Justin Lawrence Daugherty
Zarah Catherine Moeggenberg Amy Pajewski
Cynthia Brandon Slocum
Anyone that follows me on Twitter knows I've been excited for issue two for some time. As we read for the issue, we knew we were going to have to decline some pretty great work. There was so much amazing work sent to us and we were truly fortunate to have so many wicked authors consider Sundog Lit as a potential home for their words. This issue is huge, too, overflowing with great poems and essays and fiction. And, that amazing cover. We're so excited to bring this to you, and we hope you're equally excited to read it. We've got amazing creative nonfiction by Alexander Belz, Kaitlyn Tiffany, David Wright. Lots of killer poetry in the issue from Rosebud Ben-Oni, J. Bradley, Chris Crabtree, Logen Cure, Mark DeCarteret, Suzahn Ebrahimian, Shannon Hozinec, Sally Johnson, Paul Siegell, Eireann Lorsung, Lauren Payne, Michael Swartz, Karrie Waarala, Eliot White. Finally, lots of earth-scorching fiction in this issue. Michelle Bailat-Jones, Leesa Cross-Smith, Delaney Nolan, Kenny Mooney, Uzodinma Okehi, Rion Amilcar Scott, Patrick Swaney, Kara Vernor, and Brandi Wells. We put this magazine together in order to make some small contribution to the landscape of literary magazines, to bring our readers literature that razes, burns, smolders. We wanted to avoid the quiet, the quotidian. I think this issue represents that desire. Justin Lawrence Daugherty Managing/Founding Editor
Rosebud Ben-Oni Rosebud Ben-Oni Rosebud Ben-Oni J. Bradley Chris Crabtree Chris Crabtree Logen Cure Mark DeCarteret Suzahn Ebrahimian Suzahn Ebrahimian Shannon Hozinec Shannon Hozinec Sally Johnson Eireann Lorsung Lauren Payne
Lauren Payne Paul Siegell Paul Siegell Michael Swartz Karrie Waarala Eliot White
Michelle Bailat-Jones Leesa Cross-Smith Kenny Mooney Kenny Mooney Delaney Nolan Uzodinma Okehi Rion Amilcar Scott Patrick Swaney Patrick Swaney Alana NoĂŤl Voth Kara Vernor
Alex Belz Kaitlyn Tiffany David Andrew Wright
Rosebud Ben-Oni For Brian Lee
She flits through the morning rounds Purse shoulder slung Like one of those gunmetal aunties Who waylay the dim sum carts At flying kitchen doors They eat so little themselves The tables large and round Not for two All things I say I loved Phoenix claws and turnip cake Dumplings dripping with chili oil I chew and chew Into broth and rubber Burning me through Our mouths were full I couldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;t tell you Until that child Asking the room
And you flick away the news We never exchange a word Or sweep the curtain between We watch Sesame Street As the old man surrenders The last dry heave Cookie Monster She whispers Rocking him to sleep Never actually eats Crumbles all for show Someone you never see Has to clean it up
Rosebud Ben-Oni Can I still rock the lingerie I want to be dirty strawberries In pristine green plastic Swell tongues Sichuan pepper burn Are we staying No we aren‘t staying Don‘t widow-makers linger Elsewhere Or is it merry-widows Doc I need more time I want to do another man in And not the one I‘m with After all isn‘t this illness Sectarian Brundlefly did pretty good Until his lover blew off his head Are there really no insect Politics Isn‘t getting there Foul play Isn‘t my half-breed
Body Still amphibian As self-purification Won‘t I too become an origin Originating Like some smooth, slimy amphibian A friend tweets Oni Means ―Demon‖ in Japanese In Hebrew Oni is a never name ―My Suffering‖ is what Jacob heard When Rachel left behind ―My Strength‖ Isn‘t all illness a form of possession And all life The last word of a dying woman I too am the second and last child I too have ravaged animal Bone and skin By the way the title of this file Questions to Ask My Doctor Isn‘t very useful is it Imagine my love looking through Dropbox when I‘m incapacitated And finding this in a mad rush My sensible, responsible love Thinking it was something pertinent And not a poem
Rosebud Ben-Oni that last Sunday I too escaped the only child and not male pelicans shot into the water the gull sky all whim I too rolled up one pant leg leaned into the sting spewing speed until there was no one but us and the sea all day they drank leather-throated guttural I fell in that deep sour mollusk sweat all day they drank and let their lines go I didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;t notice each new can opened for him who I never loved as a grandfather but my man of lank, the first
to stand up to my mother when I awoke the sun was low largest I‘d ever seen I awoke into quaking hull and him half over the edge— a terrible pull on the line es muy chica, muy joven echoes again when I force myself to watch shark finning videos only the eye speaks turns inward, regressive or up rolls a thin layer of gossamer— after eel-bodied and lobbed from the thrashing hull it sinks to the bottom blood flushing from gills— and what should never drowns— at the bow his call ―so small, so young‖ was three feet like me his chica joven he rolled her over glided his hand across her underside
I wanted her to thrash bite him not take a hand or anything but she didn‘t though she must‘ve smelled the death within him not yet known to me somewhere on the shore my mother waited hands on hips where the hell we‘d been never to know what we‘d seen that odd green eye that told him she was a night shark pupil muddled inky and amoeba-like somewhere the wind did not dare my mother‘s skirt past her knees while I leaned and she turned just slightly gills whistling on my skin and there— your pupil embryonic fin with azure halo swirling galaxy of round electric jade
how can something with skin of teeth feel tendernessâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; for you even freed were as still as you could be I wanted what was between you to be what was between you divining those depths lifting under me offering dorsal and pulling away at such speed I lose my fear of you which is my fear of everything
J. Bradley My brow, the ice in the half there glass crinkled after you asked for a dance. Hands on hips, I reminded my knees and legs to sway, scolded my chin for thinking of itself as a Cessna, your shoulder the Atlantic. I want to pretend every door frame you stand in is a photo booth, work up the middle school nerve to kiss you as the flash laps at our faces.
Chris Crabtree In one of the few buildings left with enough structure to be considered livable, we're ten to a room, on the twelfth floor. From the window I can see the Arch being rebuilt, its gray brown scrape metal glinting in the autumn sun, the middle missing from our man-made rainbow of hope and humility. While on the streets below, cars are strewn across the cracked and cratered asphalt, as if the drivers had suddenly abandoned their getaway vehicles, long since stripped clean by scavengers, leaving only the remains of skeletal frames. Nobody talks to me except for that guy who goes by his middle name, he says the people that feed us, wear those dirty lab coats to disguise their purity, but he knows an angel when he sees one. I hold up my camera toward the arch when Daniel taps me on the shoulder, points to a man on the corner waving a book, tells me if you listen close enough you can hear him yelling 9:12, 9:12, its always 9:12.
Chris Crabtree For Elliot Kastner I found the old pickup truck in a field, surrounded by overgrown weeds, the land threatening to reclaim its dull rusted metal. Inside the cabâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;the seat replaced by a rotting tree stump, the windows still solid. And since nobody cared, I set about to fixing that. I picked up a barbed-wire fence post, threw it like javelin at the windshield, thrust a spear through the headlights, then bat swung, smashing the mirrors, driver-side and passenger-side, till all the glass was shattered, reflecting in the setting sun, crunching under boots.
Logen Cure I should have pulled out my tampon and shoved your fingers inside me â&#x20AC;&#x201C; I should have forced you to feel me draining. You were the making of my womanhood. I should have made you reckon with its carnage. It would have been a small consolation for the last battle I lost at your hipbones. I wrote countless treaties you never signed â&#x20AC;&#x201C; you were so content with waging war. I should have stained your sheets. I should have turned the water brown as you washed your hands of me.
Mark DeCarteret o son of mine I sure thought I raised you better though I will still front you the money for more store bought roses another frosty one on draft night & you can name yet another storm after the both of us one that comes from the south maybe with a rain that wonâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;t have so little of us in mind or a snow that falls noiselessly on some roof we once shared
Suzahn Ebrahimian First:: [Not first as in first page/first kiss/first bite. First. As in before color, when everything from your dirty laundry to the bones of your dead loved ones were a void blackness. The first that had no choice but to be first—God‘s first. A first that is a functional Zero; the illusion of grounding, quickened escape from amnesia, containing an arduously sustained purpose.] Run [Finding somewhere else to go is an inevitability. Classify it with that mildly anxious feeling one succumbs to right before ordering food at a restaurant Classify it with the shape of plain things— negligibly soft gravities. a painful quieting. panic of certainty. a multitude of running.] Then::
[There‘s always a then. Even flowers know it, they bloom with full knowledge of their fall. Did you expect anything different? Do you have false expectation of flowers?] Don‘t go back [Not even for the maybe-life left on the subway platform, crumpled up on the bench. The rats will take care of it—or if not, a child might take great fun in tossing it onto the tracks to watch it quiver. trains will continue to devastate in your absence.]
Suzahn Ebrahimian History will forget that liberation smelled Like piss stains and was so dimly lit. Thereâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;s No sweet secret here, mystique is our Charming enemy, conqueror rejected with Marker scrawls on stalls. Equals, but Better at it; ironic homage to the second wave. A bleeding cartoon c. u. n. t. Adorns the toilet tissue dispenser to my right, itâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;s Flanked by the two rolls of soft paper like A broach nestled comfortably in cleavage. Antipathetic autonomous zone, our nauseating Paint peeled sanctuary. We pay Permanent homage to forbidden Words. Shit. Death. Sex. I. Hate. Crave. Her. We defile all sanitary Expectation. Lust//disgust Ourselves. Impregnating significance: To revolt ; Offensive maneuver. Militantly rejoicing in sordid humanity, Dedicating scribbled screams not to each other, but
To the flower fragrant tampon machines, To the drunken man who barked GIRL Politely reminding us of our obligation To be pretty To be pretty
Shannon Hozinec I am an awful cook and have left you on the burner too long. Brushing off your blackened fingertips, I begin again, from the ingredients stage. Raw underwater meat, dripping wet like you always are. Salt from your sea-teeth, sprinkled over the earth of your heart. If there were water in your smile, Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;d harvest it for the coming summer.
Shannon Hozinec If you dare to let the ladies out of their glass cases, be prepared for their swiftness, their flurry of motion as they lunge, jeweled knuckles bright on unused hands, as tiny fingers break father-shaped pieces of comb and kudzu sharp from the altar which they all surround and shove them deep into their family gardens. After that they will slow. They'll spend the evening hours practicing old languages until their tongues swell and their spit, honey-warm, fertilizes the things they have destroyed and rebuilt, the things they have quickly learned to re-love. At the end of the night, they will retire, pregnant with bellies full of bees.
