrong. I dressed like a knight because it felt good to swing my sword and free the villagers. The night I went blind I wanted to save her, my mom, from her boyfriend, to stop her from going to his lair. It was hours before the strike. I charged out of the house to see her car pulling away, down the drive, dust and gravel kicked up by how fast she drove to him. I waved my antennae in the air and shouted, Who goes there, but if she saw me in the rearview mirror, she didn’t stop. She kept on to him, so I kept standing, in the road, in the gravel and the dust. After the wake of her car subsided, I entered my house through the front door and sat down on the sofa. I can still do that. Without looking. That night when the storm rolled in, I forgot what I learned about electricity. Which was nothing at all. In school I drew pictures of underground warren where the wild rabbits lived and where my bunny was king of them all. The sound of raindrops has become so loud to me that I no longer try to do anything else but wait for the thunder and for a glimpse of whatever it is I’m going to see when the lightning strikes. The rain the night I went blind pounded into the ground so hard that I kept thinking it was my mother running up the porch steps and pounding on our front door. When the wind whirled around the house in such a way that I thought I was Dorothy and that was the day I would fly away, I ran out the front, with a hard right to the hutch. When the lightning shattered me and threw me and took away what I thought was mine, I was holding my antenna lance, feet away from what once was my black-as-night pet rabbit.
When the lightning took away my sight and my breath and almost my life, I did nothing more than seize in a puddle and have a nosebleed. I didn’t even swing my sword. I could tell my ears were bleeding too because they were warmer than the rain and nothing sounded the same. Not even the ground. After a shudder and a pulse, I listened to the beating rain and considered my blindness. And the lightning flashed. I saw beads of water, thousands coming down on me. Then, a blackness so vast. And the lightning flashed. There was the broken hutch, twisted wire and splinters. Then a dark so deep you would’ve thought it was death. And the lightning flashed. It showed me everything I needed to see. It crackled and sounded like bees in my head—a blue-white streak zigzagging from heaven, hitting the field far away, letting me watch my little black rabbit disappear through the grass. He made it to a hole in the ground, no more than six feet away, under a tree, vanished, free. The holes rabbits run to, shelter away in, and live out their lives are networking tunnels that go on and about, so far and so winding that only the family members who belong there know where the holes start and where they end. After the hospital, I would lay there, in the same spot where I crashed into the hutch and fell to the ground, my ear to the scorched earth. I didn’t hear a thing there so I had to move closer to where they were beneath the tree. I asked my mother to help me find the hole. It wasn’t hard for her. Then, I heard the warren. I heard all the rabbits. I was worried they would reject mine, and fail to make him their king. But one afternoon he emerged; my mother saw him. She told me. She shouted and described what I should have seen. She wanted me to see him. She told me where he was in the yard, and that there were other rabbits following him. Then he was gone, she said, down the hole.
I pressed my ear to the ground right there, near their home, to listen to his sounds. There was a whole family of rabbits living and loving and taking care of each other. I could hear them, even the black one who they loved most of all. The day my mother saw my rabbit and I heard him become king, a storm came and blew the roof off our house, but I didn’t care. I ran into the yard, ten feet to the tree, two feet to the right, and I screamed when I put my ear to the ground. It was water that I heard, the swishing current of an underground river of sound. They’re going to die, I screamed, and I felt her hand. In the lightning’s flash, I saw her kneeling next to me with a small metal pail. We looked at each other as another bolt struck somewhere off in the field, my mother’s small hands holding a bucket and a little tin cup. I took hold of the cup and attempted to do what anyone would do for someone they love. I bailed the water out of the hole and hoped they’d survive.