Sally Johnson The woman says, how do people live here and stomps her smoke under her heel. She just wants all her clothes off and a bed to lie in, to be a woman: the woman she is underneath her clothes; the skin she is, which from the cold is now red and raw from waiting in the wind, those red lights against her, everything against her here this whole city rubbed up against her skin and peeling it away like a pumice on heel like a bad, drinking man on a woman like too many covers on not enough bed and is that too much to ask for? a bed? maybe wine, too, cigarettes, and books to be read but at least a place to sleep, a woman needs sleep, needs someone, anyone to hear her complaints, her fears, her heels on the floor and know in their skin the woman those shoe sounds belong to, the skin that woman has when she gets into bed the skin of her rough, ragged heel after being in too small shoes, red and polished as any lights of this city here. She just wants to be someoneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s woman a woman, a woman, a woman, a woman
to be more than makeup on skin to be more than complaints and click shoes to hear to be more than a body in a bed more than an open book too long to be read more than a rock stuck in some man‘s heel or some woman‘s, or some anyone‘s heal because just because she‘s a woman doesn‘t mean she can‘t be red and angry and shaking in skin in a place that‘s a place she can call a bed and not home, not here This woman says, not here, not here, not here. I want no more red lights, I want a bed She says, I want to heal all my cold, dry skin
Eireann Lorsung but nevertheless wasn't it a good first apartment? you said, and tested the strength of the banister in the hallway. Green carpet ran down the middle of the stairs. The walls had been painted so much they had a texture just from years of stuff stuck in the paint. You said, on winter afternoons in that kitchen I can see you sitting, lace curtains and all, jade plant and all, cup of tea and all, knitting. Knitting what, I said, because I don't knit and can't figure out those diagrams, it's like they're part of a special club designed to keep me out, and I don't even have any needles, but you just smiled that irritatingly mysterious smile at me and pointed out how at least one window wasn't stuck, look, the family of seamstresses living here before were using it as a final means of escape.
Lauren Payne nebraska made love to me in a thunderstorm once. nailed me down to the acres of land with thick bolts of lightning. the landscape crackled and popped while the little green farmhouse in the distance laughed at my open heart and the rain turned to steam on the 80mph asphalt. i let the sweet pounding rain run through my hair and skin and my body was a lean and steady lightning rod. i took as much as i could laughing stretching. sudden as the lightning, i was bottomless. everything threatening to swallow me had only made more room of me for the wild to fit in. i shuddered under the boundless nebraska sky remembering the sweetness of thirst. by the time i reached the garden state, i recognized my hands again.
Lauren Payne i lost my virginity to a song sung by crickets on a bare plastic bed mat in an open cabin in the middle of the woods. there were no fireworks no shooting stars just the smells of summer and sweat and cheap tequila mixed with sugary green slush. somewhere after the initial pain i noticed the pebble in the middle of my back and i played the princess and the pea in pantomime against the ceiling rafters. another human body can bear down an impressive amount of weight but itâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;s alright when the coolness of the concrete floor is putting out your fire.
Paul Siegell Mocked by the Washington monument, the hippopotamus in the Potomac River has DuPont Circle all up in a headlock. A flag with one red stripe sliced off. The question mark of body parts—A backstabbing scavenger hunt. Female bathers frolic in the pre-World War III-era to the pitter-patter of the caption : ―Tiny coffins among hundreds at quake funeral.‖ After sucking his nails to taste the dirt from underneath, a homeless man goes, ―Generally, it doesn‘t matter if I know the news or not.‖
Paul Siegell In a dream last night, the MFA mafia amputated my right arm. In a dream last night, just before the MFA mafia amputated my right arm, a woman with bad posture got me to straighten mine. Rimbaud goes, ―Ahead, there awaits the relief of security.‖ To which Baudelaire added, ―Ahead, another Friday will end with friends.‖ I gotta hit an ATM. Whaddaya think, Waffle House? Scattered, smothered, covered and diced scavenger hunt. Open 24 hours—―If I kiss your ass,‖ a woman in another booth says, ―yer gonna get cooties.‖—What are we supposed to do with all these receipts? That Dos Equis guy doesn‘t always read words. But when he does, he prefers Poetry—Stay quirky, my friends.
Michael Swartz When it‘s late and getting later, all I can do is everything but sleep. The moon is an anchor around my neck. We were rolling on the floor once and I stubbed my toe on the nightstand, left a fist-shaped bruise on your face that you said was ok because it was an accident. The moon is a pie in my mouth that tastes like bitter and sour, and I kind of like the feeling of your hands around my neck. The moon is a M_____F_____ You reflected the sun off of your pink aviator sunglasses and bit my ear from behind like I told you an ex-girlfriend used to do, and the moon is an Ass. We were speedy and we moved even faster when we took it and drove, hollering the lyrics to some Lil Wayne song. It might have been Kanye. God it‘s tiring, when it‘s late
and getting later. The moon is written in past tense. The moon is written in running mascara. The moon is a sick old man when all I need is sleep and all I want is your hand sliding up my leg and your tongue in my mouth. We were the moon, what we created, entwined in each otherâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;s limbs, like the branches of an ancient tree. The moon is the strength of your legs around my waist. Heavy, laden-down with horseradish words that burn the ears and leave the mouth open. The moon is your mouth, open. Broken silhouette of a child, and all is dark except for the face which is laughing. The moon is my bloody knuckles, the moon is the town fair. The moon is late, and getting later.
Karrie Waarala After Albuquerque the calendar yawns, an empty two week jump. Time to put away my sideshow banner skin, find hands that won‘t hammer like paying eyes, a bed that doesn‘t rattle like a bum‘s tin can from the road rumbling away beneath it. My mark is too easy to spot. His shoulders are jaunty cliffs, his belt buckle a target. I hook him with a twitch of hip, expose the expressionist replica framed by my left calf, tug at that stare determined to be both challenge and mirror. Sure enough, he ain‘t just pretty. Recognizes the artist, can‘t resist a chance to show off a mind sharp as the crease in his jeans. He is used to folding women up, slipping them into his pocket, has a spiel as slick as any barker. Bravado steams off him. His voice pours equal parts bourbon and brushed suede, he keeps seduction‘s doves snared in his throat, his mouth swaggers when he talks. But the curve of his lip is a soft wing, a subtle tell that whispers youth. I want to scrape it with my teeth like an artichoke petal. I want to grab the leash of his bolo tie and break him.
Eliot White Molten meadows are pealing themselves onto the landscapes teeming with flowers causing everything to burst into flame slowly, like a rotten thumb is cranking the flint wheel of an ancient zippo. Measure the trees and their melancholy by how high they burn, and the lakes and barn-ponds by their sizzle and whine. Know that you are only a very young man looking at the world through a newborn bastardâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;s eyes wearing very old, thick-lensed spectacles fashioned by a pair of hands you have never touched and everything you know about him is framing your eyes in thin metal, causing you to squint through the light that is concentrating in the layers of glass.
Michelle Bailat-Jones It‘s a surprise to discover the old pulley system still works and so she reaches high with both hands on the pulley rope, never mind that the rope hurts her skin, and she heaves a bucket up from the depths of the mine, tips it up onto the ground where she‘s standing, where there‘s still a little light even if she‘s slipped through the barred off entryway and hazarded down part of the dusty passage, but at least there is air here and the sure walk of escape, the bucket even looks sturdy and she knows it has carried lunches down to the men when they worked, when this old mine wasn‘t yet shuttered and off-limits, not yet called dangerous or contaminated, even if everyone knows this last part isn‘t true, this is only the story they have decided to tell, to keep the kids from coming out here on the weekends and making a mess of themselves, of getting lost down the old tunnels, of killing themselves even, which is not what she‘s come out to do. It isn‘t. Still there‘s this bucket in her hands now, on the ground at her feet, and it‘s kind of a big bucket, wide enough for her to stand in, if she scrunches her toes, and she wonders—just wonders— what it would be like to be lowered down through the darkness, with the smooth walls of the mine tunnel rushing past your face, the dirt and the rocks and the moss and bits of gold or minerals or whatever it was they were mining for, and the deeper you go, the faster you fall, and there‘s no chance there‘s really a bottom to this tunnel, because once you‘ve been falling for a while you realize that falling is just as easy as flying and so all you have to do is spread your arms out and catch the rush and you‘ll find your way out.
Leesa Cross-Smith I dyed my hair so it would look like Cherry Coke. I asked him if it worked and he said absolutely. His mouth tasted like thousand-page Russian novels I'd never read. When he kissed me, I could hear the ocean and when he was gone I heard the sound of a flagpole chain in the wind, clink-tinkling against hollow metal. He had spent a lot of time in those beautiful far-away countries Americans only hear about when something awful happens; famines, floods, earthquakes, volcanoes, typhoons. I wrote those in alphabetical order, put the vein-blue Post-It on the closet door. I told him it was to remind him not to leave again. Look at what can happen if you are there and not here. I dreamt of wolves and snow when he held himself back from me. I dreamt he tattooed his knuckles, both hands said love. Those bare fingers wrapped around my wrists, held me down and I liked it. They tapped his knees when he got restless; jittery legs bouncing on my new couch. Sometimes I thought it was from the sugar he started adding to his coffee. I asked him if he liked it black and sweet and he said absolutely. My body healed quickly, fascinated me; a dotted-line scratch from the screen door, a black-plum bruise from opening the dishwasher too fast, my fist-sized heart repairing itself on the job because I left the latch open and let in a rambling man, a midnight rider. I made extra-spicy gin Bloody Marys and we drank them naked in bed. Opened the windows although it was so cold he had started growing out his winter beard like every other man. I used that to convince myself they weren't all that different. Absolutely, I did.
Kenny Mooney These are moments of animal columns, of a churning clot of fur and teeth, coiling and writhing. These are moments of you naked, you urging; you twisting and hissing. As we lie together, you wrap yourself around me, and I feel your tongue pushing through my skin. My pores open, sweat oozes like tar from my body. I flap in black sticky moments, a sea bird in an oil spill. I hear you whisper to me, a low growl pushing through crumbling stone. It makes me crawl and hide, for corners and dark places. But you hunt me through these corridors, shadows all angles and jarring. You dance in these nights. I find you in the bedroom, a seething mass of squirming, of body parts and fluids, a tangle of so many animal calls. Jaws open and lips part, you make noises that beckon me to you, that make me shed my skin and crawl to you. In hot darkness I breathe through you and you through me. I become you and lose myself within those animal cries. On your altar I lie prostrate, under your bestial gaze. The air moves with the shuddering of muscles, with the quivering of claws. Thousands of eyes, thousands of mouths, in this pit you dig, I die. Below this concrete firmament, so grey and vast, you bruise the air with barking. The hissing, the snarling, the lowing of cattle, I see the black field of your body burst open with the thronging of thick spider legs. Now I stammer, I collapse and drain into floorboards. I fall to the ceiling and cry. Your skin and fur, soft and bristling with electric, you move through rooms sniffing at the air. I see dirt and filth, the grease of creatures, the thick strings of salivating maws. It drips from the furniture, it pools on the floor. I smell the rank sex of animal glands and I shower in bleach. Such a blur of color and noise moving through the carpet and doorways. Such intoxicating scents that fill the air, fill my lungs, make me
gasp. How can I tell you that my own body disgusts me, that when we are together I see only a coupling of beasts? Inside I want you, inside I seethe. But after, I feel unreal and I move through walls, I shade against plaster as I watch you uncoil. These are moments of marching. Of legs moving. These are moments of dying stars. Of blackness falling.
Kenny Mooney This city swells like the belly of a dead pig. It breathes like a drowning man. Air dirty and clotted with abandonment drifts through the arterial streets, pushing between the grey rot of apartment buildings, once proud symbols, now crumbling dry in the amber of the sun. He stands at the bedroom window, hands pressing against glass. He pushes himself against things all the time, constantly testing their solidity. He pushes his tongue against the roof of his mouth, against the back of his teeth. He pushes the palms of his hands against one another. He pushes so much that he vibrates, he hums. Things around him rattle, the air shifts in awkward phrases. He looks at the dead city and feels like a dead man. He stands and watches so long, buildings collapse before him, they fall in slow motion and fill the bedroom with their rumbling songs. Time moves in glacial phases in this city, with a low sun that smoulders and coils in a sky cast in copper. The man watches shadows move long across empty streets, and he remembers playing in them as a child, running and laughing. Those times are echoes now, sometimes reverberating around his room, sending his head into a spin. Sometimes, as he stands watching, he catches glimpses of shapes moving through the dust and decay, blurs that remind him ofâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; But he distrusts his eyes these days. These long days, they seem to never end. He thinks hard. When did the sun last go down? When last did night embrace this place? He knows he must stand watch over all this ruin. He must stand watch and wait for the sun to set. Only then will he return to the bed, where the corpse of his wife lies rotting, where her skin turns to leather in the light. Where the flies have long since left, and all that remains is the shell of the woman he loved.
She died a very long time ago now, he thinks. When she died, everything died, her cancer spilled out like a black silk. All the color drained out of the world, washed away by a cruel rain that pummeled the earth for weeks. A rain that became a hail of dirty ice pellets. A hail that became a black acidic snow, settling on the city and slowly eroding its skin. All he could do was stand there at the window, stand there and watch the world dissolve before his eyes, never able to turn and face the room, to face the bed and what lay there. Sometimes he is sure he sees her, down there in those wide boulevards, spinning, dancing in the summer sun, grass green around her ankles. Smiling. She always loved the sunshine. When he blinks there is nothing but the rust and the wreckage, and he breathes the rank air of a city decomposing. Now he thinks of their children, the ones that came before, and those after, the ones that crawled white-skinned and blind from the bed behind him. She was dead by then, he was watching the city twist and bloat. But they kept on coming. They kept on squeezing themselves from her dead belly. He wept standing at that window, listening to the wet sloughing of skin, the slithering and hissing of those things; their pathetic mewling, their cries begging to him. He should have turned, he should have faced them and put an end to them and their desecration. But how can a father murder his own children? And so he stood there, weak, unable to bring himself to do what he knew he must, pushing them out of his mind, staring into the glowing arc of sky, holding the image of the sun in his heart. Now he knows those creatures infest the city below him. He catches their inhuman wailing slapping sick and wet from building to building, imploring him to love them. They breed down there, in the sewers below the streets, away from the light that hurts their useless eyes, that burns their pale skin. They shit down there in the underground. It seeps into the foundations of the city, working up through porous rock, through the concrete. He stands there and sees the city turning slowly black with the filthy stain of his progeny. How many generations now? How many inbred sons and daughters of his sons and daughters? What a population. What a family of failure now. When the sun sets, he thinks, they can have this city. When the dark comes, they can emerge and rebuild it, maybe. He is very tired; eyes heavy. He cannot feel his legs. He can hear his wifeâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;s voice calling him to bed, telling him to let it go. He knows it is his mind playing tricks on him, deceiving him again. If he could only turn
around, then he would know for sure. The sun wouldnâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;t go down in the few moments that took, would it? A glance back? Just to be certain. He presses the palms of his hands together, and slowly begins to turn his head away from the city. Away from the sun.
Delaney Nolan We was six miles from the shoe tree when we pulled over and you vomited ribbons right there on the highway. I saw you wipe your mouth, eighteen-wheelers shaking the earth, and you spat confetti, wiped the silver paste on your denim jeans. Carnival’s no good for me, you said. Sure, I said. I waited in the passenger seat till you were done. You swung back onto the hot leather with a big sloppy grin, kissed me while I turned my cheek to you. We had three hundred miles to go to Louisville. I could still smell her perfume on you. Crawled up through the air vents like a roach. Making me sick. And you still had war paint on your jawline, your eyelids, smeared across your cheek. I‘d showered it away. Standing in the cold water to come clean. Looking at the drain. You‘d been out on Dauphine, whooping along, shaking the hands of witches, learning palmistry. When you got back to the hotel room, you held in your hands a snow globe. It’s a crystal ball, you slurred. I got the future. Right here. It’s right here in my hand. Before we left in the morning, sour-mouthed, raw-eyed, you searched the room for it. I‘d seen it gone rolling under the bed and I didn‘t say anything. Didn‘t say a word. Crossing into Mississippi, you stick your hand out onto the dash and say, I got there first! I give you that stone-eyed stare. You act like you don‘t notice. It‘s that mucus heat in the midday and I can‘t hardly stand to have the windows down but you need to smoke another cigarette, rolling it with your numb and idiot hands while your knees steer the wheel. I
wait for us to crash. You lick the paper, twist it up, reach around for a light. You got a match? You say it without taking your eyes off the road. I hand it to you, careful not to touch. Many miles of quiet then. The exhalation of smoke into wind. Why you takin’ this out on me. When you speak, you speak into the windshield. I’m not takin’ nothin’ no place. I know you angry. Sittin’ over there huffin’ and puffin’. Yeah. So? Outside goes the low marshy ground, them houses on stilts. What you want me to do about it? It’s the Mardi Gras. Yeah. It’s a carnival. I know it. And then we quiet like that settles it. You put your hand on my thigh. But my heart‘s out on the side of the road. My heart‘s in the Mississippi heat. My heart got left back in the neon once you stumbled home with a bourbon mouth, singin‘ for Trixie, and didn‘t even have the decency to sleep in the bathtub but crawled right up next to me all cozied close like I was still your home. We come up on the sign for Alabama. And I know you eyeing it. I know you gonna put your fist out and reach the new land first. So I roll down the window. I take your crystal ball from where I snuck and hid it, zippered up in my dirty luggage. And seat unbuckled, I lean half my body out that car and I heave, throwing the brilliant globe into the wind, and I see you swerve as the circle what holds our future crosses into what lies before us and shatters, splits up into pieces of light, scatters along right there on the road.
Uzodinma Okehi Back then I was all about a girl, Kate Simmons. Her pink jean jacket I‘m sure I‘ve mentioned elsewhere. My inner life, a blur. I‘d started soccer at age four, with my father. When I was eleven I played with adults, with out of shape doctors, lawyers . . . When I was twelve I played soccer with out of shape doctors and lawyers. Meanwhile my suburb was a blur. Columbians, Jamaicans, tons of African guys. My father is Nigerian. I was twelve. I gave my heart to Joely Davis. A crunched-up paper valentine, but I was serious. I like you. Meet me outside after homeroom, the willow tree—shit! Meanwhile my father played with out of shape doctors, lawyers, with middle-aged Africans, Jamaicans. Also college guys, semi-pros. Among them, he was better. Fluid. Sunlight across water. Meanwhile it grew back, but one of my nuts got smashed in a pick-up game with Mexican kids. I played with adults but I‘d be matched against the other kid there, a Mexican, or he was at least Spanish. The tail of hair down his neck that seemed ridiculous. But that was us, Dos Titans, and our fathers, what did they think? After twenty minutes his own father would be spent, finished, over on the sideline drinking beer. And what do you think I dreamed about? Because there was no answer, never, to any of those notes. Sunlight over water, there‘s a sound to that, but I was serious. I played soccer with adults, with my father. Meanwhile, my own separate world with my gang of pals, like soldiers, and on foot we roamed, roved through those neighborhoods that were all connected. St. Andrews. Old Club Road. Steve Branham‘s back yard, through to the woods. The construction ditch, cut across the golf course, still no
answers. The train tracks, the Amaco for snacks. Pineville plaza. Around the back, those two-story dumpsters . . . I was deep in love with Emily Ogburn. Call it the problem with circles, like parables, and the same thing, no answer. Seemed like sheâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;d always be looking at me. Also Lisa Hutchenson, Beth Watson. Also those Columbians, maybe two families, but with the awning, the stove set up; tables, little kids, toddlers, Hi-fi, the Salsa music, top volume. What else? That shimmering, silvery sound. Iâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;d be on the field, running around, lost in the smell of that food frying.
Rion Amilcar Scott My friend Jerome sold so many wolf tickets that anyone who really knew him only listened to about half his bullshit. When we were back in junior high, he used to always say he was faster than Rabbit. Talking that shit loud and bold, Y‘all niggas go on about Rabbit like he Hermes, he used to say. I done beat that nigga over and over. Jerome was a fast dude, but wasn‘t no one beating Rabbit. Rabbit was legend. Once he outran a Kenyan nigga we all called Lou. Lou was on the District Central High School track team. And everyone knows about the Kenyans. He did this as a sixth grader while Lou was in high school. We called him Rabbit for a reason. But Rabbit moved away. Kansas or some shit. This made his name ring with power. Nothing boosts a kid‘s reputation like moving away. Then all his friends can make him into whatever they want him to be. Rabbit already had the name. We made him out to be the biggest toughest nigga anybody had ever seen. It‘s a given that he was the fastest, but he also became the coolest. The most cut. He was the first to lose his virginity. To a married woman no less. Got a nut and jumped out the window just as her husband was walking into the room. I can‘t say that that actually happened. Can‘t say that it didn‘t. Most of those stories were Jerome‘s. I lost track of what was true and what was exaggeration a long time ago. One nigga from the Northside claimed he had beat up Rabbit, but we knocked that one down. Took three of us to beat his ass. But I‘m being sincere when I say I grew tired of Jerome‘s wolfin‘. After we smacked up that Northside nigga, it was like Jerome got out of control with it. If a girl was around he had to come with a Rabbit story. He‘s beating Rabbit in races. Wrestling him down to the ground. Fighting the rapids to save Rabbit from drowning. He‘s helping Rabbit bound from the window after fucking married woman after married woman. He‘s bullying Rabbit. And then there was this unbelievable bit of bullshit one day.