Lindsay Herko For their birthdays some eight-year-old girls want perms. Others would be happy to be able to build a graham cracker castle with a group of their friends. Claudia only wanted to ride bareback on a mermaid. Over the phone, after offering to bring the chicken bombers from John and Mary’s to the party, or to provide the buy-one-get-one yogurt flutes, I listen to her mother quail that the act of “riding” always makes her think of people smelling pungent. Be it horse, elephant, fish, or bird she suspected the seams of her daughter’s jeans would start to smell like wheat once she boarded, and the challah roll of child’s fat around her waist would heat up as if the jostling motion were an oven itself. There was also the worry the presence of an underwater impersonator at a child’s party would teach all attending girls it was acceptable to wear a wet bra around the house if trying to achieve the mermaid look. Worst of all was the admission that her mother often risked wishing fish out of existence. In places ripe for treason, like a Niagara Falls lobster restaurant or the nave of her Catholic Church on a Lenten Friday, Claudia’s mother imagined God turning all sea creatures into something more practical. Swordfish into claves for music class, crappie into emergency maxi pads for frightened and bleeding hall monitors, octopus into food-shelf muffins, McDonald’s Filet-O-Fish sandwiches into a scrub brush. Never ever facing what started this hatred of finned flesh: an incident of once catching her treasured grandfather spy on a lady fishmonger zipping up her fly during their Saturday jaunt together to a public market. It was back behind her stall the monger jerked her pants open with a spidery hand like working the flu of a fireplace. She squealed a hot piss on the black top, already blue with spilt oil, the remnants from a
motorcycle mess earlier in the day, before the street teamed with stalls and steel vegetable baskets. There was no underwear under the monger’s Levi’s and her skin looked moist as lettuce as it peaked out, thigh to bent knee. Grandfather said he had a sixth sense sometimes and followed the view to behind her booth, as if he’d honed in on what sordid things people were going to do and bowled his own halo down the lane to take part. The air smelled like the ocean, like pork, beets, okra, and the smell of faux orca’s meat in the tide above their heads. Noticing the watching eyes, the monger meatball-cupped her breast under a black sweatshirt as if moving a hill back over her heart…then she parted her lips to suck in breath and wiped her hands off along the fugue of flowers lolling out of the booth next to hers. In disguised applause, Grandfather sucked on his cracked wedding ring and it whistled. In the din of crowds—foreign vendors were eating free buckets of Chinese; talking corn and cable television prices in Hindi, Peruvian, English and the Gaelic that would frost out of being in coming decades—Claudia’s mother felt soiled! Like worms and sperms fled in sprouts out of her skin—she had already been perspiring from a childish coat on a warm October day. The coat became more constricting as she morally aged throughout the afternoon. Did everyone near know someone with her blood and last name had gotten pleasure out of the fishmonger? Like a bad restaurant fume that follows you home, she felt fish in the fuzz of her pillows for weeks after. She repeatedly was assessed by her own mother for her new habit of stealing lilac wedding sachets out of the linen closet to disguise the imagined odor. That day, her grandfather bought her a green, caterpillar-shaped windsock as they were exiting the gate of the market. It was a craft from the other talents of her school choir teacher. She swiftly hid it in the home trashcan above the flippant slices of pizza thrown out after her parents’ “bygone era” theme party the night before. How could Mom dress up like Audrey Hepburn and express her freedom without knowing granddad was sexual? How could Dad act like a college cad, bumping hips to “Blue Moon” while gluing model airplanes together with guests in the basement? In her modern life, because of this incident, she never brought fish into the house. She stewed at supper when a waiter suggested her daughter might like to sample the orange roughy. She gallantly planned to blame future puberty pimples on her daughter’s occasional ingestion of Filet-O-Fish while on outings with teenage sport teams.
Yet none of this determination mattered. She was locked up in the bewilderment of a psychological bugaboo. It was like sexuality and sea scenery were about to take a shit on her kitchen counter and all monies collected for perms and crackers would be left unturned until a mermaid put them in her clichĂŠd conch change purse.