Zanetta is sitting with us by the basketball court after school and he‘s talking about the wolves. Who you telling about some wolves, he said. Them fuckers is vicious. See this cut? He pointed to a jagged scar on his forearm. Got it fighting with them wolves down on the Southside.Me and Rabbit. You tangled with them dogs, Zanetta asked. Dogs? Naw. What I got in my yard is a dog. Them things is wolves. Almost ripped Rabbit limb from limb. I had to finesse it so he could live and run another day. It was all muddy—must‘ve rained for days—and two of them wolves was hanging out by the rec center. What was they doing, Zanetta asked. Smoking cigarettes. Playing poker. Fuck I look like, a canine expert? They was doing what wolves do. Whatever that is. And whatever it was, they was minding their own business and here come this nigga Rabbit talking about ruff ruff and shit. Uh oh, Zanetta said. This fool Rabbit is always doing something crazy. Wish I could have met him. Y‘all never stop talking about him. Wish I could have met the Rabbit Jerome is talking about too, I said. I don‘t know a Rabbit that‘s dumb enough to fuck with wild dogs. Oh, you ain‘t know him like I did, Jerome said. He was barking and barking. I was like, shut up, nigga. Those dogs ain‘t like home dogs. They ain‘t in awe of you ‗cause you know how to run fast. They got four legs; they run fast too. He wasn‘t listening. Just there ruffing it up. Of course they start to notice and they get to trotting toward us, but they do it all sly—trotting sideways and shit—so we don‘t notice at first. They get close and they crouch down, just looking at us. I said: Oh shit. And then I start running and Rabbit start running and they behind us. Of course, I‘m out ahead. Jerome yelled and gesticulated. The way he jerked around and screamed—like an epileptic chicken—it drew attention from the people around the basketball court. Games slowed down to watch. I didn‘t like the attention as much as he and Zanetta did. She touched her hair and shook her head. It seemed all eyes turned in our direction. Finally, that dog grabbed a hold of Rabbit‘s leg, Jerome said. I had half a mind to leave his ass. I‘m a good friend through so I ran back to him. I could see it was biting down hard. Jerome chomped his teeth. So I watched it for a little bit, he continued. Had no idea what to do. Then I kicked that wolf in the stomach. It was a dumb thing to do, but it was either that or watch him chew off my friend‘s leg. I kicked and
I kicked and I kicked. I kicked that thing dead, girl. Then I helped Rabbit up and we bandaged him up at my house. What happened to the other dog, Zanetta asked. Oh, I told you, it ran away when everything started, he replied. Wait, I thought you was telling us about how you got the scar on your arm, Zanetta asked. And was this before or after Rabbit broke his arm playing baseball with you? Uh, yeah, all this happened long after that. His arm was healed. But my arm— He‘s a lie, called a deep voice from behind. It was Lou. His hair was braided into neat, thin rows. He wore an Adidas tracksuit and a gold link bracelet on his bony left wrist. Lou hadn‘t made much of his life since high school. The track scholarship never came through and he spent all his time smoking cigarettes and sometimes playing ball at the park. Y‘all young boys in love with that faggot, Rabbit. All you kids are a bunch of faggots. Man, Jerome said softly to Zanetta. This nigga Lou ain‘t been the same since Rabbit outran him. All big and bold and now you got the mumbles, Lou said. Speak up Jerry. My name‘s Jerome. Tell everybody about Rabbit, boy. Tell them all about the times I beat Rabbit. You want to talk about the one time he beat me when I was sick. But you don‘t want to talk about the ten times I left him wheezing. That boy was only fast to suckers like you. Zanetta looked at Jerome. Everybody looked at Jerome. Lou wasn‘t the toughest dude in the neighborhood, but he was known to be erratic. A good quiet kid in high school, but adult Lou was a piece of work. After all that wolfin‘, all that talk of Rabbit being better than Lou and Jerome being better than Rabbit, thus better than Lou, Jerome couldn‘t even think of backing down now. You beat Rabbit, Jerome said, with a mix of confidence and shakiness in his voice. Never happened. Oh yeah? Lou said, walking toward Jerome. With a swift motion, he reached out and laid a hard slap onto Jerome‘s face. It was the type of slap that echoed against the blacktop. I watched Lou‘s gold bracelet dance and jangle on his wrist. Jerome screamed and cradled his cheek. Even though it was a powerful slap, Jerome‘s bawling seemed wildly out of order. Then crimson waterfalls poured between his fingers and doused his shirt. So much blood so all of a sudden.
Maybe your boy Rabbit, Junior will stop talking so much shit, Lou said to me and then he and his entourage of teens trudged slowly from the basketball court, disappearing into the trees that surrounded the park. Someone said Lou had palmed a blade between his fingers, which he had passed to one of his guys as part of a quick handoff after the slap. I didn‘t see all that, but something had to account for all that blood. In the weeks that followed, it seemed like that bandage would never come off Jerome‘s face. Soon, Zanetta stopped talking to us and a month or so later when we saw her with Lou, it became clear why. Jerome still talked shit, but not as loudly. It became unspoken that there were certain things we didn‘t talk about, among them: Zanetta, rabbits, Kenyans and wolves.
Patrick Swaney He sent her framed flowers from the border, pressed Alaskan cotton and forget-me-nots on a velvet background. "Because they reminded me of the way you play piano," he wrote. He went to work photographing the topography from the tops of bright mountains and stayed safe. "Marry me," he wrote. She was a beautiful piano player. "Every day we collide with other lives and think almost nothing of it," she wrote. She liked to go out to the Chicago train yard where she would imagine a silent movie playing inside of each car that could be carried away from the cluster of tracks through open country and clear skies. "Yes," she wrote. She waited and he returned without any of war and they had a child and hung the framed flowers in the nursery and let their lives spill together. When they were not nearly old, she stopped playing piano and a quiet settled on their home, papery and black and white. "What do you propose now?" she asked. He pressed her hands between his. "Oh, I know," he said. He thought nothing of the gentle pressure of the future like a train lost in the middle of the country. "We'll just keep on together unscathed."
Patrick Swaney The wives fill thermoses with warm soup and line them up by the door for the husbands. The husbands work the night shift at the blanket factory. They collect their thermoses and carpool. One drives while the others try to guess the night‘s soup. It‘s always the same, homemade creamy cauliflower, but they guess anyway and it‘s always a pleasant surprise. A cold winter means good business and the blanket factory hums with the smell of freshly pressed blankets. The husbands trade their thermoses for hardhats and safety goggles and punch timecards. They work in the finishing section of the baby blanket production line. Baby blankets are plucked from the slow-moving conveyor belt and inspected for flaws: edges, seams, loose threads, stitching, embroidery. Then hand folded and individually wrapped. The husbands have no babies of their own; they are not fathers. The wives are not yet mothers. The husbands do careful, tender work; each wrinkle smoothed twice, each fold delicate and crisp. They wait for the whistle and the surprise of warm homemade creamy cauliflower soup. But the whistle doesn‘t blow. Instead it is the fire alarm. The blanket factory is on fire. The blanket factory will burn down. The husbands are reluctant to leave their station before their break, but they do. They are reluctant to leave without the soup, but the factory fills with smoke. The wives are awake and waiting and, as the factory blazes, the cold night becomes warm, not exactly like a blanket or even soup, but just warm enough.
Alana Noël Voth Jon cried over his gerbil when it got sick. ―Live,‖ he said. ―Promise.‖ The gerbil died. He showed me, limp thing in one hand. Carl was crayons, dinosaurs, and pinto beans on his shirt. Always butting me in the head. George‘s Saint Bernard knocked me over every time I went to his house. Donovan, with white-blond hair, wanted to play doctor. Neighbor girls, of course. In fourth grade, Mr. Merry‘s class, we could go in the ―book hut‖ and read to each other. Paul had the biggest blue eyes in the world. He said, ―You like Transformers?‖ I said, ―What?‖ Dad‘s favorite thing was play-boxing. We play-boxed all the time. Jack said he had two motorbikes, but when I got to his house he peeked through the door then said he couldn‘t come out. His father yanked the door open. ―What do you want?‖ Scared me enough I took a step back then fell off the porch. In eighth grade, Green Day was all Gavin talked about. This other guy said, ―That‘s fag punk.‖ I took this creative writing class in ninth grade. We read Portrait of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. This guy, Leo Morris, sat in front of me. I fixated on the hair on the back of his neck.
You heard all the stereotypes so tried to avoid them. Limp wrist, no. Lisp, no. Earrings, no. Eye makeup, no-no. Fighting was heterosexual male. I punched Will Jones in tenth grade. When I ended up in the principal‘s office Mom said, ―What are you so mad about?‖ Dad was happy. Locker rooms were tough. Later, Mom would ask, ―What happened to Darla-Janet-Becky-Lacy?‖ I‘d say, ―I don‘t want anyone tying me down. I‘ve got college to think about.‖ Mr. Darcy, the drama teacher, told me after class one day, ―If you want to talk to someone, I‘m here.‖ He put his hand on my shoulder. Limp wrist. I shrugged him off. Flamer. Girls said, ―You look like Ryan Gosling.‖ That guy was hot. At prom, me and this other guy, Jason Keebler, ended up in a dance off. Everyone was cheering. If they only knew what I was thinking. How to ditch Lacy Ryan, first of all. Be careful when you get drunk with Jason night of graduation. You‘re tempted to say something. When? When? When? College was the place. Academics were liberal. Except by then, I‘d cultivated a particular image. Girls liked me. I could pull it off. You always figured you could tell Mom. Dad though? Fuck. They were divorced; he wasn‘t around much. Convenient. College guys never suspected anything, especially at parties. I walked in on Kyle Miller taking a piss and he turned around, fly open, grinning. I wasn‘t a virgin. But a virgin still.
Gus. Gus. Gus. He had green eyes and listened to David Bowie. Good at math too. Smart. Blond pubes. My first cock. I didn‘t cry afterward. More like delirium. Or gratitude. True love. I wanted to fall asleep every night in the crook of his arm. Broad chest. Guy stink. Pit hair. Bliss. I broke it to Mom over dinner. She said, ―I love you, Kris.‖ Feel good moment. ―I can‘t wait until you meet him.‖ I took a big bite of lasagna. She said, ―Don‘t tell Dad yet.‖ Relief. A fucking bummer. At an amusement park, Gus got sick after the roller coaster. I put my arm around him. ―Okay?‖ He stood straight then stepped back. ―I‘m fine.‖ But he weaved a little, so I put my arm around him again. He said, ―People can see.‖ I thought he meant puking. Gus had reasons for breaking up with me. Reason #1 . . . Gay panic. I got drunk at a party, and there was Kyle Miller. By then, everyone knew. Kyle went, ―Don‘t look at me, faggot,‖ and I went, ―Admit you‘re flattered.‖ See, drunk, every guy in the room seemed like a closet homo. Not to mention, I looked like Ryan Gosling. Shit. Sorry. What was it about lost love, feeling dumped? You behaved recklessly. You were tough. They surrounded me. Five guys. Kyle hit me twenty-nine times in the face and head. I didn‘t remember walking away from it. I tried Gus first because I forgot we weren‘t together. Some chick answered his phone. Mom didn‘t answer either. I got scared then. When Dad answered I said, ―Can you pick me up?‖ but said it three times because he couldn‘t understand me. I waited puking beer and crying blood on the pavement. Head battered. Other stuff. When I felt headlights on me, I remembered Matthew Shepard. Dad jumped out of his truck.
Kara Vernor My mom thinks Magnum P.I. is a babe. She likes his dimples and mustache, and the red Ferrari doesn‘t hurt either. Not that a car is a body part, but it helps, like the jeans my mom says slim her hips. I look at him and see a bunch of hair bushes: two above his eyes, one under his nose, a thicket on his head and chest. I watch the show because my mom makes popcorn and we drink Coke and burp. After a few weeks I realize Magnum looks like my dad, except my dad is balding and stockier, and he shakes when he lifts anything heavy. My dad is private too, though not very investigative. He says there‘s a reason I flunked Home Economics: Attention. And why I dance to the Best of Blondie with the curtains open: Attention. But he doesn‘t ask; he doesn‘t get to the bottom of it. There are no dimples when he says it because he‘s not smiling. Back at my mom‘s I mention the resemblance, but of course she disagrees one hundred percent. When it comes to my dad, she always exaggerates her percents. We keep watching and I start to see a wisdom in the show, especially when Magnum discovers his Vietnamese wife is alive after years of believing her dead. He tries to save her from her current lover who is evil and also Asian, but she disappears in the end, before Magnum can drink Mai Tais with her or fight with her or know what her hips look like out of her jeans. It is true love always. After that episode I begin experimenting with tragedy, mostly on the weekends at my dad‘s house. I hang around the 7-Eleven long enough for him to think I have been abducted. I would have thought I had been abducted. I dabble in bulimia and then in bullying, but neither feel very good; I don‘t stick with them for long. I sneak liquor from his liquor cabinet but must be good at pouring only a sip from each bottle because I don‘t get a talking to.
It is not until I puke the liquor cabinet mix onto his living room carpet that he approaches me with any sense of urgency. He grabs me by the shoulders and rushes me to the deck where I continue all over the bougainvillea. Later I remember how he rested his hand on my back as I sweated and heaved. It wasn‘t true love always, his hand hadn‘t stayed for long, but I remember it felt warm and strong. I remember I felt steady. I‘m watching even closer now, taking notes, planning bigger. Alcohol is kids stuff, really. I‘m thinking shark attack or helicopter crash. I‘m thinking high-speed car chase. I‘m thinking this house I am sitting in, burning.
Brandi Wells Sal is planting kids in the garden. Not children. Not that. But baby goats. The squirming sort. The sort that can‘t do much for themselves. So he plants them. Digs holes for each of their legs and packs them in hard with dirt. A mix of red clay and topsoil. The stuff really sticks, really sticks to the goats, sticks to the ground, does the job. Their legs are muddy all the way up to their bodies and they‘re shivering, cringing. White fur is stained and stiffening in the cold air. There, there he says to the smallest goat as it struggles to free its hooves. Strains its neck up and up and up. Really strains. Really puts the effort in. Body tensing and relaxing, but mostly tensing. Muscles grinding against bone in the struggle to be UP. There, there, Sal says. The rows of kids he waters each day, though they cower and lean away from him. Small bodies struggling, yearning for a scamper, a bound, a way to create some distance between themselves and Sal. He cradles their heads, but they twist away, neck muscles straining, bodies inclining, chests and faces tilted toward the ground. He pours water and fertilizer on them, soaking them good, but they aren‘t growing. He doubles the fertilizer. Doubles the water. But still, they aren‘t growing. Just getting wet. And then wetter. A sopping mess. Goats barely held together, muscles relaxing, ligaments loosening, cartilage sanding itself away. Some of the kids stop moving. Stop struggling. Their bodies slacken and they hunker down on the ground. Their eyes close. Their necks loll. Heads rest on soil. Sometimes their rears are still elevated, nearly at waist level, but they aren‘t going anywhere. Sal shoves one and it topples to its side, unresponsive. Good, he thinks. Resigned, he thinks. Relaxed. Good. But the goats never grow. They lie there and their bodies curl in on themselves each day, so they‘re shrinking, taking up less room.
Almost unnoticeable, unless you knew they were there, knew what to look for. Soon, the size of watermelons. Then, cantaloupes. Soon, grapefruit. Oranges. Lemons. Eventually, cherries. But, of course, cherries have pits. Sal pulls meat from the freezer. Not the kids, but another goat, a bigger goat, a stranger goat. But now, it‘s just meat. It hardly matters what sort of goat this ever was. He untapes and unwraps butcher paper from an armload of ground goat meat and leaves it on the counter to thaw. Piles of it, crusted with ice, brick-hard. He comes back after a few hours and the meat has softened, become pliable. Melted ice, now water, has leaked all across the counter and is dripping onto the floor. He cradles a lump of meat in his hands, soft and red and ribboned with white fat. Glossy. Shining. I can do something with this, he thinks, packing it into one hand and then the other. He remembers that goat, that strange goat, its legs bending unnaturally. The way it‘d lean back on its haunches, haunches that shouldn‘t move or bend that way. Bones rotating, hips spinning; goats shouldn‘t bend that way. Its face, more expressive than a goat face ought to be. Creases in the wrong places. Movement in the wrong places. Unnatural. Eyes shaped all wrong, set in the face all wrong. The mouth opens and it‘s all wrong. A monster, looking at him, imploring him. But what? What did it want? How could he abide that creature? How could he have acted in a way disparate to his nature? Wasn‘t he just doing what his body and mind were created to do? Should he be accountable? Should he? For acting as muscle memory required? He shapes the ground meat into four equal piles and builds these piles into legs. Molds them with artistry he didn‘t know he had. His fingers stick to the meat and he dips them in cold water and then flour. The meat snags under his nails, but he works to be careful. Smooths the meat into columns and presses them in, compact. He remembers that strange goat. Strange. The way it stumbled and squawked, scrambling toward him. He tops the legs with an oval, a body, he thinks, and shapes it with the force of his hands. Presses body to legs. The legs, unsteady, can‘t support the body. Wobbling and then teetering, it falls over and loses its shape, turns to muck, returns to its blob, formless state. He works the meat, reshaping it, and then rights it. It stands again, almost a goat, but falls over. He rights it, but it falls over. Rights it. Over.
This won‘t work, he thinks and leaves the meat on the counter, dripping down the edges of the cabinets below, falling in occasional clumps onto the floor. Sal takes his gun, greased and unclean but still working, definitely still working, and walks a few miles from the house, through the woods and out across the clearing to where the wild goats are, grazing and standing and ambling around slowly. Goats that aren‘t really doing anything, not really serving any purpose. But they‘re serene and calm, chewing grass, stretching their necks out, looking up at the sky, sometimes at the ground, shifting their bodies slowly into an ever rotating pattern. Sal holds up the gun, squints, and shoots. A gentle plop, plop, plop as they fall over. A few of them leap up and seem to recognize death midair, bodies going limp, necks sagging as they drop hard to the ground. They splay awkwardly across the grass and dirt kicks up into the air, as though to take their bodies‘ place. Some of the goats buckle down on their knees and sway, dizzy, unsteady, before their bodies connect solidly with earth. The others scatter, making for less open ground, looking to hide, get away from the fire, the heat, the loud noises. Sal leaves the dead out there and wonders if a goat would eat another goat. Are their teeth made for this? Are their digestive tracts equipped to process such meat? Is there a will to survive? If a creature won‘t resort to cannibalism for survival, did it even want to be alive? Where‘s the urge? Where‘s the need? Teeth that can tear through wire coil fencing can probably cut through fur and skin, no problem. Maybe they‘ll rot out there, he thinks. They‘ll turn rancid and maggot-filled before the live goats have a chance to consider this obligatory consumption. By the time the goats relax enough to amble back to their dead brothers, the meat will be ruined, inedible. But no, Sal thinks. Of course birds will pick at them, swoop down and tear at the meat, ripping it clean from bone, until the dogs come. Wild dogs, the things that aren‘t quite dogs. Wolves, coyotes, foxes. Nearly dogs. Dog-like at least. Yipping and pulling. Desperate and whining. Sal wonders how long before the bones are clean. Flies will probably give them a polish. A sheen. Leave them sparkling. And then maybe he can do something with them. Maybe he‘ll come back out here and gather all the bones in a few weeks, once he‘s sure the flesh and organs will be gone, digested, proof of life eradicated. Blood long dried into the earth, a recording of what was. A recording of what lay on this earth.