Sam Martone You meet a man from a village in the south. He’s looking for warriors, heroes. You are not the legendary hero. You are just a boy looking for his mother. But there is no talk in the port town about the legendary hero’s descendant, there are no clues that might lead to your mother, so you think maybe you should help this man. Maybe this is what the world requires of you before anything else can happen. Sit next to him at the bar. He says he’ll only tell you this once, but you are not sure you believe him. He says there is a monster terrorizing his village, tearing up the crops. They don’t know where it lives. That’s why they need you: to find it, to capture it, to kill it. When he finishes talking, he takes a sip of his drink and sighs. Does I need to tell you again? Of course he will repeat everything, word for word for word, if you answer Yes, just like everyone else, just to make sure you hear it. You want to find someone who will tell you something only once, who will have something new to say every time you speak to her. Answer No, and he will leave the tavern for home. Buy sharper weapons and harder armor, stock up on medicinal herbs. Walk south until you reach the farming village. You will see the ravaged fields. The terrorcrows ward off birds but their menacing visages of straw and burlap do nothing to stop the creature. The people of the village will tell you it is part-wolf, part-lion, that it comes in the middle of the night to feed. They fear for their lives, even though it has never harmed a person. If you arrive at night, you will see the shape of the beast in the darkness, but it will run away if you get too close. Maybe it was just your eyes playing tricks on you. Maybe its ragged breath was just a wrinkle in the wind. When you have listened to all the villagers have to say, all their fear and despair, travel west, where the mayor says there is a cave, a lair, a
hideout for the beast. In the deepest depths of the cave, you find the monster, a giant cat with teeth like daggers. It is resting on a pile of hay, spoils from its nights in the village. A sword is stuck in the ground behind it. If you approach the beast, the beast will charge you. If you attempt to retrieve the sword, the beast will charge you. But look: no matter how hard you strike the beast, how many spells you cast, it will not harm you. It will defend itself. It will look like it is desperately trying to remember something. And then you remember something, or maybe you have known it all along. Take out the yellow ribbon, dangle it in front of the beast. He will catch her scent, he will lick your face, he will understand who you are, and you him; he was just a kitten when you saw him last, and you and her just children. Now he is monstrously grown, just like you, just like her, wherever she is. You and the girl with the ribbon in her hair adopted him, named him like you would a child, something like Saber or Leo or Spot. You wonder if the name you gave him affected the monster he’s become, the sharpness of his teeth, the sinews in his muscles, the dreams in his skull. You think of the girls in your dreams. You think of the girl you wanted to marry, the whitethroated swallows she caught. You think of the girl with angles cut in her hair, the cat she rescued that followed her around. You think of the girl with the stone ring on her finger, the three giant mastiffs that bayed outside her bedroom door. You think of what it must be to take care of something, of someone, to be taken care of. The great beast is purring by your legs now, and you look to the sword stuck in the ground. It is your father’s sword, which the beast must have recovered after your father’s death. He has been protecting it. He has been surviving on the vegetables and tubers from the farming village, never hurting the people. You will take him with you. He will join you on your quest. The people in the farming village, they will not like it. They will cower in fear, scream at you, as you walk through the village with the beast slinking behind you. They will give you your reward but be forever convinced you and the beast were together from the start. It’s not true, not in the way they think it is. But he was there when your father was murdered, he remembers the girl with the ribbon in her hair, he was with you before you both became the aimless wandering beasts you are. You are not the legendary hero, of that you are certain, but finding this beast here, finding your father’s sword, what are the chances? There is a tapping tangled in your veins. There are soft hands running through your hair, hands you want to hold. You are imbued with that forgotten feeling of destiny, of fate, of living in a world that will take you exactly where you need to be. You look up expecting to see someone. God, maybe, or your father, or you, you
looking down at you. Equip your fatherâ€™s sword. It will make you stronger. Continue on your quest, continue, continue, there is so much left to do.
Brian Oliu I go then you go then I wait. Little is known about anything except the ancestry that exists only in back story, in rumors spit forth in white text by old men who look the same—they always look the same. The knights, they look the same as well, but their eyes are kinder now than they were before—gray lines on fat faces looking east, west, instead of south, always south. Once we are through with everything something will be revealed other than my name, shortened by restraints in characters and character, a name rendered obsolete. I go and then you go then I go then you run. At the end of things I am asked a question which I answer incorrectly and I am killed. The colors change when I am about to die and they change when I am dead. You talk to me about leaves. You talk to me about how beautiful it is when they die. You send me a letter in the mail with dead leaves and you ask me if I miss the colors and I say yes and this is all that I say. You say that you have been waiting a long time for this time