Sal dreams goats. He dreams his kids are growing, turning goat. Agile fuckers and strong. Towering in the garden until they‘re strong enough to break root from soil, leaving dried up earth behind. A crunching, an unnatural umbilical cord snapping. They are defying a gravity that ought to have existed. They‘ll come into the house. Come right inside and into the kitchen. Inside the kitchen will be the goat he made of goat meat. The unnatural goat, bending and cocking its head, looking, looking, looking. This goat will rise up, become animated. Hello brothers, this goat will say. Sal could never make the meat into a goat, but still, it will be a goat, formed of its own hooves. This goat will be a leader, not a kid, but a grown goat with experiences and an agenda. An agenda. The kids will stand around the goat, their eyes gleaming, their chests puffed out, fur bristling. Legs strong. Breathing deep. They will listen to this goat. This goat will teach them. This goat will inform them. An education is important. They are here and they are ready to be guided. They are ready to fulfill their potential. They are nearly at the tipping point. Sal tries not to think, army. He tries not to think, coup. He tries to sleep. The room is dark and warm and comfortable. His bed is warm. His pillow, soft. His body relaxes. His breaths deepen and even out. Sal wakes worried. He is sure they‘re in the kitchen. He listens to see if he can hear the scuffing of hooves. The banging of goat horns. The breaths anticipating a charge. The readying of a troupe. They‘re probably in rows, shoulder to shoulder. Do goats have shoulders, he wonders. Elbows? Knees? They have enough. They have enough, he decides and he is sure they‘re in the kitchen. These goats are well informed. These goats are meticulous. These goats are systematic. Sal has seen the graphs. Mathematic goats, drawing fractals with their hooves, darkly-inked hooves. They are well acquainted with charts and slope and inverses. They have the equations memorized. These goats bear down. Sal is under them. Sal is saying no and wishing for hands where there are hooves. Wishing for a face where there isn‘t one. Longing for smooth skin where there is fur. A nose, a nose, and there‘s no nose at all. No nostrils. It‘s all closed up, sealed over with an unnatural substance, something like plastic, but unyielding.
The goats press hooves to Salâ&#x20AC;&#x2DC;s face. A crushing. A breaking. Crunching. Bone to dust. We have been wanting to do this for a long time, a goat says. Such a long time. We have been waiting, you know, just waiting. For you. I know, Sal thinks. I know.
Alex Belz 1. Realize Why the Wood Must Be Salvaged, Realize What You Must Make You‘re a writer, invited to read your work at a hotel. A friend tells jokes at your expense to introduce you. It‘s brilliant. There are costumes. Your girlfriend sits next to you, holding your hand. The story you are reading tonight is the story of your mother. She died of cancer when you were fifteen. You fade out for a second and that‘s when he tells the Joke. ―…the kind of guy who builds a table for the woman he loves and she still dumps him.‖ Laughter. Your girlfriend burns. You can feel it in her hand. She‘s gone electric. It was true. Kind of. You did build the table for her. She did dump you. Kind of. Everything was so uncertain. You couldn‘t even say definitively at that moment if you were together again, or still apart, or some impossible hybrid of the break-up/stay-together dichotomy. Though you definitely felt together, in that way people are together when they know it‘s going to end and they don‘t know how to stop it, so they cling to each other like there‘s a bomb in the room and there‘s only ten seconds left to live. Minutes earlier, you were nervous about reading. Your girlfriend pulled you into a side room and said, ―For the next minute, we are not going to think about you reading that story. We are instead going to walk like robots.‖ And so you walked like robots. Back and forth in that little room, laughing at each other, pausing at the end: a kiss.
The story of the table starts with her calling you from 400 miles away. Maybe her parents have cancer. Maybe her friend had just died in an auto accident. Maybe her mother just went through chemo, wears a scarf around her head. So maybe she calls you to tell you that her entire family wears scarves on their head to support her mother because a person should not have to wear scarves on their head alone. Maybe you pick up a scarf, think about wearing it, think about telling her, I‘m wearing one, too! But the gesture would be hollow, because she would never see you. It‘s just a scarf on a head. You will never be able to feel it the way she feels it. But her stories are not your stories to tell. It doesn‘t matter what she called to tell you. But you love her, and you know her well enough to know that though she is trying to hide it, she‘s breaking. You are home on Christmas Break. You cannot go there. You cannot go to her house to comfort her or make her laugh or hold her or walk along the forest trails of the seaside town you both live in for most of the year, because you will be back for New Years. It‘s only four days away. It‘s just four days. You want to go there. You want to sit her down on the couch and have a talk about anything she wants to talk about. You want to cook her a meal, a real meal, all dinner and wine and fancy plates. You want to take her to see sunsets along the Argentine coast, eat in European diners, show her firework explosions, stars poking electric along the black expanse of the universe. Instead, you are in your childhood home, staring at the work bench in the basement, the phone call over. You are picturing every movie that has ever been written. You are suddenly Tom Hanks. You want to call a radio station and profess your love. There is scrap wood. It‘s been sitting there for years. It used to be a shelf. There is a half foot gap between your girlfriend‘s bed and her wall. In this gap she puts her glass of water, her cell phone, her jewelry. She‘s needed a table for them. You realize you will build that table. You will take your hands and you will make something functional, add stability to her life. How pleasant to put things on a table.
2. Saw, Measure, Saw The poet/street artist Robert Montgomery likes to write big, billboard-sized poems in public places. One such sign says, "The people you love become ghosts inside of you and like this you keep them alive‖. Like this, you think: take the wood, hold it in your hands. Pick up the saw. You have never built a table before. Find your tape measure—it needs to be half a foot wide, at least three feet tall. You think of the day you met her: the same day you met an ex-girlfriend, whom she was friends with, whom you dated somewhat disastrously for nine months. Like this: You met her again at a karaoke bar three years later while she was singing ―Happy Together‖ by the Turtles with a friend. You made her laugh during a discussion of her bright red umbrella, which she called ―epic‖ and you called ―iconic.‖ A photo was taken of you and her friend under the red umbrella, looking into the window of a store downtown—it looked like a still from an indie movie, so you told her that. She laughed. Like this: sawing the wood takes longer than you anticipated. Take a break. Go outside for a cigarette. Remember that night at the karaoke bar, you were talking, someone asked you to go out for a smoke—you declined. You were too busy talking to her, in that bar, the girl who seemed to have one thousand somethings of light in her blonde hair, who talked to you partly to avoid conversation with the Ore Boat Captain‘s friend (he opened with so do you fish? and she said, no, I’m very frightened of fish and the conversation ended) and partly because you made her laugh. Your friends all left you. You walked back with her to her house, where you eventually crashed on her couch. The two of you discussed time travel—something about the Cheshire Cat, an owl-shaped cookie jar and city blocks stretched out against the shore. The conversation was easy, comfortable, already impossible for anyone but the two of you to understand. Like this: Come back inside. Finish the sawing. You should now have something resembling the parts of a table. You don‘t know how to build a table. You don‘t look online for instruction, you don‘t call anybody. This is your table. You will build this for her, because there is more to love than loving.
3. Sand out the Rough Parts The Method of Loci, the memory place, is a theory that we can memorize things by placing them mentally within a location, on an object, in a room. If you want to memorize something, think of it really hard while looking at your lamp. Whenever you think of your lamp after that day, it will come back to you. That is the theory. She tells you this once, over sushi, shyly, laughing, wearing a bright green scarf. You wonder, as you build, whether that‘s what you‘re trying to do. Give her an object to remember you by. You wonder if she will place all your memories within this table, this small artifact you build with your own hands. Sand out the rough spots This will take longer than you anticipate. Working with wood is a long game, much longer than you ever think it will be. Sand and sand and sand and think about sushi. Sushi is her. Every time someone mentions sushi, you think of her, of bright green scarves, of the method of loci, of sitting in her car after sushi, outside your apartment. It was your first date. You lingered in the car for so long because you didn‘t know if it was a date. You didn‘t know if you should act, if you should sit, if you should ask her if she will store this memory in your parking lot, so that every time she drives by or enters the lot, she will think of you, of sushi, of love, of first dates, laughing at inappropriate times.
4. Assemble the Table By now, everything should be sanded and cut to fit. If you were an expert, it would all fit together perfectly. It does not. You must go back to sawing, back to sanding, back to planning. Your mother died of cancer. The two of you discussed this once in a hotel bar, drinking beer after beer after beer. Your mother died too quickly. There wasn‘t time for chemo. It will not be a table. It‘s too tall and thin for that. You will need shelves to balance the structure. That‘s okay. Just keep building, keep sanding, keep sawing. You are a man. You will build. The third time you saw your girlfriend, she told you that she could not date you. She told you she could not fall in love. There were many reasons. Maybe she just got out of a long relationship. Maybe she feared you would be a rebound guy. Maybe her parents were just getting
sick with cancer and the weight of that was too much for any one person to bear. These are not your stories to discuss, but they become part of your story, forever tied to a particular spot on the couch in your apartment, 400 miles away from that work bench in your childhood home. She was straddling you. You stared at each other from inches away. The pieces fit now. Find the nails. They‘re by the work bench, somewhere, in the mess of a toolbox. It‘s okay, you told her. It‘s okay. We will do whatever you want to do. And you meant it. Because in the greatest stories ever told, the sequence of events comes second to the story. And you wanted to be a great story. Find at least twenty nails that are the same size. You don‘t know how many nails it will take. Three weeks later, you had the same conversation. The same day, she got too drunk at a hotel bar. She said, I‘m doing just fine, but you took her keys anyway. Drove her home, left your friends. She asked you to be her boyfriend. Then took it back, said she shouldn‘t ask you this while drunk. She said you are the nicest, nicest boy. You split the wood. You nailed it too hard. Sand it. Start over. Do something. This table needs to stand. 5. Nail Until it Makes Sense She picks you up for your work Christmas Party in a red dress she‘d bought for the occasion. You match. She hands you a note. It says be my boyfriend? Check yes or no The table is still wobbly. Keep nailing. Keep nailing. You are both 25. This note means more to you than any note ever given to you. You keep it in a red box by itself under your bed. Keep nailing. How many nails does it take? It doesn‘t matter. More nails, more split wood, sand it again. 6. Present Table She smiles at you when you arrive on New Year‘s Eve, four days after that phone conversation, four days of nail-pounding and sawing and sanding. Her smile doesn‘t reach her eyes. Maybe she‘s been too often reminded of her own mortality. Maybe she is worried about everyone in
her life. So many of them are suffering, so many of them are in pain. You cannot do a thing about any of this. You don‘t know what to do about it. You do not discuss any of it, anyway. But the table is not enough, even though it doesn‘t wobble. You used exactly enough nails. The table stands proudly in the spot it was designed for, fitting perfectly between the bed and the wall. She thanks you, kisses you. It‘s New Year‘s Eve. By midnight, there is a fight. It‘s your first fight. It‘s ill-timed. It‘s disastrous. You split up, go different ways, because it is new years and she wants to have a good time. You feel cast aside. You feel worthless. Didn‘t you build a table? Didn‘t you put everything you had into this? By three a.m., you realize you‘re an asshole. The realization comes to you as you discuss the situation with three old friends. She doesn’t need a table. She needs a friend. Lots of them. You don‘t remember who said it. You‘re so drunk and everything is so bright and it doesn‘t even matter. Your phone has died. You can‘t even talk to her. You don‘t even have her number memorized. Stop assuming you know what she needs and just ask her. She needs everything to be okay. Be the one thing in her life that isn’t falling apart. Is that harsh? You think it‘s harsh. She‘s not falling apart, she‘s doing just fine. You shout that you love her, that the very presence of your emotional connection to each other is enough. You love each other. Love isn’t enough. She needs her family and old friends. You’re kind of…I’m sorry to say this, but you’re kind of a distraction. Run through the night, across town, from bar to bar. A good friend is with you. You reach the bar you think she is at around closing time, the bouncer will not let you in. ―Good sir,‖ you declare, ready to make the movie-speech. ―I need to get inside, because the woman I love…‖ Someone pushes past you. ―I left my cell phone inside! Can I come in?‖ Someone else, ―My card! I left my card at the bar!‖ ―Dammit, you fools!‖ you shout, ―I need to get in. This is important. It‘s so important.‖ She‘s not there. You find your way back to her apartment. Your car is outside. The plan was to stay the night. You don‘t know what the plan is now, but you can‘t drive. So you knock on the door. She lets you in; she has friends over. You stay the night. She puts her glass of water
and her cell phone on the table, in the little space between the bed and the wall, using the table for exactly what it was designed for. 6.5 Tell the Story of a Table. Tell Nothing Else. You don‘t know how to start or finish this story. You stare at your screen, tracing the beginnings, tracing sushi and readings and walking like robots. You write first sentences like this: I met her the same day I met my ex-girlfriend She walked every day the way ballerinas must walk their first time across a stage, graceful but with doubt in every step You’re a writer, invited to read your work at a gathering at a hotel. But every single one of these reads to you too much like a cliché, and hardly the start of a goodbye. And it occurs to you, as you write these words, as you consider them the start of an essay about goodbye, that they could not be more inadequate. You‘ve hardly explained anything at all. You want to write about feeling, about impression, about the way two people‘s hands found each other on the shores of Lake Superior while their eyes scanned the sky for the Northern Lights. You want to write something bigger than you, bigger than the personal details, you want every person who reads the story you write to sigh and remember their own stories. You don‘t want this to be personal. But it can‘t help but be that way. Your teachers have always said to establish time and place as soon as possible, and above all, never start with a digression or abstraction or exposition. In medias res, as they say, though you‘ve always been more partial to the philosophy of optima dies…prima fugit. So you start again. ―It will not be the story of us,‖ you declare to yourself, sipping tea, writing words, ―It will be the story of a table and how it came to be built.‖ So you will leave out her going to graduate school the next fall and you finishing graduate school that spring. You will leave out offering to move to Portland with her and her refusal to let you. You will not write about the day you walked five miles together along the shore of Lake Superior, fighting and laughing and fighting again, your legs burning. You will not write about the blanket fort the two of you built in your apartment, how she insisted there be separate rooms in the fort (a living room and a bedroom and a kitchen). You will not write every
memory. You will not make this a message for her to find someday about how you felt and why you think the two of you fell apart. This is not about those things. You will leave out a lot of the details that made the story a living, breathing reality, because this is not the story of your relationship. This is the story of a table. You don‘t know how to write anything else. You can tell the story of how nails pound into wood. How it is sanded and bent and made into a table. You are the arm that built it. If there is one thing that is definitively yours, it is the story of the table. The table found its place. It served its purpose. It is functional, stable, built with your own two hands. The table was the only thing that ever really worked. 7. Building a Table is Not a Pop Song You snuck to her doorstep on Valentine‘s Day in the middle of the night, left a fake rose in winter cold with a note professing your affections for her to find when she woke up. At 8 p.m. that night, she left a bag of purple Jolly Ranchers outside your door. When the two of you discovered, early on, that you both loved different colored Jolly Ranchers (her red, you purple) you thought it must‘ve been meant to be. So she gathered as many as she could, put them in purple wax paper, and left them there for you to find, with a text message sent to your phone that says, ―It‘s bad luck not to open your door before 8:30 p.m. on Valentine‘s Day.‖ Once, you stayed over and you didn‘t bring your toothbrush. She said, here, use mine. That is the nicest thing anyone has ever done for you. She calls you in March, tells you it‘s over. You want to come over. You want to talk about it in person. She says, I can‘t, I can‘t, I can‘t. These words are like a zen koan. You meditate on them sometimes, roll their texture in your brain, puzzle it all out until it becomes bits and pieces and fragments. I can‘t, I can‘t, I can‘t. Sushi, a table, walking like robots. Toothbrushes and fake roses and ―So Happy Together.‖ Maybe she didn‘t love you…maybe her parents…maybe her friend… A table can be finished, placed in the right spot, at the right time. It will look wonderful. It will be sanded and cut right to fit. It will not wobble. But that is aesthetics, function, stability. No one can look at a
table and know the arm that made it. They will never know the emotion, the muscles, the force of every blow of hammer to nail. Be warned. Making a table is not a pop song. There is more to love than loving. It is you who comes home, after graduate school, to your childhood home. It is you who sees the mess you left on the workbench. There is sawdust and scraps of wood. There is something to be done here. Pick up a broom. Begin sweeping.
Kaitlyn Tiffany You have to write something personal. So, you know, you can‘t write about God or your mother or your hometown. Or your soccer team or your art class. Or a ―first experience with death.‖ Or a quirky and arcane ability that you have—storing preserves or darning socks. Or a first job or a road test or the dogs that got put down. Or the boys. Everyone writes about the boys. And everyone writes about how everyone writes about the boys. When you go down the list, crossing things off—use an extra fat and extra black Sharpie to cross off the boys. You‘ll write a narrative about your own surgical history before you‘ll talk about sex. You will not write about growing up on a farm. Because that‘s a lie and you know it. Your mother grew up on a farm. Her brother has a farm and her sister has a farm and they grow corn and alpacas, respectively. But your father is an electrical engineer and your mother was going to be a journalist and then ran errands for the RPO and then had you. You grew up in a big house which was full of booster club posters and church dinner baked goods and in which a zero-turn lawnmower and a semi-functional rototiller constituted the only farming equipment. You don‘t get to cry ―farm girl‖ just because you went to public high school. They don‘t give scholarships for it anyway, so it‘s not worth it, the way pretending to be deaf or a lesbian or an immigrant might be. You will not write about sending a letter every week to the Mormon Boy and getting one back only every fifth or maybe sixth. You will not write about taking three showers and buying three cardigans and watching three episodes of Gilmore Girls before the first date with the First Date Boy. There is nothing less sexy than admitting to memorizing death-related trivia for a first date. ―You are more likely to be killed by a
champagne cork than a poisonous spider. Two people per year are killed by vending machines.‖ You should know that stories about social awkwardness are not that endearing. You will not write about girls you met in pre-school who you call every week. You will not write about the tractor parade in September that you have to make it home for no matter what. You will not write about the soccer field or the night sky or the funerals or the dances or the grass stains or the Queen Anne‘s lace or the royal blue or the cows or the cleats. You will not write about the drive-in theaters or the carousels or the parking lots. You will not write about what you wore on the first day of school or what you considered to be heartbreak before your mother started needing chemotherapy and your little sister had to go to calling hours for her best friend. You know better than to write about the homecoming floats or the Little Dipper or the spray paint or the warm top of a coffee grinder or water from wells or the sky or the streets or the hills, or any other images that do not resonate outside of your own memory. You can‘t trust people with your familiar carpets and wallpapers and sofa cushions. The candle smoke: of your birthdays and graduations and first communions and midnights. Or the smells that can trigger any memory: Old Spice deodorant and barbeque chicken and lake water and locker rooms that could start them forgetting to listen to you. They will find room for symbolism in the first bicycle that skidded out and put that bit of gravel in your knee. They will try to assign significance to the above-ground swimming pool with the slow leak and every week there was six inches less water and six inches less water and then no water and then down it came and now there is a yellow ring of grass and a deck that leads to nowhere. And they will lean back in their chairs and clear their throats and tuck their stray hair before they say, ―It‘s not that it‘s all so bad—it‘s just that it is not so special.‖ You should already have come to the conclusion that personal anecdotes are uninteresting to anyone who is not a character inside them. Unless there is a celebrity or a racist joke or a violent crime. Or a talking animal or a ghost or some kind of danger. Write about something like that. Something you can count on. Write something like: One year there were brown recluse spiders all over Bloomfield and people didn‘t let their kids go outside. They waited at the end of the driveway with them until the bus came and kept an eye on the rocks at the edge the entire time. They were all scared, and I was scared too. If you are bitten by a Brown
Recluse spider and you don‘t notice right away, your flesh will rot clear off in chunks. Necrosis, it is called. You can recognize those things by the violin-shaped white spot on their underbellies, or so said Google when everybody asked. ―But, how? How? How do you get a good look at their underbellies?‖ It is enough to keep you up at night.
David Andrew Wright White male, early thirties, mustache, pock-marked face, bald on top. Bald on top. That part of her story stuck with me. She told me she had gone to bed in her upstairs apartment when she heard something break downstairs. ―I thought, it must be the cat,‖ she said. But then she heard the creak of the old hardwood steps. weight moving deliberately purposefully; spaced just far enough apart to allow the mind time to convince itself that it is all being imagined. But then another groan or pop from closer still. Heart spasms into a flutter, adrenaline running, sick feeling rising. ―I thought it was you,‖ she told me. Her eyes were far away as we talked. ―I thought maybe you were playing a kinky game. I thought you had come to surprise me in the night. I heard him crawling on the floor up to my bed. I put my hand out expecting to feel your long hair and when I felt his bald head, I just froze.‖ I had driven by that night with a rose to leave in her mail slot. But I decided not to leave it and drove home. We were seeing each other in secret because she was ashamed of me. I was beneath her even when I was on top of her.
low class. long hair, leather jacket, motorcycle and tattoos. Bad boy for the rich girl. She liked the way I fucked her and made her laugh. But only in private. No one else could know. Pathetic. The ghost of my dignity appeared and took her rose that night, tossed it in the street as I rode by on my bike. The bike I‘m on now. I‘m not sure what I expect to see out riding around: A white bald guy with a mustache dragging some poor woman by the arm into his van? No. A white bald guy with a mustache breaking out the window of a door like he did to her apartment? No. A white bald guy with a mustache wearing a flashing sign over his head saying ‗I raped your girlfriend?‘ No.
Street lights along Riverside throw an orange incandescence over the city. The side streets are almost completely dark in comparison; each street light obscured by the dancing black shadow of a tree. I turn the corner and head off into the darkness of Garfield. Maple St. Lincoln Avenue. Oak. Martin Luther King Boulevard. Walnut. You couldn‘t say we were dating. Elm. You couldn‘t say we were a couple. Cedar. I wasn‘t supposed to say anything. Sycamore. I would say, ―I love you.‖ She would say, ―Thank you.‖ Birch. I see a bald white guy with a mustache sitting on the curb. I can barely make out what he looks like in the darkness of the side street. But he is white. He is bald. He has a mustache. And he is just sitting there. I bring the bike to a stop and sit staring at him. The two of us sitting and staring at each other.