to arrive and for me to arrive. I can rule half the world, you say and I say yes. You tell me about death as quickly as possible and tell me that my deeds to date will not be lost in the shuffle of what should be a simple algorithm, that there is nothing between us but admiration and water that cannot be marked by a cartographer’s hand—hic sunt dracones— hic sunt leones; in these places elephants are born, in these places scorpions are born, here, dog-headed beings are born, and I have seen these monsters appear out of air like November, and I have moved from one square to another to see these things—no movements diagonal, all movements like the sign of the cross, eliminated here, and I have been asked for a command. Here, lions abound. Here, terra pericolosa. Here, I will walk, accosted by things I must kill, things I must gather to acquire the experience to say the words to sleep, to say the words to hurt, to say
the words to hurt more. Your ears burn when you are talked about and when you are poisoned. Fortune smiles upon me and I say yes. You tell me that my journey is over. You tell me that I must take now a long, long, rest and the colors change and the trees do not move. The water does not move. It was kind of you to save everything that I have done before you put an end to everything; to place all that I have learned in boxes and on non-volatile storage—a photograph, some text. In the past, I would sleep at the church. In the past, I would sleep at the inn. I would sleep in the castle where the king stood. I will sleep here. I will not wake up until I leave this world and reset everything with fingers, with bones on top of bones like lighthouses, like whatever is left before this idea of permanent death, this foreign concept of nothing left. I return as if nothing has ever happened and you will ask the same questions, about the leaves and what is left of this place, what remains on the ground. I built a bridge to get here. Someone built a bridge to get here. I say no and you go then I go then you heal then I wait. I go then you go and I run but cannot and you go and I go and then you go then I heal then you go. This is how it works now. You are indefinite—you are a lord, a keeper of bread. You are never the lord, the keeper of bread, the keeper of all things, the end the end an end. You are defeated and you are a dragon and you are here and I am here. I heal and you go and I heal and you go and I heal more and you go. I have done well in defeating. All shadows are banished, peace is restored, and I am carrying you, somehow through the swamp, through the mountains. There is nothing here but you, here be you. The king offers me the crown and I have no choice in the matter. I speak in words. I will leave but you know the word ‘stairs.’ You ask if you can travel as my companion. No. But you must. You ask if you can travel as my companion. No. But you must. You ask if you can travel as my companion. Yes. You are happy. The knights’ swords turn to trumpets and a song is played. This will inspire a ballet once we are through with everything; a child in red shoes will run across a stage and bow and we will clap. You are wearing makeup and you are beautiful. Once we are through with everything I will pick pieces of metal, keeping your hair in place, from your scalp like ashes, like scales, like leaves, and I will set them on a table. You cannot sleep with your hair like this; you will be stabbed in your sleep.
Jonathan Rovner Seventeen days since I’ve found myself here, in this old west, looking for whatever it is I’m always looking for. Today I find myself sitting against a low crumbling concrete wall that’s blotchy from moss and spans the road overlooking a feeble lick of creek. I’m watching the water work its way around a plastic grocery bag, a McDonald’s wrapper, a latex glove for some reason, when the sound comes from behind me—the wind stirs the blighted apples on the tree across the street, and a bruised green apple hits the road with the sound of a champagne bottle uncorking; it rolls over to me. The wind picks up, and another apple falls. That’s it, I think. That’s poetry, that’s grace. And tonight I’ll sleep well, even without alcohol. But tomorrow my grace will be warm mush splayed over blacktop, something between roadkill and applesauce.
The town is a mile end to end, and I walk everywhere. This is viewed with suspicion. I walk on sidewalks, in those few places there are sidewalks. I walk along gullies. I walk the graveled edge of Highway 60, hugging close to the guardrail. Tonight I walk to Wal-Mart and buy a cheap stereo. I keep my eyes down, dodge the obese women in their mechanized carts. Teenagers push strollers and talk on their phones in some strange patois that linguists might identify as English. I tell myself not to judge, but it proves too tempting. I judge them all guilty. My punishment for this lack of compassion? Exile, exile. Alone on a Friday night at Wal-Mart in Morehead, Kentucky. I repent to no one in particular. I browse the DVDs. I paw over cheap sunglasses. I wonder if I’m spending too much time in my own head.
The woman at the register looks fifty, but probably is closer to thirty-five. She doesn’t look at me or speak, and I’m glad of it. I transact my purchase without a word. The old man at the door, like a horse sleeping on its feet, lifts his head to mumble goodnight and droops down again. I haven’t spoken in two days. The city I left has loud silences. Here is a buried quiet, a seething calm—the slow clench of a fist inside my head. Above me, the bluegrass moon. The humidity is alive. It sounds—I swear—like a silent drum. The gnats and mosquitoes feed off it. My shirt sticks to my back. I walk along the edge of highway with the box containing my new cheap portable stereo tucked under one arm. A pick-up truck barrels past—sweaty shirtless young men huddled close together three across the cab, and as they pass, out the window, one of them yells faggot. One more thing I can’t find here: irony.
I sit through a presentation about the challenges of teaching in eastern Kentucky. The president of the university tells us progress is being made—the high school graduation rate has ticked up in the last decade. Six in ten students now graduate high school. To make sure I’m actually here, and alive, I raise my hand and ask why in the world he’s boasting about graduation rates that would barely shame Detroit. I try to phrase it politely. An awkward silence falls over the room—everyone seems embarrassed for me, as though I’ve said something rude, as though I have a stain on my trousers. The president dodges and talks about coal. I want to scream out my demons, rage against their old-time religion; I want to burn bushes in effigy. Instead I affect a vaguely embarrassed face and daydream about how nice some of the girls in the room must have looked before they turned seventeen and got knocked up and married. I don’t speak again.
There are two liquor stores on each block, but no bars. It’s more respectable to drink at home with wife and baby. All I want is a place to unwind, to cue up bad southern rock on the jukebox, to shoot a game of pool by myself. The guy at the liquor store tells me there’s an honest-toGod bar down in Clearfield. Someone got shot there last month, he says. When in Rome, I think, and drink at home.
Ten, eleven hours of sleep at night. I can’t sleep enough. I wake up grasping after dreams and their magnificent incongruities—rain from Eugene falling in Midland over a girl I met in St. Paul who’s never been south of Chicago. Taking long hikes in the desert north of Vegas with my three-legged dog Champ who’s been dead ten years. A Carolina moon that pitches back and forth across the sky on drunken legs. The Rockies have run off to Georgia in search of pecans. So this is what it feels like to be unmoored. Somewhere east of here is saltwater, and Chesapeake Bay, where a million years ago I was with friends, and a girl, and the water in late September at midnight was warm. Is the Atlantic still there? I’m not sure I can get to it anymore. And I don’t know where I am, but I’m here, in eastern Kentucky. Everybody here knows that Kentucky is an Indian word that means “the dark and bloody ground.” It’s not true, but everybody knows it anyway.
The spider at the bottom of the stairs outside my apartment is a night owl. Her presence is a comfort. I sit on the steps below her and smoke my cigarettes. She carries herself with poise, a kind of hard-earned confidence—it’s no exaggeration to say she might be an artist of the capital A variety. If an artist is she who imagines something that is not there and labors to make it so, that thing we see behind closed eyes, well, her installation deserves its own showing, or maybe a write-up in the Times. At first I decide to call her Charlotte, but that’s too easy, a little schoolmarmy. She tells me her name is Annabel, which seems just right—it has a pleasant banality to it, the kind of name that becomes more endearing each time you hear it. She acts my bartender; I tell her my troubles. And every night becomes that much less awful, because I can go home and crack a beer and say: hello, Annabel, good evening, Annabel. And how was your day today? She doesn’t always answer. Her art consumes her.
My favorite student is a mousy girl named Erica—she’s small, quiet and meek. She wants to do good. She tells me about her boyfriend, who seems to hate everyone. He’s obsessed with the lost cause, but the rest of the South remembers it differently, distinctly recalls that Kentucky was the Switzerland of that war. “He don’t like black people,” she tells me.
“Most days he don’t really like anyone. Except me. He loves me, of course.” I want to cash out my savings and send her to New Zealand for safekeeping.
In the evenings I go out walking through neighborhoods and trailer parks, find the patches of field carved out from the trees. I read through the novels of W.G. Sebald, one after another until there are none left, and there are none left to come, because he’s dead now, killed in the same car accident that took Camus and Nate West—all my favorite writers bent to death around steering wheels, broken up against dashboards. In the patches of field carved out of trees, I lie on bluegrass and watch the little black birds I don’t know the name of gliding overhead, listing lazy and gliding back, toying with gravity. I read and reread that passage from Sebald when he writes: in the summer evenings during my childhood when I had watched from the valley as swallows circled in the last light, still in great numbers in those days, I would imagine that the world was held together by the courses they flew through the air.
I send dispatches to friends back home. I’ve seen Colorado in fifty years, I write. I’ve seen Idaho in another fifty. We’ll flay the earth. First it’s the land that gets used up and then the people on it, until all you’ve got is some underfed dream your father got from his father, and your hands have gone to rust and your wife sits unmoving in front of Entertainment Tonight in her double-extra-large sweat suit and your sixteen-year-old daughter is ten weeks pregnant to one of six possible townies. Maybe I should go back to Wal-Mart and buy a TV.