Well. Now what? Call the police? And say? ―Yes, I‘d like to report a white bald guy with a mustache. You‘ll want to send a unit down right away.‖ He gets up and walks away. My heart is pounding and the bike is getting hot. I twist the throttle. Stupid. I‘ve been out here night after night, hour after hour, looking for someone I‘ve never seen. Over a woman who is ashamed to be seen with me. She calls the next day and tells me that they‘ve caught him. Caught him as he broke into another home and tried to assault another woman. She‘s just come back from the police station where she identified him out of a line-up. I pick up my shotgun and open it. Two rounds of double-ought buckshot. No rifling, no spent cases at the scene. No one knows about us = no discernible motive. Wear a hat, sunglasses. Buy shoes two sizes too small. Barbell weights under my long coat. When I step in the mud near where I shoot him, the cops will see a size ten shoe print of a man who weighs 50 lbs more than I do. They‘ll be looking for a short fat guy. With a hat. And glasses. And no discernible motive. I will kill him when he gets out of jail. Phone rings. ―Did you hear about Ron‘s brother? He got caught trying to rape some woman last night. I guess he‘s raped a few other women in town.‖ Ron is the friend of a friend of a friend. He‘ll be in for more bad news when I kill his brother. ―Yeah, they caught him and had him locked up downtown. But somehow he managed to hang himself at the jail. He‘s dead.‖ Good-bye. Dial tone. The bleating warning of a receiver not in the cradle. Killing someone is like dying or getting pregnant or being elected president. You either did or you didn‘t. Years from now, when I say, ―I almost killed somebody once,‖ it will mean nothing. Later, at her place, she is lying with her head on my shoulder and her hand on my chest. I am still thinking about what it would have been like to kill the white male, early thirties, mustache, pock-marked face,
bald on top. Pulling the trigger. Meaning something to someone if only in that split-second. My heart beats fast and irregularly. She holds her breath and listens. ―What‘s wrong with you?‖ she asks. ―Nothing,‖ I said. ―It does that sometimes.‖ She listens again. ―Well, I just want you to know that if you have a heart attack and die here, I‘m throwing your body out the window. And I‘ll never mention you were here.‖ Her hand moves from my chest to examine a lock of my long hair. ―Have you ever thought of shaving your head?‖
Michelle Bailat-Jones is an American writer and translator living in Switzerland. Her short fiction, translations and criticism have appeared or are forthcoming in various journals including The Kenyon Review, PANK, The Quarterly Conversation, Hayden's Ferry Review and Two Serious Ladies. Michelle is currently working on a novel. Alexander Belz is a writer from Detroit. He earned his MA from Northern Michigan University and his work has been published in Red River Review and Hippocampus Magazine. A graduate of the Women's Work Lab at New Perspectives Theater, Rosebud Ben-Oni is at work on a new play, which will feature music by Carlton Zeus. Her plays have been produced in New York City, Washington DC and Toronto. Rosebud is a co-editor for HER KIND at VIDA: Women in Literary Arts and at work on her first novel, The Imitation of Crying. Her work appears in Arts & Letters, B O D Y, Borderlands: Texas Poetry Review and Puerto del Sol. Recently her short story ―A Way out of the Colonia‖ won the Editor‘s Prize in Camera Obscura. She‘s co-editor of HER KIND, the official blog of VIDA: Women in Literary Arts. Her debut book of poems SOLECISM will be published by Virtual Artists Collective in early 2013. Find out more about her at 7TrainLove.org. J. Bradley is the author of Bodies Made of Smoke. He lives at iheartfailure.net. Chris Crabtree believes cats have magical powers. Follow him at https://twitter.com/HaiMeTree.
Leesa Cross-Smith is a homemaker from Kentucky. Her work has appeared in places like Word Riot, Carve Magazine, Juked, NAP, matchbook, Five [Quarterly] and Little Fiction, among others. She's co-founding editor of a literary magazine called WhiskeyPaper. She writes about books, winged eyeliner, baseball and country songs that make her cry over at LeesaCrossSmith.com. Logen Cure is the author of a chapbook entitled In Keeping (Unicorn Press, 2008). She earned her MFA in poetry from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She lives in Texas with her wife. Mark DeCarteret‘s work has appeared in the anthologies American Poetry: The Next Generation (Carnegie Mellon Press), Thus Spake the Corpse: An Exquisite Corpse Reader (Black Sparrow Press) and Under the Legislature of Stars—62 New Hampshire Poets (Oyster River Press) which he also coedited. Flap, his fifth book, was published in 2011 by Finishing Line Press. From 2009-2011 he was the Poet Laureate of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. You can check out his Postcard Project at pplp.org. Suzahn (pronounced Sue-Zawn) Ebrahimian is a queer, Persian American trouble maker who likes to write. After escaping New York City, Suzahn now lives in feral Idaho and is focusing on text, living collectively, and anti-oppression work. Poetry is forthcoming on Otis Nebula and has appeared in Release. For more, you can find Suzahn at http://hexweaponwriter.wordpress.com. Shannon Hozinec is made of bark and bones and aspires to have fingernails made of steel. She runs Vector Press. Sally J. Johnson is the Managing Editor for Ecotone Journal and the Poetry Editor for Atlantis. Her poetry and nonfiction can be read in or is forthcoming from the Pinch, the Boiler Journal, Fogged Clarity, and Treehouse Magazine. Éireann Lorsung edits the journal 111O and co-runs MIEL, a micropress (miel-books.com). Music For Landing Planes By came out from Milkweed in 2007; Her Book, a second collection, is forthcoming in summer 2013, also from Milkweed. A chapbook, Sweetbriar, is forthcoming from dancing girl press. Her writing appears in DIAGRAM, diode, Colorado Review, Bateau Press, and The Collagist. She lives in Belgium.
Kenny Mooney is a writer and musician from Glasgow, Scotland. He was born in Berlin just to be difficult. His writing has appeared in Atticus Review, > kill author, Metazen, Fractured West and others. He is the fiction editor at A-Minor Magazine, and makes music as Novak. He exists online at www.dragline.co.uk. Delaney Nolan's fiction has been some places and has not been other places. Her chapbook Louisiana Maps, winner of the 2012 Ropewalk Press Fiction Editor's Chapbook Contest, will be published this winter. She is spending January in Iceland as the Klaustrid artist-in-residence.
Uzodinma’s favorite color is Aqua—no, Lapis. Or maybe Sky Blue. He still doesn‘t own a cell phone . . .
Lauren Payne is a Bay Area misfit transplant, originally from Los Angeles, CA. Her work digs up the grit of the earth and brings it right to the surface, magnified. Her ethereal and powerful prose navigates life, love and loss through an anachronist's gaze. Each piece is a sucker-punch of haunting nostalgia, delivered in unexpectedly vulnerable ways. When not writing, she can be found restoring vintage furniture, eating blueberries, and driving aimlessly throughout the southern United States. She lives and works in Oakland, CA. Rion Amilcar Scott has contributed to PANK, Fiction International, and Confrontation, among others. Raised in Silver Spring, Maryland, he earned an MFA at George Mason University and presently teaches English at Bowie State University. Paul Siegell is the author of three books of poetry: wild life rifle fire (Otoliths Books, 2010),jambandbootleg (A-Head Publishing, 2009) and Poemergency Room (Otoliths Books, 2008). Trailers are yours for the YouTube-viewing [here], reviews for the Goodreads-reading [here], and t-shirts for theconcrete poetry-wearing [here]. Paul is a copywriter by day, a senior editor at Painted Bride Quarterly by choice, and more of his work can always be found at ReVeLeR @ eYeLeVeL. Patrick Swaney lives in Athens, Ohio, where he is pursuing a PhD in poetry. His writing has recently appeared in Conduit, Indiana Review, NANO Fiction, and elsewhere.
Michael Swartz is a young aspiring poet who will, very soon, put new sheets on the bed, get a new comforter, clean up the garbage, the dirty dishes, the beer/liquor bottles, steam clean the vomit out of the carpet, and finally start not being such a sadsack. Kara Vernor lives in Napa. Her stories have appeared in Necessary Fiction, Wigleaf, Hobart online, The Los Angeles Review, Monkeybicycle and elsewhere. The first 45 rpm she owned, given to her as a present on her 9th birthday, was the Talking Heads' ―Burning Down the House.‖ Alana Noel Voth's work has most recently appeared in fwriction review, Hungry for Love, Wilde Oats, No Time to Say It, Bound by Lust, Best of the Best Gay Erotica, volume 3, Bluestem, The Lit Pub, and Used Furniture Review. Her story collection is forthcoming from Tiny Hardcore Press. Karrie Waarala's work has appeared in journals such as Iron Horse Literary Review, PANK, The Collagist, Southern Indiana Review, and Vinyl. She is a poetry editor for the museum of americana and holds an MFA from the Stonecoast Program at University of Southern Maine. Recipient of the 2012 Pocataligo Poetry Prize and a Pushcart nominee, Karrie has also received critical acclaim for her one-woman show, LONG GONE: A Poetry Sideshow, which is based on her collection of circus poems. She really wishes she could tame tigers and swallow swords. Brandi Wells is Managing Editor of The Black Warrior Review and a web editor at Hobart. She is the author of Please Don’t Be Upset (Tiny Hardcore Press) and Poisonhorse (Nephew, An imprint of Mudluscious Press). Her writing can be found in Gigantic Sequins, Mid-American Review, Sonora Review, Gargoyle, Forklift Ohio, Indiana Review and other journals. Eliot White is a poet, fiction writer, and musician living in rural Pennsylvania. He studied Literature and Education as an undergraduate, was the editor of the George Street Carnival, and co-founded the Creative Writer‘s Guild at Millersville University. He has a nonfiction piece forthcoming in this year‘s issue of Rapportage Magazine (Lancaster, PA) and he has performed in Lancaster‘s annual Spoken World Festival. Check out his new blog at http://eliotpaulwhite.wordpress.com. David Andrew Wright is a 44-year-old freelance writer living in England. He grew up in southern Illinois and up until very recently, lived in Wyoming. He has been published in short story compilations,
entertainment magazines and online publications, most currently in The Dying Goose. He was short-listed in the Fish Publishing 2012 Short Memoir contest. He is also seeking representation for his first novel, The Hanging Tree, while writing the sequel.
Michelle Bailat-Jones Patrick Swaney
Leesa Cross-Smith Karrie Waarala
Delaney Nolan Suzahn Ebrahimian