Every place has its own kind of stupid. Out here it’s a baffled ignorance—the truest confusion I’ve ever seen. Where is it that we find ourselves? My students’ faces tell the story best: looks of furious blankness, null-sets of rage. Who am I to try to teach them anything? What does grammar have to do with this place, or this world? A wellcrafted thesis statement never stopped the hard steady hands of a boy from getting what they wanted. I’m a stranger here, from some foreign land that my students don’t even believe exists. If they blow hard enough, and all together, I might just dissolve into vapor. Some days I
hope they’ll try it. Erica disappears for a week. When she returns, she sits through class with her head down, her face drawn. She waits until the room empties before approaching. She tells me her little brother is dead, that he got drunk and flipped his car. As though in lieu of a doctor’s note, she opens her phone and shows me a photo. The car must have blown up, burned. A pile of junk off the shoulder of the highway; you couldn’t say what it was. The diminished returns. Not quite crying, she leaves me there. I erase the blackboard. I throw my Styrofoam coffee cup in the trash. I gather up my collated and paper-clipped papers. I do everything exactly as I always do.
I have no one to talk to about it. I talk to Annabel. I sit on the steps and drain my fifth beer and spill my guts to her. She’s a good listener, patient, and she never judges me. And just like that, I fall in love. How do we trace the routes our affections take? These things are so ineffable, after all. Tonight is the last night of September. At midnight, October sneaks in; the fog will cover the mornings, the frost will cover the fields, an angrier wind will shake the rotting apples loose from the trees and send them crashing to earth like a thousand champagne bottles uncorking all at once, and one morning, just before dawn, the spiders will die on their webs. But not tonight. Tonight I light a cigarette and crack my last beer. I stretch out on the steps with Annabel hanging above, and it’s the perfect spot to pull the camera back, the perfect time for a lively song to fill the silent spaces as the camera pulls back, and back, and the piano opens up just right, and the singer’s voice kicks in to let the audience know—with rhythm and tight couplets of easy rhyme—that everything’s going to be all right. And to my sweetheart, spinning above me, I sing a lullaby: The warmth of your love’s Like the warmth from the sun And this will be our year Took a long time to come…
Ryan W. Bradley has fronted a punk band, done construction in the Arctic Circle, managed an independent children’s bookstore, and now designs book covers. He is the author of three chapbooks, a story collection, Prize Winners (Artistically Declined Press, 2011) and a novel, Code for Failure (Black Coffee Press, 2012). In 2013 Curbside Splendor will publish The Waiting Tide, a poetry collection homage to Pablo Neruda. He received his MFA from Pacific University and lives in Oregon with his wife and two sons. Jackson Burgess writes and studies in Los Angeles, where he co-edits Fractal Literary Magazine and Red Sky: a Literary Journal. Jackson’s work is floating around places like Atticus Review, Vector Press, and Jersey Devil Press. When he’s not wandering around and talking to homeless people, Jackson paints and doesn’t wink at girls because that’s creepy. Ezra Carlsen’s fiction has been published in the journals Fiddleblack and REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters, and is forthcoming in The Southern Humanities Review. He’ll begin his MFA in fiction at the University of Oregon in the fall. Susana H. Case, a professor at the New York Institute of Technology, has recent work in many journals, including Hawai’i Pacific Review, Portland Review, Potomac Review and Saranac Review. She is the author of the chapbooks The Scottish Café (Slapering Hol Press), Anthropologist in Ohio (Main Street Rag Publishing Company), The Cost of Heat (Pecan Grove Press), and Manual of Practical Sexual Advice (Kattywompus Press). An English-Polish reprint of The Scottish Café, Kawiarnia Szkocka, was published by Opole University Press in Poland. Her book, Salem in Séance (WordTech Editions) released in January 2013. Elvis Presley’s Hips & Mick Jagger’s Lips was recently published by Anaphora Literary Press. Please visit her online, here.
Christopher David DiCicco loves his wife and children, and sometimes, writing short stories, which he does in the attic of his Canal Street home in ever-happening Yardley, Pennsylvania. He is a friend to words and small animals, and doesn’t mind that he teaches high school English or advises a small student-run literary magazine called Howler. It’s just what he does. His work has appeared in Nib Magazine’s Flash Friday feature—he currently looks forward to having two more of his flash fiction stories published this year in the literary journal, Intellectual Refuge. Kat Dixon is the author of the poetry collection Temporary Yes (Artistically Declined Press 2012) and a forthcoming novella, Here/Other. She lives alive in Atlanta and online, here. Brad Gaber has published poetry in Cream City Review, Alchemy, Fireweed, gape seed (an anthology published by Uphook Press), Front Range Review, theNewerYork Press, Taekwondo Times, Ray’s Road Review, Flowers & Vortexes (Promise of Light), Emerge Literary Journal, Generation Press, Penduline Press, Dead Flowers: A Poetry Rag, New Verse News, and Mercury. His poem “Where We May Be Found” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2013. His essays have been published in Brainstorm NW, Naturally magazine and N, The Magazine of Naturist Living. He has also published erotica in Oysters & Chocolate, Clean Sheets, and MindFuckFiction. A musician/lyricist since 1969, Brad was a 2003 Regional Semi-Finalist in the USA Songwriting Competition, and Honorable Mention in 1980 and 1981. Pilar Graham is a poet and creative nonfiction writer. Pilar’s poems and nonfiction have appeared in several journals. Pilar has served as a poetry editor for several literary journals, and she has participated as a judge for local and national events. Pilar has an MFA degree in creative writing from CSU Fresno and is an English instructor at Fresno City College in California. Brittany Harmon is a writer living in Philadelphia. She holds a BA from Temple University where she studied English and American History. Her work has previously appeared in Monkeybicycle and Dogzplot, and is forthcoming in The Philadelphia Review of Books. Lindsay Herko writes fictions and letters from Rochester, New York where Lake Ontario regularly invigorates her to throw love parades on lake piers and dress as if she is dating the land. A recent graduate of the MFA program at Notre Dame, she is now creating companion story-
songs for each of the pieces in Air Hunger, a thesis collection exploring the yearning spaces between desiring embodiment and disembodiment. Fiction exploring the possessive nature of same-sex friendships in adolescence is forthcoming in the fall 2013 issue of Caketrain, while her summer employment equals anthropologist of the night. Sarah Malone’s work has appeared in PANK, Five Chapters, The Collagist, The Common, The Awl, Open City, and elsewhere. She blogs, here. Dan Mancilla lives in Kalamazoo, Michigan where he’s in the final year of his PhD in Creative Writing at Western Michigan University. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in such publications as Barrelhouse, BULL: Men’s Fiction, The Chicago Tribune’s Printers Row, Monkeybicycle, and The Museum of Americana among others. “Prospect Arms” is a story from his book-length manuscript, All the Proud Fathers. You can read more about Dan and his work, here. Sam Martone currently lives in Tempe, Arizona, where he spends his evenings attempting to defeat the final boss of Dragon Quest V. Kristine McRae lives with her husband and daughter in Nome, Alaska, where they lead fairly exciting lives in a small town at the edge of western Alaska. This summer she’ll finish her MFA through the low-residency program at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Her work has appeared in Cirque and Ice Floe. Carrie Murphy’s first collection of poems, Pretty Tilt, was released by Keyhole Press in 2012. She received her BA from the University of Maryland and her MFA from New Mexico State University. Her chapbook, Meet the Lavenders, appeared in 2011 from Birds of Lace. She works as a teacher, freelance writer, and doula. Carrie’s poems have appeared in Columbia Poetry Review, JMWW, Everyday Genius, Gigantic Sequins, PANK, Punchnel’s, NAP, and other journals and magazines. Her freelance work appears in other venues. Brian Oliu is originally from New Jersey & currently lives & teaches in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of two collections: So You Know It’s Me, (Tiny Hardcore Press) & Level End, (Origami Zoo Press). Dragon Warrior is from Leave Luck to Heaven, a forthcoming full length collection in 2014.
Nicolas Poynter is a writer/artist living in Oklahoma City. His work has recently appeared in North American Review, Citron Review and Siren. He is currently compiling images for a photo-installation on Antigua, Guatemala. Jonathan Rovner learned to write at Walnut Hills Elementary School in Centennial, Colorado. He teaches at Morehead State University. Helen Spica is a native of Michigan, living and writing in Boston, Massachusetts. She writes both poetry and short fiction. Changming Yuan, 4-time Pushcart nominee and author of Allen Qing Yuan, holds a PhD in English, teaches independently, and edits Poetry Pacific in Vancouver. Yuanâ€™s poetry appears in 639 literary publications cross 25 countries, including Asia Literary Review, Best Canadian Poetry, BestNewPoemsOnline, Exquisite Corpse, LiNQ and London Magazine.